The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (January 30, 2011)

Lessons:1 Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 (1) 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 St. Matthew 5:1-12

Prayer of the Day
: Holy God, you confound the world's wisdom in giving your kingdom to the lowly and the pure in heart.  Give us such a hunger and thirst for justice, and perseverance in striving for peace, that in our words and deeds the world may see the life of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

St. Matthew Matthew 5:1-12, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Blessed Are You

A family had a long history of attending a certain Lutheran college in the Midwest. Whenever the family would gather, they would share stories about the college. Grandfather was a star on the football team. Aunt served on the Board of Regents. Cousin graduated at the top of the class. Stories about the most recent class reunion. It was generally accepted that anyone from their family would attend that college.

But one family member didn’t quite fit the family mold. This one was not as intellectual, not as confident, not as driven as some of the other family members who attended that school. This one would have preferred to be a machinist, or a carpenter, or learn some other trade. But everyone else who continued studies past High School attended this college, so this family member did likewise. It was awful: struggling with courses, feeling like an absolute failure. What happened was that a gift turned into a demand. The family spoke of what a gift it was when an experience like attending that particular college blesses someone. They knew not everyone in the world had chances like that, so they were quite grateful for the tradition. But one family member misinterpreted the message. That one heard: “If you don’t attend this college, then you don’t fit into our family.” That one heard the offer of a gift – but turned it into a demand instead.

There is a strong human tendency to turn a gift into a demand. That is true for gifts like a college education, and it is also true when we try to describe what it is like to be a faithful follower of Jesus. In this morning’s Gospel lesson, the very familiar section of St. Matthew called The Beatitudes, we have eight affirmations by Jesus of those whose lives are touched by God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...” Eight sayings that communicate God’s blessing to those who don’t necessarily receive a blessing from their world.

Like that family member, we find ourselves tempted to turn our Lord’s words around and make those blessings into demands. “You’d better become poor in spirit, or mournful, or meek, or interested in righteousness… because that’s what God expects of you.” That is a terrible misunderstanding of the text – and of Jesus’ intent. Jesus here offers a blessing to those who find themselves in a hard place. Jesus here proclaims that God’s blessings are not just for the rich or the powerful or the famous or the charmed. All are blessed by God. Even the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness... Even us when we are poor in spirit, or mournful, or meek, or hungering for what is righteous.

We live in the shadow of the cross, which means that whenever doubt or discouragement or brokenness breaks into our lives, God meets us there, offering us the transforming power of a sacred grace. The beatitudes are not an invitation for us to summon from within ourselves the strength or perseverance to get through whatever we are facing. The beatitudes are an invitation to know that even when all is not well – perhaps especially when all is not well – we have a God who understands and who cares and who blesses. Thanks be to God, who doesn’t expect us to become something else before we can be recipients of grace. But instead, who lovingly and caringly blesses us, especially in our lowest times. Blessed are you. Each and every one of you. Because that is the character of God. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who does Jesus describe as blessed in this text?
  2. How is that list different from the one our world might create?
  3. How did they experience God’s blessing?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What failure or disappointment or heartbreak am I currently experiencing?
  2. How can God’s presence in my life be a blessing in this experience?
  3. How might I speak a word of God’s blessing to another who is struggling?