a sermon for Desert Mission Anglican Church on January 29, 2017 | Epiphany 4
Passage: Matthew 5:1–12
I have good news for you today. It might not seem like it at first, but I have good news about Gods promise of blessing for you. What does it mean to be blessed?
The other day someone asked me how I was doing. “I’m blessed,” I replied, because I’m a Christian. We all know we’re blessed, we all talk about blessing, and we know God wants to bless us, but how many of us really know what it means? Honestly, I often talk about blessings as simply good things. Pizza is a blessing, health is a blessing, Netflix and appliances and iPhones are blessings. I sign most of emails “blessings, Fr. Nathan+.”
What does it mean to be blessed?
The dictionary definition, per Google, is quite simple. Blessing is simply God’s favor, protection, provision.
What does it mean to be blessed?
To be blessed isn’t just to have good things happen to you but to enjoy the expression of God’s goodwill and care toward you.
Ok, so you know what it means to be blessed.
But…how do you know you are blessed? How do you know that you are enjoying God’s favor, protection, provision?
It should be easy to tell, right? Most people in Jesus’s lifetime thought it was pretty easy to tell who was blessed. It’s those that have plenty of money, that have great relationships, that seem to be coasting through life without a care in the world. Those that have every appearance of be prosperous. Those that have every appearance of being powerful and in control of their life’s circumstances.
This is the intuitive position to take. The one that seems blindingly obvious.
To this day, there are plenty of people that believe the signs of God’s favor are physical wholeness and financial abundance. Health and wealth.
If things are going well, we say, “I am blessed!” But what about when things aren’t going well? Do we assume that we have fallen from God’s graces? Many do.
Many say that if you are struggling financially, relationally, spiritually you must be doing something wrong, God must be withdrawing his favor…isn’t it obvious?
So, do we assume that we have fallen from God’s graces? Many do.
Many are wrong.
Unfortunately, it seems like we human-beings are easily distracted and carried away with our own pre-conceived ideas of what it means to be blessed in this life. We don’t want to miss what Jesus is saying to us in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew 5. These Beatitudes, these pronouncements of grace (which just means undeserved gift or favor), these sayings are part of the core teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. These are not just nice proverbs to be put up on a plaque in your home. They are not a new a law for us to live up to. They are descriptions of the reality of God’s Kingdom on Earth, and they show us definitively that God’s blessing, his favor, his grace isn’t principally expressed in our “prosperity” or power in this life. They show us that our assurance of God’s favor isn’t about our ever-changing circumstances, but God’s unbreakable promise.
Matthew 5:1–12 (ESV)
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is all of us. All of us are spiritually needy. We cannot solve the problem of our own sin, our own shortcomings, our own rebellion against who were created to be. But Jesus says, if you are spiritually needy, you are the recipient of God’s favor! You are blessed! You are already receiving the righteous rule of God in your heart, if you accept it. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven: in the present tense! This is a promise for now!
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
We don’t usually think of those who mourn as blessed, but Jesus says despite all appearances, those who mourn are blessed. Not because of their grief, but because they are recipients of God’s favor. They shall be comforted. Future tense. Those who mourn know that they are favored by God not because of their present situation, but because of God’s promise that things are going to be definitively made right one day.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
The gentle. The lowly. The submissive. The non-violent. Their promised inheritance is the whole world! Yet you would never think it, because the meek are usually the conquered, the oppressed, and trampled-on, and the outcasts.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Those that hunger and thirst for righteousness are hungry and thirsty because they do not have it. They desperately want things to be as they should be in their hearts and in the world, and even though it seems impossible, they know that all things are possible in Christ Jesus. These are the people that never compromise on their values, that always speak out for justice, and on behalf of the oppressed. These are the people that place God’s vision and mission ahead of their cultural norms, personal safety or national security. These are the people that are constantly told to be more “realistic” and “practical” when it comes to living out the Christian faith, but keep loving people the way Jesus did anyways.
