Attitudes and Be-Attitudes
Epiphany 4A, Epiphany 6C, All Saints A, All Saints C, Mt. 5:1-11,
One of the most
important qualities in life is your attitude. Years ago at a
retreat, a person gave me a piece of paper with the quotation by
Charles Swindoll on it. The quotation is printed in your bulletin
and reads: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of
attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It
is more important than the past, than education, than money, than
circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people
think or say I do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness
or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The
remarkable thing is that we have a choice every day regarding the
attitude we will embrace for the day. We cannot change our past. We
cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We
cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on
the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced
that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”
This quotation is
full of insight and wisdom.
We read and hear
the platitudes about attitudes, and most of those platitudes are
true. We hear the question: “Is the glass half empty or half
full?” The answer to that question reveals a fundamental attitude
of the person answering the question.
We know that
attitude is more powerful that education. You can be highly educated
and have a crummy attitude and won’t solve the problem in front of
Attitude is a more
powerful force than money. You can have all the money in the world,
but you cannot buy happiness inside your soul. Some of the
economically poorest people have the greatest attitude.
Attitude is more
powerful than circumstances. I have learned it long ago; it is not
what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you that is
important. Over time, tragedies can make you bitter or better.
Attitude is more
important than failures. We have heard stories of the many famous
people who failed miserably in their lives such as Abraham Lincoln
who lost all those elections before winning the presidency. Attitude
is much more important than the failures we have all experienced.
Attitude is more
important than successes. Success can go to your heard and you lose
your drive. All you have to do is meet a successful athlete who has
recently signed a huge contract and watch his performance go down
Attitude is more
important than appearance. We know the most beautiful people in the
world, and that doesn’t make much difference in the long run.
Besides, time takes its toll on the physical beauty of everyone.
Attitude is more
powerful than giftedness, skill or talent. You can buy the most
talented team of baseball players, football players, basketball
players, but the team that wins usually has talent plus a winning,
dedicated attitude. A talented team cannot win without the right
Many people are
convinced that life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% what you
do with what happens to you. Attitude is crucial.
It is with this
mood that we approach the “BE-attitudes” of Jesus. You put a
hyphen in the religious word, beatitude, and you get BE-attitude.
Attitudes of being. Attitudes of existence. Attitudes for life and
living. Jesus talked to his disciples about the fundamental
attitudes of life, about the kind of people that God wanted his
disciples to be. Jesus didn’t talk about money; he didn’t talk
about health; he didn’t talk about jobs and job security and job
possibility; he didn’t talk about kids and living one’s life
through one’s children or grandchildren. Jesus did talk about the
BE-attitudes, and that is what I would like to talk about today. I
would like to talk about the BE-attitudes, the fundamental attitudes
of being, the basic attitudes of life and living.
There are nine
BE-attitudes and I would like to briefly speak about all nine, each
illustrated with a short story.
First, happy are
the poor in spirit. That is kind of a strange phrase, “poor in
spirit.” What does that mean? This means that they know their need
of God. Often, poor people know their need of God more than richer
people, and so the Gospel of Luke translates this, happy are the
poor; that is, poor people often know their need of God.
Let me illustrate.
If you have been to Haiti with our mission teams, you know that
these Christians know their need of God. Poor people almost always
do. Whether that person is a poor person in our congregation or
living in a third world country. We have people in our congregation
who live in $400 a month; they tell me they are “dirt poor” and
know their need of God. Every single poor person I know realizes
their need of God.
But it is not just
the economically poor; other people know their need of God. I was
talking to a young couple the other day in preparation for their
marriage. They are afraid of marriage because they have already
experienced three divorces from their parents. They know their need
of God to live inside their marriage in a way that didn’t happen
with their parent’s marriages. This young couple knows their need
To me, some of the
unhappiest people in the world are people who think they don’t
need God. Instead, they are running here and running there, always
running, always on the go, too busy for God in their lives. Those
people are so busy that they don’t have time to know their need of
God. That is busy…and the American way.
Second, Jesus said,
“Happy or joyful are those who mourn.” That sounds strange,
doesn’t it? Let me tell you a story.
There is this man I know fairly well but not really well. His
name is Cliff Lunde, and he happens to be our bishop. Don’t let
that impress you too much because Cliff is an ordinary and plain
human being. He is a great big guy physically with a great big
heart. Bishop Cliff Lunde went with other bishops to El Salvador and
visited an orphanage. At the orphanage, a child came up to him and
gave him a cross. It was a powerful experience for Cliff, and when
he told the story, he kept on breaking down, his emotions kept on
breaking down of him. As he told story after story of people that he
met, he became emotional.
Jesus said, “How
happy and joyful are those who can feel the pain of others.”
