Monday, February 3, 2014

Blessings You Can Live With

Matthew 5: 1-12
Blessings Everywhere
It seems like lately I’ve been inundated with blessings, or at least the word blessing!  I have found myself ending my hospital visits with most folks with, “Blessings to you for healing”, and I’ve even bid adieu by replacing ‘Good bye’, with ‘God bless’.  

More often than not lately it seems, us clergy folk seem to sign most emails with, ‘Blessings’ sort of like ‘Warmest Regards’ or ‘Cordially Yours’.

Now that probably doesn’t sound bad, and it’s not.  Who doesn’t want to be blessed?  I’m not a curmudgeon, I don’t think, it just beginning to seem too casual to me.  It’s sort of like when someone you don’t know gets on the elevator with you and asks, ‘How ya doing?’  Inquiring about my welfare?  A stranger?  I’m torn between telling that person how I really am, not that they want to hear how I’m doing, or just saying, ‘Good, and you?’, not really caring if I get an answer. 

With the frequency that I hear the word blessing or blessings it makes me wonder the efficacy of it and just what it is that we are saying.  That’s the cynical voice screaming inside my head.   Then there is the hopeful and trustful voice inside of my head that knows and believes in the power of God’s amazing grace and how God has the ability to bless us beyond any of our juiciest imaginations and that is a promise.  You see a blessing is a gift that we can’t manufacture. It happens and we recognize it.

 Today’s Context for Blessing
Today we are talking about blessing within the context of the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.  The Sermon on the Mount is at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry in the Galilee region after he left Nazareth. 

Let’s hear now this account from the Gospel of Matthew:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
         for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is
         the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus makes his home now in Capernaum.  It’s here he calls his first disciples and he begins to gather followers, lots of them.

He does this by teaching in the local synagogues throughout the region.  He cures diseases and heals people with every sickness making concrete the advent of the kingdom.  His proclamation is effective and his fame spreads throughout Syria to the North, from the Decapolis, which is a collection of ten cities east of Jerusalem, Judea in the south and from way beyond the Jordan.  By now it was a rather large crowd of people who was following him.

When Jesus saw the crowds following him he high-tails it up the mountain!  His disciples follow and that is where he begins the first of five great discourses recorded in Matthew where Jesus reinterprets the law and offers a new way of thinking.  It was one ‘knock your socks off’ sermons because it contains the Beatitudes which are beloved to most Christians, some great stories about salt and light and this is also when he teaches the disciples how to pray saying, ‘Our Father who are in heaven, hallowed be they name.’ 

Two poignant points in one sermon, the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer.  Both have been crocheted on canvas, carved into wooden platters, hung upon people’s walls and have been put to tune.  And why?  Because both address our deepest concerns about the life that we live in the here and now, and the life that we will have in the kingdom of God.

The Beatitudes are not rules for a good life, and they are not ethical demands put upon us, they are promises of God’s purpose in the world.  They are challenges for a life worth living.  Beatitude means blessed, or happy, or fortunate, and so they are not calls to action, but promises given in a specific context from a first century perspective.

It was a world of conflict and oppression and Jesus turns things upside down from the prevailing culture; he’s got an opposing point of view on how things should be.  People who normally would not have seen themselves as blessed are promised a place in God’s realm because in fact from God’s perspective, they are blessed.  The fishermen.  The farmers.  The marginalized people of the Roman Empire.  The ‘little’ people.  All blessed!  And so are we.

The Beatitudes are challenges to worthy living because in today’s world the poor, peaceful, merciful and meek get nowhere in a culture that is so firmly grounded in competition and self-indulgence.  The Beatitudes are a vision for us of faithful living today towards God’s realm. 

What would it mean for you to engage in more faithful living in this crazy world? How can you stay God-focused throughout your week?

Our answers are in the Beatitudes:
            Possess a humbleness of spirit – God’s in charge, not us!
            Desire for right living – God’s path is the path that will get you there!
            Thirst for justice – Where there is justice there is peace!
            Recognize a need for forgiveness – God forgives us and then we can forgive others!

These are blessings that I want and indeed have, as you do too.  They are blessings from a God who loves us dearly. They are gifts and all we need to do is recognize them, open our hearts to them, live into them each day and then you’ll be able to really ‘count your blessings.’

Peace Pilgrim's Beatitudes
A woman named Mildred Norman, calling herself Peace Pilgrim, set out from 1953-1981 on a personal pilgrimage for peace.  She walked over 25, 000 miles.  She vowed to ‘remain a walker until humanity has learned the way of peace.’  She walked until her death in fact. She penned a set of beatitudes in her effort for peace, I want to read some of them to you, she expanded ‘blessed are the peacemakers for us to contemplate today:

Blessed are they who give without expecting even thanks in return, for they shall be  
          abundantly rewarded.
Blessed are they who translate every good thing they know into action, for ever
          higher truths shall be revealed unto them.
Blessed are they who do God's will without asking to see results, for great shall be
          their recompense.
Blessed are they who love and trust their fellow beings, for they shall reach the good
          in people and receive a loving response.
Blessed are they who see the change we call death as a liberation from the
          limitations of this earth-life, for they shall rejoice with their loved ones who
          make the glorious transition.
Blessed are they, who after dedicating their lives and thereby receiving a blessing,
           have the courage and faith to surmount the difficulties of the path ahead, for
           they shall receive a second blessing.

These beatitudes are thoughtful and loving blessings. These are Peace Pilgrim’s Beatitudes, what would yours be? All good things come from God.  The challenge for us is to see theses gifts and name them as a blessing.  In doing so your life will be blessed.   


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