January 29, 2017-#blessed

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘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.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

I’m going to read the selection again in the Common English Bible because the variation in translation is significant.

Last week, we heard the story of Jesus beginning his public ministry in Galilee. He was out walking on the lakeshore of the Sea of Galilee around Capernaum and calls out to Simon Peter, Andrew, his brother and James and John. All four of the men put their nets down, tie up their boats, and follow this itinerant Jewish rabbi who is declaring that the work of God in the world is at hand.

Paired with his proclamation that the kingdom of God is near are numerous acts of healing the physical suffering in the crowds. It’s as if Jesus is saying let me show that the power of God really works-your healing will be a public sign of who I am and where I have come from.

The reputation about Jesus spreads across a wide geographic area and people come from far and near. Maybe they too want to be healed or maybe they’re hope hungry and sick and tired of carving out an existence with Rome’s tyranny looming large overhead. At any rate, fast moving news that the awaited for Messiah, God’s anointed one, has arrived will surely draw a crowd so people can judge for themselves on whether or not the true Messiah is among them.

So seeing that the crowds were amassing, Jesus goes up to an elevated place on the hillside and sits down to teach as a rabbi was expected to do. This period of teaching becomes the Sermon on the Mount-when it’s told in Luke’s Gospel, it is the sermon on the plain.

For us, this set of teachings, the Sermon on the Mount makes up chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel according to Matthew. It is a tour de force of teaching that gifts us some memorable lines about prayer, reconciliation, divorce, murder, retaliation, good fruit, and the list goes on. Over the next few weeks, the lectionary takes us through some selected readings of the Sermon on the Mount. I encourage you this week to read Matthew 5, 6, and 7 especially to pick up on sections we don’t cover on Sunday mornings.

‘In the same way, let your light shine before people so they can see the good things you do and praise your God in heaven.’

‘You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you.’

‘You have heard it said, you must love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.’

‘Ask and you will receive. Search and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened unto you.’

‘Who among you can add a single moment to your life by worrying? Stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’

‘If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister.’

‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep but inside they are vicious wolves.’

All of these points I’ve pulled from the Sermon on the Mount follow on the heels of Jesus’ opening lines that were our gospel reading. The Beatitudes, the blessings, are Jesus’ introductory statements to the crowd about the way that God’s work in the world encounters human lives. They are descriptive, telling the folks sitting up on that hillside, that their reality in God’s world is different from all the ways that happiness and blessedness are normally portrayed.

Over the past few years, a trend on social media has emerged that gets right at the heart of this morning’s gospel lesson. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, you can use a hashtag or pound symbol that looks like a tic tac toe board to help categorize your post. When I post stuff about the church, I’ll use #ksumc so that it keeps all those posts linked together. Sometimes a social movement or a major event will have its own hashtag that participants will use for a period of time.

Well there is a #blessed, like you see it printed in the bulletin this morning. People use this hashtag for just about everything. I looked up #blessed on Facebook just a few days ago to see what it would bring up. There are pictures of wrestler Hulk Hogan at his morning workout, ‘great way to start the day #blessed.’ There are pictures of celebrity Paris Hilton on Christmas vacation with family, #blessed. There are pictures of people’s meals at restaurants, #blessed. There are pictures and posts of college sweethearts on a date, pictures of spouses and kids, or NCAA football teams winning against their rival team, #blessed. There are plenty of pictures of folks at church, #blessed, and folks on trips at the beach or a weekend in the mountains. You get the picture, #blessed is one way of drawing attention to how happy you are about some moment in life frozen in time with a photograph.

If we worked backwards from these popular cultural descriptions and depictions of blessedness, we might conclude that God is supremely concerned about our vacation spots, our favorite sports teams, and what we ate for breakfast or dinner the last time we went out. Or we might conclude that God’s divine favor only shows itself when we’re physically healthy, professionally successful, financially secure, and have no struggles whatsoever in our life.

They could have read this way: ‘Blessed are the rich, in things and in self assurance. Blessed are those untouched by loss. Blessed are the powerful. Blessed are those who demand an exact an eye for an eye. Blessed are the crafty and opportunistic. Blessed are those bold enough to make war. Blessed are those who receive many accolades.’ They could have read that way but they don’t. (Matthew Boulton, Feasting on the Gospels)

The Beatitudes are God’s grand reversal on happiness and blessedness and they give us serious pause to ask, what is life with God like? Where do we locate God’s favor? Is happiness rooted in compassionate love of neighbor or self seeking satisfaction? The Beatitudes are a glowing indication that the values of the reign of God in the world usually contest the values so deeply ingrained around us. I don’t think you can have it both ways. You can’t walk on two divergent paths at the same time.

In reading the gospels, ‘God’s favor seems to be granted to those whom society regards as the ones left out or left behind, namely the poor, the meek, the mourners, the merciful, those who hunger for justice, the peacemakers, and those mistreated in a cause for justice.’ (Rev William Quick, day1.org/749-the_greatest_sermon_ever_preacher)

These Beatitudes as Jesus spoke them might be a deeply needed word of hope in your life because you’re mired up in grief, despairing from life that is in a tailspin, dismayed at the merciless treatment of our most vulnerable neighbors, or simply plain worn out from the fight for God’s justice. The blessings that accompany the reign of God in the world are far closer to you than you might believe.

James Merrell puts it this way: ‘The way to Heaven is through poverty…the way to consolation is through genuine sorrow…the way to earthly possessions is through a gentle spirit that is neither stingy nor possessive…the way to satisfaction is through hungering and thirsting for justice…the way to mercy is through mercy…the way to God is through an open, unobstructed pure heart…the way to a full relationship with God is through the active practice of peace…the way to God’s realm is through the struggle for right that leads through conflict, pain, and even death itself.’ (Rev William Quick, day1.org/749-the_greatest_sermon_ever_preacher)

It’s a mighty difficult, if not impossible task to square the happiness inherent in the reign of God and the following of Jesus Christ with the notions of happiness we’re sold everyday.

Robert Frost concludes this choice quite well-‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.’ (Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken)

Seek out the work of God in the world. Bless you in God’s everlasting name. Amen.