It may not seem like it now, but they will be satisfied. God’s will, will be done. The earth really will be made new and people really are being transformed in the power of the Spirit right now.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve. We don’t live in a culture that values mercy. We live in a culture that values self-reliance, and getting what you deserve. We have little compassion for those that put themselves in horrible situations “because, well, it’s their fault. What are you going to do? To show mercy is just to let yourself be taken advantage of.” But God’s promise here is especially poignant. Those that show mercy, receive mercy. And if we’re honest, we’ve all made a mess of things in life and we all technically deserve whatever we get because of our actions. But God is willing pour out his favor on the merciful and spare us the ultimate consequences we deserve.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
To seek after the things of God is to minimize the things of the world: wealth, power, pleasure. To be pure in heart is have one aim, one focus, one desire. It is to have one source of delight in your life, and to have that source be the one who made you. In worldly terms it means giving up some things. Jesus tells us the tradeoff is amazing though. The pure in heart will see God. The most awesome, powerful, beautiful, and loving person in all existence.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The peacemakers are those that take the call to be ambassadors of Christ seriously. Those that see that God was reconciling the world to himself in Jesus, making peace by the blood of the Cross (Col 1:20), and going out with a message of peace. The peacemakers are the front-line diplomats, the ones that walk into dangerous—even enemy—territory, with their weapons down and their arms outstretched to show and tell of a better way. These are the ones that everyone will recognize not just as the people, but the family of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Even if it seems as if all is lost, even when you are being cast out, hunted down, and killed (that’s what persecution is, by the way, not hearing your cashier wish you a happy holiday instead of a Merry Christmas)…Even if you are truly being persecuted, you can be assured of God’s promise of favor and provision because persecution is what happens to people that tell the truth. Even though the reward might be delayed, those that endure persecution are living out Kingdom principles in the present, they are exhibiting the righteous rule of Christ now, and so Jesus can say the Kingdom is theirs.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The persecuted are living the Kingdom, and they will be rewarded for it.
Do you see a common thread in these pronouncements of grace? They are declarations of God’s favor over people that are vulnerable, oppressed, hurting, or seemingly very weak, but are still seeking after God. Jesus is giving hope to those on the margins, saying in no uncertain terms that regardless of what it looks like, God has not forgotten his promises of blessing, there is a certain hope for the future, and he has not given up on you.
Jesus turns what seems to be obvious on its head. He takes the values of the kingdoms of this world and turns them upside down.
1 Corinthians 1:25 (ESV)
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
It might seem ridiculous to us that we can look at the mourning and the meek and call them blessed, but we’re not banking on our intuition, but God’s promises.
Jesus surely enjoyed God’s favor at every stage of his life. From his birth in a stable for livestock, to his time as a refugee in another country, fleeing for his life from those that wanted to kill him, to his homelessness during his ministry, even while enduring ridicule and torture. Jesus never stopped being loved by the Father, and he never stopped loving the Father, because he knew the promise of blessing for him still stood, and would be fulfilled.
We know God can take the worst situations and bring something redemptive and beautiful and blessed out of them because God took the murder of his own, perfect son on the Cross, and made it the means of our salvation. Then he brought him back from the dead to rule, guide, and even serve you and me. His people, his family.
The Good News for you in Jesus is that there is a sure, unbreakable promise of good blessings for all who believe, amid situations and circumstances that are not so good.
Jesus tells us to look for the Kingdom not in power or prosperity, but in weakness, humility, and suffering.
This should come as no surprise, of course, given his own example. The implications are deep. Again, I don’t think the Beatitudes are instructions exactly, but pronouncements of grace and a description of the Kingdom.
So, it’s not that these are things we have to do, but if we are seeking the Kingdom, they are probably places to look for it. In the Kingdom of Jesus, we learn from the humble, not the proud. We come alongside the hurting. In the Kingdom of Jesus we follow the meek, not the powerful. We lament and long for justice, we don’t enable oppressors. We find places where mercy reigns over revenge. If we are looking for the Kingdom of Jesus, we find the pure in heart, not those that are chasing after the world. We join the peacemakers, not those that are causing division. We find the Kingdom of Jesus with those that endure persecution with patience, not those that react with violence. In all these things we experience the righteous rule of Christ expressed in love.
As we look for the kingdom in these places, and as we seek it out, following Jesus, walking in his way, these things also become manifest in our own lives. It’s not about trying harder. We don’t seek out grief, but we are assured and comforted when we mourn. We don’t pursue persecution, but we’re neither surprised nor shaken when it comes. It’s not that we have to work so hard at being a little more humble, and little more meek to get into the Kingdom. It’s that as we yield to the Spirit he will make us humble. He will make us meek. He will make us vulnerable, he will lead us to and through the cross—which won’t always feel good—but we are promised to not only experience the love and forgiveness and freedom and healing that does come in this life, but an even better, fuller, future full of every real spiritual and material blessing in the life to come.
One of the best examples of this whole idea of God’s blessings being made manifest in weakness comes to us from the Apostle Paul.
He talks about how God allowed a what he calls a “thorn in the flesh” to torment him in ministry. We don’t know exactly what it is—it’s been speculated that it was a physical issue, or maybe some kind of persistent relational issue—but we do know Paul pleaded with God about it.
2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (ESV)
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
So, I want you to be encouraged today that your standing with God, your assurance of his favor, provision, and goodwill toward you isn’t always or even usually expressed in your current circumstances, but rather in God’s promise of personal transformation and hope for the future in Jesus Christ. I also want to encourage you look for the Kingdom of God in places and people that world thinks are weak, and indeed even in the places you think you are weak…because it’s there you’ll find God’s promise of blessing being made manifest in present, and assured for the future. Amen.