Good morning, Friends!
I’ve got a question for you all this morning. I’d like to know if any of you all can tell me what blessing means?
Does being blessed mean being lucky? That would mean that it’s just random. I don’t think that blessing is pure chance, do you?
Does a blessing mean we’re perfect people? I don’t think so – if that were true, almost nobody would be blessed!
Here in the South, I hear people say, “Bless their heart!” all the time. I think people mean it. And I think that the heart is where blessing lodges. But sometime I think people mean it kind of backwards. “Well, bless their heart!” can also be a real put-down sometimes.
In the Bible, we are blessed. We’re blessed by God. We receive something. But we also bless God. We give back. We thank God, we bless God for the blessings we receive. It’s kind of a two-way thing, isn’t it? We are blessed, and we bless God in return. We also bless other people. We bless ourselves, in Jesus’ name. And we bless others in Jesus’ name, when we pray for them.
I looked it up this week, and the root word for blessing is to praise. When we bless, we praise God for the gift of life. We thank and praise God, for giving us some part of our lives. And in the Bible, blessing has to be said aloud. A blessing is a spoken word of praise and thanksgiving.
Another biblical meaning of blessing is joy. It’s an unexpected gift. It’s a joyful surprise. It’s something we didn’t deserve, and we’re joyful about it. Any time in the Bible where you read “blessing”, you can also translate it as joy.
Our Scripture this morning is a familiar passage, known as the Beatitudes. I’m reading a different translation this morning, because I want to shake us up a little. Everybody says they love Beatitudes, but I think most of the time we actually ignore them.
But blessing and being blessed is the first thing that Jesus taught. In many ways, it’s the heart of his teaching. So, let’s look at the Beatitudes this morning, and every time the translation in your Bibles says “blessing”, I’m going to substitute joy.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the hillside, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began his teaching by saying:
“The joy of the humble-minded,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs!
The joy of those who know what sorrow means,
for they will be given courage and comfort!
The joy of those who claim nothing,
for the whole earth will belong to them!
The joy of those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness,
for they will be fully satisfied!
The joy of the merciful,
for they will have mercy shown to them!
The joy of the single-minded,
for they shall see God!
The joy of the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God!
The joy of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven!
– Matthew 5:1-12 (Phillips translation, modified)
I don’t think that we allow ourselves to get in touch with joy very often. Earlier this morning, we sang, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,” and folks, I’ve heard happier singing at a funeral.
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
I mean, there ought to be a full orchestra playing. Our choir director should be up here conducting the congregation, waving his arms around, shaking his long hair, everybody singing with their arms raised. People should be dancing in the aisles. It should be joyful!
It’s the same thing with this morning’s Scripture. People came to hear Jesus – when they came, they were depressed and oppressed. When they left they were blessed. It was about joy!
To feel joy means to feel good. OK. But it’s a little more than that.
When we feel joy, we do what? We re-joice. That means we listen to the echoes of joy. Our blessings resound throughout our lives. If you’ve been blessed, your life has changed. It’s been deepened. You’ve taken a new direction.
From the same root word for “joy” also get another word which means grace. Grace means, “We got something wonderful, which we didn’t deserve, and we didn’t pay for. We got it for free . . .” Blessings are grace gifts.
From the same root word that means “joy” we get the word charisma, which means gifted. Charismatic people are people who rejoice in their gifts. They’re having fun with them!
The word in the Bible for “joy” also has a related word which means “to give freely“, to be generous, because our lives are overflowing. And there’s also a word related to “joy” which means thanksgiving, or communion.
All this is rolled up together when we talk about blessings. We’re talking about joy. We’re talking about thanks and praise. We’re talking about change. We’re talking about grace. We’re talking about giving and receiving. A blessing is an overflowing of God’s love. A blessing is something we share and talk about and rejoice over with our friends.
In the Old Testament, when people talked about joy, they came right out and said, “God won!” Or they said, “God, you did it!” Or they shouted, “Hallelujah!”, which literally means, “Praise the Lord!”
I think that one of the reasons people followed Jesus, was that when people were around him, they had experiences of joy, which they had never had before in their entire lives.
People were healed, and they went home leaping and dancing. People said, “Rejoice! My son who was lost, is found again! He was dead, and now he is alive!” People like Zacchaeus who were outcast ran home rejoicing, and said, “The Lord is coming to eat at my house today!”
According to Paul, joy, along with hope and peace, is one of the infallible signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself said, “All these things I have spoken and said, so that my joy may be in you, and so that your joy may be full . . .” (John 15:11)
Let’s look at this morning’s Scripture together.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the hillside, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began his teaching by saying: “The joy of the humble-minded, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs!“
That’s usually translated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . .”
Either way you hear it, that sounds peculiar. What is joyful about being poor in spirit? What’s joyful about poverty, or humility?
We are all pretty comfortable here. Sure, we might have trouble paying our bills sometimes. But the poorest person here in this room is richer than most of the people who live elsewhere in the world. We have so many possessions, that we are separated from the joy that Jesus talked about.
