The Blessings of Love
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “It’s Just Love”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
February 2, 2020
Matthew 5: 1-12
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.
Ok so I am going to ask you a simple question today. Which would you rather be: Blessed or happy? Now I know we are all in church and you are going to say “blessed!” because you think that’s the “Church” answer. But what is the difference to you, between happy and blessed? There are many Bible translations out there and some use “blessed” and some use “happy.” Are they the same thing? Are we force to choose between which one we want to be?
Now, here is the next question. Why did Jesus say that people experiencing these things were blessed? Doesn’t sound – any of them – like our modern day definition of “being blessed,” or “happy.” Does it to you? So now I am going to appoint you all as Biblical Scholars. You get to decide what you think Jesus meant. There is a division between some scholars who think these “Beatitudes” are “prescriptive,” and some who suggest they are “descriptive.” What’s the difference? If they are “prescriptive” they are a prescription, an order for us to do and be these things. If they are “descriptive” they are simply observing that some people are like this and while it may not seem like a blessing they are – for the reasons Jesus says. So what do you think? How many of you think this is “descriptive,” and how many think they are “prescriptive?”
Well let’s see if we can ask the question of the verses themselves. Remember that Matthew is portraying Jesus as the “new Moses” as he writes his Gospel. He has tried to pick up as many similarities between Moses and Jesus. So Moses went up the Mountain and received the 10 Commandments. Jesus went up a Mount and gave the “Sermon on the Mount.” Are these “commandments” to be something, or are they assurances that when we experience these things they actually are a blessing from God not a curse or punishment. If so then I believe what it teaches us is that God intends for us to get this blessing out of what anyone else would consider a curse. What I mean is, for example, if those who have lost someone will find God embracing them and realize God considers them the most dearly loved then that would be a blessing, right?
So this morning I want to begin a new series I am calling, “It’s Just Love.” Because we celebrate Valentine’s Day in February, and because today is the most holy religious day of love for the most people in the world- the day of the NFL Super Bowl, when people all over the world will devotedly watch and cheer and celebrate with parties and such I wanted to focus on love this month. But as I like to do I am playing on words with my title. By saying it is “just love,” I want to explore all the ways the Scriptures teach us that God’s love is just – in what we call “righteousness,” God is teaching us how to love the way God loves. Paul reminds us in Romans 13:10 - Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. And Jesus answered the question about who our neighbor is with the story of the Good Samaritan. That the Samaritan crossed all the religious, national, and racial boundaries to help the dying Jew was the example Jesus gave of “just love.” So my theme to you this month is that when done correctly, as God would have us do, to do justice is to love, and to love truly is to do what is just, to work for justice or all people, for as our Bible testifies, Jesus died for ALL people, not just for those who think, believe, worship, or vote like we do.
Now you may have noticed we read the Scripture from a different version. We used what is called “The Message.” The Message was written by Eugene Peterson, who was a Biblical Scholar, and an expert on languages of the Biblical times including Hebrew and Greek in which most of the Bible was originally written. What I am saying is he was eminently qualified to do these translations, he was not just some moke who came along and said, “Let me put the Bible in my own words.” His work is considered a “translation” because he worked from early sources in their original languages rather than someone who simply took the English Version of the Bible and putting it in different style of writing. Peterson chose intentionally to use a “vernacular” of current American-style English. Some would say this is the best version of the Bible they have ever read. Others would say he took too many liberties with the original text to make it contemporary. You can decide as we go along, if you feel the need to render a judgment on it. In the meantime let’s ask the text to decipher these “Beatitudes.”
Jesus starts by saying, “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.” Or course this is otherwise translated as “poor in spirit” by Matthew and as just plain “poor” in Luke. Luke is being specifically economical in his translation. Matthew is being what most scholars would call, more “spiritual.” Either way how many of us would consider being poor or poor in spirit a blessing? No not many. What about Peterson’s translation: blessed when you’re at the ends of your rope? Anyone here ever felt they were at the end of their rope? Did you feel somehow that God was present because there was less of you and more of God and God’s rule? Not sure totally what Peterson means to be honest.
