1 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.
Blessed- it’s a word we use a lot in our church, and a word that is used a lot around Thanksgiving. And it appears in our gospel reading today in some peculiar phrases. I want to take a moment to think about what this word truly means and to examine what it means in the context of this scripture and in our lives today. The word blessed in this passage comes from the Greek word Makarios. This word is translated as blessed, but it can also mean happy or fortunate. This is not only a superficial happiness- but a deep-seated contentment and fulfillment. Blessed implies that God’s favor or benefits have been extended to someone.
The word blessed is found in the psalms many times. And this Hebrew word (ashrei) can also be translated as blessed OR happy or enriched. Like psalm 1:
The Two Ways
1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Like Trees planted by streams of living water…. Yielding fruit and prospering.Blessed and happy.
There is a song by Casting Crowns I have been inspired by lately that uses an image from psalm 1.
Thrive by Casting Crowns
Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry
So living water flowing through
God, we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire
Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives
Its time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
Into Your word, were digging deep
To know our Fathers heart
Into the world, were reaching out
To show them who You are
Joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable
Love unstoppable, anything is possible
The songs speaks of thriving instead of merely surviving. What an important contrast. We may ask ourselves,“are we thriving in our lives- or simply surviving?” I think we have all been at points in our lives when we are in survival mode: overly stressed with work or school, or simply trying to pay the bills each month. And on this All Saints Sunday we are reminded that many are surviving losses- losses of loved ones, the loss and grief of losing a job or going through a divorce, dealing with addiction, the overwhelming work of beginning a new job, or moving to a new place, or staring a new school. In survival mode, we can hardly focus on the blessings around us because we are just trying to make it through the day. Maybe you are in survival mode right now.
At some points in our lives, we have no choice. But doesn’t God want more for us than to stay in survival mode as our norm?
The song lyrics spoke of that tree that was planted by streams of living waters. In the same way, when we are in relationship with God we receive the living water of Christ. This living water provides for our spiritual needs and gives us an abundance of God things in our lives like joy, peace, love, hope. These spiritual fruits pour out of us as God’s spirit pours into us.
We thrive like the tree planted by living water. Maybe this idea of thriving is similar to being blessed. But of course this thriving (this blessed happiness) is not as the world often views happiness. We can look to the witness of the saints who have gone before us for proof of this. Some of the most famous saints are well-known and loved to us because of the sacrifices made and the difficulties they endured in life.
- Many of Jesus’ disciples and the first followers of Jesus gave their lives as martyrs to live out and share the message of Jesus with the world
- Mother Teresa gave her life to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta
- Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for his work to end racism and fight for the poor in America
- During the plagues of Europe- Christians were known to care for the sick- risking their own lives. And now today Christian medical missions are volunteering to help with the Ebola crisis in Liberia.
- These are BIG examples…. But I think if we consider the saints of our own lives we may see this thread as well.
- My grandmother Dorothy was an inspiration to me in my life and in my walk of faith. As the mother of 9 children and 25 grandchildren- her life was not always an easy one but she always had such love and joy emanating from her spirit. She may not be remembered by the history books but she will always be loved and remembered by her family as an example of God’s love. And I think the same is true for many of the saints of our church and our families that we remember in love today.
These saints show us that thriving is less about being successful and prosperous in the world’ eyes. Instead, it is about having significance in life. Significance means that we have a purpose- that we are working within God’s mission for this world… that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. Here is where we find true fulfillment- here is where we find ourselves thriving. Here is where we are blessed by God. We move beyond surviving (not because we are without hardships or struggle) but because we are living lives of significance fed by living water.
When Jesus walked away from the crowds and taught his disciples this Bible lesson we read in Matthew’s gospel- it would have been quite shocking to hear. Because all of the people that Jesus spoke of- were not blessed, happy, or fortunate. Those who were considered blessed were the rich, the powerful, those with many gifts of children, land, food, and livestock. The exact opposite of Jesus’ words seem true…
Those who mourn are not happy or comforted
Those who are gentle do not inherit the land
Those who hunger for justice are left unfulfilled
The peacemakers are pushed aside
The persecuted suffer
And yet Jesus makes a radical pronouncement with these blessings. Things are changing… The kingdom of heaven- the way it is in God’s kingdom- is breaking into this world and upsetting the balance of power. Now that Jesus, God in flesh, has arrived on the scene- things are revealed through God’s eyes. The kingdom of heaven is breaking through in the person of Jesus. And in this new order: the poor, meek, the mournful, peacemakers, and those hungering for justice- are blessed by God. This pronouncement comes to speak the true of the present moment. It is not a list of things to strive for – it is simply a revelation of God’s truth- these people are blessed. They are happy, they are fulfilled, they are thriving. They have significance in God’s kingdom. The wonderful gospel news brings this new reality. This new reality is present in Jesus and it continues through the lives of Jesus’ followers and in the church and in the world and wherever the Holy Spirit works.
And God’s radical blessing breaks into our personal world too. God reveals that when you suffer, struggle, and mourn- you are not alone. God sees you in your pain and is with you. God proclaims that you are blessed. God promises to provide living waters to refresh you. Because you too are one of the saints of God. And together we are the saints of Hope Lutheran- supported and surrounded by the many who have gone before us.
In our church of Hope Lutheran- we have a vision that we will go beyond survival mode. We will move beyond only focusing on paying the bills. We will move into God’s calling of mission for our church. This calling is to a vision of significance- of making a difference in the community- of continuing of current ministries and expanding them to reach more people. It will not be without its struggle- but we will not be alone. We will have God’s abundant love and blessing to fuel our service. And each of you will be a part of this big vision and this work for the kingdom. May God bless us in our work. Amen.