“Rejoice and Be Glad!”

Sermon by Pastor Tim

February 5th 2017

Scripture:

“Today’s Gospel reading is from the gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 1 thru 12.  This is the first teaching from Jesus attributed to his sermon on the mount.” 

Matthew 5:1-12
5 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.

“Indeed, you are blessed if you have understood this ancient teaching.”  

Sermon:

Many a theologian has said: “The beatitudes are like steps within Christianity.”  I am sure they had their points as they preached about this.  Perhaps we can leave this as a possibility, as we take some time to explore a little first.  What is most amazing about this teaching is its virtual impossibility!  Who professes to think it is a blessing to be poor and meek?  Who sets their hearts to being persecuted and hungry?  When it comes to understanding any of the teachings of Jesus it is all about perspective.  In order to begin to get an understanding of what is the teaching, and what is it trying to put across, we must become open to seeing it from Jesus’ viewpoint.  Before we can properly evaluate the point that Jesus is making – we must take into account the situation or the context in which he is speaking.

The sermon on the mount is considered to be one of the most powerful passages in the gospels, as it is believed to contain some of the most poignant teachings attributed to Jesus.  Literally, we are being told that there were such large crowds coming to see and hear him that he and the disciples decide to sit on the side of a mountain, thereby letting Jesus safely and effectively speak to the people. These crowds were the Israelites, they had seen more than their share of oppression and unjust treatment under the Romans who occupied their region during this time-period.  They were waiting for a hero, a new king like that of their historic king David to turn things around; returning them back to a time of self-rule with their own sovereign king.  Word had spread about the miracles, which Jesus was performing around the region.  They wanted to see and hear more from him, hoping, praying that this was the one!

This sermon, this teaching from Jesus was about attitude adjustment!  These folks were feeling mighty poorly about their situation and about what was to come of them.  Their only hope was in the prophesy of a messiah whom would be their new King, righting this terrible wrong which had been done to them.  Jesus knew all this.  So, he used their misery to put across a new way of seeing the world.  Not through the eyes of victims, always putting things off onto their oppressors, thus giving their enemy the power to also control their emotions and their spiritual well-being.  Jesus was teaching like the good therapist trying to get their client, their patient to regain control over their lives.  The old adage about the half a glass of water applies here.  Is your glass half empty or is it half full?

In our own society today, right here, right now, we have a lot of victims, folks who are always playing the victim card.  “Oh, wow is me, poor me, everyone and everything is against me.”  You have met this person.  I know what a few of you are thinking: “that’s easy to say when everything is going your way”.  Sure, there is a lot to be said about that, yet it does not solve the problem, it does not address the issue here!  Too many of our neighbors and too many of our friends, have given up because it hasn’t gone their way.  The people crowding around Jesus were desperate for a hero.  They needed, they wanted someone to save them!  OK, I am the first one to say we need a savior, but, even Jesus wants us to get up off the floor and make an effort and work at this a bit!

If we look to these beatitudes, these references to being blessed as an axiom to change how we feel about our lives, our plights, and realize how God is in the midst of things, then perhaps we can at lease change how we feel about ourselves!  We can take each one of these blessed sayings and see how God is seeking to work with us in the midst of our sufferings.  If we are willing to take a step back and see what is going on around us, and try to interact – as a follower of the teachings of Jesus – then we shall see it all differently.  Sometimes, life in the Twenty-First Century asks us, or challenges us, to step outside our comfort zone and do something which we know in our heart goes against the teachings of Jesus.  Would Jesus want us to invoke anger and condemnation against others in order to achieve our objectives?  Or would God want us to seek a just means to accommodate the needs of others – while striving to reach our own goals?  You know the answer to this rhetorical question.