The traditional interpretation is “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” I believe what this means is similar to what Peterson is saying, really. I think it means if we don’t have anything else we turn to God, naturally, and maybe when there is nothing else in our life to distract us we can open up to ask for God’s presence – here and now. Remember most of the time when Jesus used the phrase Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s version, and Kingdom of God in the other Gospel’s he was talking about here and now, not some far off place we go to after we die. So if the rule of God, which is how the Kingdom of Heaven would be ordered, would operate, would be governed then maybe to “have” that means we would reorder our lives, especially if we are in a mess that could be described as “poor in spirit,” or even just “poor,” then maybe that is truly because we need to reorder our lives and our priorities and our values. Maybe then is when we would be ready to accept God’s rule instead of, for example what seems to be the primary message of our culture, that the values of capitalism, profit and loss, and personal prosperity are the only values that matter. Hey the stock market is higher than it’s ever been, why are you so poor? Hey corporate stock holders are voting their CEO’s million dollar bonuses, why are you so down in the dumps? Maybe then is when God’s values become more valuable and we perceive that living by them is a blessing? Maybe?
Now obviously we aren’t going to get through all of these today, so we are going to have to do some “homework.” I’m going to invite you to reflect on these at home, and I am going to send out an e-blast, well, I am going to ask Barbara to [ sorry Barbara, more work for you! ] each day to cover the ones we don’t cover with some thoughts for you. But let’s move on now and do what we can.
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.” Of course the original was “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” How many of us have ever mourned? Right, most of us if not all. How many of you have found you were comforted by others? The reality is a lot of time those who come to help us say things that aren’t that comforting. But Jesus assures us we will be embraced, held by the “One who is most dear to you.” I think I would have changed that to “the One you are most dear to.” Because I think God is with especially in times of mourning, precisely because we are so dear to God. And so was our loved one.
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.” This is how Peterson translates those who are “meek.” Meekness is not a quality we give much value to in our culture. We prefer gun-toting John Wayne types. We bully the meek. We look at meekness as a failure. Yet somehow Jesus says when we become “content with just who we are – no more, no less… [ we will ] find [y]ourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”
Well, once again that goes countercultural to our values doesn’t it, or at least the ones the market god and the advertising industry assures and assails us with unceasingly. “Buy, buy, buy. You can’t be content until you have… more! The more you own, the more you’re worth, but you will never have enough.” What can we really own? That is the challenge of this translation? Can we really own anything that can be bought? Remember Jesus wasn’t talking to a bunch of middle class white folks who believed in the upward mobility myth of the American Dream. He was talking to poor, hand-to-mouth brown skinned peasants who, at best had a one room domicile, perhaps an ox or some chickens, or a goat to provide some food, and maybe a trade to work at to make enough for today. They weren’t worried about stock options, IRA’s or walls to keep out illegal immigrants. They were worried about food on the table tonight. Why did Jesus have to remind them about being “content with just who you are, no more, no less?” Well, to be honest I don’t know. But I think it is a question probably almost every one of us in this room have wrestled with or do wrestle with – including me. I seem to have the curse of the modern American consumer. I am never satisfied with what I have, I am always lusting for more I confess. Don’t need most of it, probably won’t ever have any of whatever it is I think will give me satisfaction, security, joy, or – God forbid – fun! How about you?
Ooops, I am out of time. I have to leave you with that question. Aren’t preachers supposed to give you all the answers? Darn! Once again I have realized my limitations as a pastor –slash – preacher- slash- witch doctor- slash – spiritual “expert.” Looks like both of us are on our own here. Oh, except – there is God, if we really want another opinion! In the meantime, if you haven’t signed up for our email blast, those red books there in the pews are a way to give us your email so you can see what else I can think of to say about these other, blessed Beatitudes. So, which would you rather be – blessed, or happy? AMEN.
Monday: 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.
Tuesday: 7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
Wednesday: 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.
Thursday: 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.
Friday: 10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.