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Bless Your Heart!
Dr. David Evans
February 5, 2017
A Reading from the Gospels:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then 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 righteousness’ sake, 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.
I watched the Inauguration of the new President a couple of weeks ago. One of the hallmarks of our nation is the “orderly transfer of power”, and an Inauguration is an opportunity for the whole world to witness one President leave office graciously and another take the oath of office. Inaugurations are “power days”. The most powerful people in the world are all assembled on the podium. The outgoing President, the soon to be sworn in President-elect, no less than three former Presidents, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the leaders of the Senate and, well, the list just goes on and on.
The whole event could be a Presbyterian event because it is done with great pomp and circumstance and the ritual transfer of power is done “decently and in order”. There is a parade of speakers No less than four clergy, if I counted correctly, either prayed or read scripture, including the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Florida who is the brother of one of my friends.
But there was one moment in the day that was profoundly jarring. Amidst all the display of power and the military bands and the importance of those assembled, in the middle of the pomp and circumstance, one pastor, the Reverend Samuel Rodriquez, had the sheer and unmitigated gall to read from the Bible. He did not introduce it and after he read it he did not comment on it. It just lay there like an unwelcom guest who says something inappropriate and everyone falls into an embarrassed silence for a moment.
The words the pastor read is our text for today. Hear the Word of the Lord from the 5th chapter of the gospel of Matthew: (Matthew 5:1-12)
We know these words. We know them as the Beatitudes, or the Blessings. They are the opening words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is basic instructions on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. These words not only tell us to whom we belong but how we are to live in this world.
I would like to think that these words were as jarring to those disciples gathered on that hill and as jarring to us as they were a jarring interlude at the Inauguration. As the pastor read these words that turn the values of the world upside down, the camera panned across the faces of the most powerful people on earth. And maybe it was just me, but it seemed as if they were hearing them for the first time. In my own twist on the Beatitudes, perhaps this is what they were hearing:
- Blessed are, not those who flaunt their wealth, but those who in their poverty know real joy.
- Blessed are, not the powerful who love to throw their weight around, but the meek, the ones the world overlooks or ridicules.
- Blessed are, not the ones who want impose their will on others, but those whose only concern is to do the will of God.
- Blessed are, not those who traffic in fear and demonize others, but the peacemakers who believe that every human on earth is a blessed child of God.
You get the point. Those who want to be recipients of Jesus’ blessings are in direct contrast with those who want to be recipients of the blessings the world gives. For the next four weeks we will be immersing ourselves in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has been baptized in the Jordan. Jesus has come face to face with and been tempted by the principalities and powers of the world during forty days in the wilderness. Jesus has called to four fisher folk by the Sea of Galilee and invited them to: “Come, follow me.” And Jesus has begun his ministry of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and healing every kind of physical and emotional and spiritual sickness. Great crowds are beginning to seek him out.
Now Jesus sits down among these desperate people who are looking for someone who will feel their pain and someone who they believe has the potential to make Israel great again. A Messiah who will lead them back to their days of glory. There, on that Mountain, Jesus teaches them what life in the kingdom of God will be like. And everything he says is a complete reversal of the ethic they expect to hear. That will become very clear in the next three weeks if you will join me as we, too, sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him describe in detail how we are to live if we want to be a follower of Jesus.
I am one of those throw-backs to another generation who still wants to find an actual “I can hold it in my hands and turn the pages” newspaper on my front drive-way each morning. That luxury is becoming more and more expensive each year as more and more of you get your news on your tablets. Tablets just don’t work for me. It used to be that I would glance at the front page and then dig through and find sports. It is probably telling that recently I have begun to turn to Metro/State and find the obituaries. My Dad in his later years used to joke that he wouldn’t get dressed until he was sure he his obituary wasn’t in the paper.
Periodically I read an obituary for one of our Lutheran brothers or sisters in Christ. And almost invariably the obituary will include a verse of scripture: the verse that was assigned to them at their Confirmation of Baptism service. Recently one was from Joshua 1:9: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
To tell you the truth, I like that tradition. I wish we Presbyterians had our very own verse assigned to us when the waters of baptism are poured over our heads or at our confirmation when make those very promises of baptism our own. A while ago I poured the waters of baptism over the head of a remarkable child. Juliana made history two years ago when she became the youngest heart transplant patient in history. She was only seventeen days old when she received the most incredible gift anyone has ever received: the heart of another child. When the Graves family hears the old Southern words, “Bless Your Heart!”, they hear it with a power that no one else could possibly hear.
So today, Riki and Chris, I bequeath to your precious child a gift. Receive the Beatitudes as your life-verses. Make them your own. Teach them to Juliana. Guide her into the way of life that Jesus teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount. And truly her heart will be blessed. AMEN