Blessing is not just an acclamation but a gift. Blessings were much sought after in the Bible and highly valued. When we find ways to offer blessings to other people, we give something of great spiritual value to them. Jesus' way of connecting with people was through Blessing, not threatening. Without taking anything away from the laws of Moses, He demonstrated that the Way of true happiness is not arbitrary regulations but kindness and love. He showed that we can each be a blessing to each other and the people around us. His stated Purpose in John 15:11 is that our joy may be complete in our relationship with our Creator and all Creation.
Manuscript of the sermon preached on January 29, 2023, for Briensburg UMC [Audio Podcast]
Presentation Sunday Bible Readings:
Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Jesus’ theme is blessing people
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed… (Matthew 5:2ff KJV)
Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are a set of blessings that contrast with the Ten Commandments of Moses. These blessings express God’s unconditional love for us and for all humanity. Through the Beatitudes themselves, Jesus taught that he was there to communicate, not God’s wrath and condemnation, but God’s grace and friendship. From the Beatitudes flow all the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, that guide us into the paths of love and mercy and true happiness.
All our blessings flow from God
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30 KJV)
Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:30 MSG)
The Christians at Corinth had been arguing about virtually every aspect of their religion. They argued about who’s beliefs were right and who’s were wrong. They argued about which Christian leader was better than the others. On and on they went, thinking their salvation was because of the choices they had made, or the group they had affiliated with, or the way they conducted their worship services. What they ate and drank, which spiritual gifts were more important, how they shared Holy Communion – nothing was off the table. If the New Testament had been written yet, they probably would have argued about which translation was the only right one, too.
Paul emphasized in his letter to the Corinthians that it was not because of anything we have done or not done that has enabled us to be part of God’s family, but because of God’s own love for us as demonstrated through Christ. It is not our wisdom and knowledge about spirituality and theology. It is not our diligence and labor and good deeds. It is the love God has for us in sending Christ to be our Saviour. It is in the realization of our need for God’s love that we encounter our redemption in Christ. There is the open door through which we exit one spiritual dimension of life and enter another on the path that leads to our sanctification. As Jesus expressed near the end of Matthew, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Matthew 21:42 KJV).
Paul did address some of these issues in his letter, but completely within the context that it is God who is blessing us with love and mercy. It is God’s wisdom and strength and knowledge at work in the person of Jesus Christ that makes us part of God’s eternal kingdom. We are each and every one of us parts of the one Body of Christ, and the gifts we minister to each other and the world around us are God’s gifts distributed by the Holy Ghost to empower us to make a difference in the world, and that too is the empowerment of Christ, not our own. Paul explained this concept further in his letter to the Ephesians:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV).
Blessing starts with sincerity
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
(Psalm 15:2 KJV)
Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. (Psalm 15:2 MSG)
This is the answer to the question as translated in the Message, “God, who gets invited to dinner at your place?” (Psalm 15:1 MSG). As we found out from Jesus, everyone is invited, and welcome whenever they decide to come. Like the father of the Prodigal, God is waiting and watching with open arms for that moment in each person’s life when they realize where home really is.
The Psalmist highlighted the same principles Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount, that were also echoed by the prophets of the Old Testament. Do right by each other, be sincere, and try to make the world a better place for everyone.
Later in the Sermon, in Matthew 7:12, Jesus elevated the Golden Rule and said in the Good News Translation, “This is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets.” That seems pretty important, and more important than most of the things religious people have always argued about. It’s a principle shared from ancient times among many religions and cultures, and embraced even by those who tend to reject religion as a whole, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
God just asks that we be a blessing
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8 KJV)
What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 Jerusalem Bible)
Micah summed up long before Christ what it means to be right with God. Paul wrote to the Romans and to the Galatians as worded in the New Living Translation that “The whole law can be summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galations 5:14 NLT).
Why do people put all kinds of other requirements on themselves and each other? Why do people argue about how God is leading other people on their spiritual journeys? Why do people work to drive wedges between people and turn people against each other? All these are the opposite of everything Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount.
In a wonderful, refreshing turn of events from the judgmental, exclusionary, punishing and fearful ways people have all too often experienced religion, Jesus began his sermon by teaching in the language of blessing, and it is a gift that keeps on giving to this day, and will keep on giving throughout all eternity.
Aaron, the brother of Moses gave the people of Israel this Priestly Blessing that thousands of years later became known by the youth of our denomination as the MYF Benediction:
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. (Numbers 6:24-26 KJV)
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.