I recently visited the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. I was moved by a speech I heard in its entirety. Johnson gave this address to the nation after the march and subsequent violence in Selma, AL as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others faced civil inequality head on. Many civil rights leaders, black and white, described this speech as giving them the courage to continue on. Here is the ending:
This time, on this issue, there must be no delay, or no hesitation, or no compromise with our purpose. We cannot, we must not, refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.
And we ought not, and we cannot, and we must not wait another eight months before we get a bill. We have already waited 100 years and more and the time for waiting is gone. So I ask you to join me in working long hours and nights and weekends, if necessary, to pass this bill. And I don’t make that request lightly, for, from the window where I sit, with the problems of our country, I recognize that from outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.
But even if we pass this bill the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome.
To summarize, Johnson was saying, “This is going to be really hard, but it is worth the struggle. You (insert any name) can do this.” In Matthew’s inspired recollection, Jesus opens up the first of five recorded discourses, what we know as his sermon on the mount, in a similar way. Jesus is laying out some challenging instructions in this sermon for life in his kingdom. To follow will require joining him in working some late nights and weekends carrying a heavy cross. He lovingly bids us to overcome with him, the confines of sin and death.
His words convey empathy and love, “You’re blessed when you live like me in this kingdom.” We often read the opening list (the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12) as if, then statements. If you are poor in spirit, then you will get the kingdom of heaven. I think they are better understood with the template of the last one: blessed, when statements, “You are blessed when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mt. 5:11-12) Read this way, the Beatitudes are personal and courage giving, characteristic of Jesus’ words.
I read them like this:
Amy, you’re blessed when you are left out and rejected. It hurts, I know, but the kingdom of heaven, a great home, is yours, love.
Amy, you’re blessed when you mourn. You live on earth, where sorrow abounds, but you’re part of my kingdom. Comfort here is like no other, because I’m redeeming it all!
Amy, you’re blessed when you demonstrate my humble nature. Even though it seems like you’re getting stomped on, we know something they don’t: we (as God’s children) inherit all the good stuff of creation!
Amy, you’re blessed when you’re hungry and thirsty for me. The hunger pains and dehydration are perfectly satisfied by me, the bread of life and eternal, living water. You have access to me, my Spirit, 24/7.
Amy, you’re blessed when you show mercy – even when they don’t deserve it. When you forgive, you are reminded that you have undeserved, unearned mercy, new every morning, in me!
Amy, you’re blessed when you struggle for purity in your heart. It’s worth it, because you see God through a lens of purity!
Amy, you’re blessed when you do the hard work of making peace. That’s God’s nature; when you do it, you reflect your Dad!
Amy, you’re blessed when you suffer loneliness, hurt feelings, and deep pain from other people. I know how that feels. It’s devastating, but we can still rejoice and be glad. We’re not alone in his kingdom. Others have gone before us, and have overcome. A crown, proof that we are son and daughter of the King, is ours already and awaits us in the future.
Amy, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise…what I’m about to tell you is a really good way to live!
The kingdom of heaven is ours, friends, and WE CAN do what Jesus will ask of us in his sermon on the Galilean mountain side.
We shall overcome.