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Blessed and Blessing

Epiphany +4, Common Lectionary Year A

Matthew 5:1-12

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Joint scripture and reflection

Perhaps you have one of these on your wall, or perhaps your Gramma did, or a friend. The Beatitudes. The “Blessed ares”. It has to be, along with John 1 “In the beginning was the Word,” and 1 Corinthians 13 “Love is patient”, in the top three familiar/favourite passages from the New Testament.
It’s so familiar to some that it’s sometimes hard to hear this passage as anything other than “old favourite” not worthy of scrutiny, nor of transformative response.
So today, we’re going to midrash the Beatitudes together, that is, we’re going to turn them so we see them from new angles, we’re going to mind a few gaps, and follow a couple of rabbit trails, and in the end re-tell them as Blessings for us, and for our world today.

The first thing we’ll do is peek either side of the text as we find it in the Gospel of Matthew; (it didn’t come to us as a cross-stitch pattern!!)
Asking who said all these “Blesseds”, to whom, where, when and why?
First, then: who said it all?
Where was he?
(Sermon on the Mount)
That’s here….
It didn’t look like that then, with the lovely Romanesque church of the Beatitudes sitting there, and without irrigation, those lush palm trees would likely have been a lot scrubbier!
When did this happen?
According to Matthew, early, early on in his ministry.
Jesus has recently come into the Galilee, after spending time in the desert. figuring out that this call of God, to be the living expression of God’s Dream. That Dream, of abundant good life for all, and most especially the least, lost, left out, which if lived out would get him into a lot of trouble with religious and political elites.
He didn’t even have all twelve disciples yet, just three so far: Simon Peter, and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who had left their fishing business to become fishers of people, with the task of catching others up into the Dream of God.

Now these brand new disciples are very keen, and mightily impressed with what Jesus is doing in the villages along the lake; teaching, and healing all sorts of sickness of body and mind, attracting crowds.
And that’s where we catch up with him.
Jesus is on the lookout for new followers, friends, disciples.
So seeing the crowd, what does he do?
He doesn’t go into the crowd and make his “pitch”, or hand out business cards,
or baseball caps with slogans on.
He walks away from them, up the hill.
James, John, Simon Peter
hitch up their robes and follow him,
and so do some (but not all) the crowd.
The rubber-neckers and the selfie-stick holders
don’t want to break into a sweat,
but the genuinely curious,
and those desperate for a different way
of surviving the dark days of living under
a foreign regime with values antithetical
to the common wellbeing of society’s least,
they followed Jesus up the hill.

Then Jesus turns and sits down
(we know that’s the posture of a Rabbi about to teach),
and those who followed sit down too.

And what he says next is rich and deep
and full of the ancient wisdom of Israel,
but somehow sung in an entirely new key.
Jesus turns to the poetic phrasing of a prophet,
one who can see the world as it really is, and as God sees it.
He begins “Blessed are”
….it’s a vision, a dream, a statement of promise,
an invitation to participate
in God’s glorious alternative to the mechanics of empire.
He almost sings it, it’s so rhythmically structured,
it’s instantly memorable.

And we should sing it too,
so we can feel and hear its poetry.

Sing VU 896

Now, keeping your books open,
so you have the text there, let’s turn the text.
Imagining ourselves among the newbie disciples,
or among the curious,
or among the desperate,

What stands out for you?
Where did you feel included?
(Congregation answers)

It’s an odd list though isn’t it?
Utterly paradoxical!
Seemingly the world’s most failed and let-down
are the ones whom he calls Blessed,
and yet, despite our comparatively successful
status within our world, we find ourselves included don’t we?

So, let me try this:
How many of you, looking at the world right now,
feel hopeless, or helpless?
Would you please raise a hand.
God has a message for you.
(Hand out “God bless you” cards)

How many of you are in mourning right now
for creation?
Mourning for Australian animals,
mourning for destroyed ecosystems, grieving oil spills?
Mourning over racial hatred, or political divisiveness?
How many of you are grieving a personal loss, a death,
or a possible future, lost health?
Would you please raise your hand?
God has a promise for you too.
(Hand out “God bless you” cards)

How many of you feel like you can’t do
much about fixing the world?
How many of you feel like your voice doesn’t count?
That you’re among God’s humble ones,
rather than possessing great power or agency to effect change?
Would you please raise your hand?
God has a promise for you.
(Hand out “God bless you” cards)

Who is so fed up with the mess of the world
that you’re craving, longing to do something
to turn back the tide of lying, whining, division?
Who is convinced that the world needs
you to participate in acts of gratitude,
care, love, generosity?
Then, you starvers after righteousness,
you people with hearts that are pure,
and set on truth…
Would you please raise your hand?
God has a promise for you.
(Hand out “God bless you” cards)

Who here is craving world peace,
peace at home,
who here wishes that the hatred didn’t divide us
from one another?
Who here is openly curious about others,
and genuinely wants to find
and pursue common purpose for the good of the world?
Would you please stand?
God has a promise for you.

And who here finds it hard to wear the name “Christian”
because friends, or strangers,
belittle or outright despise you,
make you feel foolish, or unsafe?
Or because there are forms of “Christian” out there
that seem to have nothing to do with
how you want to follow Jesus?
Would you please raise your hand?
God has a promise for you.
(Hand out “God bless you” cards)

And who here has stayed quietly in your seat,
convinced or fearful that God would never include you
in her gift, grace, forgiveness and blessing ?
God has a message for you too.
You are already counted by God as blessed,
and before you leave this space,
I hope we can sneak this message into your hand.

Now, one last turn of the text.
The nub, the kernel, the heart of this text,
is not a moral kick in the pants
to buck up and be better
(it’s written as an eschatological indicative, not as a humanistic exhortative!
That last’s for Martha!)

It might just be that God sees in us
reflections of God’s own deep longing,
God’s own poverty of spirit, work for peace,
God’s own commitment to truth, and outright
hungering for goodness in this land of the living.
We are most like God when we are hungering for
peace and righteousness, even when it costs us.
To be seen by God, known by God, one with God,
participating in God’s longing loving of creation
for its wellbeing, that is when we are truly blessed/happy.

And that’s when we find ourselves singing again,
“Rejoice and be glad.”

Reprise the refrain.

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