In a consumer, materialistic society, often being “blessed” is equated with financial prosperity or success. In the Beatitudes, it seems that to Jesus, being “blessed” means being “poor in spirit, having a heart for God “stripped of self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness.” (Robert Guelich). To be blessed by God also means to bless the people whom God blesses—the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Matthew 5:1-12
If you turn on the TV to a “Christian” station, chances are at some point you’ll hear a preacher talk about someone being blessed by God. And much of the time the “blessing” they’re talking about takes the form of financial or material wealth.
Often the blessing is tied to giving to the preacher’s church or ministry:
“If you give $100 today, God will bless you tenfold or maybe even more!”
This is known as the “Prosperity Gospel”, it’s not surprising that in a materialistic society like we have in the USA, being “blessed” takes this shape and form.
Of course this is true not just in the USA but in other countries as well.
When our Bluffton University students went on a cross-cultural trip to Guatemala, they went to a megachurch whose pastor’s name is Cash Luna. (What a typical Spanish name, Cash!)
And true to his name, he preached the prosperity gospel, which definitely led to his own personal prosperity, but I’m not sure about everyone else!
These are extreme examples that most reasonable people can see through, but nonetheless, I think it’s pretty common for most of us to measure how blessed we are by how well we are doing financially and by the material possessions that we have.
Have been there times in your life when you were in a good financial state and you say “I’ve been blessed” or “God has blessed me”. I know that I’ve said that on more than one occasion.
We see some of this mentality in the Old Testament of the Bible, so it’s not completely off base. Sometimes the blessings that people like Abraham and Moses and Joseph and Ruth experienced were material in nature,
But at the same time, a biblical understand of blessing goes much deeper that that.
For example, often God’s blessing comes from living by God’s laws as summarized in the Ten Commandments. We see this blessing clearly in the very first Psalm, Psalm 1:.
Happy (blessed) are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path that sinners tread or sit in the seat of scoffers,
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
There is certainly some truth and wisdom in what this Psalm says. Growing up I had to memorize the 10 Commandments for my Catechism class in the Catholic church— my parents loved that me and my siblings did this, as they especially loved to quote the 4th commandment to us when we were being a little rebellious–“Honor your father and your mother!”
Obeying the commandments also made for a more pleasant time in the confessional with the priest! I had less to confess, less reason for him to scold me, and less prayers for penance after I left that dark little cubicle.
And there’s no doubt that and I have experienced the blessings that come when I tried to live by the 10 Commandments. I “prospered” and was blessed in my relationship with God and my relationship with other people.
Living according to how God created us to live naturally leads to being blessed in a lot of ways. If you lead a clean, hardworking, honest life, you will likely reaps some tangible benefits of living a good life.
Today’s scripture from the New Testament comes from early on in Jesus’ ministry. He has gathered his twelve disciples, and other people are starting to follow him as well. And he is starting to draw large crowds of curious onlookers as well.
So he sits down on the mountainside with people gathered all around him, and he starts to teach them. And the first thing he says are what we know as the Beatitudes.
Jesus’ beatitudes talk not of blessings that are all experienced in the here and now, but rather they’re blessings that are promised with the coming of God’s Kingdom. Jesus has inaugurated that Kingdom, but it won’t be realized fully until a later time in the future. It’s an “already-not yet” Kingdom.
And in the Beatitudes, Jesus rewrites the rules of what it means to be blessed.
I got some good insights on the beatitudes from this book “Resilient Faith” by Sheridan Voysey. 90 Meditations on the life changing power of the Sermon on the Mount. Voysey says:
Jesus rewrites the rules of blessedness. In Jesus’ day, someone was considered blessed if he or she has a model family…keeps the right friends, and is perhaps materially prosperous. But in the Beatitudes, Jesus redefines the blessed person as someone who enjoys God’s favor, whatever their status, because of their heart for God.” (p. 46-7)
Despite their poverty, they worship him.
Despite being persecuted, they obey him.
They are merciful because they follow him.
They are peacemakers because they want to be like him.
Voysey goes on to say:
According to Jesus, health, wealth, and popularity aren’t the true markers of blessedness. He blesses those with a heart for God. And Jesus lives this out personally.
He will become impoverished, he will mourn, he will be abused and denied justice, he will be ridiculed for being merciful and living righteously, he will seek peace instead of war and will be persecuted for doing right, all because of his heart for God. This is what we can imitate; we can have a heart for God.
And it is this kind of heart that Jesus says will be resilient.
It seems to me that ‘having a heart for God’ gets at the heart of what Jesus says when he says “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. The poor in spirit are those in need who look to God for help, as one commentator said, they are those who stand without pretense before God, stripped of self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness.” (Robert Guelich)
The beatitudes are a list of outcasts rejected by society and yet blessed by Jesus. Jesus is addressing those who have dared to follow him, people who were not on any popularity lists, but a motley group, who were “written off” by both the secular society and the religious elite of Jesus’ day.
As Voysey says, “The doors to Jesus’ kingdom are flung open to the sick, the sad, the uneducated, and un-pretty; the picked-on, the beaten up, the socially awkward, and the homeless.” P. 17
These are people who are close to God’s heart and who God takes the side of and advocates for. When God arrives on earth in human form as Jesus, these are the very people he blesses first. (p. 31)
Voysey says that if we want to be imitators of Jesus, then we should also bless the people whom God blesses. (p. 31-2)
If God blesses the poor, shouldn’t we too? Shouldn’t we bless them with presence, with education, with healthcare, and employment opportunities?
If God blesses those who mourn, shouldn’t we too? Shouldn’t we bless them with listening ears, comforting arms, practical help, and home visits?
If God blesses the humble and pure in heart, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we encourage them in their journeys, and learn from their ways?
If God blesses those who hunger for justice, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we support their fight for a fare wage, on join in their anti-trafficking campaigns?
If God blesses the merciful, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we visit hospitals, rehabilitate prisoners, help the homeless, and befriend the addicted?
If God blesses those who work for peace, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we stand with those who choose non-violent ways to help liberate their oppressed people?
And if God blesses the persecuted, shouldn’t we? Shouldn’t we support fellow Christians who suffer for their faith, or whistle blowers, or the abused?
You know, from my experience, it’s not only important to bless those whom God blesses but also open ourselves to learn from and be challenged by those who have such a big heart for God that they trust God and depend upon God more radically than we do. Like what happened with Johnny and Julian.
I want to close this part with one more quote from Sheridan Voysey, fast forwarding to the end of Jesus sermon on the mount where Jesus contrasts a wise person who builds their house on a rock vs. a fool who builds their house on sand:
To build our lives on wealth, status, pride, power, comfort, happiness, or getting our way is to build our lives on sand (Mt. 7:26-27). Only a heart for God matters. Only a heart for God is resilient. Only this kind of heart has the inner resources to face the toughest storms.
The blessed life is a resilient life. At its core is a heart for God.
Sermon response questions:
- Which beatitude resonates with you most at this point in time? Why?
- What is an obstacle that prevents you from having a “heart for God” as described by the beatitudes?
- Share a story of how your relationship with God was challenged by someone (or a group of people) who was/were “Poor in spirit”(had a heart for God) (i.e. “without pretense before God, stripped of self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness.” )