Sunday, January 22, 2023

Moriah Hurst: Blessed are . . . the what??

Jesus reveals the heart of God
Matthew: Jesus the Revealer
Matthew 5:1-20

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Jesus, the provocative preacher,  itinerant teacher, and outsiders choice. Jesus who we meet in Matthew is starting a new part of his ministry in today's texts. Let’s go back and look at where we have been so far in this Gospel.

Thus far in Matthew a lot of other actors have been taking the lead around Jesus and motivating the story. His parents, an angel who is like a show director giving stage directions - go here, do this, stay there, marry her.  We see and hear the wise men and Herod, then John the baptist and the devil. Up till this point we really haven’t heard a lot of Jesus’ voice and it's mostly been him responding to others. Yet the words from the stories, teachings and prophetic texts of the Old Testament show up all over the place. We keep looking back at “what had been spoken or written by the prophets” or what has been fulfilled by Jesus' life so far.

A few verses before today’s text in Matthew 4, we see Jesus start his proclaiming and teaching with the words “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 4:17

Then in quick succession Jesus calls disciples who “immediately” leave their work and follow him.  Then Jesus starts teaching in the synagogues and curing people and his fame spreads - those people bring him more people and he keeps healing - and great crowds follow him from all over the place.

And in today's passage, Jesus sits down and we get the first record of a big teaching = the inaugural speech of Jesus, the sermon on the mount. I’m kind of jealous that he got to preach sitting down and he was outside. But sound projection might have been hard and there would have been some distractions. Monty Python’s skit Blessed are the Cheesemakers plays on this idea - a little crass but well worth a watch, part one of your homework for today.

So here I am preaching a sermon on a sermon that Jesus preached, no pressure.

Jesus starts right in with upside down blessings, word pictures and a reminder that his new thing is grounded in the old things they have been following for generations.

What an opening, he really does set the tone for how he will continue - putting a twist on our expectations, infusing ordinary things with deeper meaning, and yet saying “I’m not throwing out the old and what you knew, but I am bringing out its meaning in new ways”.

I like blessings.They have poetic beauty that can sometimes cut to the real meaning of a thing and lay it open. But these blessings that Jesus starts with, are odd. This is not a prosperity doctrine or wishing all the good and happy things for the other or ourselves. Even if some translations say “Happy are those who…”.

These are disorienting and reorienting.

When I read this with the Jr Youth it was hard to understand, what does it really mean? How do we understand these words and what would it look like to live this?

This first sermon gives blessings that are against our consumerism, they show a different side to our airbrushed, curated, shiny, social media personas. The be attitudes seem to say that we don't need fixing - in your grief, in your brokenness, in your hunger, that’s where we will see God. Jesus doesn’t pull us out of life and challenges but lets these blessings enter in.

But these are blessings I don't really want to seek all the time. Is God really calling me into places where I’m hungry, harassed and grieving? Or is Jesus saying when I’m in that place and so the world has discarded me as useless, that that is where God enters in with blessing. Not because I was good or nice, or rich or powerful, or happy or successful. Imagine a report card we would give our children working towards the beatitudes

-experienced hopelessness - check
-delved into grief - check
-felt deep hunger and thirst - check
-harassed and spoken of badly - check

But how often do the report cards we work towards miss these important points

-truly humble in heart
-pure and showing mercy
-longs for righteousness and to see God’s face
-a countercultural peacemaker

Have we lost our light and salt because we don’t train for this checklist? If we aren’t actually different from the world and the culture around us, do we flavor anything? A few confessions I read this week put it this way:

“You call us to be salt of the earth and light of the world.

We confess that our witness is often bland and gloomy.”

“We allow the gospel to go stale,

and hide the light you have given.”

As we wrestle with understanding this together, let’s look at a few other wordings of the sermon on the mount to open up this space of understanding for us. ( Simon Woodman)

Simon Woodman, a pastor from the UK, wrote a sermon on this text that says many of the things I wanted to say today, but better. Second part of your homework for today, look up his blog post of how he delves into this passage. In an attempt to reflect on the words of Jesus in Matthew in a fresh way, Woodman offers his ideas on the beatitudes like this:

“Blessèd are those who refuse the lie that one life is worth more than any other,
for theirs is the future of humanity.

Blessèd are those who have stared long into the abyss,
for theirs is honesty beyond grief.
Blessèd are those who resist retaliation,
for the earth will never be won by force.

Blessèd are those who would rather die for truth than live with compromise,
for the truth will outlive all lies.

Blessèd are those who forgive the unforgivable,
for they have seen the darkness of their own souls.

Blessèd are those who know themselves truly,
for they have seen themselves as God sees them.

Blessèd are those who are provocatively nonviolent,
for they are following the path of the son of God.

Blessèd are those who choose to receive violence but not to give it,
for the future is born out of such choices.

Blessèd are you when you stand up for truth and hell itself decides to try and destroy you.
You're not the first and you won't be the last.

I'm telling you now, nothing makes any sense unless you learn to see it differently,
and then choose to live that alternative into being.”

Or we may need to open our story and hear this from another's perspective. Especially for those of us with wealth, education and privilege on our side. Allow yourself to feel how these words sound from a first nations perspective in an indigenous translation of this text

The beatitudes for the First nations version of the bible:

“Creator’s blessing rests on the poor, the ones with broken spirits. The good road from above is theirs to walk.

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who walk a trail of tears, for he will wipe the tears from their eyes and comfort them.

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who walk softly and in a humble manner. The earth, land, and sky will welcome them and always be their home.

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who hunger and thirst for wrongs to be made right again. They will eat and drink until they are full.

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are merciful and kind to others. Their kindness will find its way back to them - full circle.

Creator’s blessing rests on the pure of heart. They are the ones who will see the Great Spirit.

Creator's blessing rests on the ones who make peace. It will be said of them, “They are the children of the Great Spirit!”

Creator’s blessing rests on the ones who are hunted down and mistreated for doing what is right, for they are walking the good road from above.

Others will lie about you, speak against you, and look down on you with scorn and contempt, all because you walk the road with me. This is a sign that Creator’s blessing is resting on you. So let your hearts be glad and jump for joy, for you will be honored in the spirit-world above. You are like the prophets of old, who were treated in the same way by your ancestors.”

As we continue our journey through Matthew, may we not take an attitude of, been there, done that. Saw that movie! But a posture of curiosity, allowing ourselves to slow down and look deeper. To let Jesus, his life and teachings inspire, disarm and confuse us. May we truly hear Jesus’ voice.

As we read these words of confession together today I invite us to do it slowly. Take a deep breath and pause between the sections. Sit with these words.  I’ll bring you in with a gesture as we read together this beatitudes litany.

Beatitudes Litany (inspired by Matthew 5:3-12, Luke 6:20-22)

Blessed are we when we let go of possessions
for the kingdom of God unfolds in open places.
Woe to us when we gather into barns
for soon this life will be over.
Blessed are we who know the ache of hunger
for the empty places in body and soul are the fertile soil for new growth.
Woe to us who fill our lives to capacity
for we fail to recognize what is missing.
Blessed are we who know sorrow
for the ache of love lost is witness to the seed planted.
Woe to us who have yet to know the pain of grief
for the fullness of love is woven with sorrow.
Blessed are we who know scorn
for the rejection of humans keeps us mindful of that beyond.
Woe to us who depend on the approval of others
for to dance with Spirit appears foolish.
Blessed are we who live in the harmony of life in the Spirit,
For we will recognize abundance. Amen.

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