Sunday, January 29, 2017


Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12
January 29, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

In our first reading, imagine that God has called a tribunal. The judges for this proceeding are the mountains and the hills, God’s very own creation. Those contending in this tribunal are God and mortals. The controversy is clear – God has not done anything to humans but free them and redeem them and save them and feed them. What is the fair compensation, then, than mortals should render unto God? Are we to bring burnt offerings of yearling calves? Or maybe God would be happier with an offering of thousands of rams and ten thousands rivers of oil? Does it come down to the sacrifice of our children? Will that offering satisfy God? The answer is perhaps not what you might expect, given the imbalance of the transaction. Let’s listen for what God asks of us in Micah 6: 1-8

1 Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
2 Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the LORD has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
3 "O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you?
Answer me!
4 For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD."
6 "With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice,
and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Our second reading comes from Matthew’s gospel,
a part of what is known as “The Sermon on the Mount.”
This section is commonly called the Beatitudes,
because it contains a list of those who are blessed.
There are quite a few preachers out there preaching
what is called the “Prosperity Gospel.”
They preach that if you just do the right thing, you’ll get God’s blessing.
They understand the Beatitudes kind of like this:

(dear readers, imagine this being read out loud in a TV announcer’s voice)

Good Morning, Lucky Christian!
Congratulations! You are today’s winner of the BEATITUDES SWEEPSTAKES!
You probably didn’t even realize you had entered, did you?
But you did, and YOU WIN!
Not only did you win, you get to choose your prize!
THAT’S RIGHT! God is rewarding you with a wonderful prize,
a gift to thank you for your faithfulness.
And there is a dazzling array of prizes from which you, Dear Christian, get to choose.
All you need to do is choose your BLESSING CATEGORY
You already knew that God wants you to be a winner,
to prosper and to be healthy, wealthy and happy, right?
SO - get ready to CLAIM YOUR BLESSING!
Okay! Are you ready?
Just choose the BLESSING you are going to CLAIM!
Choose whichever blessing you want from this list:
˜ The kingdom of heaven.
That’s right, the entire kingdom of heaven can be yours
if you just claim this blessing!
˜ To be comforted. Need to be comforted? A LOT? Claim this one.
˜ To inherit the earth. WOW! The whole earth! Yes! Claim it, it’s yours!
˜ To be filled. If you are feeling empty, this is definitely the blessing to claim.
˜ To receive mercy. You must really need it,
if you claim this over the entire kingdom of heaven
or inheriting the earth. But whatever - your claim, your blessing.
˜ To see God. WOWEE! Claim it. See GOD!
˜ To be called a child of God.
Claiming this one makes you officially a child of God.
˜ The kingdom of heaven, version 2.0.
Not interested in the first Kingdom of Heaven, listed above?
Claim this one, the updated version with all the newest features.
Did you make your choice? GREAT!
Now, here’s all you need to do to claim your prize.
Simply note the blessing you claimed, then,
complete the requirements for your prize.
That’s it - that’s all you need to do to CLAIM YOUR BLESSING!

Of course, God’s promises and blessings don’t exactly work like that.
The blessings in the Beatitudes are already given to us,
they are not prizes for completing certain requirements.
God’s grace comes as a free gift; it isn’t something we earn.
The Beatitudes are a description of how God’s beloved people are blessed.

Let’s read Jesus’ words of blessing and honor in Matthew 5:1-12
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.

This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The word means “blessing.”
It’s all blessing.

I don’t know what comes to mind when you hear the word blessed.
Some people think of blessing as a prize they claim –
“God’s going to bless me with a new house,
because I’ve claimed that promise!”
People say it a lot: “Too blessed to be stressed.”
“Bless his little heart.”
“You are such a blessing!”
I think of how often someone says “I was truly blessed.”
Sometimes what they go on to describe is exactly what I think of as a blessing –
a special moment of joy, an unexpected honor, a happy time with a loved one.
Other times, folks say they were truly blessed
and it turns out the blessing was a parking space in a crowded parking lot,
or they found a $20 bill in their coat pocket.

