Matthew 5.1-12-The Beatitudes
Seeking my father’s approval
I played on the newly formed girl’s volleyball team when I was in high school. Being a new team we weren’t that great. We sure didn’t have a winning season. But I had a pretty mean serve. My dad didn’t go to a lot of my school functions, but I finally talked him to going to a game. After the game I ran up to him, so excited that he was there and I was also excited that even though we had lost, I had put about 9 points in a row up on the board with my serves. So I run up to my dad and all he has is some snide comment about what a loser team we were. Wow, that popped my bubble big time. I was so disappointed. I felt like Dad could care less about my musical accomplishments and so I thought sports would be somewhere we could connect. And it didn’t happen.
What is blessing?
I was seeking my dad’s approval. I wanted to do something that would make him proud, something that would bring pleasure to him.
That is what a blessing is, it is finding favor with another, an act of approval.
What are the Beatitudes?
The Beatitudes are a series of blessings. This scripture passage is known as the Beatitudes, and a beatitude is a statement of blessing, or a pronouncement of blessing. This passage uses a standard literary Jewish formula: “It will go well with the one who… for that one shall receive…”
The Beatitudes are statements of God’s approval, the favor of God.
~We bless when we sneeze.
~We bless our food.
~A benediction is a form of blessing.
~It is request for permission: to “gain your parent’s blessing.” Before a couple is engaged, a young man may approach the parents (father) of the young woman, asking permission to ask her hand in marriage. This is asking for the parents blessing (their approval) on their engagement and future marriage.
Blessing is more than happiness
Sometimes blessing is translated happiness. But that is a starting definition that does not encompass the whole meaning. Unless we go back more than 200 years ago and look at the definition of happiness from the 19th Century edition of Webster’s Dictionary:
The pleasurable sensations derived from the gratification of sensual appetites…
Let’s stop there a moment. That’s what many of us think of happiness. Basically that mean if I feel good, I’m happy. We sit down at the dinne table at Thanksgiving, that makes me happy (unitl I eat too much.) If someone asks you, “Are you happy?” What do you think. Maybe you think, "Well, I have a comfortable home, a family, good friends, a good steady income… yeah, I’m happy." Let’s look at the rest of the definiton.
The pleasurable sensations derived from the gratification of sensual appetites render a person temporarily happy; but he only can be esteemed really and permanently happy, who enjoys peace of mind in the favor of God. (from Unexpected Blessing, by Cameron Lee. Bold is mine.)
Webster in the 1800’s was a pretty smart guy. His definition of happiness is actually our true definition of blessing: the favor of God. Our degree of happiness is not weighed according to how we feel momentarily or what we have in life, whether it be relationships or possessions. Blessing is based on one relationship: our relationship with God.
Looking for approval; seeking favor
In the opening story, I told you of how I was looking for my father’s approval. I wanted to seek his favor. With God, we don’t have to look or seek. We don’t have to do some great thing. We don’t have to prove ourselves to God. God’s blessing is a gift of grace; it is freely given.
Remember we talked about the first four Beatitudes last week: poor, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst. We said that each of these were lacking something. They don’t have anything to give, they come to God in want, needing something. And these are the ones God blesses. The pure in heart, the persecuted, what do they have to give God, but they have received God’s blessing. They only group that may have anything to offer are the merciful, but that’s Jeff’s sermon next week.
It’s when we come to God empty, it’s when we come to God knowing we have nothing to offer, we enjoy peace of mind in the favor of God; it is then we are blessed.
Being like children
Mt 19.13-15; Mk 10.13-16
You’ll remember how when Jesus, at the height of his ministry, as he was busy teaching and healing and delivering people from demons, he delighted in children. People brought children to him so that he could touch them and pray for them. The disciples in the meantime are trying to shoo the children away.
You see in this time and culture, children were given little regard. Roman law allowed children to be treated brutally. A father had the power to decide whether to keep a newborn or simply discard it. The Jews valued children as heirs of God’s promise yet also put them on the lowest rung of the social ladder as distractions and annoyances. Children were of little significance.
(from Unexpected Blessing, by Cameron Lee.)
This was probably the thinking of the disciples as they looked at these children as a distraction and interfering with Jesus’ “real” ministry. But according to Mark, Jesus sees the actions of the disciples and he is indignant – the only time this word is used to describe Jesus. Other passages, use this term to refer to people who take deep offense at the action of another. Jesus was offended that the disciples were not letting the children be brought to him and he scolded them for their actions.
Jesus tells the disciples:
14… “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Be like these children, Jesus tells the disciples. These children are brought by their parents. They have nothing to offer. And Jesus embraces them, accepts them, and blesses them.
We are called to come to Christ by that same example. Looking at the Beatitudes, young children are poor-they don’t own anything, they can’t buy anything. The very young let you know when they are hungry or thirsty! They can’t feed themselves. Jesus urges to come like these, and in so coming, we are favored by God, we are blessed, we receive the kingdom of God.
Blessed to be a blessing
Let me take a moment to further comment on the importance Jesus places on children. As the church, we, too, are called to model such gracious acceptance of our children. They are a part of us now; they are not just our future-they are the here and now. As God offers them as an example to live by, may we model some of their behavior. As Jesus takes them into his arms, may we embrace them, bless them, and favor their presence among us. After all, we are blessed to be a blessing. (I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. –Genesis 12.2)