February 2, 2020 | Pastor Kelli Schmit
Patterns and repetition aid our memory and help us hold onto information for years – apparently decades. Jesus must know that rhythms and patterns help people learn because there is a distinct and expected pattern, a cadence, a pulse to his words today. People will notice this and will be able to recall his message later on.
Today we hear the Beatitudes, the introduction to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” and so on.
He is addressing everyone in the crowd. I’m not saying that everyone that has gathered to hear Jesus speak is currently mourning or in poor spirits, but someone in that crowd is, and everyone can remember a time when they felt that way. Jesus is declaring that anyone who is experiencing or has experienced these common, human, earthly realities, Jesus is declaring that they are blessed.
In other words, we are all blessed
This is the starting point of his sermon and this is our foundation.
We usually associate the word “blessed” with luxury items or lavish vacations, all-in-all, things going well. Very rarely, if ever, do we think about someone who is in the depths of grief or whose reputation is being smeared as someone who is blessed. We don’t think of someone who feels separated and detached from God as being blessed. But that’s exactly what Jesus is saying, and that’s the struggle in our reading from Micah.
The prophet is holding a conversation between God and the Israelite people. Distance and detachment between them have grown and compounded. Part of the discord revolves around what it means to live as one of God’s people and how the people are actually acting.
God, through Micah, gives a little history recap. Remember when you were enslaved in the land of Egypt and God redeemed you? God sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you out from under Pharaoh’s cruel thumb. God stayed with you for decades and guided you through the wilderness.
The people ask what can be done to repair the distance
Burn offerings, gifts of rams and rivers of oil? Sacrifices that we can make to save ourselves in God’s sight? But God doesn’t want any of that. All God asks for – all that God requires – is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
God calls us to work for the humanity, dignity, and rights for all of God’s creation. God calls us to focus on, nurture, foster, and encourage kindness. God calls us to spend our lives walking with God – a life spent being in relationship with God. It’s as if God is telling us that how we treat our relationships with others impacts how we treat our relationship with God…and vice versa.
But this isn’t about worship practices or what tasks we can complete, checklist style, to keep God happy. Our response to God’s constant, gracious, and salvific presence through slavery in Egypt, through years of wandering in the wilderness, through being gifted with a homeland that stretches as far as we can see in either direction – our response to that presence and that relationship is one of overflowing and outwardly directed love and kindness. Our response to God’s constant and reliable and undeniable presence faces outward.
And this takes us back to Jesus speaking to the crowds. The people have a cultural memory of what it feels like to be cut off from God – to be separated from God – to walk away from that relationship. And they also have the memory of God’s response not being one of heightened demands, punishments, and consequences, but a call to come back. A call to reorient ourselves to who we are as God’s people and how we can live that out in the world.
So when Jesus calls people blessed, it doesn’t mean that life is care-free but that they – no matter what – will continue to be in relationship with God.
To be blessed means that God continues to be with them even when it seems like God is far away
To be blessed means that God will not let the suffering of today be the end of the story. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They will be comforted. They will inherit the earth. They will be filled. They will receive mercy. They will see God. They will be called children of God. This is what it means to be blessed because this all depends upon God.
Experiencing the rollercoaster ride of grief and wrestling with how to show mercy to the one who bullies our child – these realities don’t mean that God isn’t with us. God is with us in the struggle until we get to the other side. God is with us until we feel that comfort, until we are filled, until we receive mercy…and then God will be with us some more.
God promises to be with us in our moment of pain and we can trust that promise because Micah reminds us that God keeps God’s promises. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam remind us that God promised to rescue God’s people from slavery. Manna, quail, and water from a rock remind us that God promised to stay with God’s people through years of wandering. Looking east to west reminds us that God promised to be with God’s people as they entered the Promised Land. And God keeps God’s promises.
This not only comforts us and gives us courage, but we respond to God’s promise – and God’s long history of fulfilling those promises – we respond by leaning into our relationship with God and sharing that support with others. Through Micah, through the Beatitude blessings, God is asking, “Help me take care of others. Help me comfort those who are mourning and tend to those who are starving for righteousness and justice.
This is how Jesus’ very first sermon begins. This sets the foundation for everything else that follows. In Jesus’ very first act on the public scene he acknowledges that brokenness, heartache, and death exist, but he assures us that God will not let that be the end of the story. We may feel separated from God – we may actively walk away or we may just drift apart – but God promises to call us back into the relationship and help reorient our perspective.
Jesus begins this sermon – this promise of continued presence – by repeating that we are blessed. He lays it out with a distinct rhythm and pattern – with an expected cadence and pulse, one where we can be given just the beginning of the phrase and we can fill in the rest. It’s a pattern that is easy to remember – hopefully even 20 years later. Jesus wants to make sure we know that we are not alone and that we will never be alone. I mean, how could we be? We are blessed.