Sunday January 22, 2023 – Beatitudes
God reveal your presence: as we now adore you and with awe appear before you.
Like the holy angels gathered all before you, may we ceaselessly adore you.
Bow your ear to us here; hearken, O Lord Jesus, to our humble praises.
© Gerbard Tersteegen 1729. Frederick William Foster and John Miller1789, William Mercer 1859 alt. All rights reserved. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Call to Worship
We are blessed,
when what we treasure most is not based on wealth or possessions.
We are blessed,
when our knowledge is tempered by mystery.
We are blessed,
when our pain is lovingly and compassionately held.
We are blessed,
when our greatest joy comes from beyond ourselves.
We are blessed,
when we can gather together in worship.
So, as we gather here, let us worship God.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we remember that Christ came, not to remain a baby in a manger but to grow and to experience and share our lives, we light our Christ Candle knowing that he still shares our lives and directs our path.
Divine Mystery, we come before you today seeking humility, so that we can see you in the most vulnerable; empathy, that allows us to share the tears of all who weep; strength, for those in pain to cling to as they walk through life; gentleness, which can forgive and heal those who have harmed us; compassion, which looks at the other and sees your beloved child; courage, which embraces those we have been taught to fear; openness, which welcomes those who are ridiculed and marginalized. Divine Mystery, we seeking words of hope, of comfort, and of grace, whispered in our ears so that we may whisper them to others. Amen.
Gift of Music Blessed Are They #896
For the next 3 weeks we will be looking at the portion of the Gospel According to Matthew known as the Sermon on the Mount. The scripture that we know as the Beatitudes is part of this longer portion of the teachings of Jesus which covers Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Today we begin with the Beatitudes but we also read about salt and light as well as Jesus’ teachings about the laws of Moses.
Matthew 5:1-20 New Revised Standard Version
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Attitudes and Beatitudes
When we talk about the Sermon on the Mount, we generally tend to jump straight to the Beatitudes. But the Beatitudes are only the beginning of an entire section of Jesus’ teachings that Matthew places together in one long discourse. It is also important to realize what has happened just before this.
According to Matthew, following his temptation, Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching, preaching in the synagogues and healing. As you can imagine word about this amazing healer and teacher quickly spread, not just throughout Galilee but far beyond.
Our scripture reading today begins with the words, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain”. But who were these crowds? Jesus’ disciples were with them, but they were not the only ones. There would have been many who followed because Jesus had healed them or someone they knew. There would have been those who were simply curious. And there would certainly have been many who were sick, poor or marginalized.
So often, we tend to read the Beatitudes as a guide to behaviour, as a list of things we should accomplish, or as some have put it, attitudes that we should try to be. But what is missing when we read them this way is their placement in this gospel. They are placed, not when Jesus first begins preaching, but after he has already been actively travelling around Galilee, doing the very things he is talking about.
When Jesus says, blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and especially the persecuted, perhaps he is not talking about some future time when these people will be blessed. Perhaps he is sharing the fact that he has already been about the work of blessing them with healing, with hope, with peace and with the assurance that they are loved and valued by God.
Jesus always seemed to put the actions first and then words. When he talked about who was blessed, he was not taking credit for those blessings, but explaining that the gifts he offered, the gifts of healing and teaching, did not come from his own powers or desires. They were blessing that came through him, from God. When Jesus spoke, he is not demanding action, but rather articulating the actions that has already occurred. We are not always so good at putting our actions first and our words later. In fact, all too often, we have a tendency to speak the word, the promises, but never actually get around to following through with the actions.
I remember many years ago when I visited Nicaragua, we spoke to the organizers of one of the church-run feeding centers for children. We were told that the children were invited to come and sit and then they were taught a bible lesson that was usually at least half an hour long. If they sat through the whole thing, then they were fed. One of the teachers in our group commented that children who are hungry have a harder time concentrating and perhaps it would be better to feed them first and then teach the lesson. The organizer replied, “We can’t do that. Once they are fed, they would have no reason to stay.”
This man was putting the words before the actions, making the words the thing that mattered most, as if the actions were simply an afterthought or perhaps a reward for having listen to the words. This is not what Jesus did. For Jesus, it was the actions that mattered and words were simply the explanation of those actions.
The poor, the hungry and those who mourn are not blessed because of their mourning, their hunger or their poverty. It is because their needs have been met, they have been comforted and they have received what they needed, they have been blessed, not only physically but with the blessing of God’s ‘kingdom’ or God’s love.
But there is another thing about the Beatitudes that we do not always seem to pick up on. They begin with talking about all the people who are blessed, but they end with “blessed are you”.
Jesus is assuring those who are listening that it is not only those who have already been touched by his healing, his teaching or his personal presence who are blessed. He is assuring them that each time anyone of them follows his example and carries on the work that he started, they too will be blessed.
