Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sermon at United Church of Beloit, Feb 24, 2013. 

Isaiah 61 The Year of the Lord’s Favor

61 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning,and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5 Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount

5 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
He said:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.

The next few weeks, we are looking at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' famous speech or sermon given to his disciples and followers. It's found in the Gospel of Matthew, with a similar teaching in Luke. Matthew's Gospel was written specifically to Jewish listeners, to help them know that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. The Sermon in Matthew's gospel is detailed and helps remind the Jewish People of Moses' teachings. Luke's Gospel is written to Gentiles, so there is less of the traditional Jewish teachings.
Last week's lesson from Matthew 4, Jesus said kingdom of heaven is near.
This lesson, known as the Beatitudes, is where Jesus defines the kingdom.
Jesus was speaking on a steep hillside, the text says the side of a mountain. It was likely near the shore of the Sea of Galilee  The bowl-like setting of a hillside overlooking a large lake made a natural amphitheater in which sound would carry quite well on a spring or summer day :) imagine yourself sitting on the grass, listening to Jesus speak.


Note that the first and last of the Beatitudes both say, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. This is a literary device called bracketing. This bracketing is sign of completeness...and that everything included in this paragraph is also included in the The Kingdom of Heaven. That is, each of the things mentioned are aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven. Comfort, inheritance, to be satisfied, Mercy, to see God and be called a child of God, these are aspects of the Kingdom of heaven!
And to whom does Jesus say it belongs? The poor in spirit, those who mourn, who hunger and thirst to be right with God, the merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers.

This is not a kingdom that is like the world is it!? It wasn't 2000 years ago, either. then and now, society's view of the 'kingdom' belongs to those who are getting ahead, whether one is at the top of the class, the top of the heap, the top of the world.
Hebrew word Blessed, means to be blessed, favored by God, and it also means to be happy....that down deep joy that comes when we realize God is “Large and in charge'. But to be blessed also means to be guided, guided along a straight line, the image here is of a plumb line used by builders to ensure that their work is aligned well. So blessed means to be favored, have joy and to be guided along a straight path.

Jesus says in the kingdom of heaven says that those who recognize their weakness before God, and ask for help are the blessed ones! The poor in spirit, those who know that we are incomplete without God! When we come to God, we regret what has kept us away from God for so long...we mourn our sins and our other losses! And we receive comfort and crave more of this beautiful Kingdom! And as we find more of the kingdom of heaven through our developing faith, through worship, prayer, devotional time, through helping others, we learn compassion, and become merciful. And receive mercy in return. This growing love, faith, forgiveness, caring for others helps us to be more Christlike-pure in heart. We become peacemakers—working to bring about the Kingdom of heaven here on Earth. Helping to house the homeless, feed the hungry, caring for children and the lonely, these are just some of the ways we in this church do help live out our faith. This brings a glimpse of the Kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is completely different than the kingdom of Earth. Something is upside down, topsy-turvy? Which is it?!

God put us here on Earth to be in relationship with God and with each other. The creation story in the Bible is one of intimacy! If that story is fact or a beautiful telling of an old story, it is a story that says God wants us to be up close and personal with God and with each other. That we are to love and care for each other! That is the Kingdom of heaven! That is the way things are supposed to be.

Our OT lesson, are words that were spoken by Jesus early in his ministry. This is a portrayal of that heavenly kingdom. The promises given here include freedom and release from darkness! Of beauty and praise, instead of grief!

Do we not hunger and thirst for these things?! The kingdom of heaven is what we are made for! The kingdom of earth only satisfies for a short time, if at all. The kingdom of heaven, satisfies for all time. This is Shalom, God's peace...perfect peace, wholeness, protection for all of God's creation. When all is right with the world. And what we get glimpses of, when we are caring for each other, when we worship together, and especially when we reach out to others to share what we have, our material blessings and that incredible Love. This is how the Kingdom of heaven comes near on Earth, through us! Through the Holy Spirit guiding us, empowering us to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Francis Chan in Crazy Love
We never grow closer to God when we just live life; it takes deliberate pursuit and attentiveness. When I pray, I sometimes ask God to make it the most intimate time of prayer I've ever had. Many times when I speak, whether at my church or another venue, I remind myself that I could die right after I finish, so what would I want my last words to be? Second, I remember that we are not alone. Even now there are thousands of beings in heaven watching what is going on down here-a "great cloud of witnesses," the Scripture says. It reminds me that there is so much more to our existence than what we can see. What we do reverberates through the heavens and into eternity. Try for a whole day to be conscious of heaven. Realize that so much is going on outside of this dimension and our existence. God and His angels are watching, even now.

Our cloud of witnesses is cheering us on, praying for us to help our relationship with God and each other, praying for us to help bring the kingdom of heaven to earth!
Richard Foster....Do we truly want life with God? This is the prime question in moving from intention to action in the spiritual life..... there are things for us to do! God wants an active partner in relationship. The spiritual life is just that—a life. We learn as we go. We learn as we do. As we go and do with God, we are changed along the way.
Could God make sure that all are fed, clothed, loved, treated justly? Of course. God could do that faster than you can blink an eye. So why doesn't God do this? It seems to be that relationship thing again. Evidently we are supposed to learn this stuff for ourselves.

Foster: Human beings are so important to God that the divine purposes are worked out through the messiness and sprawl of human history. Apparently, it is more important to God that human beings learn his ways in freedom than it is to get things done efficiently.

We are to learn God's ways and that is how we can help bring the Kingdom. When we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” are we praying for God to snap those ever-powerful fingers and make the world a perfectly beautiful place of Shalom, or is Jesus teaching us to pray for God to help us make that happen!

We are called to become people of the Beatitudes. A person of the Beatitudes is to be the hands and feet of Jesus! The kingdom of heaven is what we were created for. The Kingdom of Earth is the upside-down kingdom, we are to help bring about the right-side UP kingdom.

Could it be that THIS is why this United Church of Beloit has been called to come together? To help 2 churches who love to care for others to do an even better job of it? To be a more powerful influence for good in our community? If so, and I believe it is, we can do so by becoming people of the Beatitudes!
During Lent, besides 'giving up' something, we encourage the taking up of something, like some extra Bible and devotional reading, Even a few extra minutes a day of prayer and Scripture will make a difference in your walk with God.

What does it look like to be a person of the Beatitudes? A person who so desires the Kingdom of heaven on earth? Someone who is poor in spirit, mourns, hungers and thirsts for more of God, someone who is merciful, pure in heart and is a peacemaker?

There is a powerful letter written by an African pastor some years back. It was found in his belongings after he had been killed for his faith. Quoted by Brennan Manning in The Signature of Jesus

I'm a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a disciple of His and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I'm done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power.
My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.
I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!

This is a person of the Beatitudes. This is someone who intimately knew Jesus as Lord. This is model of faith we can aspire to. Are we ready to draw closer to God this Lenten season and roll up our sleeves?

Let's Pray,
Help us to be people of the Beatitudes, dear Lord. Help us recognize our shortcomings and ask for your help and guidance. Help us to hunger and thirst for more of you! Help us to be merciful, to be peacemakers, bringing about Your kingdom of Shalom right here on Earth. Help us to stay up, store up, pray up, pay up, and preach up for the cause of Christ! Please bless us as we do these things in the Name of Our Lord Jesus, through whom we pray, Amen.

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