12/31/2017 = Matthew 5:1-12 = “Bless Your Little Heart”

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Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:1-12

Happy to Be Blessed: “Bless Your Little Heart”

12/31/2017, Flannel Sunday (edited from 05/21)

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

May you come home from a hard day at the track and find that your wife has shoveled the driveway.  – a blessing edited from a Red Green quote.

 

When do we normally hear someone say “God bless you”? [sneeze] Yup, and that’s fine. I’ll take any excuse for someone to give me a blessing from God. Even Atheists will say “God bless you” after a sneeze. And I really do not want to insinuate that any of my friends might be insincere with their wishes of blessing – but I wonder if the word has been used so much, so often, by so many people, that it has lost some of the power behind it….

 

Last Spring we did a series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles we have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last several months. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

So, since I have been studying this passage more intently, I have become more aware of the numbers and ways people (including myself) use the “blessing” word, probably wrongly:

Bless your heart;” “have a blessed day;” “I feel so blessed today;” “God bless this mess;” even as a substitute curse on someone, “God ‘bless’ you!” (notice the air quotes around “bless”…). Again, these may be sincere wishes of blessings, but I wonder how often they are simply sayings we toss around without thinking….

 

Listen with me to these opening words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-12 ….—-

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

“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 be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,    for they will see God.
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….”         (NIV)

 

These are the Beatitudes of Jesus. Do they seem out of reach? Are they impossible goals set before us?

Another word often used to translate the word “blessed” is HAPPY.Happy are the poor in spirit; happy are those who mourn; happy are the meek; etc”. I believe the word is sometimes translated “happy” because it seems easier than to understand it asblessed”. But I’m not sure it really makes more sense. And, frankly, it’s the wrong translation.

Here’s a little Greek lesson: the word Jesus uses is Makarios. There are other words that mean “happy”; Jesus does not use them here. He uses Makarios. The Greek word’s meaning becomes clear showing us that it refers to the believer in Christ who is SATISFIED and SECURE in the midst of life’s hardships because of the indwelling fullness of the HOLY SPIRIT.

So the biblical background to the word for bless has to do with the fullness of our relationship with Almighty God. If we were to look at the very first Psalm, and the very first few lines in Psalm 1, we might get a better understanding of what Jesus is getting at. Listen with me to these words. Psalm 1:1-3 ….—-

Blessed is the one    who does not walk in step with the wicked    or stand in the way that sinners take     or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,    which yields its fruit in season    and whose leaf does not wither—    whatever he does prospers.

 

These Beatitudes are completely consistent with the Old Testament emphasis on the priority of God’s action in redemption before our responsive compliance. God creates and calls Adam and Eve His children (God’s act of love), then God gives them instructions regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil (our compliance). God calls Noah and his family into relationship and rescues them from the flood (God’s act of love), then God tells them how to be prepared (our compliance). God liberates the Israelites, whom He calls His first born Son, from bondage in Egypt (God’s act of love), then God gives them the Ten Commandments (our compliance).

In Psalm 1 God gives us His written Word and His Holy Spirit (God’s act of love), then God expects us to live by that Word, to walk in His Way, to hear and obey (our compliance).

In the Beatitudes, Jesus has already called some of His disciples, and now had hundreds of followers; He is inviting us into relationship with Him (God’s acts of love). Then He starts this three-chapter Sermon on the Mount that begins with some expectations (our responsive compliance)!

 

But, please notice, these expectations are more like descriptive observations then they are required actions. The Beatitudes do not teach us what we must do in order to earn the Kingdom of God; the Beatitudes speak of the blessings of those who have already been redeemed! They describe what we already are in Christblessed, Makarios!

 

This is why the word “happydoesn’t quite work. Happiness is a condition that is dependent on circumstancesMerriam-Webster Dictionary says that happiness is feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc. : pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc – in other words, we are happy when good things happen.

But blessedness is a position reliant on, not a happenstance but, a person, a relationship. Therefore, even when things are difficult, we can be blessed; even when life confounds us, when health ebbs away, when finances vanish, when loved ones either walk away or pass away, we can know we are blessed.

 

Maybe this is how “blessed” and “happy” are connected: When our relationship with God through faith in Christ is real/growing/incepted, we can know joy despite our life’s circumstances! We find we can be “happy” even whilst suffering. Maybe we can look back and discover God has been with us the whole time.

