The Way of the Blessed

The Way of the Blessed

Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches

March 9, 2014

 

 

Matthew 5: 1-12 (NIV)

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them.

He said:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

 

 

Over the past several weeks, there’s been an oft-referenced blog floating around the so-called blogosphere. The title of the blog is “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying,” and it is written by Scott Dannemiller. I want to share part of his blog with you because speaks very specifically to our text this morning. The blog grew out of Dannemiller’s reflection on a recent phone call with an old college buddy. They did the usual “catching up,” and eventually, their conversation turned to their work. Dannemiller is self-employed, speaking and writing about better leadership and better communication. Scott told his friend that he was keeping a busy speaking schedule, which is good for business, and then he reflected, “[I’m] definitely feeling blessed. Last year was the best year yet for my business. And it looks like this year will be just as busy.” But after Dannemiller got off the phone, he started to really consider what he had just said to his friend.

Here’s what he wrote about that conversation: “Last year was the best year yet for my business. Things are looking busy in 2014. But that is not a blessing. I’ve noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed. Like the ‘amen’ at the end of a prayer. This new car is such a blessing. Finally closed on the house. Feeling blessed. Just got back from a mission trip. Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.

“On the surface, the phrase seems harmless. Faithful even. Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have? Isn’t that the right thing to do? No….[This] has to stop. And here’s why. First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can’t help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M’s to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek his will, and it’s for our own good. But positive reinforcement? God is not a behavioral psychologist.

“Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong…The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture…If we’re looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly. Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach 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 after righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“So there it is. Written in red. Plain as day. Even still, we ignore it all when we hijack the word ‘blessed’ to make it fit neatly into our modern American ideals, creating a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer buys us another scratch-off ticket. In the process, we stand the risk of alienating those we are hoping to bring to the faith. And we have to stop playing that game….”[1]

These Beautitudes, as they are called, open the greatest body of Jesus’ teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. During the weeks of Lent, leading up to Easter, we are going to spend time “listening to Jesus” as we study together our Lord’s great sermon. Lent is to be a time of emptying, a time of turning, a time of preparation for a glorious celebration of new life with Christ’s resurrection on Easter. So this Lenten season, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount will guide our preparation, as we hear his words about what it truly means to live the life of the kingdom. And as we see in Scott Dannemiller’s reflections, the Beatitudes themselves offer us a great challenge, because they confront our notion of blessedness.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us are familiar with the Beatitudes, and we often approach this pronouncement of blessings with much trepidation because we understand it to be a sort of checklist; the necessary qualities for admission into God’s kingdom. And in all honesty, these aren’t traits we really want to strive after, right? We don’t want to be poor, or mournful, or persecuted, do we? So we try and reason out how we can achieve the minimum level necessary in order to check the box and assure our entrance into heaven. And rather than a pronouncement of blessings, these Beatitudes become for us a pronouncement of burdens. But, of course, that’s not what Jesus intended when he spoke these words to the crowds on a hillside so many years ago. The Beatitudes are not direct calls to action; rather, the Beatitudes are promises. Through the Beatitudes, Jesus assures the crowds that while life may be difficult now, those who faithfully endure can look forward to God’s coming realm. This is what we call “Good News”!

But be careful before you heave a sigh of relief, thinking that you are off the hook. Jesus’ good news is offered to those who suffer in this life. But Jesus is not the only one with the responsibility of bringing hope to the hopeless! That’s what Jesus wanted to teach the crowds around him and all his disciples down through the ages. Just because some of us live in relative peace, comfort, and happiness does not mean we are off the hook. Jesus’ words are only good news in the lives of the suffering if we make it so. Here’s what I mean. Jesus offers words of blessed hope most especially to those who suffer in this life. But, for those of us who live what might be called “blessed” lives now, in order to further experience the promise of God’s blessings to come, Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount call us to be a blessing to others.

When God called Abraham and made a covenant with him to build from him a great nation, God said this, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12: 2) In short, Abraham was blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others. And Jesus says the same thing to his disciples in the Beatitudes. If we are blessed with relative wealth and comfort in this life, then Christ calls upon us to use those resources mercifully, to serve the poor and downtrodden in our midst. If we are blessed with lives of relative happiness, then we need to offer our strength and support to those who struggle under the weight of grief, depression, and loss. If we are blessed to live in a country where we are free to speak and act according to our beliefs, then we need to use that freedom to speak out for those who are persecuted and unable to speak for themselves. We all know that the world needs more righteousness and peace, and Christ says that if we are not striving after it, then we are missing out on the blessings of God’s kingdom right before us.

Great, we think; this really is a checklist. You know, it’s so easy for us to become cynical. And that’s especially the case when we start talking about all the things Christians “need” to be doing. Cynicism is bad because it offers little hope that things will get better. The mantra of the cynical is “Forget about it. That is just the way things are. You’ll get used to it. You can’t make a difference anyway.” But the Beatitudes pull us away from cynicism and invite us to an outlook of hopefulness; hopefulness that the world and all who are in it can be better. We place our hope in Christ, who first offered hope to the hopeless. Because of Christ, we are able to approach the world with a spirit of hope. And when we are hopeful, then we can stand in the world sure of the possibility that the day will come when mercy, humility, peace, and love reign over all. Hopefulness even opens our eyes to see that we can be a part of making that day a reality for some even now!

The heart of the Beatitudes is a call to be disciples who live out God’s blessings in pursuit of God’s righteousness; disciples who bring mercy, peace, and love to those who need it most. If we feel God’s blessings even now, in this life, then we have been given a special power. And our task as Christian disciples is to use the power of God’s blessings in our lives to bless others. God’s blessings are our command because God first loved us, giving us the blessing of Jesus Christ, our salvation. Christ is our hope, and the hope of all.

Speaking of hope. Listen to how Scott Dannemiller ended his blog: “So my prayer today is that I understand my true blessing. It’s not my house. Or my job. Or my standard of living. No. My blessing is this. I know a God who gives hope to the hopeless. I know a God who loves the unlovable. I know a God who comforts the sorrowful. And I know a God who has planted this same power within me. Within all of us. And for this blessing, may our response always be, ‘Use me.’”

Will you empty yourself this Lent—empty yourself of selfishness, and cynicism, and doubt? Will you allow God to use you? Know, my friends, that whether in this life or the next, you are blessed by God. But those blessings are empty if they are not put into action to bless others even now.

Put aside the ways of this world. Listen to Jesus. Let him guide you in the way of the blessed. Then, “rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven!”

 

[1] Scott Dannemiller, (2014, Feb. 20). The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying. The Accidental Missionary. Retrieved Mar. 5, 2014, from http://theaccidentalmissionary.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-one-things-christians-should-stop-saying/

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