The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (1/29/2017)

Lessons:Micah 6:1-8 Psalm 15 (1) 1st 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 They; Blessed Are You

blessed (blĕsʹĭd) adj. From the Greek μακάριος (ma-kar’-ee-os), a prolonged form of the poetical μάκαρ (meaning the same). (1) supremely blest; (2) by extension, fortunate, well off: blessed, happy.

In ancient Greece, only the gods were thought to be “blessed.” Existing largely on Mt. Olympus, they lived a life of ease and joy. Human beings were never considered blessed in the same way as the gods, but Greeks came to believe that to the extent humans had the characteristics of the gods they could experience happiness. The word “blessed” came to describe this sort of happiness.

This reference to ancient history begs the question: what do the gods of contemporary society promote in terms of blessedness or happiness? We live in a world where prosperity, power, fame and independence are understood by many to be the keys that unlock happiness in this life. Thrive in these areas, and life becomes about as good as it can be.

Jesus offers us a different view. Who is blessed? Not the wealthy, but the poor in spirit. Not the carefree, but those who mourn. Not the strong, but the meek. Not those who are filled and satisfied, but those who hunger and thirst. Not the pragmatic, but the pure in heart. Not the conqueror, but the peacemaker. Not those who are political insiders, but those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

This is a shocking reversal. It seems that Jesus’ understanding of blessing is almost a point-by-point contradiction of what the world understands. And at the end of this week’s passage this notion intensifies:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 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 5:11-12]

How can this be? Perhaps the commitment to focus not on the world, but on Jesus, invites the kingdom of God into our lives (Was anyone at worship last week?). Perhaps it is most of all in our time of need, that we experience the profound nature of God’s blessing. Perhaps Jesus speaks, here, to the leaders of his church, reminding them (reminding all of us!) of the call to be a blessing to any who find themselves in a time of need. Perhaps the most sacred moments of life are not the professional triumphs, the personal successes or the tender moments, but the grace and Spirit of God which sustains us when all else seems broken and frail.

Blessed are the ones whose hearts have been captured by Christ, whose lives have been redeemed by God, and who have been stirred by the Holy Spirit to a place of hope beyond optimism, joy beyond happiness, unity beyond division and love beyond hate.

Amen! Lord, let it be so!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does Jesus begin his “Sermon on the Mount” in this way?
  2. What might thoughtful observers of society conclude about this list of blessings?
  3. How must rural, first-century Israelites have responded to his words?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When does my world pull me in a different direction than my God does?
  2. How have I experienced the blessing of God, even in the midst of a difficult time?
  3. How might I become God’s blessing to someone who is in need?