Blessed Are . . .
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 5: 1 – 12. Focus on what it means to be blessed by God. Check out the anthem by Kelly Crandell and the choir following the sermon.
Jesus preached only one sermon that we know and it was this one – the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon has inspired thousands of sermons and I could preach on this text for the next eight weeks, but I think Kurt Vonnegut captured the truth of this sermon’s implications when he wrote:
“Christians have often demanded that the Ten Commandments be posted on public buildings, but never the Beatitudes. ‘Blessed are the merciful’ in a courtroom? ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ in the Pentagon? ‘Give me a break!’”
And I think what Bill Farmer wrote in his newspaper column captured the truth of this sermon’s implications when he wrote:
“J. Upton Dickson was a fun-loving fellow who said he was writing a book entitled Cower Power. He also founded a group of submissive people whose name was ‘The Doormats.’ That stands for ‘Dependent Organization of Really Meek and Timid Souls – if there are no objections.’ Their motto was: ‘The meek shall inherit the earth – if that’s ok with everybody.’ Their symbol was the yellow traffic light.’”
That said I want to give you a translation of this passage from the Greek that I think makes the implications of Jesus’ sermon even clearer.
The setting is this: Jesus is standing with his disciples before a large crowd in the Galilee. In verses 3 – 10 Jesus is addressing the crowd. In verses 11 – 12 Jesus is addressing his disciples. Every verse begins with the word we’ve translated as blessed, but this word is actually made up of two Greek words which refer first to your circumstances in life and secondly to what you do with your circumstances in life. These circumstances are not ones that you would seek out. Rather they are circumstances and descriptions of the people that God honors or favors. So let’s see what they are:
Verse 3: “Honored and favored by God are you who are completely impoverished of God and are helpless and hopeless about your life. God favors you because you know that your lives are not under your control. Favored by God are you – who – because of these life circumstances have only God to depend on for at this very moment God’s power is covering and protecting you. Right now when you feel as if your life will never change for the better God is favoring you by being with you.”
Verse 4: “Favored are you who find no cause for joy. Favored are you who lament the present condition of this world, who are extremely sad when you see the condition of God’s kingdom in this world and know that God’s will is not yet done here on earth as it is in heaven. Someone, be it God or someone whom God sends, will come near you with strength to comfort you.
Verse 5: The Greek word that has been translated into English as meek can mean two different things. It can mean one whose nature is humble or gentle or it can mean one who is humiliated, one who is walked on and treated like a doormat.
In this context I would translate it like this: “Favored by God are you who have been used by others for political, personal or economic gain because those who have treated you like this think that the land and all that dwells upon it is theirs, because they have taken it by their own strength, but it is not theirs. This earth and all that dwells upon it is mine. It is not something that can be taken as a reward, because no one has the right to take it. It is mine to give as an inheritance. And I – the Lord your God – choose to give my inheritance to you who have been humiliated, treated as doormats and exploited.”
Verse 6: The grammar of this verse indicates a present tense leading into a future tense. Therefore: “Honored by God are those who continually have a hunger that is so painful and a thirst for justice that is so unquenchable that they will be forever trying to make things right. And because of this unquenchable thirst to do what is right on behalf of God they shall be so satisfied as to say, ‘I couldn’t have done anymore. My strength is spent.’” In other words they will never have to look back on their lives with regret or remorse for they will know that they did everything they could to bring about God’s justice here on earth.
Verse 7: The word translated merciful has a broad range of meanings, but they all involve concrete actions rather than just an attitude or feeling. So in its complete sense it can be translated as: “Favored by God are those who offer forgiveness, who give to the poor, who act as healers, who seek to put right what has gone wrong, who offer compassion, for they will receive the very things that they have offered to others because God also values these acts of compassion.”
Verse 8: Kardia, the Greek word that has been translated “pure in heart” is better translated as “Favored are those who show who they really are without pretense. Honored by God are those who have integrity and show themselves for who they are, warts and all, because their willingness to look at themselves with honest introspection will be how God will reveal himself to them.”
Verse 9: “Favored by God are those who invite others to come and live with them in ways that are more than the absence of violence, for they come to bring peace in all areas of life: Economic, political, personal, communal and spiritual. Honored are they who walk what they talk, because God favors doers more than talkers and those who do all that I have been talking about will be my Father’s children.”
Verse 10 begins the transition from those who lack justice to those dedicated to bringing justice and when you do this Jesus says you will become like those you are helping. “Honored are you who are so committed to right action and justice that you will never give up. Favored are you because in the course of doing this you will be treated exactly they way I – your God, have been treated. And when you are persecuted on my behalf, in that very moment I will be with you and my power will be with you.”
Verses 11 & 12 bring the sudden and dramatic shift from the words that Jesus speaks to the crowd – to the words he now speaks to his disciples. “God’s honor is with you when people unjustly defame your character. God’s favor is with you when people constantly seek to tear you down and bring lawsuits against you for doing what is right. In fact you can jump up and down with excitement when you suffer in my name because your inheritance will be huge and you can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. They did this to my prophets who came before you. But it will be my will that will prevail now and in the kingdom yet to come.”
So to summarize, the issue for us isn’t how many people take us seriously? It isn’t how much we accomplish? The issue for you and me is: How much do we love Jesus and trust God?
What this world desperately needs are men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that strives for justice and right action, a heart that forgives, a heart that shows compassion by doing the right thing for others, a heart that invites others to live by more than the absence of war, but by an aching desire for the well being of everyone and a heart that shows compassion by reaching out to anyone who suffers, a heart that allows each one of us to be who we really are without judgment or pretense so that more human beings might see God – right now.
Oh and by the way, don’t worry if you fail at this from time to time. Just don’t stop striving for it. Amen