January 29, 2016 – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Sermon: Blessed Are You
Scripture: Matthew 4:23 – 5:12
Kevin’s song began, “People are talking about the world we live in; they say that it’s time for a change.” For centuries, people have prayed for ‘change.’ And, their prayers have been answered. Change occurs each and every day. The question is, ‘what type of change are we desiring and pursuing?’ Jesus changed the world and the Beatitudes are his core message.
When Paula and I moved to North Carolina, we had to take a driver’s exam. We have been driving for decades. But, it was good to review what we already knew.
These Beatitudes are as familiar to most of you adults as is driving a car. Yet, these eight Beatitudes are so basic to Christian discipleship that we must review them from time to time.
This rock belongs to the mineral kingdom. This apple belongs to the plant kingdom. The birds and squirrels in the trees outside belong to the animal kingdom. And, you have gathered today because you belong to God’s kingdom.
Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God. His parables included the phrase, “The kingdom of God is like…” He told us to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ and he said, ‘the Kingdom of God is within you.’ God is Lord in your life. God is the One in charge of your desires, attitudes, thoughts, choices, words, actions, habits, relationships, resources and character. In the Beatitudes, it is as if Jesus is saying, ‘Your Be-Attitudes Shape Your Do-Aptitudes.’
Jesus never taught that his followers should be visible in the world. JESUS TAUGHT THAT HIS CHURCH WILL BE VISIBLE IN THE WORLD; is visible in the world: “You are the light of the world…like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden,” he said. Too often, Christians and churches are visible because they are yelling, condemning, accusing, blaming, shaming, arguing, fighting or bragging. Jesus wants us to be visible in the world by the way we follow him by living out these blessings, these beatitudes!
The word, ‘Beatitude’ comes from the Latin word, ‘beatus,’ meaning ‘blessed.’ The plural of ‘beatus,’ is ‘beatitudo;’ or ‘the blessings.’
The idea intended by the word, ‘Blessed,’ is completeness or wholeness. When you are blessed, you have everything you need. You are like the preschooler who recited, “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.”
These blessings are bestowed upon people who are committed to God because in that commitment, they receive all they need. The Beatitudes are the DNA particles of discipleship that show up in persons living as citizens in God’s Kingdom.
I once spent a day in the shop of a master craftsman woodworker. He told me, ‘When you are working with wood, you must learn to work with the grain. If you work against the grain, you will never get the wood to the degree of smoothness that you seek.’
Friends, these Blessings, these Beatitudes, taught by Jesus show us the grain of our creation which is formed by Divine hands. In our tradition, we call this Christian discipleship. Persons who live against the grain are not becoming what God intended and they end up with a life full of rough places and splinters.
So renew yourself to these Beatitudes; Blessings that come with your commitment.
- You are blessed by being poor in spirit. When you live in a poverty or a humility of spirit, you experience the kingdom of God. If a person has a haughty or an arrogant spirit, they are living against the grain of God’s will. Your relationship with God is nurtured when you are poor in spirit. You show that you are the people of God by being humble.
- You are blessed by mourning for your sin. When you express sorrow to God for your sin against others, you realize each sin against another person is a sin against God. If a person is not sorry for their sin, or says they are sorry while continuing to be insensitive toward those they hurt, they are living against the grain of God’s will. As you follow Jesus, you express sorrow and grief for your sin; you mourn and confess your sin to God. You experience God’s transforming grace and receive God’s comfort through God’s forgiveness.
- You are blessed by being meek. If a person bullies others, manipulates others, stubbornly seeks their own way or throws around their weight or seeks to show how powerful they are, they are living against the grain of God’s will. By being meek – sincere, kind, patient, thoughtful, understanding – you have influence on earth the bullies will never know.
- You are blessed by hungering and thirsting for the ways of God. Righteousness points to how our covenant relationship with God is lived out in community with others. When a person’s deepest cravings and highest desires fail to reflect God’s covenant, which seeks the best for all creation, they are living against the grain of God’s will. However, as your relationship with God shapes you so that God’s vision for others is increasingly your vision for others, then your appetite is right with God and you are satisfied.
- You are blessed by being merciful. Mercy is the ache inside of you when you are moved by the suffering of someone else. If a person has little or no compassion or empathy toward the pain of others, they are living against the grain of God’s will. However, when you say, “My heart aches for them,” you are experiencing mercy. When you do something about their suffering, you are expressing mercy. Jesus did not merely feel mercy; he was merciful to the suffering of his time. You express mercy because you are full of God’s mercy.
- You are blessed by having a pure heart. This means ‘undivided loyalty.’ If a person says they are a Christian, but they do not invest in their relationship with God or study the life and teachings of Jesus or show evidence that their heart is shaped by God’s heart as they relate with others, they are living against the grain of God’s will. However, when you relate with others in ways that were incarnated by Jesus, you are able to see God at work in ways that most people miss. You are blessed by having a pure heart in that you see God.
- You are blessed by being a peacemaker. Next Sunday is Youth Sunday; one of my favorite Sundays each year. On Youth Sunday forty-seven years ago, March 22, 1970, Cindy Millsaps was the preacher; the daughter of Ace and Don. Cindy, now a judge in California, spoke on this verse, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” She concluded her sermon with this declaration: “…the peacemaker is a child of God, for there is no more godlike work in all the world than peacemaking.” We have been sending out peacemakers as children of God for 95 years.
- You are blessed by being persecuted because of your commitment to God. If a person tries to live as a follower of Jesus without making any sacrifices or without ever being ridiculed, they are living against the grain of God’s will. You may be reviled for expressing Jesus’ compassion toward the ostracized of our time or welcoming the stranger that others fear. You may be criticized for condemning those who Jesus condemned; pretentious religious leaders who follow the legalistic practices of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp because of his commitment to God which motivated him to condemn Hitler. Bonhoeffer taught in his book about discipleship that followers of Jesus no longer have a decision to make about whether they will be Jesus’ disciples. The only thing left for them to do is to live in the world according to the teachings and lifestyle practices of Jesus. Bonhoeffer uses the phrase, “suffering love” to describe the cost of discipleship.
Friends, when you orient every dimension of your life around your commitment to obey God, there will be a cost to pay. There was for Jesus. As his followers, you should expect no less. It is a blessing to follow Jesus in the Kingdom of God – even when it involves a cost due to suffering love.
A little girl was trying to button up her dress but the buttons were up the back of her dress. Finally, she gave up and went to her mother. “Mama, I need your help. I tried to do it, but I am in front of myself.”
We are followers of Jesus. So, we don’t want to get in front of ourselves.
Jesus came to change the world and the Beatitudes are his core message.
Blessed are you for you are the people of God. You are the instruments of God’s peace. And now, you move back into the world as Christ’s visible Church.
Go forth to let others know how to work with the grain as God has created them to live.
Amen and AMEN.