I have told you before that in between my junior and senior year of college, I spent a summer in a native village in Alaska on the Kuskokwim River, in a small village called Stony River. I don't know if it was the happiest three months of my life, in fact I am sure it was not. What I am sure of, however, was that it was one of times that I grew the most. The guy who ran the summer mission program was a guy named Max. Max was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, and was a factory worker in Chicago before he became a missionary. Max carted everyone and their stuff in this small plane. The plane could fit four people at the most, but usually three. Two in the front, and one sitting on the back in the luggage. Our mission training was in Stony River, and then he transported the rest of the crowd out to where they were going to serve for the next week or the rest of the summer.
He came back for one final trip with a load of stuff and the other full time staff missionary. He said that he was going to pray for me, and ask God to bless me for the summer, and then he was going to take off, and he would see me in a few weeks. I don't remember much of that prayer. I just remember Him praying for me to be safe, and that I would build a good ministry there for the summer. I don't remember much about that first ordination prayer, but what I do remember was that as he closed he moved his hands from joining hands with the other two of us in that room to my shoulder, and I remember him praying for God to bless me.
The first sermon recorded in Matthew is a sermon Jesus preached to those who thought they might want to be his disciples. It is his innaugral address of sorts. Jesus, after healing and teaching in the synagogues, goes away from the crowds with those who wanted to be his apprentice. And he tells them what the life of discipleship is like. What the character of followers of him are like, and a basic outline of the Way he wants them to lead their lives. Interestingly enough, he starts by blessing the disciples. Jesus starts by blessing those who would choose to follow Him, and do the work he was doing.
I am always comforted that Jesus starts our call and our ministry with Him with blessings. Before he gets to the nitty-gritty of all of the kingdom life, before he tells us parables, before he asks us to do anything for Him, he blesses us.
Before we witness to one person, before we truly love one person, before we do anything in Jesus name, if we are his disciples, he has been praying for us and over us. Our following of Jesus, our serving of Jesus, our knowing Jesus, is a result of Jesus blessing us.
Do you know what a blessing is? A blessing is the opposite of a curse. When you bless someone you pray and effect good things into their lives. Many blessings in ancient Israel were accompanied by inheritance or power of some sort. Land. Money. Title. Thus, we understand a blessing as not just a good wish, but as a powerful way of bringing something tangibly good into our lives. In some circles, today and in Jesus time, blessing became synonymous with material well-being. As you can see, when Jesus blesses us, he speaks good news and good things into our lives. Though not necessarily the way that we expect.
This is good news. We are not expected to be disciples without help. Just like the Great Commission says that Jesus will be with us always as we go and share the good news of Jesus with the world, the blessing of Jesus is on us as we attempt to live in the way he taught us. It is not all up to us. We are to obey, to serve, to follow. Jesus' blessing goes before us.
This is all true. All very nice. Except when you gaze a little bit closer and actually READ THE BLESSINGS. Meekness is a blessing? Grief is a blessing? Poverty of Spirit is a blessing? What was Jesus trying to say here? What was he getting at?
I believe that Jesus starts by blessing us in the beginning of our journey and then works out from there, moving into blessing us into all sorts of living for Christ and his kingdom. Continuing to bless us as he goes. In other words, I see in the blessings of Jesus a process for the journey we are on with Him, and how he intends us to go, and how he will bless us if we following him where he leads us. I believe the Beattitudes, or the blessings, express God's blessing, but in the process show us the form of the way a disciples life goes.
To show this, I am going to split the blessings into three parts, and look at them, and then we are going to look at commentary following the blessings, which gives us a deeper rationale for living the blessed life, and then I am going to reread this part of Scripture in a different, more contemporary version, and then I am going to close.
The blessings fall into three parts. Parts that I have entitled the need blessings, the help blessings, and the hurt blessings.
THE NEED BLESSINGS
The blessings of Jesus start with the blessings that are hardest for us, and especially the world around us to understand.
Blessed are the poor in spirit
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
I don't know, but I do not usually think about being hungry, thirsty, grieving, meek or poor in spirit as blessings. But Jesus does. Why?
Because we need to start there.
