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Bible Search
June 18, 2017

“Being a Blessing to Others-Part 2”

Matthew 5:1-12

 

For those of you unable to be with us this past Sunday, we are now going to be spending a lot of time in Matthew, chapters 5-7.  I am convinced that these three chapters offer a lifetime of Christ’s wisdom, as well as challenge for Christians upon our journey of faith. The Tuesday morning Back Porch Bible study will be focusing upon these chapters as well. I truly hope each one of you spends time over the summer reading through these three chapters. Perhaps you can consider it as good summer reading for your vacation times. And when read through these chapters and have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I love to talk about scriptures and parables! This past Sunday we started looking at the first five Beatitudes at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I encouraged you to try to live out one of the five Beatitudes, one for each day of the week last week. How did it go?

 

Today we will cover the final three no less challenging ones. And in case you weren’t in worship last Sunday, there are copies of last Sunday’s sermon on the web site as well as in the narthex.

 

 

So we begin with the Beatitude in verse 8. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The heart in Jesus’ view here is our human center, the home of personal feeling, willing, and thinking. A person who is blessed in this sense has their very being directed, centered towards God. What is the result of this, of the center of a being directed towards God? They shall see God. They will have a deep sense of God.  Martin Luther says, “What is meant by pure in heart is this: a heart that is watching and pondering what God says, and replacing its own ideas with the word of God. If a person keeps to the word of God, which purifies the heart, and then the person understands the word, which teaches us what we are to do in this life- everything becomes pure for us.”

 

Purity is not an easy thing to have these days. Movies, television, and the internet offer impurities by the truckload. To be pure in such a world is a struggle. I certainly have my moments of struggle over trying to be pure before God. Yet there is a reward that is worth this struggle. Theologian Dale Bruner says, “Every struggle for purity through obedience to Jesus’ commands is an investment in a clearer knowledge of God through Christ. All Christians who live in the world know that purity is a struggle...yet the promise in this beatitude makes the effort of purity worthwhile: knowing God more clearly.”

 

One personal example of purity: When Paula and I became engaged some 31 years ago,(our 30th anniversary is this coming Tuesday) we both decided to wait to consummate our relationship until our wedding night. It was our way of honoring God, of trying to remain pure, and of living out our Christian faith. But it was not easy trying to be pure in the midst of a very sexualized society in the 80’s. Not to mention that we were engaged for 13 long months. Although at least initially, Paula made things pretty impossible for us to have much romantic time together. For a few months after our engagement, she lived in a former nunnery,(I kid you not) which was populated by Christian college aged girls in San Francisco. I was only allowed to visit with Paula down in the lobby, and only for a short amount of time.(Although I do remember at least one time getting snuck up into her room for dinner one night). I remember working out a LOT in those days. And I would say I had quite a few conversations with God about love and life. I guess you could say I had a clearer knowledge of God during that time. And from a practical standpoint, the result of trying to be pure during our engagement has I believed deepened our love and our relationship.

 

Next Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.” In his Confessions St. Augustine wrote: "It is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge, and another to tread the road that leads to it." For Christians, Christ himself is that road, that way to peace. Treading it means that we will become peacemakers ourselves, loving as he loved when others hate; turning the other cheek to transform hostility into friendship, even if this means going to a cross. As Augustine indicated, we cannot look at peace as some far-off ideal, but as something that we must plunge into. Many of us felt that very closely after learning that a son of Ashland, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23,was stabbed and killed after plunging in to rescue two girls from murder suspect Jeremy Christian. Christian , who was shouting anti Muslim rhetoric at the two girls, killed two peacemakers that day and injured a 3rd. All of them are sons of God.

 

Or, consider the amazing story of Christian Presbyterian missionary Kayla Mueller. You may remember hearing of Kayla in the national news about four years ago. Kayla began working out her faith when she was in middle school. Kayla volunteered her time for the local Kiwanis club and also worked at a homeless shelter.

 

In high school she tried to inform her students and teachers about the genocide happening in Darfur, Sudan. In 2007, she received the gold President’s Volunteer Service Award for her work with AmeriCorps and Big Brothers Big Sisters, among many other groups. In 2009, Kayla travelled along with her campus ministry group to Guatemala, and they worked with a nonprofit organization known as Healing Waters. This organization’s aim was to help Guatemalans find clean sources for drinking water and keep them from dysentery and other water borne illnesses. In December of 2012, Kayla travelled to the Turkey-Syrian border to provide aid to Syrian refugees trough the Danish refugee council. She saw the results of the war in Syria and wanted to help the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence there. She kept up a blog post on the internet, and wrote, “Anger, sadness and fear are the best composts for compassion.”

 

On August 3, 2013, Kayla and a friend visited a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria, to repair the hospital’s internet connection. She and her companion spent the night there and were taken captive the next day on their way to the bus station. She was not heard from again until the spring of 2014. She was able to send out a letter through fellow captors who had been released. On February 10, 2015, Kayla’s family received word that their daughter had been killed by ISIS. Kayla’s parents have started a foundation called “Kaylashands.org.” And you can read what Kayla’s friends have to say about her by visiting “forkayla.org.” I have visited both sites, and contributed to one of them.