Michael J. Fox, TV and movie star from the 1980s and ’90s, afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, is quoted as saying, “My life is so filled with positives and blessings, and so filled with things I wouldn’t trade for the world. I refer to having Parkinson’s as a gift. People are dubious about this, but it’s a gift that keeps taking, because it’s really opened me up to more compassion.” And then he said something like, “If I was told I could go back 10 years, and live it over again without the Parkinson’s, I’d say to that offer, ‘Take a hike.’” Even our worst medical diagnoses might be seen as Blessings, when we are in a right relationship with God.

 

Ultimately, what these Blessings do is ask us to live in a manner reflected by what/who we already are. The technical language calls this an indicative-imperative clause. Jesus indicates that we are poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, etc., so He then commands us to act as if that were true. God did this throughout the Old Testament. And He continues in the New Testament. When He says, “Be holy, for I am holy,” that, too is an indicative-imperative. We are holy. So act holy.

Peter says, in I Peter 4:14, “If you are being reproached in the name of Christ, you are blessed; because the Spirit of God is resting on you.”

Jesus says, in today’s passage, “Blessed are you, whenever they should reproach you and persecute you and say evil things about you on account of me; be rejoicing and celebrating, because your reward is great in the heavens…

 

As we move into 2018, and perhaps more fear of the unknown, let’s continue to lift our eyes from our physical and material circumstances (good or bad), and gauge our blessings by taking a spiritual measure of our soul: Are you in Christ? Does the Holy Spirit of the living God live in your heart, in your faith, in your every day life? If so, understand that God has already blessed you (that’s the indicative). Find your satisfaction and security in the Lord (that’s the imperative). Celebrate and rejoice! Amen.

 

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

 

Resources:

Crowe, Brandon D.; “To be Blessed”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp7-10.

 

Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.

 

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12/10/2017 = Mark 1:1-8 = “… One More Powerful …”

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Mark Wheeler

Mark 1:1-8

“… One More Powerful …”

12/10/2017, Second Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God of peace, be with us in our Advent journey, to the stable and beyond;
be with us in our meeting, and in our travelling together;
be with us in our worship, and our praying together;
be with us in our Advent journey, to the manger and beyond;
our God of peace, be with us. Amen.

 

On this Second Sunday of Advent, the traditional theme is Peace. The Hebrew word for this Peace is “Shalom”, which we find in words like JeruSalem (which, as always, is in deep need of peace).

 

Last week we read from the Gospel According to John, which has no Birthday-of-Jesus story; the closest John’s Gospel has is when he says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And this week we read from the Gospel According to Mark, which doesn’t even come that close! No star; no manger; no shepherds; no angels; no magi; nolittle Lord Jesus, no crying He makes”.

 

Today’s Advent reading offers such peace, perfect peace, peace that passes understanding. And today’s Advent reading offers us an opportunity to experience that peace through “One More Powerful” than all the chaos and fear we experience every day.

 

Hear the Word of God from one of Jesus’ first followers, as we read Mark 1:1-8 …. —-

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,     make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”     (NIV)

 

The Gospel According to Mark is both the shortest of the four Gospels and the oldest. Scholars think that probably Matthew and Luke used Mark as a general Gospel-writing guide and as a primary source document, and then John came along and wrote his Gospel in an entirely different manner. But Mark does something different from all of the other the other Gospel-writers.

Ancient writings, generally, started in one of two ways: either they declare the purpose of the book (look at Luke as a prime example – “an accurate account of the work and teaching of Jesus Christ”), or they jump straight into the main subject of the book (Matthew’s “The genealogy of Jesus Christ”). Mark does both! (“The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”)

Verse 1 is almost a Title of the Gospel. Let’s invest some time there, and then we’ll take that opening verse through the rest of this opening paragraph.

 

Just like John, and Genesis for that matter, Mark starts off withthe beginning”. Is he reminding us of God’s active role in history? God created the heavens and the earth, and now in the age when the Gospel is made manifest, the Son of God becomes human. The Greek word used here, arch, suggests that not only is this the start of the story, it’s also the origin, the cause of the whole thing. This is the “beginning” of the fulfillment of God’s everlasting Word!

 

The beginning of the Gospel.” The NIV says, “The beginning of the Good News.” That’s what “Gospel” means. Eu-aggelion. But this is not good news like, “It’s a snow day, no school tomorrow!Not like, “Good news, we get out of worship early enough to beat the Baptists to the restaurant!This is Good News beside which there is no comparison. Let’s come back to this “GospelGood News” in just a minute.