Not many people come to God because they have everything figured out on their own, and they don't need any help from anyone. We come to God, because at one point or another, we recognize we need Him. We may need God's help to heal someone we love. Or to just get through the day.
The beginning of being a disciple of Jesus is realizing something is lacking in us. That we are somehow deficient, hopeless, and lost. That we are a mess and we are not smart enough, strong enough, powerful enough, or good enough to make things right on our own.
Any church worth its salt should have a big sign on the front of it that says: NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED. If I could get away with it I would put up a big banner on our property on Main Street that said: NO PERFECT PEOPLE ALLOWED and underneath that script it would say EVERYONE ELSE IS WELCOME.
I don't know about you, but it is hard for me to admit I need help. I would rather try to do things on my own. I would rather spend two hours on something that I know someone else could do in five minutes because I don't want to admit that I am not strong enough, smart enough, or skilled enough to do something.
Whenever I talk to people doing any kind of ministry that they feel truly called to, whether that is a pastor or it is someone who is a member of a church that has found a ministry within the congregation, they often start with a deep sense of inability and inadequacy to serve God. Then they come to a realization that they were not called to do the ministry for God, as much as they were asked to be a vessel that God could do his ministry through. They could not do the job, but God could do it through them.
When we come to God as people who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, we are people who realize that we can't make it on our own. Even when we are a little successful on own, we still feel heavy-hearted, overwhelmed, lonely, empty. We know we need more.
It is when we know that we need help, that we need more, that we begin to truly experience the presence and power of God in our lives. It is hard. We need to let go of our excuses. We need to admit that we need help. But when we admit we can't handle the present (poor in spirit), we cannot get over the past (mourning), and we keep wanting the wrong things (we need meekness and to hunger and thirst for righteousness).
Are you able to come to God and admit that you cannot handle it all? That you cannot manage the world, or even your life? Are you willing to depend on God to guide your words, your actions, even the direction of your life?
If you are, Jesus says, this is your starting point.
Your starting point is that place where you must realize that you come to Jesus with nothing to offer, and that you must completely on him. When you start there with Jesus, you will find he is present and he is blessing you.
You find yourself experiencing God's kingdom when you feel too poor in spirit to claim your own. You find yourself comforted when you lose those people and things most dear. When you feel so powerless you are meek, you find yourself filled with God's power. When you find yourself famished for faith and hope and truth, you suddenly find God is filling you up with his presence. If you turn to him and follow.
THE HELP BLESSINGS
So we come to God just as we are, realizing that we need his help to follow him and serve him as his disciples. What next?
Verses 7-9 pronounce blessings on those who have gotten up on their feet and are reaching out to others. We are not only dependant on God to bless us as we begin our journey with him, we need God's blessing as we go to do his will.
Verses 7-9 give us three examples of kingdom work. When we are merciful, we will be shown mercy. When we are pure in heart, we will see God. When we are peacemakers, we will be called the sons of God.
What do we have to offer in our ministry to others according to the blessings. Love and mercy. Purity and truth. Peace and reconciliation.
God blesses us as we seek to bring Jesus to others. Not just in word, but in our actions.
Do you want to experience the presence of God in your life? Do you want your life to mean something? Do you want your life to have spiritual power?
Seek to reach out and serve others. Help that friend that is in need. Listen to that person who is a little bit lonely. Or be a little bit more courageous. Go on a mission trip. Organize a group of people to serve at the homeless mission in Pueblo. Show a little mercy in Jesus name, you will find the mercy of God flowing through you and into your life, not just the person you are trying to help.
Do you want to know God is really working in your life? Help people make peace with God. Help people make peace with one another. Help people make peace with their pasts, and help them find a way toward healing. You will find a power in your life you never expected, and people will see Jesus is what you do and how you live.
Do you want to see God. Live your life honestly. Don't put on airs. Don't try and pretend like you are a better person than you are. Live your life trying to follow Christ with all your heart. The word for heart here literally is also the root of the word "core" in English. Try to live your faith from the core of who you are, not as some add on. Let God become the center of your life, not just a part of your life. Let the core of who you are be "follower of Jesus". Jesus promises you will see God if you do this.
