Change of Heart

Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12 — February 2, 2020 Sermon

“Have a blessed day.” How does being told to have one of those change your life? Were you not planning on having one until the checkout clerk told you to?     I guess it’s an improvement from “Have a nice day.” or the innocuous, “Have a good one.”  What does it mean to be blessed?  What does it mean to have a blessed day?  What does it mean to be the kind of people that God blesses?

This opening section of Jesus Sermon on the Mount has been called the “Beatitudes.” Notice that each one of the Beatitudes is in the present tense. It is not a prescription for how to be blessed or how to “have a blessed day.” Each of the beatitudes congratulates the believer on the blessedness he or she is already experiencing!

Some think that the message of the Beatitudes is that, if I do these things well enough, then I will be blessed. But f we take the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and turn it into a new law, another burden we must carry to earn the title of disciple or bear the name Christian, or to earn God’s blessing we will have misread his intent. It is not a prescription of what to do to earn God’s blessing it is a description of what life looks like from living in God’s family. It’s not a “prescription.”  It’s a “description.”

I like the way the New Living translation puts these beatitudes.  It’s not past tense something that has happened.  It is an active present tense–“God blesses those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” William Barclay says this verse means, “God blesses those who have realized their own utter helplessness, and who have put their whole trust in God. Those who do that will have two things: they will become completely detached from things, for they will know that things have not got it in them to bring happiness or security; and they will become completely attached to God, for they will know that God alone can bring them help, and hope, and strength. 1

God blesses those who mourn. Just last Sunday I came home from church last week and read that Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash last Sunday morning along with his 13 year old daughter and 7 other people.  He was 41 years old.  He had all kinds of accolades from his years in the NBA with the Lakers and since, but in a flash he was gone

On Friday January 24th at 4:30 a.m. the Watson Grinding and Manufacturing Plant exploded in the Spring Branch area of Houston.  For 9 years I was the pastor of John Knox Presbyterian that was in that neighborhood.  The church sustained some damage and several members lost their homes. There were 2 fatalities and 18 folks were injured and over 450 homes and structures damaged. Tonight I will be doing a program at KPFT radio with the pastor of John Knox church and the pastor of Spring Branch Presbyterian who will be hosting a concert next Wednesday to raise money to help those who were affected.

There are many things to mourn, but we are blessed to know that as we do, that we do not do so alone. 

God blesses those who are humble. Tomorrow, only one team will earn the right to go to Disneyland.  Traditionally the winner of the Super Bowl has been known to say to the camera, “I’m going to Disneyland.”  The other team will have been humbled in defeat.  But hey, they didn’t blow a 24 point lead in the first quarter.

To be humble is not to think less of yourself.  It is to think of yourself less. 

God blesses those who are merciful for they shall obtain mercy. In the original Aramaic which Jesus spoke, the word “merciful” means literally “to get under someone’s skin.” It means to wear his skin, as it were; to see life from his perspective, to stand in his shoes. It means more than sympathy; it means active empathy or merciful understanding.

Several years ago a prominent minister was holding a weekend seminar at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.  He kept noticing a man in the front row nodding sleepily. This aggravated the speaker. Preachers don’t like for folks to go to sleep on them. The speaker at Junaluska thought to himself: Wonder why the man didn’t stay home if he couldn’t stay awake? During the lunch break, a woman approached the speaker and said, “Sir, let me apologize for my husband’s drowsiness. He is undergoing chemotherapy. The doctors have given him a medication to control the side-effects, but it makes him very sleepy. I tried to persuade him to stay home today, but he said, “I must go as long as I’m able. I never know when I will no longer be able to gather with God’s people.”

Suddenly that speaker’s attitude toward the drowsy man was transformed. Why? The wife had enabled him to get under the skin of her husband and really understand him. That is the quality of mercy.2

God blesses the pure in heart. The date was June 11, 1963; the place- The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. The person–Vivian Malone, a young black woman, who enrolled that day as a freshman. Federal troops ensured her entrance, but the doorway was blocked by Governor George Wallace. Holding out for segregation, the governor ultimately failed, and Ms. Malone became the first African-American to graduate from the University of Alabama.

Years later, after an assassination attempt and a deep change of heart, Wallace was rolled in his wheelchair into the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, and there asked forgiveness. More particularly, the former governor regretted how he had treated Vivian and sought her forgiveness face to face. He wanted to make amends before he died.

At their meeting, Vivian told him that she had forgiven him years earlier. Interviewed in 2003, she was asked about the meeting: “You said you’d forgiven him many years earlier?”   “Oh yes.”  “And why did you do that?”

Her reply: “This may sound weird. I’m a Christian, and I grew up in the church. And I was taught that- just as I was taught that no other person was better than I- that we were all equal in the eyes of God. I was also taught that you forgive people, no matter what. And that was why I had to do it. I didn’t feel as if I had a choice.”

