January 24, 2021: In Search of the Kingdom of God – Opening the Door for Being Blessed
In Search of the Kingdom of God – Opening the Door for Being Blessed
Matthew 5:1-3 & 6:30-33
- Prelude – Pastorale on “Blessed Assurance” arr. by Robert Lau; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 152 – “I Sing the Almighty Power of God,” by Isaac Watts; Cynthia Zenner, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Prayer Time – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Special Music – “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” by Ludwig van Beethoven, arr. by Carlos Xavier; Carlos Xavier, flute
- Scripture reading – Matthew 5:1-3 and Matthew 6:30-33; Wade Clark
- Sermon – “In Search of the Kingdom of God – Opening the Door for Being Blessed, ” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 369, “Blessed Assurance,” by Fanny J. Crosby; Cynthia Zenner, hymn leader; Pauline Olsen, organ; Terry Reitz, keyboard; Donna Grubbs, piano
- Postlude – “O Thou, In Whose Presence My Soul Takes Delight,” from Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, arr. by Gilbert M. Martin; Pauline Olsen, organ
So, last week I talked about being a coach. Today the coaching really begins. It’s the beginning of the season and we need to figure out where we stand individually and as a team. Today, we talk about being blessed. Every single one of the Beatitudes, those instructional pieces out of the Gospel of Matthew, talks about being blessed. But why. I mean, over the years I’ve heard that being “blessed” is to have wealth, or fame, or protection from hardship. It means not having cancer or being close to family. I’ve even heard that a belief in Jesus and his blessings offer protection from COVID-19. I’ve heard it described, when related to the Beatitudes, that if we do these nine things, then we’ll be happy, or maybe joyful, or even comfortable.
But, what if that’s not what Jesus meant by being blessed? What if that’s not what it is at all?
It’s already been an interesting study. I’ve had some major realizations, and have been really surprised by what I’ve found. What most of us already know is that being blessed isn’t simply about doing what makes us happy. It’s not even simply about things that make us joyful. What I’m finding is that it’s much deeper than any of that; much deeper. It has everything to do with God’s creational order or, in the part of the sermon you missed last week, what God’s intentions were at the beginning of Creation. We see it in the creation story itself. First, God wants a relationship with us. God seeks it. Once we understand God’s hopes in creation, that order helps us know what is vital and what is not, what is important and what is not. Understanding that order can help us understand what God’s desires are for us, each of us, and more often than not, place them up against what our desires are for ourselves, especially when we’re only thinking of ourselves. But even that’s not deep enough and doesn’t fully explain what being blessed is all about. It’s what we’ll be exploring.
This study is to help us figure it out. But let me begin by giving you some good news. Jesus maps it all out for us. We just need to try and figure out what he’s trying to say. And that takes time, focus, energy, practice, and study. So, today we’ll set the groundwork for how we can find what it is God is trying to give us and receive from us, and it all begins with the word blessed, so let’s begin there, with the word “blessed.” The word in Hebrew / Aramaic is “barach.” But before getting to the specific definition, let me share one more important element to understand. One of the more unusual things when talking about the language, and often what sets that language apart from much of our English language, is that most of the words have some kind of picture or image attached to them; a visual image of the word and its meaning. Remember, so much of what was spoken involved stories that created images. We see it over and over again as we look at the scriptures. So, barach or blessed. Let me warn you, that in this case, well, it’s a bit unusual, maybe even confusing until we dig a little deeper.
The word literally means to kneel. The image that would come to mind is someone kneeling. More specifically they are kneeling before God, preparing themselves to receive what God has to offer. But strangely enough, the image is also reversed. In other words, it also has God kneeling; kneeling or bending to offer us what only God can; something that will increase our lives, take us deeper, an attitude, a gift that allows us, even us, to witness that place where heaven meets earth, or, more specifically, where God meets us. So let’s explore that as we begin this study of the Beatitudes.