Jesus blesses us as we go out and try to live our life mercifully, honestly, truly, helping reconcile the broken places in the world.
So you let God meet your most weak, painful and powerless moments. You give your life to him. You give your life in serving him, and you experience his power and his blessing.
The Bible is pretty clear about something. It is hard to tell you, because, well, sometimes the truth of Jesus is not that easy to hear.
The Bible says that when we are disciples of Jesus we will experience heartache and suffering. We will be belittled. People will try and hurt our feelings, and people will actually even try and hurt us. They will make up lies about us. We will be betrayed by people we thought we could trust.
And when that happens, Jesus will reach out to us and help us. Jesus tells us we are in good company. The prophets were treated like this. Later he will be treated like this. It is part of what it means to do God's will.
Often, it becomes easy to think, when people give us a hard time, when they make up stories about us, when they put a spin on a story about us that just isn't true, that somehow we are being punished or we have lost favor in God's eyes.
Several years ago, at another church, our properties person, which is kind of like the trustee at this church, myself, and one of Ralph's friends were working together clearing out sheds full of junk to take to goodwill at the church. It was a warm spring day. We were hot and sweaty. We went to the local burger joint for what I have considered before and since the perfect burger—cheap, greasy, well done, with two perfect slices of bacon on top with fries for just under $5.
Ralph's buddy, I think his name was Bill, was a good-hearted but ornery old cuss. He used to be a investigator for government benefits for people in Kansas City. He found who was cheating on welfare and food stamps in other words. He put his time, retired, and got as far out in the country as he could go. The result of his former employment was a keen eye for reading people, and a no-nonsense way of communicating truth as he saw it.
He asked me how my work was going at the church. It was a hard time at that moment, but I did not want to run down my church to someone who was not a part of it. "Some things good, some things not so good I said. The youth group is growing. The kids are fun. I enjoy some of the volunteers like Ralph," I said.
He replied something like this…but I have edited his colorful language, "If you are not making people at least a little frustrated, it is guaranteed that you are accomplishing little. If you are going to accomplish anything and stand for anything, people are going to complain and cry." Like I said, I edited the speech for a church audience.
What he said is true. If you stand for anything, you are going to make enemies. You are going to get hurt feelings. You are going to wonder why you do anything for anyone at all, if all they are going to do is complain.
There is this school of Christian thought out there that says if you are right with God you will become wealthier and more powerful. That God is out there to make you happy and to make life easier. That somehow the Bible has some secret code that will make you healthy, wealthy, and loved by all if you just follow it close enough.
That is a lie.
The Bible promises us God's blessings, it does not promise us some Disneyland spirituality.
If we follow Jesus we will suffer. We will be slandered and lied about. We will be mocked and belittled. Jesus tells us that even in those moments that we should not despair. That even when we are hurt, even hurt for following Him, that he is at work blessing us. Making good out of evil. Giving us hope out of despair.
It is in those times of persecution and heartache that God's kingdom comes even more into our grasp, and that we store up rewards in heaven.
It is also at that time, when we kind of start over. We learn more of our need for God. We learn to depend on him more. And we experience his grace as he lifts us up more in the likeness of Jesus than before.
WHY THESE BLESSINGS
Why does God give us these blessings? What are their bigger purpose.The following few verses give us an answer.
First, you need to understand this little note in your buliten. These blessings are as much for and about a community of people as individuals. Would you rather be in a community of humble people or arrogant people? Would you rather be known as a church of merciful peacemakers, or would you like to be a community that is compassionless and divisive. Jesus isn't just directing these blessings to me and you. He is directing these blessings to us.
Secondly, the blessing of Jesus allow us to be salt of the earth. Bringing flavor to the world around us. Preserving. Healing.
The blessings allow us to be the light of the world. Bringing truth, hope, safety, and guidance to a world that seems lost and alone.
Will you come to God with empty hands…?
Will you come to God with open arms for the world around you…?
Will you be strong enough to take the beatings and pain that will be in front of you…and like a football player knocked on his rear end, reach up your hand as God pulls you to your feet to get back in the game?
Will you enter into a life of true hope, truth and blessing and follow Jesus? I hope so.