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«Dear Gulf Coast Leaders, January 18-20 - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 30, 2011 - Epiphany 4A Micah 6:1-8 - He has told you, O mortal, ...»

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Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

January 18-20 - Week of Prayer for

Christian Unity

January 30, 2011 - Epiphany 4A

Micah 6:1-8 - He has told you, O mortal,

what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to

do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with

your God?

Munib Younan, Lutheran Bishop of the Holy

Psalm 15 - Blamelessness defined as doing no slander or

Land, and LWF President invites the Pope

evil, not lending money at interest, not taking bribes: O

to help with a balanced 500th Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, remembrance of the Reformation and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander OF NOTE with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take Interfaith Service for Immigration Reform January 27 up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the at Christ the King Houston wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Congregational Reports due February 15 Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not Rostered Leader Reports due February 15 lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the Health Assessment due April 15 innocent.

Bishop Younan invites Pope to ecumenical 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 - Repeats verse 18 from last week and Reformation remembrance continues:...Jews demand signs and Greeks desire Books wisdom,but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block Lectionary Readings to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are


the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God... God chose what is foolish in the January 24-26 - TriSynodical Theological world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the

Conference. Marcus Borg. Galveston. Books to read:

world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and

1. The Heart of Christianity.

despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to

–  –  –

Grace to you and peace, brothers and sisters in Christ. Luther the first thing to do when studying Scripture is to invoke and call upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so I invite you to pray with me

in song:

Veni Sancte Spiritus (ELW 406) Creator God we give you thanks for all the blessings of this life. Open our hearts and minds to hear with fresh ears the words that come down to us through the ages, and give us the courage to live them in our lives and communities of faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus First Sermon.

Monday is sermon day for me. Once written it has the whole week to cook. As Craig Satterlee says, "Sermons are meant for the slow cooker, not the microwave." Theological Conference Come away with me to a quiet place... Mark always cuts into sermon prep time. So our Bible 6:31 study this morning is on the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, If there is anything you can use here, steal away. No need to credit me. I stole it too, primarily from Mark Allen Powell in God With Us, Kingsbury in Matthew as Story, and Marty Stortz and Ralph Klein in lectures given to the Lutheran bishops from Canada and the U.S.

last week. The full text of my comments today is easy to find. Just go to BishopMike.com.

The text is Matthew 5, The Beatitudes, or what Robert Schuller called "The Be-Happy Attitudes."

Now before you make fun of that, I would point out that while this smacks of self-help gospel, as if Jesus and the Beatitudes were really all about making ME happy, rather than calling me to die to myself and live sacrificially, I have to admit his title has stuck with me for 20 years. There is something to be said for crafting sermons in memorable ways - ways that stick with people, using alliteration, simile and mind-capturing images.

I chose a different title. I'm calling it Jesus' First Sermon. Now, I know the Sermon on the Mount is likely an amalgamation of Jesus' various sayings, but it is the first of five great discourses in Matthew, so I like "Jesus' First Sermon." I don't know if you remember your first sermon or not. I have mine, and trust me, it isn't this good.

In the lectionary we are about to spend five weeks in Sermon on the Mount, this Sunday and the entire month of February, so we'll also look ahead a little bit this morning, to the rest of Jesus' First Sermon.

The Matthean Beatitudes appear twice in this year's lectionary: this Sunday and then again this Fall, on All Saints Sunday, November 6. They are the beginning of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and perhaps the moral foundation for all of Jesus' teaching in Matthew. In front of you is a placemat with our text in Greek, English and Spanish. Beatitudes Placemat Let's begin by reading this text together in English. I'll read the first two verses. Then I'd like to invite those on my right to read the boldface print, and those on my left to read the standard print... Ready?

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.

Then he began to speak, and taught them,


'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

'Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

'Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Beatitudes form the foundation of Jesus' ethical teaching in Matthew.

So, a question for you to discuss. Are the


1. Eschatological rewards for the virtuous? In other words, do this and you will be rewarded in heaven. Be a peacemaker, work for righteousness and you'll be rewarded.

2. Eschatological reversal for those who are suffering? In other words, if you're poor now, you'll be rich in heaven. If you're mourning now, you'll be dancing in heaven. If you're hungry now, you'll be full in heaven.

What do you think? Turn to someone next to you and share your thoughts. Are these rewards for those who live a virtuous life or reversals for those who have unfortunate circumstances?


Mark Alan Powell (God With Us) points out that if we look carefully, neither interpretation fits all of these. Being poor, hungry or mourning don't sound like a virtues to which we are to aspire, and being a peacemaker is not an unfortunate circumstance of suffering that needs to be reversed in the eschaton.

A closer look reveals the first eight beatitudes (vv. 3-10) are written in the third person, while vv. 11-12, the ninth beatitude is written in the second person. Both the first and the eighth beatitude end with "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," underlined for you, creating a rhetorical inclusio. 11-12 are also different in meter, style and imperative mood.

Verses 3-10 can be divided into two sections that have exactly 36 words each in the


 The four beatitudes in verses 3-6 (in the yellow) have exactly 36 words, and  the second four beatitudes in verses 7-10 have exactly 36 words, and  the last beatitude, verses 11-12 have 35 words.

