February 2, 2014
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
“Blessed” is a notoriously difficult word to translate. Sometimes this gets translated as “happy are the ….” But if happy is simply an emotion, then I think we are missing the depth of what is happening here. In the Old Testament blessing is when one person, by speaking and acting, gives another power for life. The source of all blessing is God. But people can bless one another as well – prophets blessed kings, priests blessed the people. But the source of all blessing is always God.
If by happy we mean “wellbeing” then maybe we are getting closer.
These verses are split into two sets of blessings: one is for people in situations we do not want to be in, although we often find ourselves there; the other is for people who are trying to live a life of faith, which is not an easy project.
The poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
These are rough places to be in life. Poor in spirit. Sounds a little bit like depression doesn’t it? Or lack of courage.
We know all about mourning. We gathered last week for a service of thanksgiving for Ron Harvitt, and I learned this morning that Howard Reist passed away about 4:45 am. We are community that knows about morning.
Meekness can mean different things depending on whether we read it positively or negatively. In the positive sense, meekness is self-control (one of the fruits of the Spirit), it is being disciplined, being humble. In the negative, it means being pressed down, being forced to bow down, being humiliated.
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness can also be read two ways. On the one hand, how many of us long to be better people than we think that we are? How many of us want to pray more than we do, serve more than we do, read the Bible more than we do? This is hungering and thirsting for more righteousness in our lives.
But what about hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness? Longing for justice in a world that systematically denies it to so many. Longing for fairness in a world that pretends that dog eat dog is the best possible world in which to live. Longing for mercy in a cruel time.
For each of these, there is a blessing given, a blessing spoken. For each of these hard places in life, there is a grace, because that it what the kingdom of heaven is like.
And for those trying to live the kingdom here and now, for the merciful, for the ones who single-heartedly love God, for those who work to make peace, for those whose dedication to God’s ways leads them to get into trouble, for each of these there is a grace, a blessing as well.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called [children] of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
There is no situation so desperate that God cannot find a way to bless us. There is no act of faith so small that God cannot use it for a blessing. There is nothing we face that God cannot handle.
In each of these eight, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who…” In the final blessing, he changes it from the third person, “those,” to the second person, “you.” “Blessed are you when men 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 men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Following Jesus means going against the grain. It means not following popular opinions. It means chances are we will get into trouble.
That said, I worry about heroics. On Superbowl Sunday, it may be blasphemous to say so, but heroics are often problematic. Oh, we love the Hail Mary pass, the 100 yard kick-off return, the coffin corner pass into the endzone at the last possible second.
But these kinds of heroics are not how we live our lives most days.
With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
Okay you parents, admit it: there have been times you were willing to give your firstborn…
But the answer is like what the prophet Hosea says, whom Jesus quotes several times, “The Lord desires mercy and not sacrifice.”
How shall we come before the Lord? What is required of us?
Do justice! (Treat people fairly. Practice ethical business. Work against racism, sexism, homophobia, all the ways we try to divide and conquer people. Don’t just do charity but work to end poverty.)
Love mercy! (Literally to love loving-kindness. Loving-kindness is the quality of God so often expressed as mercy, as grace, as forgiveness, and welcome.)
And walk humbly with our God. God’s folly is that it is not the heroics that God wants. God wants people doing the quiet, loving, simple work of faith. Sounds like folly to so many. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.
Thanks be to God.