When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.
His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said:
“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 be shown 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 because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:1-12
Good morning, Friends!
When we come here to worship each week, we talk about all kinds of things. We talk about discipleship, and that’s important. We talk about following Jesus, and that’s certainly what it’s all about.
We talk about turning back and turning around. We talk about forgiving people and loving people – even difficult people who are hard to get along with. We talk about stewardship, and outreach, and we talk a lot about prayer.
These things are all important. But sometimes we forget that one of the very first things in the Christian life, is to recognize and feel our blessings.
We are so blessed, and so often we forget about it. God has given us so many good things. Every day, we are blessed.
A blessing is a gift. It’s something God gives us. A blessing means that God loves us, that God protects us. God intends nothing but good for us.
When Jesus sent his friends out, to share his message, he told them, “When you come into a new place, ask around and find a good house. Go to that place, and when you walk in the door, let the peace that I have given you, flow out and rest on everyone in the household.” (Matthew 10:11-13)
The first thing to share, said Jesus, isn’t a lot of complicated teaching, or do’s and don’t’s. The first thing to share when you meet them is your blessing. When people feel blessed, sometimes that’s the most important thing that they need.
Another time, Jesus told people, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. . .” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Over and over, it says that Jesus blessed the crowds of people who came to hear him. He didn’t scold them. He taught them with simple, everyday examples they could easily understand.
He said, “You know – God’s kingdom is like a seed. You put it in the ground, and you don’t see what it’s doing. It grows there, in the dark. And one day, it pops up! A tiny seed, and it grows into a great bush, or a tree.”
“And it grows, and grows, and by and by, it bears fruit – wheat, or corn, or apples, or whatever it’s kind is. It bears fruit, a hundred times what that little seed was.”
That’s how God works, Jesus says. It’s the little seeds of kindness. It’s the one or two words you say, that take root in someone’s mind or heart. It’s the seeds of love, the seeds of grace, the seeds of praise. They go hidden, until the right time comes, and then they pop up, and they bear fruit, a hundred times over.
Blessings – the kind Jesus talks about in this morning’s gospel – are one of the most basic ways that God communicates with us. God sends us blessings, every day. And we need to open ourselves to receive them.
If you say to yourself, every day, “I am blessed! The Lord has blessed me, so much!” You’re not going to feel lonely. You’re not going to feel abandoned. You’re not going to feel you’ve missed out on life.
If you look around, you’re going to see how many blessings you have, how many ways God has favored you and filled your life.
I know some of you pray a prayer like this every day:
“Thank you, Lord, for waking me up this morning, with a clear mind.
Thank you for giving me eyes to see, and ears to hear.
Thank you for a roof over my head, and a place to sleep,
and food on my table, and shoes to wear.
You gave me your love, Lord, and people who love me.
Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings on me!”
We are so blessed, every day. We are surrounded and upheld and saved by the blessings God gives us.
I know that for every one of us, at times, things aren’t so good. There’s an old saying, “Into each life, some rain must fall. . .”
We all have problems of different kinds. We all have illnesses, and family fights, and setbacks, and disappointments. Sometimes those things feel like they’re going to overwhelm us! We have physical pain, and emotional pain, and spiritual pain.
But we need to remember how many blessings we have. We are blessed. We are blessed every single day. That prayer Jesus taught us – “Give us this day our daily bread. . .” is so important to remember. God feeds us, every day.
In today’s Scripture, Jesus reminds us that even a bad situation, can have blessings we never dreamed of hidden inside. I’m not saying that the bad situation or the painful situation is good. I’m just saying that there can be hidden blessings, ones we never knew, that we would never have discovered, unless we were down and out and inside out.
The people Jesus talked with, and walked with, and worked beside, didn’t have perfect lives. They knew all about misfortune. They knew about sickness and loss. He was talking with people who knew about sorrow, and lack of resources, and discouragement.
But Jesus said that inside every bad situation, there’s a hidden blessing. There’s a secret that God only reveals to people who hurt. It’s not a fake blessing. It’s not easy words. It’s a life-saving blessing, a life-saving discovery.
Jesus started out by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . .”
