Blessed to Bless

Sermon, Epiphany 5A February 6, 2011

Matthew 5:13-20

Okay, here is the pop quiz. Put your bibles under the pew and take out a pencil and any old side of the bulletin and write down as many of the eight beatitudes as you can. “Blessed are the ______, for _____.”  —Just a word for who is blessed and one for what the blessing is.

How many did you get? We’ll check them out in a minute. Today’s reading from the Sermon on the Mount is about salt and light. Familiar stuff. But it is really connected to the beatitudes. You see, Jesus has all these recruits who are ready to enlist, and Jesus is giving basic training, orientation. Since I was sick and didn’t get to preach on them last week, let me at least get a running start into today’s text by reminding of a few things those beatitudes are about.

Jesus begins by saying “Congratulations! You are blessed today! You are already a winner.” How so? You are a blessed people.

What is a blessing?

The story of the man who bought a new Alfa Romeo, the luxury Italian sports car, and he wanted to do something to celebrate his purchase.So he went to the Catholic priest, and said, “Father, will you bless my Alfa Romeo?”
The priest said, “Yes, but what’s an Alfa Romeo?”
The young man said, “Never mind, you wouldn’t appreciate the significance of this purchase in my life.”
So he went to a Methodist minister, and said, “Reverend, I’ve just bought an Alfa Romeo. Will you bless it for me?”
He said, “Yes, but what’s an Alfa Romeo?”
He went to a Baptist preacher, and said, “I’ve just bought an Alfa Romeo. Will you bless it?”
The minister said, “Wow! An Alfa Romeo! What a great car. I’ve always wanted to ride in one. Will you give me a ride? And by the way…what’s a blessing?”

Well, what is a blessing? Blessed are you now…. Divine happiness is yours. you are where divine joy can smile on you and make your life full to the brim with heavenly completeness. Saying a blessing is bestowing God’s smile on someone.

The Aaronic blessing is parallel poetry.

The Lord bless you and keep you (safe).
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you (look at you) and give you peace
The Lord make his face to shine upon you (smile) and be gracious unto you.

That is what a blessing is: May the Lord look at you and smile and be generous toward you.

Who are the blessed? (And now you can check your bulletins or Bibles.)
The poor in spirit. Luke just says “poor” but both had this in mind. When you don’t have what you need spiritually or physically, you know you are going to be dependent on someone else. The poor man in the parable is named “Lazarus” short for “God is my help.” There is only one who I can look to to help me—-the Lord.

Matthew elsewhere remembers Jesus saying how hard it is for rich people to get to heaven. I think this is the reason. They have a harder time believing they need help. And a much harder time letting themselves get into situations where they have to depend on God or anyone else.

But blessed are the people who know they can’t make it without help. They are the candidates for membership in the Realm of God. The realm God controls.

Blessed are those who mourn. Those who are upset and heart torn about the way things are. So many things packed in here. Upset about their lives and the mess they have made of them. Grief stricken because things are going to hell in a hand basket. Torn up with all the people who are hurting or hungry. Or just miserable about being miserable.

..They shall be comforted. Let’s take that literally com-with, fort-strength. They will receive strength. Strength I suppose of 2 kinds. Strength to get through to endure. And strength to do something to fix the world or ourselves. The power to do something. That’s two.

Three. The meek are not the weak. Meek means humbly obedient. Power tamed to the Master’s voice. Those who are following the Lord’s command will inherit the earth. In Deuteronomy, Moses says, keep these commands that your years may be long in the land I am giving you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled. The people who are itching to see justice done, people treated right, the earth cared for– inspite of the tension this passion creates– why it is a blessed discontent and God is going to fill their desire for righteousness to the brim.

Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. To get mercy you must be prepared to live mercifully. I John 3.17: and whoever may have the goods of the world, and may view his brother having need, and may shut up his bowels from him — how doth the love of God remain in him? Can you really expect the love you receive from God to continue to abide in you if you shut it up in your heart and refuse to give to others?

Blessed are the peacemakers– children of God. Peacemakers are the opposite of troublemakers. They are finding ways to bring people together, to reconcile those that are estranged. Whether human to human or human to God. In Mark Jesus says have salt in you and be a peace with one another.

Blessed are you when you get into trouble for doing what is right, you are in a long line of God’s people. Same if we are abused, misunderstood and made to suffer for being a Christian.

Jesus was describing the community that comes into being when people sign on the follow his way and share his life. Salvation means I am going to try to follow Jesus. That’s it. I am not going to come after Jesus because I hear he is giving “Get out of Hell Free” passes. I am not going to follow Jesus because it is a shortcut to prosperity or popularity. I am going to follow Jesus because he is the way, the truth, the life.

As the old hymn says, “Give me Jesus, you can have all the rest. Give me Jesus.” I remember a chorus I used to sing as a teenager. “Jesus Christ is made to me all I need all I need. He alone is all my plea. He is all I need. Wisdom, righteousness, and power, holiness for ever more, my redemption full and sure. he is all I need.”