Nice for things to work out that way,
but not quite what Jesus had in mind.

The Greek word for blessing, we learned in Bible study,
is “makarios” and it means greatly honored, or favored.
Makarios is a word for blessing or honor that applies to people, not to God.
When the scriptures say “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name,” they do not use the word “makarios.”
So this honor or blessing isn’t given by humans to God,
but it can be given by God to humans,
and also by mortals to mortals.
Blessings are given, not claimed.

It’s also important to note that this section of the Sermon on the Mount
is not a list of things Christians ought to do
in order to get a blessing.
Many people may hear it that way,
and certainly many people think God works that way,
But that is not what the Bible tells us.
Rather than call the Prosperity Gospel a lie,
let’s just say that the so-called prosperity gospel
is an “alternative narrative”
to what the scriptures actually teach.

God does not demand burnt offerings,
or rivers of oil, or a thousand rams, or child sacrifice.
God is not looking for a specific type of offering;
God wants a specific type of person.[1]

God wants us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

It’s the same kind of story with the beatitudes.
God is not hunting for those who are poor, meek and merciful,
in order to make them rich, bold and hardhearted.
Nor is God is hunting for those who are rich, bold and hardhearted
in an effort to force them into being poor, meek and merciful.
God does not call us to be the rich, the mighty, the bold and the beautiful.
However, God has, and has always had, a preferential option for the poor.
God’s special care extends to the grieving, the meek and the merciful.
God loves the peacemaker and God’s heart breaks for the persecuted.
These are the teachings that reflect the real truth of God’s grace.

So for us, the question is not “what do I need to do to be blessed?”
The question for us is more, “How am I blessed?”

We’re blessed, you know.
We’re blessed by all the bounty of love in our lives,
blessed by the simple gifts we have been given –
decent food, shelter, a caring community, faith, hope and love.
That’s an easy list to make.
And we’re blessed, too, by the less easy things;
the difficulties we face in life are part of the blessing.

No one has a life without difficulties.
And no one has a life completely devoid of blessings.
Some of our blessings are a matter of naming and receiving them.
Some of our blessings come because of what we need, what we hunger for.
It’s kind of like our hunger makes them taste better.
It’s like that first cup of coffee in the morning,
or the taste of ice cream on a hot day,
or cold water after a long hike.
Somehow the needing, the waiting, the wanting,
make them all taste so much better.

The same is true of true blessings.
We have to be willing to know our own emptiness
before we can know the satisfaction of these blessings.
If we are full of ourselves, satisfied with the status quo,
content with the world as it is,
happy to let others suffer as long as we ourselves are not suffering,
we lack the hunger and thirst for justice, for mercy for righteousness.
And we will not know the blessing of mercy and justice and peace,
because we never missed them in the first place.

If we are smug in our belief that we have all the right answers,
we’ll never know the blessing of discovery, of learning from others.
If we are satisfied to keep ourselves safe and sated and secure,
without caring for those who are frightened, hungry and displaced,
we will never know the blessing of caring for those whom God loves.
None of us would seek to be persecuted,
but if we were, God would help us see the blessing in it.

So are we blessed? Yes!
We are blessed in order that we may bless.
My friend Thom Shuman, whose liturgies so often enrich our worship,
wrote this in response to the Beatitudes:
blessed are the dog-walkers,
for they will discover the streets of the kingdom;
blessed are those who welcome refugees,
for they will embraced with unimaginable love;
blessed are those who read to children,
for they will plant seeds that bear fruit;
blessed are those who shelter the homeless,
for they will be shawled in God's grace;
blessed are those who stock food pantries,
for they will taste God's hope;
blessed are those who reach out to the outsiders,
for they shall be called bridge-builders;
blessed are the faith-full foolish,
for they shall be called the clowns of God.

Are we blessed? Yes!
And because we are blessed, we can bless others,
reaching out with God’s love to bless the world.
Thanks be to God.

[1] Tyler Mayfield

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