We live in a world where “might-makes-right” way to often and way to easily.  Jesus offers us a new way.  Not the old way.  Not the easy way either.  It is easy to preach being kind, compassionate and self-giving; it is a whole different thing to apply these attributes into one’s life!  If we look to another of the blessings, we may struggle for we shall need to decide if these are blessings or burdens.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” /Matthew 5:10/ At first glance this is clearly a burden, yet Jesus has lifted it up as a blessing.  We shall need to consider whether being a Christian is a lifestyle choice, of which we are willing to choose!  Being a Christian is certainly a lifestyle choice, no question about this.  The question is whether you are willing to freely choose this pathway, in all areas of your life.  We also may want to consider if we fully believe in the afterlife.  Do we truly believe that there is a place called heaven and do we want to make the commitment to ensure we are a part of that eternal prize?  Your answer will make a huge difference in how you respond to this conversation and to the blessings being offered by Jesus.

The problem with the question about heaven is the only way to get there is to live our lives to its fullest, striving every step of the way to do the will of God, and some times that can be really, hard!  If we adjust our attitudes even just a bit, so that we do not always see ourselves as the victims or the martyrs, we shall have the opportunity to also adjust our way of life to more easily fit into a lifestyle which shall offer us more peace of mind, more joy in living, and we will find ourselves feeling glad about what we are doing and how we are living, day to day.  Heaven is clearly a spiritual thing, a state of mind an altered state… which is not of this material world!  You and I, we know the majority of people have felt the pains of hell on earth.  We read about it, we see it in the faces of others, we see it on television and on our internet browsers.  Surely, we all hope and pray that God will one day, allow our spirits, our very souls to be at peace.  Some theologians would put it this way: “Christ teaches that the greatest joy and happiness is not in the conveniences of this life, but is laid up in heaven for those who willingly rest in the good will and pleasure of God, and endeavor to profit all men.” /Geneva Notes/

Do the teachings of the beatitudes, which are these blessings from Jesus, do they help us with the steps in Christianity?  Many scholars have long felt: Jesus “…he here pronounces eight (nine) blessings together, annexing them to so many steps in Christianity.” /Wesley’s Notes/ The problem is, of course, so many misunderstandings surrounding God’s blessings have been documented and often cloud our vision and our judgement about them.  (A man asking for help on a street corner… his sign said: ‘Bless you… if you can.’)  Simply because the man holding the sign looks like he needs help, are we blessed if we hand over some of our ‘loose-change’ or a few crisp one dollar bills?  Maybe, as a kind gesture doing so is good.  Yet, is that the only answer we as Christians can offer?  Or, are we to feel compelled to do more for the hungry in our community.  Like our efforts at the Daily Bread which puts together hot meals for the hungry, the needy and the homeless in Brevard County.  Are we not also meant and called to speak out for the rights of the poor in the midst of the clamor, and confusion of our society?

Oftentimes, we may find ourselves pondering what works and what doesn’t.  Reviewing these nine blessings may give us some insight into a point of view or a new way of looking at how we are to respond.  We might ask ourselves what will bring the greatest joy and happiness to those we seek to help?  As we review these beatitudes the ninth blessing is very clear: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” /Matthew 5:11/ Some scholars do not count this as one of the blessings.  Ridiculous!  Of course, it is a blessing!  If we don’t believe God, if we don’t believe Jesus is telling us ‘how we are being blessed’ during the difficult and rough times, then where are we going to get the courage to do what we must do, or to stand up for these things for which we know – we must take a stand.

Let me pose a question for our consideration: How are you, how are we blessed?

Answering the question today, as we have just held our annual congregational meeting this past week, is very important.  Therefore, let us take a moment to reflect on how blessed today truly is!  This congregation is blessed because there are so many faithful, and devoted members, and friends, of this faith community, who are committed to the ministry of this church!  It is amazing what has been accomplished this past year.  The plans that are coming together as we look to these next months are filled with new hope and new life!  We are blessed because we are following the will of God and serving the people of God!  We are blessed because we see the results of having had the courage to stand up for all of Gods people!  We are blessed because God sees our faithfulness and hears our prayers for guidance and new help!  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” /Matthew 5:6/ You hunger and thirst for that which is right, and for this God has blessed you one and all, and has blessed our beloved: Riviera United Church of Christ!

Amen.

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