 

The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus.” This is not a new religion, with a whole new set of truths to be taught or a set of doctrines to be believed. This Good News is a bout a person! His name is Jesus. He was born, we learn elsewhere, in Bethlehem in the days of Quirinius and Herod the Great.

 

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ.” The Messiah. The Old Testament promised-Savior.

 

The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Not just any person. Not just another prophet. Not even “the” prophet! No! This is Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God! The ultimate Savior! Matthew and Luke both give genealogies detailing Jesus’ lineage, and they both tell us that Mary His mother was a virgin, and that God Himself is the Father. And John tells us that this One who iswith God and who is God … dwelt among us, and to all who believe Him and receive Him, He gives the right to be called children of God!

 

Now let’s go back to that word “euaggelion”, “Gospel”, “Good News”.

Mark continues, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah ….” The phrase, “it is written” carries with it the weight of full authority. “It is written” designates the authority of a king or magistrate. “It is written in the Prophet Isaiah” designates the authority of God, for Isaiah is thought of as the Prophet among prophets. The fact is that what Mark quotes only partially comes from Isaiah. It also comes from Moses and Malachi! But putting it under the words of Isaiah signifies that it is God’s authoritative Word of truth (and, frankly, all four Gospels quote from Isaiah 40:3 here, including Mark).

Have you ever read a sign or a note that had misplaced a comma or a semi-colon? “Motorcycles Take Caution”. Well, do they really? That road sign needs a comma in order for it to be the command it is meant to be: “Motorcycles, (comma) Take Caution!” The more famous one says, “Let’s eat Gramma.” Right? It needs a comma!

Isaiah writes: “A voice of one calling, (comma) ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…’

Mark writes: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, (notice how the comma moved) ‘Prepare the way of the Lord….’

Is the voice calling in the wilderness? Or is the voice telling us to go to the wilderness?

And who is this voice? Is it the Elijah that Malachi tells us about? And notice what the voice says (I have, personally, always gotten this wrong until this year). It does not say, “Prepare a way for the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior.” It says, “Prepare the way for the Lord! For YHWH! For God!

Remember that this is about the “Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” Just like John so poetically says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God!” So Mark prosaically says, “The beginning of the Gospel of (the person) Jesus (who is the) Christ, (who is) the Son of God.” He now claims that He is, indeed, God Himself! The content of the Good News, the Gospel, is Jesus! And Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us!

 

Three times Mark uses the image of “the Way. John the Baptist comes as the forerunner who proclaims the Gospel-Good News that Jesus, the Son of God, Emmanuel, is the Way of Salvation; He is the Way of Eternal peace, Shalom with God, Shalom with neighbors, Shalom with self.

 

And he says that he is declaring the Presence of … One More powerful … than I! This one will baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit! – that is a right, and an ability, that belongs exclusively to God!

 

All of this is to state that this Christ-event, Christmas, the incarnation, the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God, Emmanuel, is not a random arbitrary last-resort occurrence! It has been in the works since the dawn of Salvation history, since Moses and the Exodus, since Abraham and the covenant, since Adam and Eve and the Creation of all that is. This is the consummation of a purpose-driven history of revelation from God Almighty.

Therefore, God has been preparing for this new beginning in Jesus Christ from the time of Moses and the Prophets!

 

The Advent application for us is simply to become aware of the “Wildernesswe are in.

In this desert-place, can we hear the voice of one calling?

Is it time for our new beginning, in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, Emmanuel?

If you need that kind of Peace today, it is yours for the taking, regardless of the wildness of your desert storm. God with us, revealed in us, Emmanuel, Emmanuel. Amen.

 

Resources:

Edwards, James R.; The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark; Eerdmans; Grand Rapids, MI; 2002; Pp. 23-33.

12/03/2017 = John 1:6-9, 19-28 = “What Is Our Reflection?”

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Mark Wheeler

John 1:6-9, 19-28

“What Is Our Reflection?”

12/03/2017, First Sunday of Advent

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God of hope and promise, be with us throughout this Advent season and d raw us ever closer as we journey together toward the stable and the birth of your Son, our Savior. Amen.

 

On this First Sunday of Advent, the traditional theme is Hope. And this year, it seems, we are in need of more hope than in recent years.

Hope for peace in the Middle East.

Hope for safety for female co-workers.

Hope for health and resources and peace of mind.

Hope for political bipartisanship.

