Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany + January 30, 2011
Blessed you are, and blessed you will be!
Beatitudes are beautiful words, poetic and majestic. Found in ancient Greek literature to refer to the blessed state of the gods, praiseworthy children and wisdom, the word is defined as being ‘free from daily cares and worries.’ Beatitudes were also found in Hebrew Scripture, most often linking being blessed with wise decisions or virtuous living. The Psalms have numerous examples that lift up the blessings of attending to God’s law: happy or blessed are they who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread…
The beatitudes are not a literal how to guide to live as Christian that if followed result in a guaranteed first-class ticket to heaven. They are not…
- Words of some famous self-help guru,
- Words meant to provide hope in a State of the Union Address,
- Words of motivation from Oprah or one of her featured guests or recommended books.
Nor are they found in an inspirational e-mail or ‘how to’ book, but sometimes, sometimes we wish they were…?
We want easy answers. We want to be told what we need to do. We want to hear what we want to hear:
- Words to free us from our circumstances,
- Words to make us feel superior or give us an advantage,
- Words to end our suffering,
- Words to make life to be easier.
We long for words to tell us our job is secure, how to make a quick fix, how to get miraculous results, tell us that we hit the jackpot, or won the lottery.
But most of all… we want to hear the words that we are loved. The simple, yet beautiful, poetic and majestic words that we are loved. And it is these words of the beatitudes, the words of Jesus the Christ, the one who lived and suffered and died on a cross. They are the words of love from our crucified and risen Savior who says to you and me this morning… blessed you are, and blessed you will be!
The beatitudes are the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Matthew frames Jesus as a new Moses, sharing them on a hilltop similar to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. But instead of being written on stone, these memorable words would have been written on hearer’s hearts. Instead of a list of rules, these memorable words describe preferred attitudes. Instead Jesus who taught that rules are of little use in our relationship with God, does not use words of penalty or reward for what we do or don’t do, but words of grace.
Martin Luther’s view of the Sermon on the Mount was that it represents an impossible demand like the law. For him the Ten Commandments and all of the law were to show us how as humans we will stumble and sin to help us repent and drive us as repeated in the Small Catechism’s explanation of the commandments, to fear and love God. The commandments and Luther’s teaching on their centrality to our life of faith are not replaced by the beatitudes, but rather complimented by them.
For Luther it was faith, that is trusting in God above all things that is at the heart of the commandments. Faith, which is a gift from God, drives us to listen to the Word, pray, love and care for our neighbor, and experience God by serving God. The readings today, point to the Beatitudes as a blessed way of life, rather than rules or commandments, or as the end of the Psalm suggests, as a formula to follow.
These beautiful words of Jesus are not a list of behaviors. They teach us that there is no ‘if, then’ or ‘quid pro quo’ or exchange of good works for God’s favor. “There is a trap hidden in the Beatitudes that I know I have fallen into countless times, and perhaps you have, too. The trap is a simple as it is subtle: believing that Jesus is setting up the conditions of blessing, rather than actually blessing his hearers.” +David Lose, Working Preacher, 2011
We do not constrain God’s love by following the rules, because: “that [God’s] love is a freely given starting point in our relationship (a passionate love affair) with God… The beatitudes are descriptive, not normative. They are a portrait of the Christian life as it becomes possible for those who believe in the love of God as disclosed by Jesus. If we trust in God, we are then able to take the risks the beatitudes imply, never living them perfectly of course, but growing and developing in their radiant goodness…” +Andrew M. Greeley, Author, Roman Catholic Priest and Sociologist, http://www.agreeley.com
+ + +
So blessed you are, and blessed you will be. The interesting thing about the beatitudes is their present tense: blessed are [the poor in spirit, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted]… Blessed meaning God has given us favor, forgiveness, and love. Not because we earn or deserve it, but because Jesus proclaims it so. Jesus proclaims it to all people…
- from those on the margins,
- to those on that mountain,
- to the cross at Golgotha,
- to you and me assembled here today.
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… Heaven meaning full reconciliation with God, the entire creation, and with one another.
So how then do we who have heard these promises of blessing live as people loved and blessed by God?
How do we called to believe that God makes all things right live as people of the kingdom,
- not just in some future time and place,
- but here today in the midst of the messiness of life,
- and the brokenness of this world?
The beautiful words of Jesus give us a new form or understanding of being blessedness. Jesus through his life and ministry models a new understanding of life, of God, of the kingdom of heaven itself. Jesus’ words of blessing are the very foundation, rock and cornerstone from which our lives as Christians is grounded and built. These words of blessing and grace that end upon the cross, remind us that God is with us now and will be forever the power to sustain us in our struggles, give us hope, and illuminate the darkest of winter days.
Author, Episcopal Priest and Professor Barbara Brown Taylor says that: “Blessed are the Upside Down.” (Gospel Medicine, p. 147-149) A reminder that in this world from those first disciples called to fish for people, to you and me today, sharing the good news of the kingdom drawing near in Jesus Christ is not easy. Living as Christ followers and proclaimers in word and deed is counter-cultural. The price we pay may distance us from friends and family who scoff at, or worse swear off the name of Jesus.
But in this upside down world, we know where we stand with God. And thankfully, God has the last word, the true word, the comforting word, the healing word, through the Word made flesh to reconcile us to God. Thankfully the blessings of God are in the kingdom here and now and will be in the kingdom to come. Blessed you are, and blessed you will be!