To feel the pain of others is to be truly a human being. It
is to BE. It is a BE-attitude.
Third, Jesus said,
“Happy are those who are humble and meek.” Do you know how
miserable it is to always be seeking glory? Do you know how
miserable it is to get people to notice you or notice that you are
momentarily important? Let me tell you a story. I read this story in a magazine, SCIENCE TODAY, at the
doctor’s office. It was a story of a man who discovered different
blood types in the early 1900s. You know, A, B, AB, and O. He found
these blood types. He also discovered that the Inca Indians of Latin
America were having blood transfusions for centuries. Why? Because
the Inca Indians were all of the same blood type; they could give
each other blood transfusions and live. During the World War I,
blood transfusions became suddenly important. Time passed. Thirty or
more years passed, and finally they awarded this man the Nobel Prize
for Medicine. You know what? He didn’t even tell his family about
his receiving the Nobel Prize. There was a picture of this man in
SCIENCE TODAY and he was looking in the opposite direction. He could
not stand an exhibitionism in himself. … Me? I am not like that at
all. I think to myself, “Give me the glory. Where is the
spotlight? Let me tell you the good news I have done. Of course,
revealing this information in the most humble of ways.” If I would
have received the Nobel Prize, I would have told everyone about it
in my Christmas letter and maybe sent a bulk mailing out to inform
my family and friends. …Do you know how miserable it is to have to
advertise yourself, however quietly? Do you know how wonderful it is
to be genuinely humble? To do marvelous things for others and stay
in the shadow? …Jesus said it clearly. A BE-attitude? Be humble.
Fourth, Jesus said,
“Happy and joyful are those who hunger and thirst for what is
right.” When I think of hungering and thirsting, I think of
someone who has a real craving, a craving for water when thirsty, a
craving for food when starving. There are people who crave to do
what is right.
When I think of
such people, I immediately think of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his
craving for justice and righteousness for black people. He was
willing to die for his craving, his passion, his intense struggle
for justice and righteousness. Wow. He was an incredible man.
I also think of
Marv Dewey in our parish. He is about seventy years old and read the
Scriptures at the last worship service. Marv volunteers down at the
Veteran Hospital. He recently was awarded his 3000 hour pin. Yes,
3000 hours. You don’t
give away three thousand hours moving bed pans out of duty. You
don’t give away three thousand hours in order to qualify as a good
Christian. You do that kind of thing only if the Spirit of Christ is
living inside of you. You do that kind of thing only if your heart
hungers and thirsts and craves to do what is good and right and
just. … Jesus said, How happy are those who have this attitude of
BE-ing, this attitude for life and living.
Fifth, happy or
joyful are those who are merciful and kind. Happy are those who are
kind to other people who keep on making mistakes. When I thought
about this BE-attitude, I had to think of The Man himself, Jesus.
Not once in the Bible do you ever hear Jesus condemning anybody for
making a mistake. Not once. Not once does Jesus ever condemn a
person for doing wrong. He simply forgives that person and asks them
to live in wholeness.
When I was thinking
of people who don’t condemn others but show them mercy, I have to
say that I thought of my mother. Mother is that way. The story that
I am thinking about is a Viet Nam story, from the Viet Nam war days.
Greg, the oldest grandson and nephew, was a student at the
University of Wisconsin in those days. He was one of those radicals,
with long hair, scrubby clothes, and a hostile sign. Greg was in the
middle of the fray, protesting our involvement in the war. In my
mind, our entire family turned against Greg although we tried to
cover it up. We turned our backs on Greg for his way of thinking,
his way of doing, his way of protesting. But not Mom. She was loyal
to Greg with her whole being. We all remember this about Mom and
know that part of her goodness is that she was kind and merciful
towards to Greg and others who didn’t think the same way as she
Sixth, happy or
joyful are the pure in heart. It is a fundamental BE-attitude, an
attitude of being, an attitude of existence, an attitude for life
and living. Happy are those who have clean hearts, and to be honest,
unhappy are those with dirty and impure minds. Such people can’t
be happy. These people have dirty minds, lusting minds, filthy
minds. The Greek word for “purity” has sexual connotations; it
is not a general purity of heart but a purity of heart in sexual
matters. Purify of
heart is important in a sexually obsessed society. A professional
basketball player can brag about his thousands of sexual exploits,
and we think he is sick. His heart is an impure as it gets.
When I was thinking
about “pure in heart,” my mind remembered the visits with
Rebecca Anderson, the grand dame of our church. She is ninety-three,
and by her bearing, commands respect and deference. That is the way
Rebecca is. She is a person of immense principle and immense
integrity. The other day, while calling on her, she recited this
poem, from Longfellow, entitled, THE PSALM OF LIFE. Imagine grand
old dame, reciting these words as sharply and as crisply as
In the world’s
broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle,
Be a hero in your strife.