Hope for fewer Tweets, and hope for better interpersonal relationships.

 

But we can approach our seasons of despair with faith and hope in God’s presence and power, or with empty hopelessness and darkness.

 

It’s like the story of the two children who were each taken to their respective storage rooms. One room was full of brand new toys, and the other was filled with hay and horse manure.

The first child looked at the first room and cried because all of those wonderful toys would probably soon be broken. The other child was in the other room shoveling like crazy, “I know there has to be a horse in here somewhere!” she said.

 

Today’s Advent reading offers such hope, perfect hope, hope that shines light in darkness. And today’s Advent reading offers us an opportunity to bring that hope to a world that desperately needs it.

 

Hear the Word of God from one of Jesus’ first followers, as we read John 1:6-9, 19-28…. —-

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world….

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 

John, the Gospel-writer, the Apostle, begins his version of the story of Jesus, not with a manger scene or a virgin or shepherds or magi; he starts with those almost-magical, certainly mystical, words, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And then he tells how this Word is responsible for all of creation, and that He (notice that John the Gospel-writer makes sure that we understand that this “Word” is personal) is the light of that light of the world; the John he writes of is not that Word which is God; instead he is a witness to testify concerning that lighted-Word!

 

John goes back to the story about this Word stepping into this world He had made, and living with the people He had called His own. The Christmas message here is that He came and “dwelt among us” (KJV), and all who receive Him and believe Him have the right to be called children of God!

 

But the Advent message continues again with more about John the Baptist. There must have been some confusion about John the Baptist’s role in salvation history, because John the Gospel-writer goes into some detail about John the Baptist’s self-identification.

20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “So then, who the heck are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

Scuttle-butt and rumors had apparently spread that this one who was baptizing a baptism of repentance in the Jordan River must be the Messiah, the Christ, the one anointed by God as the King of kings, who would rescue the Israelites from the Roman oppression. People thought that John the Baptist (which was not his name, by the way – people would have called him John the son of Zechariah), people thought that he was their Savior! “I am not the Messiah.”

So the investigation continued. From the Old Testament prophet Malachi who promised that God would send the even Older Testament prophet Elijah to come before “the day of the Lord”, they interrogated him, “Are you Elijah?“I am not.”

In frustration now, they keep digging: “Are you the prophet?” Scholars argue over which “the Prophet” they may have had in mind, but I think the reference is related to a Deuteronomy 18 prophecy, and that it refers to Moses, the one who saved them, rescued them, delivered them from bondage in Egypt. John’s answer: “No.” (I often wonder what his tone of voice was at this point: “Nope”? [like, non-chalant, just keep guessing], “NO!”? [like, “leave me alone!”], or something in between.)

But I don’t wonder about the tone of voice of the questioners. They were exasperated! “Who ARE you?! Give us an answer! What have you to say for yourself?!23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

 

I believe these inquirers had hopes that were being dashed! They hoped John was the guy! But John kept pointing them to a Bigger Hope!

That’s our Advent message this morningpoint people to the Bigger Hope! Point our children and our husbands to Hope Bigger than the presents underneath the tree. Point each other to an even Bigger Hope than family getting together for Christmas dinner. Point friends and family to Bigger Hope than good health (which lasts, at best, for only a lifetime). Point political foes to a Bigger Hope than even peace between oppositions…. There’s something Bigger – and I’m not just talking about Pie-in-the-sky Eternity-Hope….

 

After all the exhausting questions asked of John, with no satisfying answers, they finally ask what he’s doing baptizing people in the Jordan! This baptism thing wasn’t like a brand new phenomenon, but it certainly was not Jewish religious business as usual. This was something significant, and they wanted to know who gave John the authority to do such a thing! A baptism of repentance for the sake of the Kingdom of God?! What is this about?!

Here’s where John’s answer shocked every one. 26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

John’s authority comes from God. He is preparing the way for the Messiah to come. And, just to be clear, this did not happen on Christmas morn. This was 30 years later, as full adults. And the Advent message is that John was still Reflecting the Light of Christ for the world around him.

 

And that’s our Advent message, too. By pointing out the Bigger Hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we too can reflect the light of Christ for our family and friends, our neighbors and associates, our classmates and coworkers. Reflect the light of Christ and point people beyond their despair and darkness to the Hope of the Gospel, for today as well as into eternity. Amen.

 

Resources:

Beasley-Murray, George R.; Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 36: John; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1987; Pp. 11-24.