So, let's call  vv. 3-6 in yellow Stanza 1  vv. 7-10 in turquoise Stanza 2  vv. 11-12 in pink the Conclusion Immediately you'll notice both stanza one and stanza two end with the word δικαιοςύνην(dikaiosyne). Which I have put in a white box for you. This word means justice, or righteousness. Notice the NRSV translates it righteousness here, but the Spanish translates it "justicia."

The symmetry, poetry and parallelism are artistic and clearly intentional. Obviously Robert Schuller is not the only one who can craft memorable sermons. Could this have been an early hymn?

Also note the alliteration of 3-6, each verse starting with a "p" word, which I have circled for you.

πτωχοὶ Ptochoi (poor) πενθοuντεσ Penthountes (mourners) πραεiσ Praes (meek) πειν ωντεσ Peinontes (hungry) Blessed are the pathetic, poor, parched people.

Let's read stanza one in yellow together.

This time men read the bold, women read the regular print. Ready?

'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Stanza one are those who are suffering.

1. Blessed are the poor: the dispossessed, abandoned people of Israel and the world (Isaiah 11:4; 29:19; 32:7; 61:1; Amos 2:7; 8:4;

Zephaniah 2:3). Poor in spirit signifies that they are despondent. They are not just poor;

they have lost hope. Powell: One might translate this, "Blessed are the hopeless poor."

2. The mourners in verse four are the miserable and unhappy people because of the losses they have experienced. They have no cause for joy.

3. The meek could be humble, non-violent, gentle or kind. Some versions translate this "homeless." Praeis is the word the Septuatint uses to translate "anawim," who are the homeless poor (Psalm 36:11). They are the humiliated and powerless of this world. They have been denied basic human needs.

4. Those who hunger and thirst for dikaiosyne (righteousness or justice), are those who seek vindication. They have been denied justice.

So, if we put together this dizzying array of adjectives, in the first four verses Jesus says, "Blessed are the dispossessed, abandoned, poor, homeless - those who have lost so much, mourning, who have no reason for joy

-the meek, gentle, humble, kind, non-violent, humiliated, powerless, who have been denied basic human needs, and human rights, who long for God's righteousness, justice and vindication. Heaven and earth belong to them. They will be satisfied and comforted in the eschaton.

It would be a shame to not sing this passage, on Sunday, one of the most poetic, yearning and soulful in Scripture.

There is not virtue, Powell says, in being hungry or denied justice. These are not "entrance requirements" for getting into heaven. Jesus is not idealizing poverty.

Indeed, he later encourages his disciples to fight it. Also, Jesus is not necessarily describing those who are listening to his sermon on the mount. This portion is in the third person.

In Matthew the Kingdom of Heaven (not the Kingdom of God) comes to us, not vice-versa.

This is the Good News both Jesus and John preach: the Kingdom of Heaven has come near you. When God reigns, the poor get a better deal.

In verses 7-10 this shifts. If the first four beatitudes are those who are suffering, the second four are those who help them.

Let's read this section together. This time you read the bold face, and I'll read the regular print. Starting with verse 7. Ready?

'Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

5. Blessed are the merciful. Jesus says mercy is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). It is more important than sacrifice (9:13, 12:7). Jesus carries this forward in 7:1, "Do not judge..."

Jesus' critique of the religious leaders is that they are to quick to judge and too slow to show mercy (18:23-34). God does not like religion that keeps people from eating with outcasts.

Note that all these meanings of mercy represent actions that are not carried out in the religious community, but rather out in the world. The reward? They will receive mercy. All boats rise with the tide.

6. Blessed are the pure in heart. The heart is the source of outward speech (12:34, 15:18) and behavior (15:18) and introspection (9:4, 24:48). People lust and love in their hearts.

Remember Jesus says if you look at someone with lust you commit adultery in your heart.

Your heart is you inner most being. In Matthew, to forgive from the heart is to forgive truly. To understand from the heart is to understand fully.

Katharos doesn't just mean pure. It can also mean clean. A clean dish is one that is not contaminated. People can worship with their lips, while their hearts are far from God (15).

Perhaps a pure or clean heart is one that is turned to God, and God's wishes. Perhaps it means words and thoughts are congruent.

That's the definition of integrity. The pure in heart will "see God." Since even Moses didn't get to see God, this reward is probably eschatological.

7. Peacemakers: Are the blessed peacemakers making peace within those the Christian community or out in the world?

Some have ventured the former. In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus says to leave your gift at the altar and make peace with your brother or sister. Is this just within the community of faith? The injunction to love your enemies seems to suggest a larger context.

Eirenopoioi (peacemaker) is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, but in other literature it refers to rulers who establish security and socioeconomic wellbeing for the people. Eirene is the word the Septuagint uses for Shalom (the Hebrew word for peace). The Semitic community of Matthew would certainly lean towards shalom's broader: wholeness and well-being.

Peacemakers are those who work for the well-being and wholeness of all people (Kingbury, "Matthew as Story"). They shall be called Children of God. You are a child of God when you act like God (5:48).

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