Lives of great
people remind us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us,
Footprints on the sands of time.
Let us then be
up and doing,
With a heart for any fate,
Still achieving, still pursing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Rebecca has left
her footprint on the sands of time, her footprint on my life.
“Lives of great people remind us, we can make our lives
sublime.” After all these years, her photograph is hanging on my
door, reminding me that when I grow up, I want to be like Rebecca,
the pure in heart.
continued, “Blessed and happy are the peacemakers.” When I
thought of the phrase, peacemakers, my mind flashed back a few years
when Anwar Sadat, Begin and Jimmy Carter were in Camp David, and
walked out to greet the cameras with the Camp David Accord.
We were sitting there before the television, watching LITTLE
HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE with our children, Anne and Joel. This news
special broke into the program, as I recall, and we heard about the
possibility of peace. It was an emotional moment for my wife, Jan
and I, and little Joel asked us why we were so upset by this good
news? We said to Joel, “Peace sometimes takes twenty years to
make, and this peace accord may mean that you won’t have to die
fighting in the Middle East.” He didn’t understand but we did.
… These men are the giants of our generation and each person took
great risks: risking assassination, risking the wrath of the
Palestinians, the Jews, the Arab states. If you are in the middle of
a conflict, peacemakers always take enormous risks and will be hated
from somebody on the other side. Peacemakers are also found in
homes, marriages, and at work. Jesus said, “There is an inner joy
to peacemakers, who take the risks so that we can live in peace.”
Eight and nine.
“Happy and joyful are those who are persecuted for righteousness
sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who are
reviled for God.” I tried to think of people who are currently
being persecuted for their belief in Christ, for doing what is right
and following their Christian convictions. I thought of Bishop Tutu
in South Africa and the Bishop of Namibia. I have thought of people
who are being slaughtered by their governments. I thought of
Christians being killed in Poland, the Soviet Union, China, and
Latin and South America. I thought of Jews who were lead to the
death chambers in World War II, and other people who have
experienced genocide. Christians
all over the world are being ridiculed for their faith and dying for
their faith, and Jesus makes the bizarre statement that these people
have an inner joy. Not happiness dependent on happy circumstances,
but an inner joy in their dedication to Christ and values that are
higher than themselves.
We have briefly
looked at nine qualities that make for joy in one’s heart.
We have called them the BE-attitudes, the basic attitudes of
being, the basic attitudes for existence, the core attitudes for
living and life. Often and usually, all of these nine qualities are
found in the same person. These nine qualities belong together, like
finding nine grapes in a clump. … It is interesting to me that the
Apostle Paul lists nine fruit of the Spirit and all nine belong
together; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. These nine fruit of the
spirit belong together, and I am suggesting that the nine attitudes
BE-ing belong together.
I would like to
tell you one more story and this story exhibits all nine qualities
found in one person, or shall I say, one couple. The story is a
story about the wedding day of Nancy Larsen to David McGinnis. Dave
is from a small town in southern Oregon, near the Rogue River. Nancy
grew up in our parish, attending Highline Community College. Their
wedding was a familiar wedding to us all; they did what wedding
couples are supposed to do. But
it is what happened after their wedding that is important. Dressed
in their bridal finery and the groom’s tuxedos, the couple went to
call on the nursing home where Nancy worked. The bride and groom,
all splendid in their wedding garments, promenaded up and down all
the corridors of the nursing home and the old residents came to
their doors to see this many splendored thing. It was as good as it
gets. Everyone was pleased.
This simple gesture
was an example of all of the nine beatitudes being found in one
couple. Nancy, Dave and the people in the resident home know their
need of God. They were merciful and kind, even to have thought of
such a gesture. They are humble, some of the most humble unassuming
people you would ever meet. They were hungry and thirsty to do what
was right, and this visit to the nursing home was right. There was a
purity to this simple gesture, a purity of heart and delight of all
who saw the bride and groom coming down the hallway. The two of them
brought peace to those corridors; people who may have been upset
moments before were now smiling in the hallway. Some people may have
ridiculed Dave and Nancy for doing such a thing right after their
wedding ceremony, before their reception, but Dave and Nancy felt it
was right. So in one moment, in one short period of time, all nine
qualities of the BE-attitudes were found.
“Happiness has nothing to do with wealth, education, health, job,
kids, success, failure. Inner joy has to do with the BE-attitudes,
the attitudes of being, the basic attitudes for life and living.
(Today is All
Saints Day and saints are those who walk with Jesus. To be a saint
to live with the BE-attitudes in your heart. Amen.)