Sunday, January 29, 2017

Blessed in the Kingdom

“When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed…”‬‬ (Eugene Peterson, Message translation MSG)

The crowds, growing larger and larger and the needs being greater and greater, Jesus takes those learning to be like him and willing to be his companions. They have committed themselves to his inner circle, even though I suspect they said yes without having any real idea what they signed up for. He takes them away from the crowds to a quiet place and speaks to them as his companions. 
The gospel of Matthew tells us what it was like there on the ground by the time they follow him up the hill. Here’s end of the preceding chapter:
 “Jesus… went all over Galilee…Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. 
Anybody and everybody. 
And Jesus healed them, one and all. 
Momentum gathered  as crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, 
Ten towns’ worth of people and then on top of that, 
others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan.” (MSG)
Try to envision it- all of those people- their longing, desperations, and anxiousness. 
Hungry, thirsty, needing. 
Imagine the sound, the smells, the sight of a mass of mentally, physically and emotionally unwell people. This wave of humanity, insistent and pushing in. 

Imagine having to try to manage that scene, for those learning to be like the Teacher. Imagine them wondering why on earth had they just followed him without knowing what it would mean? Who on earth can sustain this?
And it’s all a little much because Jesus never puts up a limitation.

I think Jesus knows how his followers are feeling and leads them to take a moment out of the noise of the crowds, perhaps well aware they are ready to break.
Because he has a word for them. 
A word for those who are perhaps themselves feeling poor in spirit, 
Maybe they’ve been berated for failing to produce the messiah soon enough for somebody.Traveling from place to place in the churn and drain. And the sacrifice. 
“How much can we really endure? How can we be expected to care for so many?”

You see, in surge of the crowd, it’s hard to remember the message- the one that Jesus proclaimed as soon as he began his ministry- Reorient your view. 
The kingdom of God is here. NOW

I think that's why when Jesus took his followers who were committed but weary away, the first thing he said to them, when perhaps they were wondering if they were going to be lectured was, "You're blessed.”
They hear what they need to hear
Before they go on to hear about being salt and light
Before “Go and Do Likewise,” 
They need one thing:
“Blessed are you”
“When you feel at the end of your rope
When you feel that you have given up way too much that you hold dear”

Jesus speaks first not to what we do but who we are. It’s part pep talk and part revelation.Because Jesus knows we embrace what we hear most. 

When we’re surrounded by voices saying we should be at the end of our rope or shouldn't have to give so much. That we are too little or it’s all too much. When we only focus on this, what we look for is someone that will level the playing field, settle the score or find the answer elsewhere. 
Jesus knows and  isn’t just throwing around a cheap phrase in this blessing- he’s not ignoring the stresses and strains of his followers. He’s naming and claiming the things they suffer with and through. 
Naming them and claiming God’s greater authority over them.
Jesus is not ignoring suffering, or weariness, or grief or struggle. 
He’s showing us that God’s kingdom comes to re-shape the view and to give power to change and strength to resist the temptation to focus upon what we struggle to see. 
When you feel there’s nothing left- Blessed are you. 
“when there is less of you there is more of God’s rule.
You’re embraced by the one who holds you dear.” (MSG)

What makes this blessing so beautiful is that it is spoken without conditions.
What grace!
“God's grace can be hard to recognize perhaps because we know ourselves too well to feel worthy of that grace…(in) our faults and limitations, our insecurities and failures. Knowing that God knows us even better we may find it hard to believe God loves us unconditionally.”(Lose)
I imagine at least one of those disciples had just been dismissive or insulting to one of the many needy looking for healing. Thinking they are going to hear a correction, met instead with 
“you are blessed.”
As hard as it might be to imagine now hear that God loves others and blesses others we struggle with unconditionally too. 
But wait, that’s not how it works. “We're used to paying for our mistakes, paving our own way, toeing the line and reaping the consequences when we don't, and so it may not only be unexpected, but downright unsettling and nearly inconceivable to imagine- that God behaves differently, 
desiring to shower one and all with blessing apart from anything any of us has done, earned, or deserved.
The gospel of Matthew is quite clear -- Jesus isn't setting up conditions or terms, he’s just plain blessing people. All kinds of people. All kinds of down-and-out, extremely vulnerable, and at the bottom of the ladder people. 
To proclaim that God regularly shows up in mercy and blessing just where you least expect God to be -- with the poor rather than the rich, those who are mourning rather than celebrating, the meek and the peacemakers rather than the strong and victorious. (With those on the other side of whatever limit we want to create). This is not where citizens of the ancient world look for God and, quite frankly, it's not we in our own world do either. (Until we soak in this blessing, what we don’t see is Jesus, or the changed view of the kingdom drawn near). 
Kingdom vision is hard to sustain. Only when we hear “you’re blessed” can we  take up the invitation to continue as Jesus’ companions in all the struggles to come, including when others will put us down for the ridiculous idea of blessing any and everyone. I'm sure the disciples wanted to make it more manageable and the needy feared they had to make sure they got what they came for. Surely these people can wait. 
Jesus healed them, one and all and said "Blessed are you. You have a place in the kingdom." 
And ‘(Since) God shows up here, blessing the weak and the vulnerable, then God will be everywhere, showering all creation and its inhabitants with blessing.’” (David Lose)
“Blessed are you” is also an invitation to continue the journey of Jesus. 
To be who God calls us to be, resting in the power of the giver of the blessing.
Let that blessing spill over and flow for you and beyond you. 
Because God is in the blessing business. We need to hear this often. 
You are blessed.
It’s hard not to not fall back into the voices of the crowd
So we gather here. We absolutely need the hear the gospel over and over again. 
So we can then continue with Jesus- as companions in all of the hills and valleys.
Full of the blessing- Eugene Peterson writes, 
“When you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” AND…
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (MSG)
Blessed sisters and brothers, this is God’s kingdom come. Where all have a place. May we be companions with Jesus to make it so. 

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