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All of God’s Blessings
a sermon based on Matthew 5:1-13
by Rev. Gary Roth

“God bless you.” That’s kind of nice, isn’t it? “God bless you.” It’s nice to think that God might bless us. The good news is, of course, that He does. In fact, His first Word to us is always one of blessing – of promise. Luther, in talking about the Ten Commandments, tells us that even when He gives us a command, it is always attached to a promise. The promise always comes first. Oftentimes people feel that it goes the other way around – that if you are good, or you repent, then you get the promise. Somehow you have to earn God’s blessing, and He is somewhat reluctant to give it. So of course, that’s a trap, because we are never good enough to earn it. It has to be a free gift. That’s where Jesus starts today. As Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, the crowd gathers below Him. He sees them all – the sick, the lame, the wounded, men, women, children – ordinary people, like you and me. Not the powerful, not the religious leadership – most of those kind of people wouldn’t be caught dead with these folks who are gathered around Jesus now. These are just ordinary people, struggling to get by the best way that they can. Jesus sits down, and sets out to instruct them. He opens His mouth, and the first thing that He says is, “God bless you!”

I had a lady in my church in Baltimore that used to like to give me a hard time. I’m glad that there’s no one like that here! She was actually a very sweet gal, but every Sunday she’d tell me, “Pastor, you’re too easy on them. I want to hear a little more fire and brimstone.” It reminds me of the story of the Baptist pastor who was preaching on all the sins of that generation. He’d preach against gambling, and one old gal in the church would yell out, “Amen! You tell them, pastor!” And then he preached against alcohol, and she yelled out, “Hallelujah! You tell them pastor!” Then he preached about gossiping, and he paused, waiting for her. Everything was quiet for a minute, then her voice was heard, “Now you’ve gone off preaching and gone into meddling!” Have you ever noticed that Jesus never preached fire and brimstone to the ordinary people, to those who had been labeled “sinners” by the religious righteous? The only ones he hit with fire and brimstone were the religious and political leadership, those who had contempt for ordinary people. But to these ordinary people, Jesus says, “God bless you!”

Jesus once told the disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” It was a gift that God granted them, to be one of Jesus’ disciples. It is also a gift that He has given us. We are His people. We met the requirements for a relationship with Him, simply by being sinners who needed saving. He met the requirements of that relationship by forgiving us, breaking down the barriers between himself and us, bearing the cost of the relationship himself. Of course, these folks who gathered around Jesus couldn’t know that – but Jesus did. They supposed that the Pharisees and all those other good religious people were blessed, but not them. They supposed that those good Pharisees had all the answers, but not them. They supposed that the Pharisees had everything together, and that if they wanted a relationship with God, that these good, religious people were the ones who had the inside track, the ones that they should emulate, the ones who could help them. They supposed that they were like the little child, standing outside the candy store without any money, looking in the window at all that wonderful stuff that they couldn’t have. So what a wonderful surprise it is to them, to have Jesus sit down in their midst, and begin with these words: “God bless you!”

Could you use a little blessing in your life? I could! Another translation says, “happy.” Could you stand a little more happiness, a little more joy, a little more fulfillment in your life?

Yet the blessing does seem to be provisional. It isn’t for everyone. Who is it that God blesses then? How do we get to be part of that blessed crew? Jesus tells us about them. He begins: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The “poor in spirit” are those who, realizing that they have nothing to offer God, depend on His grace alone. They know that they have nothing to offer – that if they are to live in His presence, that they must live only in the shadow of His love and grace. There is a God-shaped void in the middle of their life that nothing else can fill. They are empty, waiting for God to fill them. The promise is that those who seek will find. Are you “poor in spirit?” Then, “God bless you!”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” In terms of our relationship to ourselves, God demands truth and humility. The ones who mourn are those who see themselves truly, who make no excuses for themselves, who, when faced with God’s demand for holiness, see who they really are, and mourn for their sinfulness. Their experience of sin in the world and in their own life causes them pain, it causes them to long for God’s kingdom. Jesus says that they shall be comforted.” The “comforter” is the Holy Spirit. They will receive the gift of the Spirit’s presence, to lift them up, and to help them grow in grace. The Spirit is the down-payment that they receive on the Kingdom. Are you the meek? Are you the one who mourns? “God bless you!”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” In terms of others, God’s demand is for righteousness and mercy. By righteousness, He does not mean “doing what the law demands.” The words, “righteousness” and “justice” refer to the same thing in scripture – a right relationship – bringing about wholeness, peace, shalom, unity – fulfilling the purpose for which God created us, that we might, as Adam and Eve originally did – walk in the Garden with God. Those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” are starved for better relationships – they want them so bad that they refuse to carry a grudge, they refuse to think evil about another, refuse to backbite or slander or gossip. They are those who go beyond the call to be reasonable, to give tit for tat, to do what can be expected, what is deserved or what is even allowed – to be merciful to others. They are always willing to forgive; they love without counting the cost, and so possess the same heart as God Himself, who gave His all to us. So they shall receive mercy, Jesus says. Are you one of these – those who are starved for better, restored relationships? Are you the merciful? “God bless you!”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” There is also a social demand in our relationship with God. That is what is expressed in the last three Beatitudes. “The pure in heart,” are those whose lives are aimed in one direction. One of the saints said, “to be pure in heart is to desire only one thing.” What is the central desire of your life? Is it to see God? Is it to live in the shadow of that hope? The pure in heart don’t care what others say – about cultural values or social expectations. Their aim in life is to reflect God’s life in theirs, to mirror His concerns in theirs, to make God’s heart the sole object of their own heart. They are the peacemakers, the “shalom” makers, whose presence brings healing and wholeness and restoration to this world. They are the ones who are more willing to bear injustice than to create it, who are more willing to be victimized by the world than to allow that any of god’s children should suffer injustice. He compares them to the prophets who, in speaking for God, suffered persecution. Are you one of these – the pure of heart, the peacemakers, one who is willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake? “God bless you!”

Are you happy today? What makes you happy? What brings you joy? Do you get up in the morning, excited about life? Do you have the kind of joy that has staying power? Is your life bearing the kind of returns you want it to? Jesus says that it can. That is the promise: “Happy are you.” God has already called you to new life in Him. He has given you the possibility of a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with Him. It isn’t something you have to strive for – it is a gift for you today. Talk to Him about it. Pray about it. Receive it into your heart. You won’t be sorry. And you won’t go back. And “God bless you!”