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Sermon Blessed are Those Who Bless Others 11.9.

08 Rev Lynn James, LMHC You may not know it, but you and I have already worshipped together this week. In my mind and heart, I carried you with me into the woods, into the sanctuary that is Nature, where many of you have told me that you feel connected to the God most fully. We walked together down a path that was covered in yellow leaves, as if the sun itself had melted there with a deep sighing and settling in, as if the ground were a soft bed and in its tiredness it wanted to just melt into its earthy embrace. An hour into our walk, the sun rose above the tree line and reached down to kiss the tops of the yellow leaves still hanging on the trees, coaxing them to let go and cascade within its caress, yellow upon yellow, light within light. I pictures all of your faces, your families, your neighbors, and the strangers yet to become friends here in the time that is before us, and I gave thanks for your lives and your faith and prayed that blessings might continue to flow from your lives and your hearts, and that you might continue to be in God as God continues to be in you, like yellow leaves in the spotlight of the still warm November sun. I am sure that many of you also worship in this way, as you harvest your fields, track deer or wild turkeys through the woods, stand in the sunlight and falling leaves as you scatter corn for your chickens, offer apples for the rough tongue of your mules, grain for your goats and cattle, and milk for your cats. If I didnt live so far away, I would come here, into this sanctuary many times throughout the week, and I would pray for you. I would pray for us, pray for this community as well as our country and the world that is filled with Gods beloved. So you and I carry on a long worship tradition, meeting God where our ancestors did also, in forests and fields, barns and porches, planting and harvesting. Our spirits like theirs, stirred and responsive to the Great Spirits call, that whispers in the wind and calls in the magnificence of many colors that remind us of the gift of diversity, of the sacred task that God gives to all of creation: to become what it is meant to become, and to take its place within the rest of creations becoming. Evil is that which prevents this process from happening in human lives. Evil is whenever and wherever human beings are violently suppressed from responding to Gods call upon their lives and fully growing into who they were created to be. Evil resides within those institutions and social structures that discriminate against the diversity that God created and insist that color and creed, faith and families must all look the same in order to carry the blessing and the sacred Presence of the One whose voice is still speaking, still creating, and still teaching us what we are supposed to learn from one another and from God. Evil resides in the violence of poverty, where some have more than they need and others die from lack of basic necessities. Evil thrives where people with power close off their ears from the cries of those who are suffering, violated and beaten down not by violence that we love to watch on our televisions and movie screens, but just by the steady pressure of the status quo, those personal and political, economic and endless mechanisms of power that maintain balance on the backs of some for the unmerited benefit of others.

The kingdom of God falters and fades, when we can no longer hear those who cry as their children cry because of a toothache and they cannot afford the luxury of the relief of a dental visit. (we tried to get them into the free clinic, but the wait is very long). The kingdom of God groans and is painted grey when we insist on sameness as the measure of goodness within hearts. The kingdom of God loses ground and credibility when salvation of the soul is set apart from salvation of the body, the mind, the life and the heart of each person God entrusts us with. Blessed are those who are working to help those who are waiting, for a dentist, a doctor, a meal, or a safe place to rest. Blessed are those who shed a tear because they do HEAR the cries of the poor. Blessed are those who raise their voices in rage not because their own rights have been violated, but because the rights of a stranger, who is, in our God, made brother or sister to us-and family helps family. Blessed are those who do not fear the faces of justice, even though they know that those faces are turned toward the day when the rich will be made to face the ones whose sufferings have made their wealth possible. Blessed are those who are not content not only to have their rights respected and their interests honored, but who will not rest until the rights of their enemies are also respected and the interests of those who they do not understand are also lifted up. This is the focus of the last verses of the beatitudes. Blessed are those who do what needs to be done, whose choices are rooted in compassion and whose anger is anchored in justice. The first four verses we examined last week were about those people who will finally benefit when it is GOD who rules instead of human fear and greed: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, and those who are hungering and thirsting for vindication and justice as well as food and water. These are the people whose lives will be made whole when Gods will is done. The second 4 beatitudes are about the people that help to bring to reality the day when Gods will IS done on earth as it is in heaven. Blessed are those who bless others. Blessed are those who faithfully work their difficult or boring jobs because their children need food and clothing, those who do the right thing, the responsible thing. Blessed are those who sacrifice some of their precious time because the sick need tended to, the sad need a word of encouragement, a child needs to be seen and heard and believed, to be read to or played with. Blessed are those who take time to rest and restore themselves to one another and God. What will you do for your marriage this week? For your body, for your mind, for your relationship with the One who Created You and still has many blessings to bestow upon you and many tasks that God wants to accomplish through you, as ONE with your hands and feet and voice. Blessed are those who touch the tormented with grace, who lead an AA meeting, who tell a friend the truth they dont want to hear, in love as well as firmness, and then stand by them when as they turn that truth around in their lives. Blessed are those who can hear the stomachs of the hungry rumbling and so they buy 2 jars of peanut butter filling grocery bags not only for their own tables but for the cupboards of the food pantries and the tables of the unemployed. Blessed are you Zion UCC, for the witness that you are for the community and the world, for the sacrifices you make to help others and for the heart of God that drives the decisions of the boards and the relationships here.

