You Are Blessed

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January 24, 2014

You Are Blessed

Passage: Micah 6:8; Matthew 5:1-12

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?”

Our first scripture lesson today from the Old Testament prophet Micah is one of my favorites.  Here Micah responds in verse 8 with God’s answer to the people’s “questions” about how to get right with God.  At first glance, God’s requirements for a reconciled and ongoing relationship seem to be less demanding than the extravagant sacrifices mentioned in verses 6 and 7.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?”

The “he has told you” refers to God’s already-declared words of wisdom.  What God expects is not new.  God has told the people of Israel what is “good.”

Three qualities embody the “good” which the Lord is requiring.

The first requirement is to do justice:   to rule, govern or judge without prejudice.  A righteous person becomes like God; when he or she lives up to God’s standards of moral and ethical behavior by treating others fairly.

The second requirement is to love kindness; the word used here also means mercy and steadfast love.  It is because of God’s kindness that we are to demonstrate kindness and love to others.

The third requirement is to walk humbly with your God.  To “walk humbly” requires us to be prepared daily to walk with God step-by-step in an appropriate manner, as God leads the way.

Sounds pretty clear and simple, but on closer inspection, are these requirements really that simple?

How can we be sure we are seeking God’s justice and not our own?  What does it mean “to love kindness?”  And how do we walk in humility?

To help us further understand these requirements, let us turn to Jesus Christ, our teacher and guide.

His teachings on the mountainside in Galilee contain some of his best-known words. The words we are looking at today are known as the Beatitudes.

The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin word, beatitudo, which means “blessedness.”  The phrase “blessed are” implies a current state of happiness or well-being.  This expression held the powerful meaning of “divine joy and perfect happiness.” In other words, Jesus was saying “divinely happy and fortunate are” those who possess these qualities.  While speaking of a current “blessedness,” each pronouncement also promises a future reward.

When we pay attention to the future tense – “they will be comforted … they will inherit … they will be filled” – it’s easy to hear these sayings as a series of promises, of rewards to be allotted in the afterlife, or in the new creation at the end of times.  Doubtless those promises will hold true in the new creation, but is that enough consolation to us now, when we mourn, or hunger, or are persecuted?  I believe that Jesus is calling us to a deeper and more challenging understanding.

Twice he says, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, we are told that from the beginning of his teaching, Jesus proclaimed that “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus tells us that the kingdom is near, it is at hand, it is so close we can reach out and touch it.

If the kingdom is truly at hand, then all the blessings Jesus mentions are not afterlife consolation prizes, but are present-tense realities.  Try out these re-wordings of the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they have the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they are being comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they are inheriting the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they are being filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they are receiving mercy.

In this light, the blessings become both strength and guidance for “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.”

Justice, in our earthly kingdoms, typically uses the tools of punishment and restitutions.  When those tools are applied well, our justice system protects the innocent, shields the vulnerable, and ensures fairness.  When those tools are applied poorly, they protect the powerful and disproportionately condemn the weak.  Justice in the kingdom of heaven relies on the mercy and righteousness of God.

Our commitment and our covenant with God call us to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. Our tools for this heavenly justice system are mercy and righteousness.  If we use these tools to do justice, look at the blessings that follow:  We receive mercy and we are called children of God!

Better yet, the blessings are not only a reward to us, but also a source of motivation and guidance.

Because we have received God’s mercy, we have a model for being merciful and the desire to extend mercy.

Because we have been forgiven and restored to peace with God, we are strengthened to forgive others and work for peace and reconciliation.

Because we are filled with God’s spirit, we hunger and thirst more and more to see righteousness in the world.

But what about the times when it’s hard to see righteousness in the world, when we ourselves are persecuted, or when we are in mourning, or when we feel empty and depressed in spirit?

Jesus assures us that blessings are present even in the midst of those times. I believe that he is teaching us in those difficult times; in fact, those moments are so often the very times that we are the most open to perceiving and understanding God’s grace.

In the midst of persecution and slander, Jesus calls us to rejoice and be glad for we are walking in the kingdom of heaven.

When we mourn and are tossed and turned by our natural emotions of grief and anger, it is in those moments that the presence and compassion of God breaks through!

“Walking in the kingdom of heaven,” means learning more and more that God is always close to us in our times of need; for Jesus assures us that we have the kingdom of heaven just when we feel poorest in spirit.  Just when we feel the most “down and out,” he encourages us to keep reaching out to the kingdom of God that is at hand.  In other words, walk humbly with your God.

Humility is all about letting go of our need to know and to control.  It is when we can finally let go of asking:

Why is this happening to me?
Why do I feel so alone?

Why is there so much evil in the world?

When we accept the blessing of “letting go” and “keeping silent,” it is precisely then that we discover that God is walking by our side.

To be meek is to set aside the sense of one’s own power; when we stop trying to control our surroundings, we rediscover our own freedom to enjoy the gift of life.

Listen to the Beatitudes as translated from, “The Message.”

“You are blessed when you are at the end of your rope.  With less of you, there is more of God and his rule.

You are blessed when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the one dearest to you.

You are blessed when you are content with just who you are—no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

You are blessed when you have worked up a good appetite for God.  His food and drink is the best meal you will ever eat.

You are blessed when you care.  At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

You are blessed when you get your inside world, your mind and heart, put right.  Then you can see God in the outside world.

You are blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

You are blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Not only that, count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens, give a cheer, even!   For though they don’t like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Dietrich Bonheoffer, in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” says:

“Humanly speaking, IT IS possible to understand the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways.  But Jesus knows only one possibility:  simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting or applying it, but doing and obeying it. That is the only way to hear his words.  He does not mean for us to discuss it as an ideal.  He really means for us to get on with it.”

The Beatitudes call us “to get on with it,” and to do so with a sense of openness before God.

We don’t see God until we see the face of Christ in others; we learn to do that by pursuing justice and kindness toward all people.

We don’t see God until we stop trying to control, and begin to learn to walk humbly in God’s presence.

For it is as we practice doing justice and loving kindness and walking in humility, the Spirit continues to work in our hearts, purifying us.  And blessed are the pure in heart, for they are seeing God.

So it may never be easy, but perhaps it is simple after all.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?”

Walk in the kingdom of heaven, be comforted, inherit the earth, be filled with righteousness, receive mercy, see God, be God’s children, rejoice and be glad.

And remember, at all times “you are blessed.”