January 29, 2017 – Blessed are

Epiphany 4   January 29, 2017 ( Ps 15, Exodus 19:3-6, 17-20, Isaiah 2:1-5) Matthew 5:1-12          Blessed are

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“Blessed are….”

Even just the words ‘blessed are’ sound like a blessing. And who would not like to receive a blessing?

Yet, somehow, a lot of what we hear and see does not seem designed or intended to be a blessing…

I had a friend in seminary whose telephone answering machine greeting said, “If you have called to be a blessing, you may leave a message at the sound of the beep…” She didn’t exactly say do not leave a message if you are not calling to be a blessing… But you would get that message… If you were listening…

If everyone was always calling to be a blessing – trying to be a blessing – what a blessing that would be! Though the question then becomes, I suppose – what do we mean by a blessing? Many seem to have their own definitions of what a blessing is.

Jesus says Blessed are nine times today. And I’ve been pondering what it might be like if every time we prayed to Jesus we first got his answering machine with a message like my friend’s message – “Hi, this is Jesus. If you are calling to receive a blessing, or to be a blessing – stay on the line, I’ll be with you momentarily. Please listen first to hear what I mean by blessing…” Then we hear:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” …and…

“Blessed are those who mourn”…

And I imagine some people will be hanging up on Jesus already… Thinking “I don’t think I’m interested in blessings that sound like poverty and weeping…”

But for those who stay on the line, and listen, the voice of Jesus continues, saying…

“Blessed are the meek…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Blessed are the merciful…

Blessed are the pure in heart…

Blessed are the peacemakers”…

Now we’re getting into blessings that sound more like blessings – at least the kinds of blessings we usually appreciate seeing in others…

Although, thinking about these blessings applied to myself can still be a little like thinking about resolutions to join the gym or clean the garage or the attic… Hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being pure in heart sound great for everyone… And – like really worthwhile goals for me… (To begin pursuing in earnest… maybe next year…or the year after… )

But then we get to:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake”…

Not exactly a blessing I’m ever eager for.. And I’m pretty sure its not just me…

Persecution, according to the dictionary, is about being subjected to hostility, oppression, abuse, ill-treatment… I can’t recall anyone very eager for this blessing… Or it’s closely-related blessing –

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…”

If we were to call up Jesus and listen to all his list of blessings, I wonder – how many of us are likely to leave our call-back number for Jesus to be getting back to us about being his disciples? How many of us will be able to sing: Count your blessings, count them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done…

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We’re on the road of discipleship with Jesus today, listening to the beginning of the sermon known as “the sermon on the mount.” The first and longest sermon of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. A sermon that takes its unofficial colloquial name from its location on a mountain. A mount of blessed memory, which reminds us of Israel’s mountaintop heritage… Moses receiving the ten commandments on Mt Sinai – the mountain covered in fire and smoke, trembling with God’s presence.  Reminds us of, later, on that same mountain, the prophet Elijah, hearing God speak in the sound of sheer silence… Reminds us, still later, of the mountain foretold in Isaiah’s vision – all the nations on earth gathering on the mountain of God…  to learn God’s ways, and beat their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks…

Just before where we tune-in to the story today, Jesus has been traveling through his home province of Galilee, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven has come near. He demonstrates the kingdom’s presence – healing the sick, the lame, the blind, the afflicted. Great crowds gather to listen to Jesus and follow him…

Now Jesus goes up the mountain, and disciples come, following, to listen as he teaches. Some bible interpreters hear the reference to his disciples here as meaning only the inner circle of disciples whom he has called and chosen. But we haven’t yet heard Jesus call anyone but Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the fishermen.  The calling of the rest of the first team of twelve disciples isn’t narrated till later (in Matthew chapter 10). So other bible interpreters look to the end of this sermon, where we hear “the crowds were astounded with his teaching” – and guess the word disciples is used inclusively now.

We can’t really be sure who Matthew means by “disciples” yet. And perhaps a middle ground interpretation would be that it’s a chosen few listening at first, with many others arriving a little later, joining the sermon in progress… We don’t know how many disciples were listening. But we can be sure the published version of this sermon that takes up all of Matthew chapters five, six, and seven is a summary of a much longer sermon. A sermon Jesus probably preached at least parts of on many occasions. (We hear a lot of its content also in various places in Luke’s gospel.) And all the gospels tell us that Jesus often teaches for many hours at a time (once for three days straight)…

And the disciples and inquisitive crowds stay with Jesus, listening, intently all day as he proclaims the gospel – because they can see and feel the power of God at work in him…

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Some of you know these blessings from Jesus well enough to know the endings of each verse without looking at the bulletin or power point… Some of you know these blessings Jesus is talking about even before you hear him complete each phrase.

You know the poor in spirit are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (The kingdom of God.) The poor in spirit are those who have realized how much they need God. The poor in spirit are those who have come to believe God’s kingdom is the only kingdom that matters when it all comes down.

And here is the key to the kingdom… that unlocks all the other blessings… Here in the very first blessing…

Some of you know the blessings that come when we mourn…Mourn from the heart with all who mourn for the hurt and pain of the world… Mourn with all who weep over the things that break the heart of God and make God weep… Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted with the deep, enduring comfort only God can give…

Some of you know the blessing of meekness – (“gentleness” in other translations). Gentleness is God’s nature, and those who let God remake them in the image of God share in the joy of Christ’s gentleness. The gentleness of God that overcomes the world, and inherits the earth…

Some of you know the blessings that come with hungering and thirsting for righteousness – (“justice” in other translations). They will be filled. Filled with all that makes for right relationship with God and neighbor. Filled with the righteousness of God, the justice of God. Fed at the gospel feast of justice and peace and right relationship with God and neighbors…

All of you know the blessing of mercy. The blessing of God to the merciful – who shall all receive mercy. The mercy of God, blessing us ever more deeply, as we become ever-more-merciful. Showing mercy, receiving mercy, like the rhythm of the tides… Realizing how much mercy we have received is God’s way of teaching us to keep showing ever-more mercy to others. The mercy of God is contagious. Blessed are all who catch a serious case of God’s mercy, and share Christ’s mercy far and wide, with one and all…

Some of you know the blessing of purity of heart. You have learned to see God… See God at work in the world, changing lives. Blessed are all who let God purify their hearts. They will see God seeking the lost. See God healing broken lives. See God remaking the world… into the kingdom of heaven…

Some of you know the blessings that come with making peace. The blessing of peacemakers, who are called children of God. Peacemakers who look to Jesus and find peace…. Who join with Jesus, seeking to bring about the fullness of the peaceable kingdom Isaiah foretold…

Some of you know the blessings that come with the not-so-blessed-sounding-blessing of persecution for righteousness sake. (For Jesus’ sake.) The blessings that come with being mistreated and excluded, treated as an outcast, as Jesus was treated.

Blessed are they who know the blessings of Jesus. Theirs again is the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God… The kingdom that matters. The kingdom we pray for every day – every time we pray – Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

In all of these blessings that Jesus speaks we hear the promise of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. And all these blessings build upon the first blessing – blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are all who know their need of God.

Blessed are we in poverty of spirit. Blessed are we when we know our deep, enduring need for God in every season and situation.

And blessed are we, when, knowing our need of God, we seek to live ever more deeply into the blessings of God’s kingdom. Sharing in the life of God and the life God’s people. Teaching others all Jesus teaches us, for the sake of his kingdom.

Blessed are we, as we live ever-more-deeply into all the blessings of Jesus.

Blessed is He!

Blessed are we by his grace.

Thanks be to God. Amen.