Blessing – Epiphany 4 – Feb 2 2014

Micah 6:1-81 Corinthians 1:18-31 – Matthew 5:1-12 

I think I’ve told you before, I have big trouble with the beatitudes.  I mean, don’t we all wonder if we are blessed or if 

Jacob_Blessing_Ephraim_and_Manasseh,_by_Benjamin_WestGod is actually blessing us?  So here is a passage straight from the horses mouth so to speak defining who is blessed, and well, who is not.

 

We can read between the lines can’t we?  If the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted are blessed, than the other side of the fence must be, well, not blessed right?  I mean, if there was ever a line drawn in the sand, this is it.  You have the blessed and the not blessed.

Perhaps this is good news to some. I’m sure for the ones that Jesus spent His time with, the lost, the broken, the sinners, this was great news. For a long time they had been told by their culture, their church, their spiritual leaders that they weren’t blessed because they were always outside the boundaries of what had been defined as “clean” and if you weren’t clean, you weren’t anything.  So for these outcasts, these who struggled to get by, these unclean, who had heard for so long that they weren’t worth anything, hearing the Beatitudes would have been… well, a surprise.

 

Can you see the blind man and the beggar nudging each other, “Hey George, did you hear that? We are blessed.”  “Wooo Jim, let’s go celebrate!”  “Whoa, we sure should.  I haven’t celebrated in years!  What do you want to do?” “Well, if we’re celebrating, we should get a meal and a drink, don’t you think?” “Oh yes, that would be great!” “Okay, let’s go!” “But, well, one thing George, I can’t see where I’m going.” “Oh right, sorry Jim.  Let me help you there.” “Say George, how are we going to get in.  They’ll never let us in smelling like this.” “Well, you’ve got a point there Jim.  But we’re blessed, aren’t we? Surely they’ll let us in!” “Yes, I suppose they’ll have to, I mean we are blessed after all aren’t we?” “You’re right.  Only thing is, do you have any coins in your cup?  I don’t have much in mine. Not enough for a scrap of bread anyways.” “Oh, never thought of that.  I don’t have much either.  Gee, maybe we can’t celebrate?” “Well, how can that be, we’re blessed!” “Yes, we are blessed…”

 

Reading this week the translation of the word blessed came up a couple times. And to be honest, blessed is not really a contemporary word, or one for our days, our present time.  Blessed is the translation from the Greek word makarios which can also mean happy, fortunate, well off according to David Lose.  These other translated words make a little more sense in our world – happy, fortunate, well off.

 

If we were to make our own beatitudes for our present day, what would they look like?  For example,

Happy are the technically inclined for they understand how to use these blasted devices. Happy are the rich, for they can have every toy known to man.  Happy are the savvy, for they can make money. Is this blessed though?

 

A study released this week claims that the richest 85 people have as much material wealth as the poorer half of the world.  How can 85=3,500,000,000?  But being blessed is more than happy…. it is… spiritual?  I like to think of it as imparting God’s goodness.

 

As with the blind man and the beggar, being blessed certainly did not change, or should I say, does not appear to change their condition or present circumstance.  That’s because blessing and being blessed are not of this kingdom, it is of the other kingdom, the kingdom on the other hand.  There is nothing greater than to be blessed, and yet it might not seem like it in this present time.

 

The problem I have with the Beatitudes is purely selfish, is anyone else wondering if you are blessed or not blessed?  I don’t think I am poor in spirit, nor am I meek.  I have mourned, but I’m not in mourning.  I try to pursue righteousness, but I can hardly say that I hunger or thirst for it.  Merciful is not a word I would use to describe myself, nor pure in heart, nor peacemaker, and I wouldn’t say I am persecuted.  So, I don’t fit a single one of the conditions to be blessed.  As I said before, just as Jesus describes who is blessed, He also seems to describe those who are not.  And I am on the outside.  What’s the deal?

 

I can’t say I have memorized a lot of scripture, other than “Jesus wept” and “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that we would not perish, but have eternal life” verses, but Micah 6:8 is one that I know very well from my first week as a fill-in camp counselor. “What does the Lord require of you, O mortal, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God?” was the translation we used.  “What does the Lord require of you, O mortal, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God?”

 

Similar to our Gospel, our first lesson gives us some conditions.  In this reading there are only three qualifiers, do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.  Doesn’t seem too bad does it? Certainly feel better about meeting this list than that first one.  Do justice, well, that means do right, and love kindness, well that’s easy, it doesn’t say do kindness, just love kindness.  Well, we all love kindness, check.  Walk humbly with God.  Hmmmm. Well. That’s gonna be hard.  Back to square one?

 

Well, hold on, let’s read a little further back in Micah, back to verse 6.  God has just chastised the people. Just for the record when the Lord says, “Answer me!” that is NOT a good thing!  In response to this call, the transgressor asks what shall be done to make things right:

 

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? That would be reasonable under the Old Testament system of sacrifices for recompense.  But then he goes on.

7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’   Thousands of rams?  Remember we are talking about the sacrificial set up in the Old Testament, and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy go into great detail about the rules and guidelines for giving sacrifices for different offences.  Now we aren’t talking about just tithing and we aren’t talking about a small sacrifice.  To have to sacrifice thousands of rams, someone has done something very wrong. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, rams were sacrificed as part of a guilt sacrifice and if you look up rams in the book of Numbers, you hear about the ram of atonement, or the ram to make up for wrongs committed.  But we’re talking one ram at a time.  Not thousands.  So this person is desperate to make up for some wrongdoing.  Not to mention tens of thousands of rivers of oil.  At best, oil was always offered with something else, unleavened bread with oil, frankincense with oil, not even a jar, let alone tens of thousands of rivers of oil.  that is a lot to say the very least.

This reply to God’s calling out resonates more with me than the Beatitudes that I don’t seem to fit.  Lord, I am not worthy of the blessing you give, for I am selfish, greedy, undisciplined, pursuing things that you don’t want me to pursue.  I am poor in spirit, not because I am humble, but because my spirit longs for things, not faith.  I am not meek, for I make demands of you that I should be ashamed of. I only desire righteousness when it serves me.  But what shall I do to make up for this Lord?  Shall I bring thousands of rams?  Shall I bring to the altar tens of thousands of rivers of oil?  Would that be enough?  According to the Levitical laws, this would have more than enough, and yet, why the exaggeration.  What a crazy question, would that be enough?  How foolish.

27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

Is there anything we can do to earn being blessed?  Can we be pure in spirit? Can we be meek? Can we thrist and hunger for righteousness?  Sure we could, but can we earn being blessed?  No.  No we can not earn the status of blessed, because they it would be our doing and not God’s.  We can not earn the status of blessed, because we would probably strut around with it like boys and their toys.  We can not earn the status of blessed, because we already are blessed. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

 

There is nothing richer – nothing financial, nothing material, nothing earned, than to be blessed.  In the same way, there is nothing greater than to give a blessing and to wish that on someone else.

What is the definition of blessing. I would say that it is the goodness of God.  To be blessed is to inherit or know or enjoy the goodness of God.  To bless someone is to impart the goodness of God to them.  To be a blessing is to share the goodness of God to all we meet.  There is nothing greater, no calling higher.  So be the blessing you were blessed to be.  Thanks be to God.

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