Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"#Blessed" - Sermon, January 29, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“The Great Invitation: #Blessed”
January 29, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Matthew 5: 1-12

        All throughout my life, I have often heard the saying, “I am blessed.”  How many of you have come across that saying this past week or month, whether it’s on TV, in a magazine, on the radio, or while perusing the internet?  It’s one of those common sayings, especially when things are going right and everything is good.  Case in point: I’m so blessed that my team won.  I’m so blessed to have this fancy sports car.  I’m blessed that I have a roof over my head and food on the table.  I’m so blessed to know this person or that person.  I’m blessed to belong to a great church.  Or in my case, I’m blessed to serve a great church!!  We hear it everywhere, whether from celebrities, athletes, or people like us. 
        Now, you’re probably wondering why the little number symbol is in front of the word blessed in the title of our sermon this morning.  If you happen to be on social media, it’s called a hashtag and if you were to click on the hashtag, you'll see a whole bunch of similar stories that pertain to #Blessed.  So, if you were on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and clicked on the hashtag-blessed, you would see how many different stories that are out there where people feel that they are blessed.  But, how does blessed work, especially in the case of this morning’s Gospel lesson, also known as the Beatitudes and beginning of Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount?” 
        As we just sang our Gospel lesson, David Haas’s “Blest Are They,” we hear this word blessed come up in Jesus’s first sermon to the public after growing up, being baptized by John, spending forty days and nights in the wilderness, and calling his disciples to come and see, and follow him.  Jesus is now ready to witness to, to heal, and to teach the many crowds who flock to him around Galilee, as they come and see for themselves who he is.  In the part we didn’t sing about in “Blest Are They,” Jesus has encountered this great crowd and goes up to a mountain with his disciples, sitting down and teaching everyone around him when he talks about the different ways that people are blessed.  But, it’s not what the crowd would expect when he says  from Matthew 5: 3-11:
“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. (NRSV)

As we hear these words from Jesus, these are blessings that are proclaimed on the entire crowd, but also the beginning of lessons in righteousness which is how we live a life that is pleasing to God.  We will be unpacking these lessons a little more in the next few weeks, yet Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” also tells us who Jesus is and what shape his earthly ministry will take.
When Jesus addresses the crowd on the mountain, it all starts with a blessing, in which Jesus is setting up a whole new way of life as he pronounces each of these blessings on the people.  He is turning the world that people knew at the time upside down.  However, look at particularly who Jesus is blessing: the poor in spirit, the meek, those who grieve, the hungry and thirsty who want to live to please God, the merciful, the peacemakers, the pure in heart, the persecuted, or those who get flak for following Jesus.  These are the people who Jesus is going to minister to and hang out with throughout his earthly ministry, but these are also the same people we need to be ministering with and inviting to follow Jesus today.  Rev. Dr. Dawn Chesser explains that
Jesus is blessing [the people] for a purpose.  He is blessing them to think differently about the way the world works because of what he is teaching and doing.  He is describing how we are to live as God’s people in the world – not simply by calling attention to all the many ways God has #blessed us personally – but [by] being a blessing to others.[i] 