But to live with Jesus in this Kingdom is already to have the taste of heaven’s blessedness. All the way to heaven is heaven. heaven now already, when I am walking in the way.

But if these beatitudes penetrate our souls they will not only give us joy, they will make a blessing to others. We are blessed and because we share it we are conduits of the Lord’s blessings to the world.

You who are blessed, Jesus says, are salt and light.

These are things we have thought about before. Let’s just remind ourselves of some of what they suggest.

saltFirst, they are necessary. No life without salt. Life on this planet evolved in oceans and we carry the salty sea still in the blood coursing through our veins. Without light our kind of life would soon be extinct.

Second, you don’t need a lot of either. U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new nutrition guidelines this past week. Says you should limit intake to about a teaspoon, a day. A little goes a long way.

Same is true of light. Jesus isn’t talking about klieg lights– just a little lamp you could put on a stand. a candle. The other night I got to coughing and thought I would slip into the bathroom and get some cough medicine. Didn’t want to wake Diane so I didn’t turn on the light. And – you guessed it– I ran smack into the wall. Loud. Woke her up. Just a little night light would have done it.

The passage from Isaiah says, 58:6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 58:7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 58:8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Our light is the goodness of our lives. Our humble obedience, peacemaking, mercy showing, courageous fidelity, etc.

In John 1 we read “In (the Word) was life and the life was the light of humanity, and the light in the darkness did shine, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Later Jesus says “As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.” As long as Jesus walked this earth, people came in touch with his acceptance, his call to righteousness, his mercy for sinners, his hospitality to the outcast. But now he says to those who follow him and are still living in this world that we are the light of the world.

lightOne of my father’s favorite hymns was “Let the lower Lights be burning.”

I have to confess I never cared for it much as a child, because I didn’t know what lower lights were, and the church usually sang it too slow. But then I learned the story behind the hymn. (Fred Kane 2/2011)

It was written by Philip Bliss over a century ago. He was an itinerant musician, which is what you usually are if you are a musician; you spend a lot of time looking for work. He traveled around, taught music and voice. He even sang. For awhile he was living in Chicago. He went to hear the great evangelist, Dwight L. Moody. In that sermon, Moody talked about a ship that was trying to find Cleveland harbor in the midst of a storm, in the darkness of night.

The captain could see the lighthouse. He drew near, shouted to the lighthouse keeper, “Is this Cleveland?”
The lighthouse keeper shouted back, “Quite true, sir.”
The captain asked, “Where are the lower lights?”
The lighthouse keeper said, “They have gone out. Can you make the harbor?”
The captain replied, “We must, or we will perish!”

With that he sailed his ship into the harbor, passed the lighthouse, missed the channel, and was dashed against the rocks. It was a terrible tragedy. Many people were killed.
Moody brought that story home with these words. He said, “Brothers and sisters, the Master will take care of the lighthouse. Let us keep the lower lights burning.”

Until I heard that story, I didn’t know what “lower lights” were. I thought it was a strange phrase, “Let the lower lights be burning.” But the lower lights are the lights away from the lighthouse that illumine the water line. They enable the ships to come into the harbor at night, through the narrow channel of the harbor’s mouth.Impressed by that, Bliss wrote his hymn.

(Fred Kane shared this story, 2/2011) Many years ago Marvella Bayh, the wife of Senator Birch Bayh, of Indiana was fighting cancer. She had lived with it for a long time. Then it came back. She gave an interview about that experience, and said two things. She said, first she remembered the scripture, “Where can I go but to the Lord.” Then she remembered the words in the child’s song, “Jesus Loves Me”, “I am weak, but he is strong.”

Then she said, “Another thing I have learned is that each and every person out there can make an overwhelming difference in the lives of other people.”

She remembered the many persons who had been concerned about her. But one, she remembered, shined brighter than all the rest. It happened seven years before. She was going through radiation treatments at George Washington hospital, in the nation’s capitol. She said that it was not the happiest time, and she felt listless and wondered if it was worth going on.

Then she said this. “Our car is easy to identify because of the Senate license plates on it. One day I came out of the hospital, and there was a note under the windshield wipers, scribbled in pencil on spiral notebook paper. It said, `Mrs. Bayh, I see your car parked here almost every day. Hang in there. Others are thinking of you.'” She said, “I brought that note home and put it next to my bed.”

She concluded by saying, “You don’t have to be the President of the United States. You don’t have to be a Senator, to make a difference in people’s lives. You can touch the lives of people all around you every day.”
You could just be one of those new little LED lights and still make a difference. “This little light of mine.. I’m going to let it shine.”

lights

Jesus didn’t say “try to be light.” or “try to be salt.” He said you are salt and light already. Just let the goodness God is creating in you stand out. Don’t hold it back. Let the blessings go and bless someone else.

(Martin Shaw summed it up well in choral benediction the choir will sing.)

You are blessed. You are children of God now. And you are invited to share in the life of Christ.

Come, poor in spirit, come meek,
come hungry for justice,
come all who the world turns on,
Come the Lord feeds you now with the bread of heaven.
Come, know you are blessed that  you may depart to be blessing.  Amen

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