It’s important to remember that these nine Beatitudes build on each other. One affects the next, and then combines to affect the next and so on. They each build on the next one, and the combination of those two builds on the next. Sure, all nine have meaning, but they mean a whole lot more when placed together and in order. Today we look at number one. That means the first one sets the tone for all that follows, so let’s take a look at it again.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” It sounds so simple and yet, think again of kneeling; us before God and God with us. The image that comes to mind for me, given that Dorothy directed a preschool, is the image; of a preschool teacher, or in this case, a preschool Director as she seeks to communicate with a child, any child, every child no matter who they may be. She doesn’t stand when she talks with a child. She doesn’t Lord it over them. She doesn’t make them look up to her. She kneels. She moves to a level where they can make eye contact, and thus make a more significant connection. From there, she can more readily see what the child needs. She can talk more directly face to face with her full attention on that child. The child can then offer themselves to that connection.
It’s that connection that is so important. It brings focus and comfort and communication. It is vital to understand that, if we are to understand this Beatitude.
Now, visualize God doing the same with us, as we do the same with God. God meets us as we allow ourselves to come eye to eye with God. We recognize that we need God’s presence, God’s guidance, God’s love, and grace, and patience. What makes this all the more vital, is that making that connection is up to us. If we feel we don’t need it, it simply won’t happen. With that in mind, let me restate the verse to see if it then makes more sense. Try, “Blessed are those who understand, who accept, who are honest about their own spiritual poverty – their need for God.” Look into the eyes of God. Allow God to look into your soul. In that time of connection, share your soul, your spiritual life, and admit your need for God. God is ready to give you what you need as you allow God to help you identify what that might be. Remember, you’re doing it from your knees. God is with you, listening intently, wanting to help. Here’s an example of how it can work.
Think about the vaccine. There are those who know they need it, and those who are more than willing to offer it. It’s why all of the volunteers, even those who are not volunteering like the police and Jamestown Clinic folks, every person with whom I’ve been in contact are offering their time, their energy, their expertise because they recognize the need. They are seeking to serve you with joy and humility; with love and grace, and with a focus on helping each of us get what we need, to be healthy and safe. They are offering it because they can, and because they each feel a call to serve you in this way. But then there’s the other side of it. There are those wanting the vaccine.
Look again, they are willing to show up in the middle of the night, to sleep in their cars, to have a night of discomfort, simply so that they can get what they know they need.
You have the God side of the equation – those seeking to give what is needed; and the us side of the equation – those seeking to receive what they need with a willingness that motivates them to do what may make them uncomfortable. One is coming with hands outstretched, or in this case, a needle filled with hope outstretched. The other is making it a priority to receive it. Blessed are those who recognize their need for a vaccine, for theirs is to receive it and become immune. Blessed are those who understand their own need for God, and who are willing to do whatever is necessary to find what God desires to offer them, for they will find it, and when they do, their lives will become more like that of the one they seek to follow – Jesus Christ. But first, we have to name our need, our own spiritual poverty, before God, on our knees.
Now, let me add one more definition, and then I’ll be done today. In Arabic, barach also identifies something that increases within or around us, and then that increase remains. Now put it all together, and suddenly the Beatitudes begin to make sense. It is about kneeling and receiving, and thus increasing our spiritual health in a way that will remain. Wow. So it begins with us with more to come. Oh, and what is that song? Oh yeah, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you, alleluia, alleluia.” Pretty much says it all doesn’t it. Let’s pray.
Sermon Discussion Questions
- What does it mean to be “blessed,” and give some specific examples of when you feel you’ve been or felt, “blessed.”
- Often Hebrew words have images attached to them. The word “barach” in Hebrew means “blessed;” but it also means “to kneel.” How do these two meanings related to each other, and what is the image that comes to mind?
- If you examine the word “barach” and then add an ending to make the word “barachah” it now becomes something more; you kneeling before God and God kneeling before you, an increase in the relationship. Why would the Creator of the universe kneel before you?
- In Arabic, “barakah” also means to increase, and that whatever it is that increases then stays in place. The increase can become permanent. How might this fit into the whole idea of blessings?
- As you think about it, how do you view the whole idea of a “kingdom of God?” What is it, where is it, how is it?
- What are the Beatitudes, and why are they so important?
- What did Jesus mean when he talked about being “poor in spirit?” And how can being poor in spirit become a blessing (barakah)? Something within us must increase and then remain. What is it? And finally, how does kneeling influence the whole thing?