Honored are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Justice

Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Honored are Those who Hunger and Thirst for Justice
Congregational Church of Easton – 2/4/24

Today’s reading in Matthew follows immediately after the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are an introduction or prologue to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is speaking as the new Moses with his disciples seated around him. He is speaking from a peculiar frame of reference. He’s talking as though he and the disciples – AND you and me – are already in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say more about that in a moment. For the time being let’s hear again what Jesus says as he begins the Sermon on the Mount:
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Again, “You are the light of the world.” I’ll bet you’ve never thought of yourself as the light of the world. I never have. One of the meanings of this passage us our individual light shining. Our collective light shining is another meaning. Jesus says a city on top of a hill cannot be hidden.
A church like ours can’t be hidden, either. In the words of today’s reading, our light as the Congregational Church of Easton is meant to shine before people so they can see the good things we dol. How do we do that? How can we shine our light in Easton and our surrounding towns? The Beatitudes give us a clue.
The Greek word, “blessed” is better translated as “honored.” Honored. That’s a whole different way of hearing the Beatitudes. Honored are the poor in spirit; honored are those who mourn, and so on. Let that sink in for a few seconds. Honored.
One of the things this means us that as this church lives out its understanding of the Beatitudes and shines its light onto Easton, you will be honored – if not by your neighbors, at least by God.
You may have noticed that what all the Beatitudes have in common is the present tense, the word, “are.” In the present tense, honored are those who are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Honored are the humble. Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted Honored are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall have their fill.
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is here and now – present tense. He says the Kingdom is here and now among us.
I’d like you to join me in an experiment. I’ve said before that when we participate in this church – and when we are at our best – we ARE in the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m going to ask you to experience being in the Kingdom. If it is here and now, then we can feel it. Let’s feel what it is like to be in the Kingdom of God.
Remember a time when you were dis-spirited, when you were down. That’s what being poor in spirt means. Remember a time when you were at your wits end and felt totally incapable of dealing with the challenges in front of you. Feel what that was like.
Now, come back into the present. Right now, in the here and now, you are loved. You are honored. Jesus was dis-spirited, too. “My God, My God, you have forsaken me!” he cried from the cross. When you are dis-spirited, when you are down, when you are poor in spirit, you are in the Kingdom of heaven, according to the first Beatitude.
The second beatitude is about mourning. Think of someone you know who has lost someone and is suffering. Experience your sorrow for that person. Allow yourself to mourn alongside her or him. [Pause]
In your grief just now you ARE honored. Present tense. Your are in God’s kingdom, arm and arm with Jesus who wept for his friend, Lazarus, and who mourns for the suffering of the world.
Let’s look at the fourth Beatitude: “Honored are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be fed until they are full.”
Let’s go back to our experiment. Imagine you are in the Kingdom right here and now as you sit in this sanctuary. Think of something you think is unjust.
I’m thinking of refugees trapped in camps in Mexico, living in tents in the shadow of the border wall, lining up for bottles of water and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches provided by volunteers. I can feel a sense of outrage about that.
What is an injustice that you feel angry about? Whenever we are moved or angered by something we think is unjust, the fourth Beatitude says we are in the presence of the Kingdom.

Both conservatives and liberals are outraged by injustice. The fourth Beatitude says God honors both sides of our political divide. We too must honor both parties to a debate and look for ways to find common ground. Here are some examples of how both sides of a political argument can be honored — and how common ground might be found.
• Conservatives were outraged by the way university presidents defended themselves in their testimony before Congress about antisemitism on campus.
• Liberals were outraged by the January 7 attack on the capital, calling it an act of insurrection.
It is possible that both sides can honor how each other feels. Both liberals and conservatives can empathize with the anger the other side feels whatever it thinks about the injustice they perceive. It is possible for each side to honor the other side’s heartfelt position.
Once we can honor our political opponents, that opens up the possibility of teaming up with them to find ways that both of us can be fed. For example, both conservatives and liberals can join in supporting proposals for strengthening our process for vetting immigrants — and keeping tabs on them once they are here.
Here’s another example:
• Liberals believe the growing gap between rich and poor is unjust. They want the rich to pay their fair share of taxes.

• Conservatives say the top 10% of earners already pay almost 70% of the country’s taxes and believe it is only fair for those rates to be cut. People on both sides really do hunger and thirst for justice on this issue, and Jesus promises all of them will be fed until they are full. If Congress can settle on an equitable way for reforming our tax system in ways that also reduce poverty, it’s possible for both sides to be fed.
Do you get what I’m saying? People understand what is just and fair differently. And when they really feel their hunger for justice — as they define it — they are in the Kingdom of God. God honors people on both sides of our political divide. We should too.
It’s no accident that Jesus connects feeding and justice in the fourth beatitude. — honored are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be fed.
Many of the people in the crowds that came to hear him had empty stomachs. Farmers had been displaced from their land. Fishermen had lost their businesses when the Romans demanded they sell their catch to a new fish processing plant. Most people were really poor. Many were hungry.
Think of how many times in the gospels Jesus eats with people — all kinds of people, rich and poor, sinners and outcasts. He visited all kinds of down and out villages. By eating with people he encouraged those oppressed villagers to join together and support each other. He wanted them to find ways of literally feeding each other.
As I told you, I met with two other seminary classmates and their wives at our annual reunion in the Poconos recently. One belongs to a Congregational Church in the Northampton area that has organized meetings of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
Out of those dialogues has come something that impressed Susie and I. Small mixed groups of Muslims, Jews and Christians have committed having dinner in each other’s homes once a month. Friendships are forming!
The Interfaith Coalition of Greater Bridgeport is re-forming. Perhaps this congregation could join the coalition and find ways to participate in its social justice efforts – and make some new friends. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.
Jesus hungers and thirst for justice, and he feeds us bread and wine as we participate in Holy Communion. As we work to reduce injustice, we are united in Christ, and the full expression of that union is our transformation into Christ for the world as we partake of his body and blood in communion.
Thanks be to God who honors our outrage about injustice and poverty and feeds us with his body and blood until we are full. Amen.