30 Jan The Blessed Rest
Psalm 15 – NRSV
Who Shall Abide in God’s Sanctuary?
A Psalm of David.
O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
It is good to be home. We enjoyed our trip to the Dominican Republic, and it was a productive trip. So many people encouraged us to “be safe”, but I never felt like I was in danger. We had a wonderful helper in Joel – a missionary from Mexico who is in charge of the YWAM complex where we stayed in the Dominican Republic. He welcomed us at the airport, transported us to his home, and translated for us throughout the week. Joel is a blessing.
I only got bits and pieces of the news back in the states, but it sounds like it has been an interesting week back here as well. Joel and I talked at length about the United States and its relationship with Mexico and the world. As a Christian, Joel is hopeful. I long to share his optimism.
Our gospel lectionary passage this morning was recited a little over a week ago at the presidential inauguration, but I fear it got lost in the midst of the pomp and circumstance, the speeches and the rebuttals, the parade and the protest. It’s easy to forget about Matthew 5…or to simply ignore what Jesus says at the beginning of the “Sermon on the Mount.”
Jesus talks about blessing. It’s a word we hear all the time, but I fear we don’t give it much thought, so please listen.
Matthew 5 – The Message (MSG)
5 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
A week ago, we worshipped in a small church that was filled to the brim with locals and three mission teams from the states. We arrived a little late, but as we walked in, the most amazing thing happened; people stood up and started giving us their seats. This made us uncomfortable at first, but then we realized, it would be an insult to reject their hospitality. They wanted us to feel welcome. We sang songs, prayed prayers, and they even provided an interpreter so we could understand the “preached word.”
I’ve struggled all week trying to reconcile that kind of radical hospitality with the political rhetoric of the past few months and this past week. The gospel is present in inviting in, not in shutting out. The good news comes in welcoming, not in excluding. Blessings abound in a community that welcome diversity, not in individual isolation.
When we talk about blessings in the church and in our culture, it is a very risky business. Many of the things identified are more attributable to self-sufficiency and far less to God. Some point to the blessings of money or health. Others will celebrate the blessings of a comfortable life or religious, social, or political prestige. I believe it is easy to make that connection when we are the ones who have so much power.
What if you don’t have money…your health is failing…you are on food stamps, and you can only shop consignment stores or have to rely on the generosity of others? How can we talk about blessings to those who have to make decisions between buying groceries or medicine? Does that mean we are forgotten or forsaken?
Oftentimes, we confuse blessing as “things are going our way,” but I don’t believe we can ever claim personal blessing if someone else is harmed in the process. We should never equate blessing with seeing the world as our own personal manifest destiny – believing it’s our God given right to have more or to consume more. Blessing is not about “stuff”, but we all fall into that confusion from time to time.
Equating prosperity/happiness with blessing is not just misguided, it is toxic (damaging and dangerous) because it moves us onto the busy hamster wheel of personal achievement and we believe our worth is tied to what we produce/own/consume. The things we own can easily own us. The things we consume can easily consume us. Blessing is not more – it is less.
Jesus climbs up and sits down – the text is letting us know this is a divine teaching moment. There is an inner circle of the twelve who and then there is the mass of people who crowd in on Jesus like a group of people waiting on a free sample at a grocery store. The throng fills up the plains as far as the eye can see. Matthew wasn’t concerned about the number present here – it wasn’t about counting off the mass, it was about proclaiming the message.
The message isn’t about exerting political power or excluding others from the process. On the contrary, everyone in Jesus day (and ours) is invited to listen. It doesn’t matter if they are red, yellow, black, or white. It doesn’t matter if they are male or female, from this side of the water or that.
These are unusual blessings:
- Poor – (who wants to be?)
- Pure in heart
The beatitudes are blessings for the rest – Blessings of community. It is the moment we see it’s not about us. Blessings mean we are dependent on God and have to rely on each other. That is when we recognize our deepest hunger and thirst is for our creator. Everything else is just wrapping paper and sealing wax.
I saw blessings in the people of the Dominican Republic all last week, and they were shared daily with our group from John Calvin Presbytery. It was in the children who now have clean sustainable water. It was in the mothers who learned about healthy uses for clean water. It was in a poor village that felt like a community – people who took the time to be present with their neighbors.
Blessings are about relationship. Our health and our wealth is only a blessing if we use it to bless someone else. Our political influence is only a blessing if we exert it to care for the voiceless, the marginalized, and the traumatized.
Last Sunday, the Dominican believers offered us their seats and the right hand of fellowship. They gave up their seats for the strangers in their midst. As Christ followers in America, what are we going to do to be a blessing to others?