Being #blessed is not really about what we get, but a way that we can live out our faith when we think of what it means to be #blessed and to be a blessing to others, as Jesus is also pronouncing a blessing on us too when he says “blessed are they,” and showing us a new way to live and think differently today.  It’s kind of like that saying, “what’s old is new again.”
When Jesus shared his “Sermon on the Mount,” it wasn’t so much about cause and effect, but more about how things will work in God’s kingdom, which will not be anything like what we have on earth here right now.[ii]  See, Jesus is challenging each of us to be a blessing to others when we hear these words, as each of us also are #blessed by God whenever Jesus says “blessed are they.” It’s also not so much a pronouncement on individuals, but everyone within the community that we encounter.  For instance, “among every authentic Christian congregation can be found persons of meekness (which is gentleness or humility), ministers of mercy, and workers of peace.  Their presence and activity among us is a sign of God’s blessing and a call to all of us to conform our common life more and more to these [values of God’s kingdom].”[iii] Each of us that I look out upon have these values too, as some of us are meek, some of us work for mercy within our community, some of us work for peace and justice, and yes, there are times when we as followers of Jesus can even be reviled. 
Given the time we are living in right now and the tension that is thick in the air from all the happenings in our nation and world, we need to hear these blessings and words from Jesus once again, but also allow these words to serve as a reminder of what we need to do as people of faith.  Same thing with what we heard in our reading from Micah 6: 1-8, but we need to be the ones to bring hope, blessings, and peace to the same people Jesus names in the “Sermon on the Mount.”  However, we also need to hunger and thirst to live lives pleasing for God, never losing our sense of hope or our joy in faith.  We need to continue to bring hope and comfort for those who grieve, as we are one of the many means of support people can find in us.  We need to be peacemakers and workers of justice and mercy, especially in a world when truth is often being distorted and called into question or this new phenomenon called “alternative facts,” but we also need to actively be peacemakers to a nation and world that is divided where differences are more likely to collide in sometimes aggressive and violent ways.  Furthermore, we also need to keep in mind that when it comes to being #blessed,  “being blessed is not just for the sake of potential joy, but also for the sake of making it through that which will be difficult.”[iv]
And there certainly are and will be times that will be difficult.  In fact, right now is one of those times.  One of my colleagues recently shared an article about the challenges we are currently facing as preachers of the Gospel and the new administration, but I also see this as a healthy tension just as many of us have differences which are healthy.  However, in this article, the author explained what might be preached in the Gospel, might be seen by some as an attack from the pulpit against the new administration, which is  something that I feel needs to be addressed.  It’s along the same lines of this morning’s scripture lessons, what might be considered blessed, walking humbly with God, or seeking justice to one person, might be something completely different to somebody else.  When it comes to preaching and living our faith, we do need to acknowledge and own the fact there is a great deal of tension between the Gospel and what is happening right now, just like there was with Jesus and the various leaders in his time. However, I also want to assure each of you that I will follow the Gospel, and will do my best to live out the Gospel even though I will fall short here and there.  When it comes to being #blessed and even amidst the potential for some misunderstandings along the way, Jesus is reminding us that we still need to look out for and bless the poor, the hungry, the vulnerable in our society, but also to keep working for mercy and to keep being peacemakers, even in times where deep division exists.  That is where we will be #blessed.
 At the same time, you’ve gotta speak up, especially for the same people who Jesus is pronouncing these blessings on which will at times lead to people reviling you, regardless of how you preach the Gospel.  But keep preaching and proclaiming the Gospel anyway, and I encourage all of you to speak up and bless others, even people you might not agree with.  But also keep working for peace, mercy, and justice. Keep inviting people to come and see.  And speaking up and out, or pronouncing blessings on the same people Jesus names in The Beatitudes can be risky as well, but each of us needs be willing to speak up, regardless of our theology or political ideology. By being #blessed and being a blessing for others, we can get through the challenging and difficult times, even when it feels easier said than done. 
So, what does it mean to you when you hear the word #blessed?  At the same time, how are you blessing others who you encounter?  In these coming weeks, we will be learning from Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” about what it means to be salt and light for the earth, to do this, not that, then see what our reward is in heaven, and will conclude with how we can shine for others.  We have many reasons why we are #blessed, as God’s blessing is for everyone, as “in Christ, God’s blessing does not discriminate.  God’s blessing is for all.  God’s blessing is for you.  God’s blessing is for me…#blessed is our identity.  #blessed is our condition.  #blessed is who we are because of God’s saving love shown in Jesus Christ.”[v] And #Blessed is everyone who is here, as we go out and pronounce blessings on everyone who we encounter this week and as we continue to extend the great invitation to come and see, and follow Jesus. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] “#blessed — Preaching Notes,” October 31, 2016, accessed January 27, 2017, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/blessed-preaching-notes.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] The New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 180-181. 
[iv] Lewis, Karoline. ‘Commentary on Matthew 5: 1-12 by Karoline Lewis’. January 29, 2017. Accessed January 27, 2017. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3155.
[v] “#blessed — Preaching Notes,” October 31, 2016, accessed January 27, 2017, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/blessed-preaching-notes.

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