Jesus said that people who are poor, people who are hurt, people who know how much they depend on God, have a better chance of experiencing real joy, than we do.
And Jesus says, “The blessing, the grace, the victory, the joy, comes to people who know their own poverty. They know that they need everything. And they know that only God can give them what they need. People who know that, know joy. Because what God wants to do, what God has wanted to do all along, is to give you everything you need, every day.”
Let’s look at the second beatitude.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted . . .” Or, to use today’s translation, “The joy of those who know what sorrow means, for they shall be given courage and comfort . . .”
That’s something we can come a little closer to understanding. Most of us know that when we’re at the very bottom, when we think we’ve reached the end of our rope, when we’re broken, that is when God can really reach us with His love.
A lot of people here already know about the joy that comes to people who are grieving. A lot of us here have received that gift, when we needed it most.
It’s also good for us to remember that Jesus knew what he was talking about, when he said those words. He was, as it says in Isaiah, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . .” (Isaiah 53:3)
When we read the gospels, so often they say that Jesus was moved with compassion. We see him sharing people’s sorrows. We see him weeping, abandoned, and afraid. I don’t know who invented the idea that Jesus was “above it all”. Jesus shared every feeling that we have.
And maybe it’s because of that, that we also see Jesus as someone whose life was lit from within by joy. Jesus knew about joy. He knew where it comes from. Maybe when he talks about the joy of those who mourn, Jesus is speaking from experience.
Joy is not just a mood. Joy is not just good feelings. I have known people who proclaimed the love of God, even though they were weeping. They knew that even through their tears, that God is good, and that God wills to heal and to restore.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…”
I hate that word meek. Don’t you? Meek rhymes with weak. Who wants to be meek? Who wants to go around snivelling and cringing. “Please sir, may I have some more?. . .”
Clarence Day said that he felt so relieved, when he read this verse for the first time in French. Instead of “blessed are the meek,” it says, “heureux sont les debonair . . .”
The debonair! Now, that’s more like it! I could get into being debonair!
In the translation I read today, it says, “The joy of those who claim nothing, for the whole earth belongs to them. . .”
If we know who we are. If we don’t pretend. If we release all our claims on the world and each other. If we’re not puffed up with ideas about our own importance. If we simply be, and if we hold out our hand to God and to each other, not grasping, not claiming, but simply reaching out – what joy is there!
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…” Or, to put it another way, “The joy of people who want God’s love and justice more than anything else! Because that hunger, that prayer, will be answered in full…”
That kind of love is what Jesus was talking about. People who want God’s love that deeply, will never be disappointed. God always answers people whose deepest prayers are for the very things that God wants, too.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. . .”
Jesus talked about that one all the time, too. People who forgive, are forgiven themselves. People who don’t try to get revenge, or retaliate, people who return good for evil and blessing in return for the wrongs that are done to them, people who do these things because they walk with God, and they know that God is like that, too – those people, those people know a joy that nobody else knows.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God…” That’s a difficult verse to translate.
It doesn’t have anything to do with what we usually think it means, which is being squeaky-clean or perfect. I remember an old rhyme kids used to use that said, “We don’t smoke, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with girls [or boys] that do. . .” That’s not it.
To be “pure in heart” means a lot of things. It means to have unmixed motives. You only want one thing, something simple and good. It means to be clean, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t know about the pain and the dirt and the grubbiness of the world.
It’s having all of the chaff and garbage be separated out from our lives. It’s letting all of those unhealthy thoughts and feelings be blown away. People like that can see God. And to have everything washed or blown away, so that we can see God directly, is joy.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God…”
Right now, the world needs peace and justice. The places where peace and justice are needed are too numerous for us to catalog here this morning.
In our homes, in our relationships, in our schools, in our prisons, in our nation, between nations. The world lives by violence. And we justify it and make excuses for it. We profit from it. And we pay tribute to it. Our world makes bloody sacrifices, every day.
And yet, peace is what it’s all about for Christians. If we don’t bring the peace of Christ wherever we go, then we’re not bringing what Jesus Christ came to give.
Jesus said that whoever makes peace, whoever gives their life to bring about reconciliation, deserves the name of being a son or a daughter of God. Or, to put it another way, if we are not living in peace and bringing peace to everyone we meet, then we are not living as God’s children.
And if we don’t build peace, then the joy that Jesus came here for and gave his life to share, will never be ours. People who build peace, receive joy.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”
People who really work to change things and to bring justice in the world, don’t have an easy time of it. It’s always been that way.
People who attack evil and violence and injustice, people who attack these things using the tools that Jesus showed us, are going to get stepped on. They’re going to get their noses bloody. They may even be killed.
But those who keep trying, using the tools Jesus showed us, and walking in the way Jesus walked before us, will inherit the kingdom. And along the way, they discover joy.
I believe that this is the teaching of Christ. Let’s take it into our hearts and minds, and pray about it together.