January 29, 2017
Matthew 5:1-12, Micah 6:1-8
“Have a Blessed Day”
Today we have two scriptures that are often quoted by people of faith. It could be that both of these texts would make a Top 10 Bible Verse list. The Beatitudes in Matthew was recited at the inauguration. We need to hear these words today. Rather than telling us what can be or should be, they tell us what is. Our text study group committed to reading these words each day for a week and letting them seep into our consciousness. Frankly, I have always loved the beautiful poetry of these words, but I am unsure what they mean for our lives today.
Let’s be honest: who wants to be remembered for being meek? I have read several translations that use the word gentle instead of meek. I like the word gentle better than meek, but I am often reminded that the Bible isn’t a vending machine for me to choose what I like. One of the commentaries I read this week said that Jesus meant the Beatitudes to describe all people, not just people we consider to be saints. We are called to hear “Jesus’ words for what they are, not what we prefer them to be.” These words are spoken directly to us. (Marcia Y. Riggs, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, p. 310) I guess that means we aren’t off the hook. We need to ask then what the Beatitudes have to teach us.
It seems that there is an opportunity to see blessing in the midst of what is. That same commentary said that “Blessed are those who mourn refers to the faithful who recognize the present condition of the world is far from God’s purposes.” (Ronald J. Allen, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, p. 311) So many of us are mourning a country and a world that do not treat ALL people as blessed. Yet God still says, “blessed are you my beautiful people…ALL of you.”
I wonder if we are being asked to mine our days for the blessings buried so deep in the soil that we may not see them yet or at least trust that they are there when we can’t see them. There are times that I am hanging up the phone or checking out at the store when the other person tells me to “have a blessed day.” I am embarrassed to admit that I am not always sure what to say to that. Just this week, I had an email exchange with Abbas Akhil, the former president of the Albuquerque Islamic Center. Abbas ended his email by saying, “Have a blessed day.”
I wonder if those on the mountain with Jesus also felt uncomfortable as he said things like “Blessed are those who work for peace: they will be called children of God.” And “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of their struggle for justice: the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”
If the whole idea of blessing makes you squirm a bit, add the blessing that comes in weakness and vulnerability. It is easy to say that God is with the weak and marginalized when we are feeling strong and secure in our place in the world. Can we say that when we are feeling weak and insecure? David Lose says that Jesus is teaching them how to recognize blessedness, not become blessed. (http://www.davidlose.net/2017/01/epiphany-4a-recognizing-blessing/) In this case the word blessed refers to people who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for justice, and persecuted.
There are days, seasons, and eras that simply don’t feel blessed. Do these words apply then? Do they apply now? Can we recognize blessing today? Can we see it in places and situations that seem to be desolate and hopeless?
I think it would be a powerful exercise to write the Beatitudes for 2017. What would they sound like? Rather than write this off as some beautiful, ancient poetry try bringing it to life in our world. Make these words yours. My first lines would be “Blessed are the refugees for they will find sanctuary. Blessed are the Muslims, for they shall be welcomed as neighbors.”
The other text includes a verse that is often quoted (Micah 6:8) “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” This verse is more powerful when we hear the whole context. It begins with God calling people out. Commentators say the setting is a courtroom with Micah as the narrator. The mountains and hills are the witnesses. Rather than being angry that the people seem to have completely forgotten, God is bewildered. God does not forget us. How do we so easily forget God? Tertullian said that, “God expects people to act with the same divine mercy and compassion that have been bestowed on them.” Why is that so difficult for us?
In text study, we talked about what sounds like whining in this text. Perhaps you have been part of these kinds of exchanges where person A calls person B on their behavior and person B responds defensively, “WHAAAAAT???” The interaction here with God sounds something like:
God: “What have I done to you? I saved you over and over.”
People: “Whaaat? Do you want us to sacrifice all the animals in the world? Or do you just want us to give up our own child? Would that make you happy??”
Micah steps in as the mediator here and says, “Um, this isn’t new. God has already told you the right thing to do. Turn down the drama. There are no animal or child sacrifices required. Remember, you are made in God’s image. Remember, you are God’s beloved. If you want to live like it, you will do justice whenever you can, you will share kindness everywhere, and you won’t forget God. You will walk with God and God will show you the way.”
The people in this text have tried to get off the hook by writing a check. They will just sacrifice some animals and maybe God will stop expecting them to get up and do something. And God says, “I don’t want a thing. I want YOU.” On days when I am busy and I think what I am doing is so important, I sometimes look up and ask if I can just complete some tasks on my list. Won’t that be good enough? And I wonder if God is saying, “I don’t want your completed tasks. I want you. I want you to walk with me.”
I wonder if the word blessing is a word that is something like remembering. We remember that God is with those who are gentle. We remember that God is with those who are struggling to make it through another day. We remember that God is with those are fleeing a war torn country. We remember that God is with those who do not call themselves Christian. We remember that God is here right now. We remember that God is blessing our days. God is blessing the days of those who seem to have nothing going for them. God continues to ask us to walk alongside and take all the love that has been given to us and share it so deeply that we think we will empty ourselves beyond hope, only to discover there is so much love where that came from so that we can offer it all over again. And so we are invited to be people who choose blessing, who choose hope, who choose love. And we keep walking and we discover that…
The path we choose now
is not one we’ve walked or even seen before,
the path is one that appears
beneath our feet
with each step,
and we persist,
travelers in the frozen dark
who begin to see the light as it shapes the horizon
and know, though it’s cold,
that the change we dream of
has already begun to arrive.
(from a poem called “Directions” by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer)
Blessed indeed. Remember that God is here now. Have a blessed day!