In describing her work with Syrian refugees, Kayla wrote, “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal, something we just accept. I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how God is revealed to me, then I will forever seek You.” Clearly this was a beloved daughter of God, who went to war torn areas of the world and tried to make peace.

 

 

 

What is the result of our being peacemakers? It is the full adoption as sons and daughters of God.  We find a sense of belonging, a sense of home, and for Taliesin, Kayla and a sense of purpose. We will also live in a world which stands up to hate speech, promotes peaceful values, and which can experience more moments of peace.

 

The last Beatitude says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus then expands upon in this Beatitude, saying, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of falsehoods on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven for in the same way other persecuted the prophets who were before you.” This is another beatitude that can make us wonder- How is it that we are blessed when we are persecuted? And what does it mean to be persecuted because of righteousness? Jesus has already stated what a righteous life, a life that is right before God entails which we covered last Sunday- it is living one’s life in connection with God, remembering the poor; it is living a life that is meek, seeking the welfare of others before ourselves; it is living a life that is merciful, a life where God is at the very center of our being and we are pure in heart; it is living a life making peace. Those are not the ways of our world. And living in such a way will rub folks the wrong way, and as a result you may be persecuted in one way or another.

 

Just living a righteous life before God in this country with its constitutional protections on the freedom to worship is hard enough. But imagine living in a country where it is very dangerous to even mention that you are a Christian. Throughout the Middle East right now, millions of Christians have fled their homes, some after spending over a thousand years in their villages practicing their faith. In Iraq, Christians used to be protected to practice their faith freely under Saddam Hussein, but no more. It is likely that, unless things change in that war torn nation, in time there may be no Christians left in Iraq.

 

Christians are being persecuted for their faith throughout the Middle East. Consider those being persecuted for righteousness living in Egypt. This past Palm Sunday, 49 Christians were killed as they worshiped and at least 110 injured in Alexandria and near Cairo. And yet faith remains strong. A deputy for the Coptic Christian pope said, “The Church will celebrate Easter and the terrorism cannot prevent it from doing that. We will not … let them break our joy.”

 

Despite the persecution, God’s love is changing things, even in the Middle East. A Christian organization known as Voice Of the Martyrs traveled to Egypt recently to begin an outreach in villages that were home to the 21 Christians who were beheaded in Libya in 2015, because they refused to renounce their Christian faith. Media attention surrounding the Christians’ execution by Muslim extremists has polarized Christians and Muslims in the villages.

The Christian workers first traveled to Al Aour, Libya where the families of 13 of the murdered believers live in extreme poverty.

The VOM partners had met with each of the families earlier this year to identify ways they could help, and this visit was intended to advance the first of three ministry projects to serve the families.

When the VOM partners arrived, a large number of Muslims were protesting a government plan to build a “Church of the Martyrs” in their village. The focus on Christian suffering has angered much of the Islamic population who are “already fed up with all the attention and activity in the place,” a VOM partner explained. While visiting the village, the VOM partners learned that neither the Christians nor Muslims have access to clean water. They therefore made the bold decision to install water filters to help “all the Christian and Muslim community.”

 

They then moved to a second village and talked with Muslim leaders about their plan to improve drinking water. Although some were at first skeptical, many were disarmed by the Christian workers’ act of love. “Love is our greatest weapon,” the VOM partner said. “In a background like ours, in which violence and weapons are the way to impose submissiveness, love is the greatest weapon a Christian possesses.” The VOM partners will continue to reach out to the 21 martyrs’ relatives, and they plan to install water filters in all five villages in an effort to bring reconciliation between Christians and Muslims in this area.

 

These last few stories really bring the last two Beatitudes together- “Blessed are the peacemakers”, and “Blessed are those who are persecuted.” Living out faith in the face of persecution is not an easy way to live, and is becoming even harder in places throughout the world today. Yet the reward is worth it- both our heavenly reward for living righteous lives, and an earthly reward spreading this way of life to others- being a blessing to those in need, putting others before ourselves, standing up to hate speech, living in hope even in the midst of loss, purifying our hearts on a regular basis so that we might live as forgiven and forgiving people, and being willing to make peace our goal. It is not an easy life- It bucks the system, but it follows Jesus’ way of living as a blessing to others.

 

So, if you spent time with the first five last week, you have more homework. And if you didn’t work on living out the first five Beatitudes last week, now you have nine Godly applications, almost two weekdays worth of Christian living and trying to follow Christ’s teachings. You may look at the Beatitudes and feel overwhelmed, as if doing all of these together would be impossible. Yet If we choose just ONE of these beatitudes to focus upon over the next week, our lives will be different. This world will be different. It just takes some effort. Pastor Rick Warren says, “The way of life to which Jesus calls us requires a lifetime of effort. At any given moment in our lives, there is always some part of the Beatitudes that we are struggling to improve at. Years ago people wore buttons that bore the letters PBPGINFWMY. The unusual string of letters stood for ‘Please Be Patient, God Is Not Finished With Me Yet.’” God be with us, as we focus our efforts to Be in our attitudes, the very people Christ has called us to be. Alleluia. Amen.

 

 

 

 

QUESTIONS-

  1. Which one of the three Beatitudes preached upon today is the most difficult for you to live out ?(Pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted for righteousness?)
  2. What story will you remember from today’s sermon?
  3. How will you try to be a blessing to others this week?

 

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