Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness...

Our Leadership Team met the other week for a extended time of prayer, worship, and discussion. We talked alot about various aspects of Veritas. We talked about our values, what was working well, what needed tweaking, etc.. One of the things we talked about was our messages/sermons and discussion times. For the time being we have decided to only record the "Message" part of the morning. We have wondered if waiting for the mic to be passed around is a less organic means of discussion and if that hinders true open discussion. So until we have a place of our own where we can hardwire mics to pic up the conversation, we'll be posting the message and the discussion questions on the blog so to encourage further discussion and conversation. Here is the message and the questions from July 11 revolving around the Beatitude "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled."

"Today we continue our series entitled “Vintage Christianity” looking at The Sermon on the Mount, and more specifically the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-10. Over the last several weeks we have covered the first three Beatitudes. The first week we covered “Blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom.” We looked at what it means to be poor in spirit and to depend and rely upon Jesus and not on our own “righteousness”.

The second week we looked at the second beatitude which is “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” We talked about what it means to mourn for our own condition before God, the condition of the world, and what it means to be the vessel of comfort for those who are mourning.” The last week that we met in this format we talked about the beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” We talked about the idea that being meek is really about strength under control and what it really means to inherit the land, to be a part of the kingdom of the now and the not yet.

Today we are looking at the fourth beatitude found in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” We’ll look at the Beatitude in three parts. First we’ll talk about the metaphor of hunger and thirst. Then we’ll talk together about this word righteousness, and how it is not just about the individual but also the world. Then finally we’ll talk about what it means to be filled.

So the first part that we will look at together is the idea of being hungry and thirsty, not after physical food and drink, but after spiritual food and drink. Now most of us, as Americans, don’t truly know much about physical hunger and thirst. How often do we throw the word starving around, when we have only missed maybe one meal? For most of the years that I was involved in Youth Ministry we would offer the Youth Group a chance to experience a little taste of true hunger, which was called The 30 Hour Famine. This event was probably the closest thing to true hunger that the youth and I have ever experienced. I always remember the last hour before we would break our fast with a communion service and meal. Many years the kids would count down the minutes until they could eat. Many times the communion service was a highlight, because the hunger that they had experienced the previous 30 hours was being symbolically filled with the body and blood of Jesus. I remember wishing that all of us, who had just experienced 30 Hours of fasting, would not only be thankful about the food that we were going to eat, but that we would hunger and thirst after God as much as we desired food.

Another person who understood that hunger and desire for food was the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. In the Antarctic summer of 1908-9, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three companions attempted to travel to the South Pole from their winter quarters. They set off with four ponies to help carry the load. Weeks later, their ponies dead, rations all but exhausted, they turned back toward their base, their goal not accomplished. Altogether, they trekked 127 days. On the return journey, as Shackleton records in The Heart of the Antarctic, the time was spent talking about food -- elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, and sumptuous menus. As they staggered along, suffering from dysentery, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating. Jesus, who also knew the ravages of food deprivation, said,” Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS." We can understand Shackleton's obsession with food, which offers a glimpse of the passion Jesus intends for our quest for righteousness.

This metaphor of hunger and thirst that Jesus lays down breaks down when it comes to our spiritual food. When we are hungry and thirsty for physical food, we get up and eat and drink. When we have had our fill, we no longer hunger and thirst, for a while anyway. This metaphor however describes a profound hunger that can’t be satisfied completely. It is a strange filling that both satisfies us and keeps us longing for more. Or put another way, the more you eat (spiritually) the hungrier you get. It is a strange paradox of our faith…that when we hunger and thirst after God, his kingdom and his word, he satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts, but at the same time he gives us an increasing hunger and thirst after him, his kingdom and his word.

Now we all hunger and thirst for things that aren’t what Jesus calls righteousness. We sometimes call that our appetite. Our world puts things before us so that we long for them. Our sin nature cries out in hunger for things that are not of God. We hunger after possessions, positions, power, sex, food, and anything we can cram into ourselves that we think will fulfill us and satisfy that yearning deep within for something more. But like the philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”

So we are called to hunger and thirst not after things that ultimately won’t fill us and keep us wanting more, but hunger and thirst after something that will fill us and also keep us wanting more. But if we are to hunger and thirst after righteousness, we have to understand exactly what this word righteousness is all about. And that is to where we’ll turn now.

All too often in our Christian world, righteousness is only seen as an individual pursuit, only affects the individual, and is mostly defined by what the individual does not participate it. All too often righteousness is seen as a list of don’ts that I don’t participate in, so that I can know that I am righteous. This definition couldn’t be further from the biblical definition of the word. Biblically righteousness is a matter of relationships, with God, with things, and with other people. The biblical definition of righteousness involves the inherent quality of God. God is right because He is righteous, therefore God can only act righteously. In one instance the word means being right; in another it is used to mean doing right; in still another case it means putting right.

So the biblical idea of righteousness is that it does have a personal part to it, but it also has a corporate part as well. To hunger after righteousness according to Jesus means to have a deep longing for both personal righteousness and justice for the oppressed.

It is important for us as individuals to strive to live a life of righteousness, or right living. Right living means seeing how Jesus lived his life and trying to live like him, to the best of our ability, and through the power of the Holy Spirit. And at the same time to realize that we are righteous, not through anything that we do on our own, but what Jesus has done on our behalf. God is righteousness lived out in the person, work, and ministry of Jesus. And when we place our faith and trust and life in the hands of Jesus, we become like him, righteous.

But at the same time, when we begin to look like Jesus, and become righteous like Jesus, our heart slowly begins to beat in rhythm with Jesus’ heart which leads us to care about the world around us. Righteousness, I believe, could also be translated justice in most cases. Most people assume that righteousness means simple religious rigor, but if it means justice, it integrates personal uprightness with social concern; doing right to my neighbor, enemy, stranger, and so on. If we hunger only for right living for ourselves, if we make the gospel primarily about our own end destination, and if it only becomes about our own spiritual lives and practices, than what we are hungering after is not the righteousness of Jesus, but the righteousness of man which is not righteousness at all. True righteousness should drive us to not only look out for our own spiritual lives but also the very lives of the poor, needy, and oppressed. Righteousness means being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world and working for justice.

The last part of this Beatitude is the statement that after you hunger and thirst after righteousness (and justice) that you will be filled. This goes back again to the metaphor of hunger and thirst. When we live out righteousness and justice in our world, we will be filled. Filled with the power of the Holy Spirit living, moving and breathing inside of us. Pushing us to a deeper walk with Jesus. Pushing us outside our comfort zone to work on justice issues in our neighborhoods, our towns, our state, our country, and our world. And when you hunger and thirst after God, his word, his kingdom, and for justice in the world, you’ll not only be filled with the Holy Spirit, your life will be filled and you will have found out what Jesus means when he said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Your life will be full and you will have filled that God shaped vacuum that Blaise Pascal talked about all those years ago.

So now we turn to our time of discussion. What does it look like for you to hunger and thirst after righteousness from a personal and corporate spiritual perspective? What does it look like to hunger and thirst after justice from a personal and corporate perspective? Those are some of the questions that we will wrestle with together."

The discussion questions that we wrestled with together were:

What questions, thoughts, comments, ideas, doubts, struggles, etc.. does this text raise in your mind? What does it look like for you to hunger and thirst after righteousness? What are some other things that you hunger and thirst after instead of righteousness? What do you think of the biblical definition of righteousness? Does it change the way you view righteousness and if so, how? What does it look like for us as a community to hunger and thirst after righteousness (and justice)? How can we live out our hungering and thirsting? Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, etc... on the message and the discussion questions...