Sermon: January 30, 2011

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Sermon Details
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Sermon Date: 
January 30, 2011
Rev. Eldonna Hazen
Sermon Text: 
Psalm 15, Matthew 5:1-12
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Let us pray:  May the words of our mouths and the meditation in our hearts always be acceptable to You, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

How recently have you sneezed and heard the words, “bless you?” Have you ever said that to someone else after they sneezed? Did you sign any of your Christmas cards by using the word “blessings?” Did you receive any cards using the same language? I use the word quite regularly in correspondence and in my daily life. “She/He has been such a blessing; we feel so blessed; it has been such a blessing.” I really doubt that I am the only person here today who finds the word prevalent in their weekly or daily activities. And, we like it. We like to be blessed. Often times we want to find ways to be blessed. We want to be in God's or someone else's good graces. Often times we even ask what it would take to be blessed. Of course we don’t ask in such a straight-forward way.

We heard that in the reading from Psalm.  “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”   Now, we could take that question literally, which people did want to know how to be able to be welcomed into the place of God, but really people want to know how to gain God’s favor.  We also hear this kind of request in Micah:  

“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 firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

According to the Abrahamaic tradition, "To be blessed" means 'to be favored by God'. Blessings therefore are directly associated with God and come from God. Therefore to express a blessing, is like bestowing a wish on someone that she/he will experience the favor of God. "May you have a blessed Christmas", therefore can also be translated as: "May you experience the favor of God during this Christmas period."  One of the first incidences of blessing in the Bible is in Genesis 12:1-2 where Abram is ordered by the Lord to leave his country and is told:

"I will bless you, I will make your name great."

The Priestly Blessing is set forth at Numbers 6:24-26:

May the Lord bless you, and keep you;
May the Lord make His countenance shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
May the Lord turn His countenance to you and grant you peace.

We want, as the people in biblical times wanted, to know how we can be in God’s favor.  And, of course, we practice this regularly in our lives also.  We choose people who are meaningful to us in our lives and try to get in their good graces.  This is quite ‘human-like’.   

However, what has happened in the words from Jesus recorded in Matthew that Hank read, is that it seems that we need to do and be things that do not make sense to us.  We have become accustomed to doing what Jesus tells us to do.  So, certainly we are not comfortable with these statements.  Come on, Jesus, you want me to be poor in spirit?  You want me to mourn?  You want me to be meek?  You want me to hunger and thirst for righteousness?  And then you add to be merciful, peacemakers and persecuted for my beliefs.  Ok, Jesus you have really confused me now.

Just for a moment, let’s try to understand Jesus purpose in these words.  Because, as I talked about earlier, we want to be in God’s favor to receive blessings, we have a tendency to read these verses as what we need to do to receive blessings.  I would like to suggest Jesus is not listing these blessings as things to strive for, but that even when we experience these kinds of behavior, we will be blessed.  A statement was made in Bible Conversations that I hope I do not have to lose someone I love in order to be blessed.  Instead of using that language, I would challenge us to believe that even when we do lose someone we love and find ourselves in mourning, we will be blessed.  When we find ourselves poor in spirit; when we have dug as deep as we can; we will still be blessed.

Fred Craddock says:  “Very important, then, is the recognition that the beatitudes appear at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, before a single instruction is given, before there has been time for obedience or disobedience. If the blessings were only for the deserving, very likely they would be stated at the end of the sermon, probably prefaced with the conditional clause, "If you have done all these things." But appearing at the beginning, they say that God’s favor precedes all our endeavors. In fact, all our efforts at kingdom living are in response to divine grace, motivated by "because of," not "in order to."”

Jesus is training his disciples at this point.  He is trying to make sure that they understand the power of God’s love, grace and blessings.  He wants them to know the depth and richness of God’s care for God’s people.  God’s love and blessing is available to all.  However, sometimes we are uncomfortable with receiving blessings. 

David Lose, a preaching professor at Luther seminary in the Twin Cities, tells of an experience he had in graduate school.  He says, “When I was in graduate school, one of my teachers, Dr. LaRue, would regularly address me as "Dr. Lose." Eventually it made me uncomfortable enough that I said to him, "But Dr. LaRue, I haven't earned my doctorate yet. I don't think you should call me that." "Dr. Lose," he patiently responded, "in the African-American church we are not content to call you what you are, but instead call you what we believe you will be!" Blessing. Unexpected, unsettling, nearly inconceivable, yet blessing nonetheless.

In the middle ages when someone sneezed you said "God bless you" fearing that they may have the plague. The mantra we repeat so regularly developed, that is, as a way to ward off fear of evil, disease, and death. Perhaps in our worship and our daily lives this week we can help reclaim those three powerful words to signify not fear but joy, not disease but delight, not death but God's new life. In doing so, we may just reclaim not only the beatitudes but an essential element of the Christian life itself: the insight that God is a God who delights to create, bless, and redeem, and the reminder that we are God's own beloved and blessed children. 

We might use our time more wisely this week, not to try to focus on how we can be blessed by God, but accepting that no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we ARE blessed by God.  God bless you!  Amen.