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Epiphany 4A Sermon
Matthew 5: 1-12

January 29, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

What does it mean to be blessed? In conversations that I have had with people in the congregations I have served, being blessed by God is almost always evidenced by good health, wealth, and happiness. At the beginning and end of this worship service, I will pronounce blessings upon our gathering, just as I do every time we gather. In that sense, I am asking God to make this time Holy, and our entire lives Holy as we go from here to share his love in the world. We will ask God to bless our meal today, just as I hope you ask God to bless all of the food that you eat. We even say, “God bless you,” when someone sneezes – a tradition which has been explained by many legends and stories including, a tale that in the year 590, Pope Gregory I ordered that whenever anyone sneezes, they be told, “God Bless You,” since sneezing was a first symptom of The Plague. It was a way that the church believed they could call upon God to protect the sneezer from this terrible epidemic.

But if these are the outward signs of blessings – health, wealth and happiness – then does that mean that someone who does not have perfect health is not somehow blessed? What about those who are impaired in sight or hearing, who have lost limbs or who suffer from many kinds of mental illness? Has God somehow withheld blessing from them. Or the poor, the lonely, the divorced, the grieving and the homeless? Could they possibly consider themselves as blessed?

Of course the opposite question begs to be answered too: are those who have a lot of wealth always blessed? Does being blessed always equate with being happy? Sometimes those who have more money, property and assets are so distracted with protecting or increasing their wealth that they never seem to be happy. There is never enough to consider themselves, “blessed.”

The fact of the matter is, we can be blessed by God even if we are poor, lonely, divorced, grieving, sight or hearing impaired. As a matter of fact, I know people in all of those circumstances and they are just as likely to consider themselves, “blessed,” as anyone is. Often it is because they know the difference between happiness and blessedness.
Happiness is an emotion – it is a state of mind that depends on many other factors according to the individual. Someone who is an introvert might be miserable in a room full of people, while the same could be said of an extravert who is stuck at home for days on end. Our happiness can depend on all of those factors that are usually associated with blessedness – our financial situation, our health, our marital status, our grades, our accomplishments and failures, the results of elections, and even the weather. Happiness has not been promised to us as an entitlement from God because happiness is not blessedness. Blessedness depends on one thing, and that one thing which HAS been promised to us from God, is joy. The prophet Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” and that joy is an outward sign of being blessed by God.

Joy does not have its roots as an emotion, or as being dependent upon outside factors. Joy is the foundation of the Christian life because whatever factors are going on in our lives, we know that God’s blessings rest upon us. When we are confident that the God who made us and claimed us as his own children will love us and care for us, then we live with a contentment – a contentment that no matter what kind of crisis or victory we are experiencing now, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord … as Paul told the Romans in chapter 8 of his letter to them.

Interestingly enough, many biblical scholars say that it is more accurate to translate the Greek word, “macarios,” in the beatitudes with the English word, “content” than it is with the word, “blessed.”Certainly we wouldn’t ask God to “bless us” with a poverty of spirit, the opportunities to mourn or to be persecuted … although the attributes of meekness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking and hungering and thirsting for righteousness should absolutely be lifted up. But to ask God for contentment in all of these life experiences or statuses is to rely upon the gift of the joy of God to ground us in the promise of the kingdom of God, both here and in the future; it is Jesus’ reminder that proof of God’s presence with you is not perfect health, relationships or a prosperous life; proof of God’s presence with us is the quiet contentment that we have when there is conflict, when evil is all around threatening us and we are wondering if God really loves us. Yes, God really loves us, Jesus says, and for some the manifestation of that love comes immediately and for others it will come later.

If you notice, there are some of these beatitudes with a present tense promise and some with a future tense promise. The poor in spirit, those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and those who are on the receiving end of evil and false accounts are told that their reward IS the kingdom of heaven, and IS great in heaven. For those who mourn, they WILL be comforted; the meek WILL inherit the earth; those who hunger and thirst for righteourness WILL be filled; the pure in heart WILL see God, and the peacemakers WILL be called children of God. Blessing doesn’t always make itself known immediately, and so Jesus wants us to remember that the promise of the kingdom of God is present and future, but it is still a promise that we can trust in. Trusting in that promise, we share a joy which grounds our lives in the free gift of the Joy of the Lord!

God has promised to bless us, but it’s not always easy, and it may not always be what we have in mind. God has blessed our congregation for nearly 90 years here. God is blessing our congregation today (even when we wonder if this is true), and God will bless our congregation into our future. I trust that, and I hope that no matter our issues with fewer members, a building in need of repairs and upgrading, and financial challenges, you trust that God is blessing us here and now too. Based on that trust and on the gift of joy from God, we are now still able to do as Micah calls us all to do – do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly – intentionally – with our God. We are blessed as a congregation, that is sure. Even in our imperfections and shortcomings, God blesses us and that brings us contentment. But it also makes more work for us BECAUSE we are never blessed to be blessed unto ourselves – we are blessed to be blessings to others! It is when one turns their blessings inward to themselves – whether as a congregation or as an individual or community – that God doubts if we truly understand the meaning of being blessed.
Today, may we hear and remember the words of Jesus so that we live in a quiet joy and contentment. And may we never lose trust in the one who blesses us now and has promised to bless us into the future. And may we in turn be blessings to others in our families, neighborhoods, nation and world. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.