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02.02.14 Do We Really Want to Be Blessed Matthew 5:1-12 Sermon Summary

by on February 3, 2014

The fundamental problem religion addresses is human self-centeredness. Here’s how the Bible addresses it.

Sermon Summary

  • Some evidence of the main problem
  • Even religion isn’t immune
  • How Micah the Psalm boil it down
  • Jesus and what it means to be blessed

The problem with us humans, spiritually speaking at least, is that we’re so self-centered. This is why the first of the Ten Commandments is that we shall have no other gods before God. The first god we put before God is ourselves. This is why Jesus summarized Judaism with the Greatest Commandment to “Love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s the same problem Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians. In the first chapter he challenges the Corinthian’s affection for “human wisdom and power.” What the Christianity shares with all other religions is that the purpose of religions is to address this problem. Religions call us to a de-centering of our lives. Christianity call us further to a re-centering of our lives around Christ.

Ancient Israel had experienced a time of national renewal under kings Uzziah and Jotham. They were safe, secure, and prosperous. Under these conditions, worship had been reduced to a civic duty. It was what all good Jews did.

But this isn’t the motivation God wants us to have towards worship. And this is why God brings a complaint against his people through the prophet Micah. The people answer with more of the same. They want to bring more and better offerings—the same kinds of offerings they see other religions making, even child sacrifice.

These kinds of solutions demonstrate that the human problem finds its way even into religion. Wanting to do more liturgy and ritual are the expressions of human wisdom and power in religion. So Micah boils it down. In one of the most famous and directive verses of the Bible, Micah directs us to three things:

  • Justice
  • Kindness
  • Humility

To really live the way God wants us to live, the order is better reversed: when we “walk humbly with God,” we will offer kindness and advocate for justice.

I like these definitions from Texts for Preaching Year A, p. 120: “Walk humbly with God, to abandon all self-sufficiency, to acknowledge in daily attitude and act that life is indeed derived from the reality of God. Love covenant loyalty. The translation of ‘kindness’ is disastrously weak. The word hesed means to reorder life into a community of enduring relations of fidelity. Do justice, to be actively engaged in the redistribution of power in the world, to correct the systemic inequalities that marginalize some for the excessive enhancement of others.”

So Micah calls us

  • From ritual to relationship
  • From liturgy to lifestyle
  • From checklist to checking in

Micah knows that living in community with God and one another confronts our self-centeredness and makes our worship and our lives pleasing to God once again.

The psalm suggests the same. It asks the question, Who may dwell in God’s presence? The list is instructive. Those who

  • Speak truth, not slander
  • Do right by their neighbors in action and speech
  • Fulfill their oaths, even to their disadvantage
  • Do not exploit others, financially or otherwise

These “abide” in God’s tent—but not only there. Obviously they are living in God’s presence throughout their lives.

And this kind of de-centered living is available to everyone. One doesn’t have to be a religious professional, a priest or a monk, to experience God throughout a life lived with justice and compassion. But this kind of universal opportunity offends those of us who are achievers. We prefer checklists, liturgies, and rituals, because they are something we can do ourselves. Returning to Paul’s words, checklists allow us to boast in human wisdom and power. There it is again; our human problem.

But this is not God’s way. According to Paul, God’s way is foolish and weak. In an image, it is the way of the Cross. It is the way of Jesus. Jesus’ way is the path of self-denial, even self-sacrifice, not out of self-hatred, but out of love for God and others. Jesus’ is the way of Micah, the way of justice and compassion.

Jesus is famous for saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” It’s probably best to hear in this statement an invitation. To paraphrase, “Mine is the way, truth, and life. If you want to walk the path of truth and life, mine is the one.”

Which brings us to what it means to be “blessed.” Jesus most famous sermon begins with the so-called beatitudes, nine character qualities that Jesus says are blessed. And Jesus would know, because he himself is blessed. Jesus is

  • Poor in spirit, because he does what Micah prescribes, he walks humbly with God
  • One who mourns, for the way things are does not fully resemble God’s intent, God’s kingdom
  • Meek, because he isn’t at the center of his life
  • Hungers and thirsts for righteousness, or social justice to use Micah’s words
  • Merciful
  • Pure in heart, defined by 18th century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, as “to will one thing”
  • A Peacemaker
  • Persecuted and derided for his fidelity, his “love of kindness” to use Micah’s words

Jesus Christ is all of these, and he is blessed. Baptism makes us one with Christ, which means that we, too, are already blessed in Christ. The Beatitudes are not intended to awaken our spiritual problem, our desire for human wisdom and power. They are not a checklist to achieve. Rather they are an identity to receive. A de-centered life. A re-centered life.

For those who truly want to be blessed, here is the Bible’s answer. De-center your life by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. And re-center your life by receiving Christ.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • John the Baptist said of himself and Christ, “I must decrease, and he must increase.” How has Christ been increased in your life? Do you realize that this means a dying to self? Where are your lines of struggle with this?
  • Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his own cross, and follow me.” In what ways are you denying yourself, dying on a cross, and following Christ?
  • In baptism our identity and destiny are established—we belong to God. How does this truth find expression in your life? Could it be that living with justice, kindness, and humility are easier if we remembered the truth of baptism?
  • Augustine said of the Lord’s Supper, “Behold what you are, become what you receive.” When you celebrate communion, do you become more like the Christ who serves you his own life? Is the Lord’s Supper as much a lifestyle as it is a liturgy for you?

 

 

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