Message Based on Matthew 5:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:26 and Micah 6:8; “A”–Epiphany 4

Scripture readings for this Sunday are: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Cor 1:18-31; Matt 5:1-12
You can read them here:   NIV  //  MSG  // NRSV  // ESV

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Today’s reading from the Gospel is commonly known as the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are pervasive in popular culture from politics to pop psychology to prime time TV. That being understood, at first glance the Beatitudes are hard to comprehend and apply to our lives; these nine verses from the Gospel of Matthew seem to go against common sense. What is even worse, at first glance, the Beatitudes sound like an invitation to a dull and melancholy life.

To give an example, when I hear "Blessed are the pure in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," I tend to think, "Am I pure enough in spirit?" When I hear "blessed are the peacemakers," I think, "Yes, I really should be more committed to making [world/community/family] peace."

But what am I to do with "blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted?" To be perfectly honest I do not cherish any prospects of mourning because it implies that I am going to lose someone or something I cherish and care about; hearing this beatitude doesn’t make me any more eager to live through such an experience. The same goes for the beatitude about persecution; so far I have not met a single person who said something like, "goody goody, 🙂 🙂 🙂 {!} because I belong to a Christian church, {1} my neighbor has trained his dog to poop in my yard, {2} my boss makes my life miserable and {3} a smelly dude with a machine gun uses me for target practice! Praise be to God! I feel so blessed!"

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The wording of the Beatitudes challenges us because at first glance it seems to tell us that in order for us to live meaningful lives today, our existence should be defined by struggle, hardship, suffering and persecution, and that we should go out of our way to find reasons to be upset, scared, anxious and frustrated about something. As I said earlier, at first glance, the Beatitudes sound like an invitation to a dull and melancholy life.

In reality this could not be further from the truth. The problem stems from the fact that although our language has changed over time, the translation of the Beatitudes changed very little. If we compare today’s Gospel texts from the King James version of the Bible (translated in 1611) and the NIV Version of the Bible (translated in 2010), we will discover these passages are almost identical (see an entry and a comparative table on my blog at this link)[1].

There is Biblical research that suggests that word usage changed in the last couple of centuries and that we need to evaluate the language of the Beatitudes through that lens. In doing so, we find what it means to us where and when we live (in 2011 and in Cecil County).

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· Poor in spirit — humility, recognizing the lordship of God on our lives

· Those who mourn — the repentant, those who recognize human proclivity to sin, and actively work to live righteous lives.

· The meek — not being a pushover, but having controlled strength, recognizing that our strength comes from God. We are not called to be doormats, we are called to be Christians.

· Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness — those who yearn for (and work for) truth and righteousness (inwardly and outwardly)

· Merciful (no interpretation needed)

· Pure in heart — those who strive to lead a holy life

· Peacemakers – those who strive for peace and balance in all areas of life – home, work, church, world. Another way to say this – those who are reconciled to, and who have made a commitment to, having God in their lives.

· Persecuted for righteousness – those who make it clear where they stand and seek ethical solutions in all situations.

Thus a more contemporary and culturally appropriate translation of the Beatitudes would read something like:

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(3) "Blessed are those who humbly recognize and acknowledge their need for God, for they will enter into God’s kingdom."

(4) "Blessed are those who recognize their sinfulness, grieve their desire to sin and strive to live righteous lives in spite of their sinful nature for they shall receive forgiveness and eternal life."

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(5) "Blessed are those who recognize God as the Lord of all aspects of their lives; for they will be heirs to everything God possesses."

(6) "Blessed are those who passionately long to see the world through the eyes of God and be guided by the example of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of their lives; God will surely satisfy their souls."

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(7) "Blessed are those who show mercy through forgiveness, kindness and compassion, for they will receive mercy." {Fruit of the SPIRIT is LOVE = joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22‑23)}

(8) "Blessed are those who have been purified from the inside out, being made clean and holy, for they will see God." {SACRAMENTS, spiritual disciplines, Bible Study, etc.}

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(9)"Blessed are those who have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and who willingly follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and who bring the message of reconciliation to others. All those who have peace with God are called his sons and daughters." {Reconciliation through Jesus Christ brings restored fellowship (or peace) with God[2]. see 2 Corinthians 5:19-20}

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(10-12) "Blessed are those daring enough to openly live for righteousness (even in the face of persecution), God will sustain them and they will receive the kingdom of heaven."

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I realize that this paraphrase is somewhat lengthy, but today’s readings from the Hebrew Scriptures give us a very good summary of the Beatitudes. Approximately 700 years prior to Jesus’ time, the prophet Micah encouraged his congregation with these words, "… And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8 NIV).

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1200 years after Jesus, Richard of Chichester penned this prayer, which is another concise summary of the Beatitudes. "Most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother! May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day."

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The Beatitudes are not mottos to live by, nor are they moralistic platitudes. The Beatitudes give practical guidance on how we can live productive and meaningful lives in every age and in every culture by making sure that our lives are in tune with what God is doing. In today’s reading from the Early Christian Writings (1 Corinthians 1:26), apostle Paul reminds his congregation that most of us are not intellectual giants, most of us do not have a chance to influence political powers, and most of us cannot claim noble birth. In spite of our humble circumstances, Paul reminds us that when we gather together and make a commitment to Godly living, all things are possible in the community because when we are with God, no power in the universe can stop us.

{Open The Altar}


[1] Note and a proviso: I will not bore you with the details and intricacies of Biblical Greek, and interpretations of certain words like {makarios}, {ashre}, and {eulogio} that are found in original texts of this passage – I am not a scholar of Biblical Greek. If you are interested in all that stuff, here is a link (http://www.kchanson.com/ARTICLES/mak.html) to a page written by K.C. Hanson that deals with all that. However, as I was preparing today’s message, I found couple of sources that suggest translation that is more in sync with our modern usage and interpretation of certain words. {this comes from GBOD @ this link http://www.gbod.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=nhLRJ2PMKsG&b=5560695&ct=8180315 }

[2] NIV 2 Corinthians 5:19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

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