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Friday, January 28, 2011

4th Sunday after the Epiphany in Ordinary Time, Year A

"The Beatitudes invite us to play with present and future. God is with us, now, in all of our struggles informing our hope, and God is pointing all of us toward the ultimate 'Vision Beautiful' of the future Kingdom of Heaven where God is all in all."

"The Vision Beautiful," Susan Blain,

Matthew 5:1-12

5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 910“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Sermon on the mount by Laura James

A Little Bit for Everyone

Some interesting articles on this passage:

The Gospel in your face 
This is a new section which clearly states that the article you are going to link to is an in your face proclamation of the Gospel.  It is something you can't believe someone actually says but it also challenges you to think.  Our read of the week: "Set Apart to Wear Plaid Pants," Mike Baughman, The Hardest Question, 2011. "Experience tells us that Jesus' sales pitch is a lie."

Rescue your church from the seductive promises of this world's powers and form us as the community of the beatitudes, that we may become your faithful remnant in the world, and that Christ alone may be our wisdom and our righteousness, and sanctification and redemption, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts...

"Each 'Beatitude' states that the possessor of this characteristic will be 'blessed' by God.  A formal 'blessing' is a divine action, somethimes brought about through an intermediary (priest, kingd, parent, etc).  Beatitudes are common in OT wisdom books (Prov 3:13; 28:14).  The NT Beatitudes refer toa future (or eschatological) reward, whereas the wisdom beatititudes assume that the resward is already present." (Daniel Harrington, SJ, Sacra Pagina, Matthew, p 79)
Not unlike the forebearers found in Wisdom the Beatitudes were most likely sayings of Jesus, blessings by Jesus, which circulated among the first followers.  The reality is that sayings such as this made their way throughout the community of first followers and eyewitnesses and make up an important part of the oral tradition of Jesus and his ministry. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p 263) These blessings are different though. The blessings in Wisdom are blessings found in the present.  Jesus is speaking of blessings to be received in the future.
This important connection to the past Wisdom tradition is equally as important with the statements which follow the beatitudes and their connection with the Torah. 
I make these two points because I believe it is essential to understand that for Matthew and his community, they saw themselves as continuing the tradition of the family of Abraham.  So, while we see that the blessings in Matthew point forward we also must think and look into the past and wonder about all the other blessed ones who came before.  It is in the midst of these two blessed communities (our ancient faith ancestors and the hosts of saints in light) that we find our own blessed pilgrim journey.  We walk our way of Christ always continuing the ancient faith of the past and leaning towards the reign of God which lies in our future.
This Sunday preachers will spend time preaching the beatitudes as Christian character, "Ethics of Christian discipleship, "values in opposition to the world," or philosophies.  (Harrington, 84) 
"The Beatitides are thoroughly Jewish in form and content.  They challenged those who made up 'Israel' in Matthew's time by delineating the kinds of persons and actions that will receive their full reward when God's kingdom comes.  They remind Christians today of the Jewish roots of their piety and challenge each generation to reflecton on what persons and actions they consider to be important or 'blessed.' (Harrington, 84)
So, we understand then at our first glance that the text places us firmly rooted in our ancient faith, and that we are challenged to see others as God sees them.  But is that all?
As is typical though we spend more time on us and we might very well miss the opportunity to realize the importanct of reading the beatitudes together with Isaiah 61:1-3.
61The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
 Remember our text in context. Jesus has come out of the desert time, he has led a great crowd, he is gone up to the mountain.  Who is this person that looks and acts so very much in line with the great prophet Moses?  Is he Moses?  He is in the historic and prophetic line, but see he is the one Isaiah speaks about. Jesus is the Messiah the one who had come to bring good news, good blessings.  The parallels are beautifully woven in Jesus' speach to the people.  This is a revelation moment.  The Beatitudes, and their proclamation reveal the very nature of who Jesus is and who he is to become.
Note that Jesus himself is meek, he mourns, he is righteous, he shows mercy, he is persecuted and reproached.  Jesus himself is enacting a new creation by reenacting an exodus... he is linking his ministry as the continuation of the prophets and revealing his true nature... but he is himself embodying the incarnation of God's blessings in his own life and ministry.
This person Jesus is God with us.  It is in God's incarnation that we receive the blessings that are to come.  Like the Matthean community we are pilgrims along the way, our eyes opened to the revelation of God in Jesus, blessed by a God who knows our suffering and life in this world. 
This week as we step into the pulpit will we talk about the person of Jesus as revealed in the beatitudes or will we spend time trying to link our lives in the first world with the blessing message of Jesus in a third world?  It may be that this Sunday we need more to see the revelation of Jesus Christ than to receive more blessings in this life.

The Lambeth Bible Study Method
This Bible study method was introduced by the African Delegation to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. It is known by both names: "Lambeth" and "African." This method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina. The entire process should take about 30 minutes.
Question #5: "Briefly identify where this passage touches their life today," can change based upon the lesson. Find lesson oriented questions at this website:
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. One person reads passage. This person then invites a member of the group to begin the process.
2. Each person briefly identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention then invites another person to share.
3. Each shares the word or phrase until all have shared or passed using the same invitation method.
4. The passage is read a second time, preferably from a different translation. The reader then invites a person in the group to begin the process.
5. Each person briefly identifies where this passage touches their life today, and then invites someone who has not shared yet.
6. The passage is read a third time, also from another translation, and the reader invites a person to start the process.
7. Each person responds to the questions, "What does God want me to do, to be or to change?"
8. The group stands up in a circle and holds hands. One person initiates the prayer “I thank God today for …” and “I ask God today for…” The prayer goes around the circle by squeezing the hand to your right.

9. When the circle is fulfilled, the person who initiated the prayer starts the Lord’s Prayer, “Our father…”

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