(Sermon preached at the 174th Homecoming, Lebanon Church)
After Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist... and his 40-day temptation in the wilderness... Jesus called to his disciples saying “come, follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men” - at which point... he began his ministry in earnest... going about preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God and “healing every disease and sickness among the people” - according to Matthew chapter 4!
Of course, news like that kinda gets around pretty fast... And large crowds of the desperate, the faithful, and curious alike flocked to “get a peek” at what this Jesus was up to... and to hear what he had to say.
So Jesus made his way up a hill (his disciples with him)... and he began to teach... It would be one of many times that Jesus would ascend a hill in order to teach a lesson.
And of all the things Jesus could’ve said to begin his most famous sermon... of all the images he could have painted with his words... he began, with the simple word... BLESSED. Jesus began his message by reminding the people listening... that they were blessed.
Of course, we usually call these blessings “The Beatitudes.” But they’re really just statements of blessing.
And when it comes to blessings... we usually have no problem seeing others as blessed. I can see my neighbor’s blessing before I can see my own sometimes...
Which makes we wonders how often we realize and knowledge the fact that Jesus’ audience - the crowds - were a lot like us... you and me. They were rich, and poor... young and old... short and tall... educated and less-educated. They were from every conceivable background and walk-of-life.
Jesus had been preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand... in other words, the Kingdom was here... yet people were still struggling with the day-in, day-out issues of life... still hoping for things to get better... still praying for deliverance from evil, and peace instead of war, and comfort for their dis-ease (kinda like we still pray for such things today).
And to the crowd of people who longed for all these things and so much more... Jesus said, “Bless-ed are those...”
Of course, we wrestle with what it means to be blessed in our day. We struggle with what it really means to be blessed...
We certainly have our own ideas as to what it means to be “blessed” don’t we? We talk about winning the lottery... or the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and how “blessed” we’d be if did... But I’m not so sure our modern concept of “being blessed” matches that of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” - In other word, bless-ed (or happy, or joyful) are those who’ve learned to stand properly, and humbly, before God. Those who’ve learned to put EVERYTHING they have... their all... their hopes and dreams and lives... their complete trust... in God and not in the world. Kinda like the widow who put into the offering her last two “mites” - her last earthly sustenance... acknowledging her total dependency on God, and God alone. She was blessed... and people like the widow are blessed, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
What about those who mourn? I’ve experienced grief... and I can tell you, it didn’t make me feel very happy, or joyful. But to mourn, to grieve, is to have loved... to have cared. Of course those who mourn could be mourning because of personal loss, grief... pain... but they could very well be mourning for the state of the world... and pain they see experienced by others. Those kind of people, are blessed, they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek? Meek? Really? Who thinks of being meek as being blessed? But “meek” does not mean you have to be a doormat... It means you think before you speak... you consider your actions... you’re gentle and don’t force yourself (or your opinion) upon others. Such people are blessed... and they’re a blessing! They will inherit the earth!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. These are the people who truly seek to know God. Isaiah 55:6-7...
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” They’re blessed... they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful. God is merciful and these are those who choose to show mercy to others like God. “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Such people are blessed, they will be shown mercy!
Blessed are the pure in heart. Those who have good intentions, and right motives. They keep to Golden Rule... of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. They’re blessed... they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers. These are those who try to bring people together instead of tearing them apart. James 3:18 says those who “sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” They’re blessed... and will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Sometimes the presence of God in someone’s life leads to persecution. God blesses those who suffer such... the kingdom of heaven is theirs!
Of course, that’s all well and good; Jesus says that all such people are blessed. But... then he hits the crowd with the last blessing. At first it sounds like a continuation of the blessing right before it: blessed are the persecuted. But it’s different... “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you.” It's not just those unnamed people out there somewhere who are blessed in persecution, but the people following Jesus... his disciples & closest friends... you!
Bless-ed are you.
Have you ever put your whole trust in God like someone who has no other hope? - You are blessed.
Have you ever been moved to pray (or grieved to pray) for the state of our country or the world? - You are blessed.
Have you ever put someone else’s needs, concerns, interests, before your own? - You are blessed.
Have you ever longed to have a closer walk with God in Christ? - You are blessed.
Have you ever tried to offer the same forgiveness and grace that God offered you? - You are blessed.
Have you ever dedicated your life to God, and made it your priority to live for God? - You are blessed.
Have you ever tried to bring people together, to foster peace and love and cooperation? - You are blessed.
Have you ever been called names or sneered at or left-out because of your faith? - You are blessed.
The bottom line is... you and I are blessed to experience the fullness of life... the full and abundant life of faith in the Kingdom of God! With all the ups and downs - the good, the not-so-good - the joys and benefits - and the disappointments and heartaches... they’re all part of who we are as followers of Christ...
How can we say that? Because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, those who have been called according to his purpose.” That’s how!
We are blessed to walk this life in the sure and abundant provision of the Kingdom of God. We never walk alone! Christ is always with us - blessing us in joy and in pain... and more... he has given us each other... as we stand along and among a Great Cloud of Witnesses... the faithful who’ve gone before us... paving the way for our faith!
Just think of all those who worked hard to leave us a lasting heritage. There’s no denying the fact that you and I are blessed here at Lebanon Church. We stand in a long line of faithful Christ Followers... dating all the way back to 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the church doors at Wittenburg... to 1541 when John Calvin penned his “Confessions”... to the formation of the First Reformed Presbytery in what’s now the United States, back in 1706... to the organizational documents that established The Lebanon Church in 1843... our brand of the Christian faith - the Reformed Faith - was born out of persecution, yet it’s grown into one of the largest Christian movements the world has ever known. And today... we gather to celebrate our heritage... 174-years in Lafayette. We are certainly blessed.
Of course, our greatest blessing (by far) is knowing Jesus Christ... and having heard his call, we’ve become co-laborers with Christ (and one another) in the Kingdom of God...
May we remain faithful... as we acknowledge our blessings... and walk with confidence into year 175!