You Are Blessed
“You Are Blessed”
A sermon on Matthew 5:1-12
Preached at Trinity Presbyterian Church of Independence, Missouri
By Rev. Elizabeth Meador Strobel
February 2, 2020 – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You may know our Gospel reading today as “the Beatitudes,” which is based on the Latin word for “blessed.” It’s a list of blessings that Jesus preaches to his followers at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s easily one of the top 10 most famous passages of the Bible, right up there with the Christmas story and the Ten Commandments.
We like the Beatitudes, in part, because on first reading it appears like a concise checklist. A lot of us like the kind of faith that’s observable and controllable, where we can check of being meek or merciful and feel that we have earned a blessing from God. Now, being meek and merciful is not easy work, we know that – but if we work hard at it, then we’ve achieved something. That feels good. That puts us in control of our faith, and gives us concrete ways to – as Jesse so beautifully read in our Micah reading - “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God”. It’s comforting to know that when we put into our faith, we’ll receive something back.
But, my friends, that’s not what the Beatitudes are, at all.
If you’re looking for a faith in which you are in control, then you need to find another way than Christianity. I’ll spoil the ending of this sermon for you: What we learn from the Beatitudes is that we are blessed not because of what we do, but because God desires to bless us how we already are. And to live into that life of blessing, to seek after Christ, means that we go on a journey that is much more complex than simply following a checklist of rules. In the Beatitudes, Jesus invites us into a way of living that is nuanced and difficult but full of grace.
If we dig a little deeper, we see that the Beatitudes aren’t quite as simple as we think. Take the Ten Commandments - You know, for instance, if you’ve broken the sixth commandment because you definitely know if you’ve murdered someone. And while you may not be entirely sure if you’ve followed the fifth commandment to honor your Father and Mother, my experience is that your parents are going to tell you if they don’t feel very honored. There are lots of rules all over the Old and New Testaments that are pretty clear to follow.
The Beatitudes are a whole other ballgame. How do you know, for instance, if you’ve been truly pure in heart or poor in spirit? What does that even mean? We may be able to observe and evaluate it a little, but it’s much trickier than just a “do and don’t” list. The Beatitudes also put us totally out of control. Being a peacemaker, for instance, isn’t up to our actions – it’s up to how we inspire others. Being someone who mourns or is persecuted isn’t something we sign up for – it’s something that happens to us. Being a blessed person, then, is no simple task.
There’s an old joke about a farmer who hired a man to work for him. He told him his first task would be to paint the barn and said it should take him about three days to complete. But the hired man was finished in one day. The farmer set him to cutting wood, telling him it would require about 4 days. The hired man finished in a day and a half, to the farmer's amazement. The next task was to sort out a large pile of potatoes. He was to arrange them into three piles: seed potatoes, food for the hogs, and potatoes that were good enough to sell. The farmer said it was a small job and shouldn't take long at all. At the end of the day the farmer came back and found the hired man had barely started. "What's the matter here?" the farmer asked. "I can work hard, but I can't make decisions!" replied the hired man.
Some things are simple to follow. Others take more discernment. Jesus invites us into a walk of faith that is simply not a black and white “to do” list. And, so, I wonder: what happens when we lean into a faith that’s more nuanced?
When Jesus preaches the sermon on the mount, he is looking at the crowd gathered around him and pointing out what they already are – poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemaking, and persecuted – and telling them that they are already blessed. And when we are those things, we may think we’re not blessed, but we are. Jesus sees our value and says that our “reward is great in heaven.” Not because we’ve followed the rules perfectly, but because God loves us and gives us grace as we are. Jesus is describing a reality in which it’s not our circumstances in life, but God’s blessings freely given, that make all the difference. So, if you’re imperfect, if you’ve ever failed to follow God’s plan for your life – good news: Jesus looks at that and calls us blessed anyway.
And so when we decide that’s the faith we want to follow, when we decide to walk in the footsteps of grace, we’re invited to see things through God’s eyes. We’re invited to look at the meek and mourning and hungering in the world and not tell them how to get their lives together, but tell them that they are blessed just as they are. When we follow in the footsteps of Christ, we fight against systems that insist people are only worth what they’ve earned or only as holy as the rules they’ve followed. When we walk with God, we invite people to join as they are, and prop each other up when we need it. To “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” becomes not an impossible challenge, but a journey full of stumbles and full of grace.
God’s blessing is not something we earn – it is a gift. To be blessed by God doesn’t mean that you have to do any certain set of things. You are blessed and loved just as you are. To follow God, though, means to follow a journey that is anything but crystal clear.
So if you hear nothing else today, hear this: You. Are. Blessed. And not blessed to prevent bad situations, but blessed for the sake of making it through the journey of life with all its challenges. Your value lies not in what you can and can’t achieve, but in what God sees in you. So remember, when a crowd gathered around him, Jesus looked out on people just like us and saw nothing but blessings. Amen.