The world promises blessings to us if we allow the world to be our master. The god of consumerism promises that we will be better loved and respected if we just buy the right stuff. The god of social status tells us that there are two types of people, those who are in and those who are out and if we truly want to belong, to be in, then we must never reach out to those on the outside. The beatitudes tell us the opposite. The god of vengeance tells us that real power comes by controlling others, by forcing others to submit to our way, to give us what we need, and that we can punish those who demand that we share, who question whether or not we are playing fair. The god of vengeance assures us that we are too good for compromise, and that we deserve not only the benefits we have, but more and more and more. The god of vengeance hisses in our ears that violence is sometimes necessary to preserve our precious profits and that peace is for the weak and weary. The beatitudes tell us a completely different story. The beatitudes take on the idols we worship, the gods we create and then imitate, the life styles that run on what is wrong instead of building up what is right. Last week I started part 1 of this sermon on the beatitudes, contrasting those whose struggles and hardships in their lives lead them to feel that God is a source of curse instead of blessing and wondering what they have done so wrong, with those for whom God is their Source of blessing, comfort, hope, and strength during times of struggles and hardships. There has always been the human tendency to assume that life is fair, to need for this to be true even to the point of being willing to bear the weight of guilt for whatever is going wrong. Yes, we tell our children and remind each other that life is not fair. I would caution each of those though, to pay attention to the morality and value we automatically assign to those who dress well and live with economic power. We tend to see those who are thriving and assume Gods is blessing them, that they have worked hard or worked especially smart, or somehow, in some way, deserve the fortunes they are enjoying. At the same time, we are very quick to assume that those who are poor, uneducated, working multiple low paying jobs and even then cannot get ahead, that they are somehow deficient, less intelligent, less savvy and less gifted in getting ahead. It is essential, that as people who claim to follow Jesus, we listen to what he has to say about this reality, which was even more pronounced in his day as it is in ours. The day there is a COPS television show that brings down the people in suits and ties who steal thousands or even millions, then we will know that the kingdom of God is at hand! The way God blesses is not the way the world blesses, with prestige and power and prosperity. The way God loves is not the way the world understands love, which is often measured by how much stuff we give each other. We cannot earn Gods favor, but we can choose to receive it and allow it to transform us, to change our hearts and our lives. The 5th beatitude says Blessed are the MERCIFUL for they will receive mercy. Mercy is a funny thing, those who are hardest on others are seldom at ease with themselves; instead striving to prove their worth, to earn their existence, to show how busy and productive they are. It is only by extending mercy to others that we can finally achieve a cease-fire in the war upon ourselves. For God to honor and bless you means that For God to honor you and bless you, means that you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that you are beautiful to God and to those whose lives you have restored. The 6th beatitude says, Blessed are the pure in heart. This is about integrity, where thoughts, actions, and feelings are one in the ONE in whom we live, move, and

have our being. This means that we practice what we preach, even the preachers! This means that we spend time purifying our hearts, examining our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors, and just as we need to floss our teeth and dust our furniture, we need to be good housekeepers of our lives, our relationships, and our spiritual walk with the only ONE who can purify and bless us. For God to honor and bless you means that we are not passive in peace-making, but are actively striving in all our interactions, to work on our built in biases, our prejudices, our hatreds, our hurtful impulses. The 7th beatitude says Blessed are the peacemakers. The Pax Romana or Peace of Rome was achieved by force, by imposing its laws and ways of life on the rest of the world. We must, above all else, be vigilant in resisting the tendency to spread our religion as if it was the rule of Caesar instead of the true Creator, the reign of government instead of God. God moves through relationship, through love, through justice-making and promise keeping, compassion and humility. God does not move through coercion or prideful insistence that we know it all and have it all and that God only belongs to us. Blessed are the peace-makers, because they have a tremendous struggle in this world, a tremendous fight on their hands, that they are called to do with gentleness, compromise, listening, and love. This, this is a hard one. Finally, for God to honor and bless you means that at times you will be persecuted for the sake of righteousness and justice. Drat. What a blessing-blessed are you whose lives are uncomfortable, unpopular, unlikable, and a target of the worlds anger and fear, because you are working for God. To work for the kingdom means to run up against the kingdom of the human world, the status quo, the denial and skewed realities that keep the world spinning the same way it has always spun. To work for God is to push against the spinning, turning the world the other way, sending it spinning in another direction. People will think we are crazy. People will think we are a threat. People will think they are about to lose what they have. People will not know what to think. In this daunting task, I am glad to worship with each of you. I will continue to pray for you both in this sanctuary and the sacred spaces of nature where God hangs out. I will continue to pray for all of us as I drive and as I stand in line, between appointments and between the pages of whatever book I am reading, as I bake and as I rest. I will pray that you might know how close God is to you, how beloved you are to God, the blessing that you are to others, and the reality that you are never alone. That is the ultimate promise of the beatitudes: God hears, God sees, and God Presence is never ever the source of pain or tragedy but always, eternally the source of hope and strength and even joy for the journey we share. Amen

(copyright 2008, Lynn James, all rights reserved)