The BEST of the best inaugural addresses

“Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”     

                                                            Matthew 6: 33 – 34 (New Living Translation)

“For we live by believing not by seeing.” 

                                                            2 Corinthians 5: 7 (New Living Translation)

I watched with delight on YouTube an abcNEWS documentary entitled, Inaugural Addresses Through the Years.  It highlighted the inaugural speeches of newly elected American presidents from Johnson to Nixon to Clinton and more recently Biden’s.  Here are some of the more powerful one-liners that were highlighted by the documentary:

“For every generation, there is a destiny.”  Lyndon B. Johnson

“We cannot expect to make everyone our friend but we can try to make no one our enemy.”  Richard Nixon

“Now each in our own way and with God’s help we must answer the call.”   Robert Clinton

“Let us not lead by the example of power but by the power of example.”  Joe Biden

Curiously, I also Googled the inaugural speeches of leaders of other countries and here are the highlights of a couple of them.

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come, the moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come, the time to build is upon us…”

                                                            Nelson Mandela (South Africa)

“Our state should never be again an appendage or a poor relative of anyone else.”

                                                            Vaclav Havel (Czechoslovakia)

There are a couple of things common though with these inaugural addresses.  First, all their speeches ended with either, “God bless us all. Thank you.” or “God bless you and may He forever bless us.  Thank you.”  Second, they are delivered when they were sworn to office and right after their victory, i.e. winning the election over the opposing candidate.  I can also add that they were all inspiring speeches and were well crafted.  Whether they wrote it themselves or a speechwriter prepared them, I don’t know.

But more than inspired, I was more surprised.  I was not surprised by what these leaders said in their inaugural address.  Their speeches were well researched and properly pitched to the challenging issues their country faced as they take on their role as the newly elected leader.  Yet these speeches pale in comparison to the most powerful and life-transforming message delivered by Jesus in his inaugural sermon on the mount, known as the Beatitudes.

Do you really understand the depth of meaning the Beatitudes?  Do you know the real message of the Beatitudes?

Before we plunge into the deep meaning and true message of the beatitudes, let us look at the contrasting differences between these inaugural addresses and that of Jesus’ inaugural sermon on the mount.

Firstly, these leaders delivered their inaugural addresses after their victory in the election.  Jesus delivered the sermon on the mount after John the Baptist baptized Him on the river Jordan and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended on Him as the Father acknowledged Jesus as His Son in Whom He is well pleased.  He delivered the sermon though not until after overcoming the devil’s attempt to dissuade Him from pursuing His mission to redeem the kingdom and proclaim His rule of and reigning over it forever.

Come to think about it.  Jesus declared victory and blessings even before He defeated the ultimate enemy, death, on the cross.  His victory over death on the cross did not happen until after His three years ministry of healing, educating, loving and proclaiming His kingdom here on earth as in heaven. I think this is what the theological term inaugurated eschatology really means. He declared in the beginning of HIs ministry what will happen in the end! Now come to think of it again. He inaugurated the gospel, “the time has come , he said., The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1: 15)

Secondly, these leaders did not deliver on the promises they made during their inaugural address, save for one truth, which was their ending remark, “God bless us all”.  Aren’t we all being blessed by God already? In the Beatitudes, Jesus boldly declared these blessings even before delivering on all His promises during His three-year ministry.

Thirdly, these leaders promised improvement in the lives of their constituencies but it was Jesus who actually did it and continues to do so up to this time.

I think the real meaning and truth about the Beatitudes is summarized by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, as follows:

“Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”     

R. Paul Stevens, a marketplace theologian and chairman and founder of the Institute for Marketplace Transformation, brilliantly illuminated the truth about the Beatitudes in his essay entitled The Beatitudes Teach Us How to Flourish in the Marketplace.  He restated the Beatitudes in the light of its true meaning, i.e. the flourishing of person in this amazing, upside-down – really right side – up kingdom.

  • Flourishing are the poor in spirit because the kingdom of heaven is theirs
  • Flourishing are the mourners because they will be comforted
  • Flourishing are the humble/meek because they will inherit the world
  • Flourishing are the ones hungering and thirsting for righteousness because they will be satisfied
  • Flourishing are the merciful because they will be given mercy
  • Flourishing are the pure in heart because they will see God
  • Flourishing are the peacemakers because they will be called the children of God
  • Flourishing are the ones persecuted on account of righteousness because the kingdom of heaven is theirs

Stevens pointed out that the Beatitudes do not say what you have to do in order to get into the kingdom.  They describe what it is like when you are in the kingdom.  Further, the Beatitudes are not statements exclusively about a future kingdom period when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom on earth – it is now and also in the future (that is the mystery). 

Even now as the Covid virus is plaguing the world and the threat of a deadlier third wave is before us, how can we say that there is flourishing?  How can we say there is flourishing when chronic poverty still persists in many African, Latin American and even in developing countries like the Philippines?  This clearly points to the fact that the Beatitudes are paradoxical. 

All of us are like the two disciples, one was named Cleofas while the other was unnamed, who walked with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  Is it possible that the reason why second disciple was unnamed is because he represents you and me?  We are like those two disciples who have eyes that cannot see the mystery of the flourishing kingdom in the Beatitudes.  Maybe we need to walk with Jesus anew and listen again as He tells the truth about the kingdom that He has already inaugurated on that first Easter morning when He resurrected.  Then and only then will the eyes of our hearts be opened and our surprise will turn into wonder and worship of Him will all our heart, mind and strength.

Stevens gets practical as he posed these questions about the flourishing kingdom in the Beatitudes:

  • “Are these virtues practical?”
  • “Can we operate this way in the marketplace?”
  • “Down the store where you work as a check – out employee?”
  • “In the President’s office high in the tower?”
  • “On the shop floor, if you are a machinist?”
  • “In the home with all the conflicting agendas and ego – needs of family life?”
  • “In a government office?”

He answers these questions with the following questions premised that all business and human exchange is based on trust:

  • “Would you not trust someone who does not communicate that they are all – sufficient in themselves?”
  • “Would you not value someone who makes peace in the workplace?”
  • “In the workplace, is not blessing to find mercy, to be given a second chance and to profit from failure and mistakes?”

He closed his arguments by sharing how he rewrote the Beatitudes for business when he produced the Doing God’s Business video series.  As rewritten, here they are:

  • I will think much of God and others, and little of myself – poor in spirit
  • I will admit when I am wrong and grieve for sin – mourn
  • I will yield rights for the betterment of others – the meek shall inherit the earth
  • I will show kindness and grace when others let me down – merciful
  • I will cultivate “a single eye” having all my life focused on God and God’s kingdom – pure in heart
  • I will try to bring together factions and people at odds, building community – peacemakers
  • I will “take” the pain of doing the right thing – persecuted because of righteousness

He can’t be more practical than these series of questions that he answered himself by questions.  He rephrased the Beatitudes in the context of the marketplace.  Why do I say this?  It is because I have been working since I was a little boy and up to now that I have become a son, a brother, an accountant, a husband, a father and the many roles I played in this drama of life.  I learned and experienced that if we seek his kingdom above all else and live righteously, wherever we are planted we will bloom.  And for the good work we do  – it will thrive, for the workers we worked with and served – they will thrive, and for the workplace, whichever part of his kingdom, we are planted  – it will thrive and last, possibly forever!

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