But it will not be easy. Jesus warned them that they would be revile and persecuted and that people would say horrible things about them. The same thing happened to the prophets who spoke out against political structures of their time and the same thing continues to happen today to people who speak out against injustice and speak up for the marginalize. Following the example of Christ has never been easy or comfortable but, as Jesus reminds us, the rewards are worth it.
Now this is where we generally end our reading of the Sermon on the Mount. But this is not where Jesus ends. The verses that follow, are not a separate and independent teaching, but rather a continuation of what Jesus has already been saying. The Beatitudes lay the foundation, but it is what Jesus has to say going forward that builds on that foundation.
Jesus does not explain about the blessings that are already happening all around him in order to brag about what he has done or even in order to help them see and recognize God’s blessing already happening. Jesus is explaining to them in order to prepare those who are listening to go out into the world to become a blessing to others.
In the very next section of this long narrative, Jesus tells those who are listening, those who were, and those who would become his disciples that, “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world”.
We do not have to do great amazing things like Jesus did, but we do have to do something. It doesn’t take that much salt to season things but without any salt, things tend to taste pretty bland. And we need salt, not only to spice things up, but we also need salt for our own health. If we do not do our part to help make this world a little better, if we do not add our own spice to this world, not only do we miss the opportunity to bless others, but we also miss the opportunity to be blessed ourselves in return.
And we are not asked to light up the entire world, but if we don’t allow our light to shine at all, those around us will not be the only ones left stumbling around in the dark!
When Jesus changes what he is saying from “Blessed are those” to “Blessed are you” he doesn’t leave his followers with the warning that following him will be difficult and dangerous, even if the rewards are great. He goes on to assure them that what they do going forward does make a difference. The things they do may not seem to be huge, and they may not feel like they are changing the world, but what they do still matters.
It doesn’t take a lot of salt to bring out the flavour of a meal. The flavour is already there, the salt just brings it out so that it can be experienced more fully. Each time the followers of Jesus share the story with someone else, they enhance and bring forward the faith that is already there, seeking to be brought out. Even if it is only one person, or one person at a time, it matters. And a lamp will not give light to the entire world, but it will give light to those around. And it will help those who see that light to find their direction and help keep them from stumbling.
This is what Jesus was offering those who were listening and who chose to follow him. It would not be easy and it might even be dangerous but, by following his example, they would make a difference. And this is the same promise offered to us today. Even if we may not realize it, even if we don’t see great outcomes, when we choose to follow the example of Christ in our own lives, we do make a difference. It does matter. Amen
Gift of Music When a Poor One #702
We Offer Our Gifts
We do matter, in what we say, in what we do and in what we give. And what we give may be the offering we place in the offering plates in the entrance to our church, the gifts we give through PAR or online, or they may be the gifts of our time, our commitment and our prayers. But whatever we give, let us now offer it to God.
Offertory Response #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love
and the gift of the Spirit by which we live,
we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
© Abingdon press used by permission OneLicense #A723756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
We pray for the poor. We pray for those who struggle to balance budgets and meet their financial obligations. We pray for those who deal constantly with the stress of worrying if there is enough money to pay the bills. We pray for those who spend so much time trying to just survive, that there is no time or energy left to deal with the needs of their spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
We pray for all those who mourn; those who mourn the lost of a loved one, those who mourn the loss of a relationship, those who mourn the loss of a job, a dream, or any of the other many losses we all experience.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
We pray for those who are too overwhelmed, too beaten down, too weak or too hopeless to stand up for themselves.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
We pray for all those who have no food or clean water. We pray for all those who struggle to provide food and water for their families. We pray for all who are caught in systems of injustice that leave many with nothing while others have more than they can ever use. We pray for all who stand up against these injustices and fight for what is right.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
We pray for all those who show compassion and understanding even in the most difficult situation.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
We pray for people of good will everywhere who are simply trying to do their best.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
We pray for all those who struggle to live in peace in their own lives and who struggle to bring peace to others, who stand up against war and violence.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We pray for all who are persecuted, those who are marginalized and all those who live with fear and abuse. We pray especially those who are persecuted because they stand up and speak out against injustice.
Blesses are you. We pray for ourselves. We pray that we may be the people we have been called to be, following the example of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen
Gift of Music Welcome, Jesus, You Are Welcome MV #1
We go out from here today to be salt and light. We go out from here to follow the example Christ has given us. We go out from here to make a difference in whatever small way we can. But we don’t go alone. God is with us, Christ’s example leads us, and the Spirit walk with and within us. We go with God.
Choral Blessing MV#222
May the peace of God be your peace.
May the love of God be the love you show.
May the joy of God be the joy you know,
and may the world that God would see be found in you.
© November 2001 Neil MacLaren. firstname.lastname@example.org. Used with permission Onelicense .net #A-723756