Poor in spirit.
How many of you have ever been knocked down in life, where you thought that you’d never rise again? It might have been a failure of some kind. It might have been a diagnosis of a terrible illness. Might have been losing a job, or having no opportunity in life.
Jesus says that people who are poor in spirit, are the very ones God wants to give the kingdom of heaven to. All of the blessings Jesus ever talked about – all of the blessings of the whole gospel – are intended for people who are bankrupt in their heart and spirit.
When you’re down, that’s when God wants to bless you. When you’re broken, that’s when God wants to lift you up. Paradoxically, people who are poor in spirit are closer than they realize to God. It may be because you know how much you need the Lord. The littlest blessings mean more to a person who feels they’ve got nothing left. And when you share with someone like that, it can feel like a gift from God.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. . .”
A lot of us here know about grief. We’ve lost friends. We’ve lost family members. We’ve lost people we love.
Grief is such a terrible burden. It feels as if a part of our own life has been ripped out and taken away. People try to help, but it’s not the same. No one can take their place. Anybody here been in that place of grief?
And yet, Jesus says, even when we mourn, we will be comforted. Anyone who’s been through a time of grieving, knows this.
The sun comes up every day. We learn to go on living. It isn’t easy. But we’re still alive. And we discover new blessings. We treasure new memories as well as the old ones. Life goes on.
And hidden, within our grief, or beyond it, we find hope. We believe that Jesus showed us, that death is not the last word. God who loved us, before we were even born, God who loves us all through this life – God doesn’t abandon us, when we die. We believe that God will bring us together again, with the ones we love. And until that day, we know that they are safe in God’s hands.
Just knowing that, in your heart, is a blessing.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . .”
“Meek” is not a word we use in everyday English very much. It really means humble. It means someone who is close to the earth. A meek person is someone who is patient and kind, someone who isn’t arrogant or rude. It means someone who isn’t resentful, who doesn’t celebrate when something bad happens, but who rejoices in the truth.
You can find meek and humble people easily. They’re everywhere. But they’re quiet. When you find someone like that, make friends with them. Because people like that, Jesus says, are the ones the earth belongs to.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .”
I think we’re all a little hungry and thirsty that way. Everywhere I go, every place I listen, people are hungry for decency. They’re hungry for fairness and justice. They’re tired of corruption, and waste.
People want what should be ordinary things – homes they can afford, and safe schools, and health care when they need it. People want a fair chance in life, and an end to feeling that the deck is stacked cold against them. All kinds of things, and it adds up to wanting the world to be a fairer and better place.
And Jesus says, “If that’s what you want, with all your heart, if you pray for that, and work for that, and don’t just complaint about it, then it will happen.” God wants the world to be better. God wants the world to overflow with truth and justice and righteousness. If that’s what you want, well, that’s what God wants, too!
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. . .”
Mercy isn’t one of those things which come easily to us. A lot of the time, we would rather see people paid back with the same hurt they give to us. Mercy is being the better person. It’s rising above what’s been done to us.
And one good reason to be merciful is that God has been merciful to us.
God doesn’t treat us the way we deserve. God gives us blessings, even when we forget him, or when we’ve done wrong. God is all about mercy, and forgiveness, and restoration. God wants things to be the way they should be, and God always comes running whenever we take one step in his direction.
People who are merciful, know this. And people who are merciful, will keep on discovering God’s mercy. As one of the old hymn says, “Morning by morning new mercies I see. . .”
Mercy is one of those blessings we need to feel, and that we need to give, every day. It’s just one of those things Christians do.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of the good they do, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . .”
It’s all about blessings.
It’s not about what church we belong to. It’s not about what beliefs we have, or what our politics are, or what color skin we have, or any of those things.
Blessings come in all different kinds, just the same way people come in all different kinds.
As I said at the beginning today, what we need to share with people isn’t our opinions, but our blessings. When we meet somebody new, or when we meet an old friend, blessings are what people need most.
And even in the worst situation, even in the toughest problem, way down there in the dark, like a seed waiting to grow, there’s a blessing somewhere. God has planted it, just for us. God wants to bless us, every day.