That is a beatitude! That is what it means to have the Lord’s wisdom go deeper in your soul than any of the meanness of this world. Our goal is not to seek forgiveness and reconciliation as an occasional choice but as a settled habit of character. As Vivian Malone said, “I didn’t feel as if I had a choice.” She had lived so long in the faith that forgiveness had become a reflex. 3

God blesses those who make peace. In the midst of this fallen world, shot through with evil and conflict at every level, Jesus invites us to be a new kind of people, a people who deal with God at the heart level, not just at the level of outward obedience but at the deeper level of imagination where desires and habits are transformed. We live out of a new center with a new companion. We become peace­-seekers, peace-keepers and peace-makers.  We come as more than people who “pass the peace” in church on Sunday mornings.  We come as people who “make the peace” in the world.   We become people who see possibilities others ignore and exploit them for the kingdom of God. It is only in Christ’s presence and in his service that we have the chance to become a new brand of people who offer hope to this angry, bitter, hurting, conflicted, litigious, resentful world, and to do it one relationship at a time. Unless the church is a place of honest peace, and genuine forgiveness, we have nothing to export.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst and take stands for the right thing and are persecuted for it. As we deal with the need to be popular, we need to show our children that God blesses those even when they know that they will catch some grief from their peers about it. They, too, must understand that life in the upside-down kingdom of God is not easy, but it IS worth everything that has to be endured

Maybe we’ve looked at what the world offers us – high mortgages, a break-neck pace just to keep up with the folks next door, doubts about our future in a business world filled with people just like us – and found ourselves wallowing in emptiness. Or maybe we have believed that, all by ourselves, we could solve any problem that came our way. But now we have reluctantly realized that we don’t have all the answers.  We’ve realized that we did not create ourselves and we cannot save ourselves.

If you want to change the world, ask Christ to change you first. Change MY heart.  Deal with the sinful component of my angry responses. Take time for self-examination and prayer. Put away slander, gossip and name-calling. Control my tongue. Monitor my prejudices. Be quick to confess my mistakes and seek reconciliation. We all want our way; we resent frustration; we feel angry and lash out. What shall we do with these thoughts and feelings and actions? Only one answer has promise: we take them to Christ over and over again; we ask him to deal with us on the inside so that we can be new on the outside. He can do for us what no counselor can, which is give us grace to change, often in remarkable ways, and to become a people skilled in the ways of peace.

It is the response of those who experience the blessing of God, because we have learned that no one has to face the challenges of life alone. The people of God have experienced life in a household of faith, which brings peace and forgiveness and acceptance, where mercy and compassion are the rule and not the exception, where grace is freely given and freely accepted.

One of our main tasks as a church is to pass on to others an alternative way of looking at life, a view they won’t get from society.  We need to help our children and grandchildren grow up to be uncomfortable when society tells them that the best blessings are money, good looks, possessions and power.

So it is our joyous but risky task as a congregation to create a community where forgiveness is real, where peace is genuine and healing happens, where dependence upon God and one another is seen as a good thing, where people are not afraid to be who they are because they know that the arms of the people of God will surround them and embrace them and accept them.

Can you imagine what would happen if the church really believed it was called to be a kingdom community, a place where people love one another, warts and all? Can you imagine a community where nobody really minds who goes first and who goes last because they know there is more than enough of every-thing to go around? Can you imagine a place where the mourners are comforted and the losers are accepted when they DON’T win….where they are accepted especially because they have lost or are or have been lost.  Can you imagine the one team who is grateful tomorrow morning that they DON”T get to go to Disneyland?

Know what I think? I think it just might feel like the kingdom of God. It might be a place where WE can, in the words of the prophet Micah,” DO Justice –where WE can LOVE Mercy- And we can walk HUMBLY with our God!” Then we will be more than people who quote platitudes… we can be living, walking, and talking beatitudes who will have more than a blessed day BECAUSE they have had a change of heart. 

Change my heart O God.  Make it ever true.

Change my heart O God.  Make me more like you

          You are the potter I am the clay

          Mold me and make me… this is what I pray.

Let’s pray. Lord, teach us the difference between being happy and experiencing joy.  Adjust our attitudes to realize we have nothing without you in our lives, and that we are blessed when we’re on top of the world and when we’re down in the dumps because you are with us in both places and everywhere in between.  Teach us to work for peace among our brothers and sisters and our neighbor nations. Teach us to accept the fact that when we do that we will be persecuted for it, as were you even to the point of death on a cross for our sakes.  Adjust our attitudes to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people really are poor in spirit because we’ve learned to trust in God and not in our own wisdom or power.

May we live in such a way that others will see that we can feel the empty places in our lives and can let others know when we are hurting and share the grief of others without embarrassment. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we don’t have to be the strong one all the time and we can be tender and gentle with others and have given control of our lives to God and don’t have to “win” all the time.

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people do hunger and thirst after righteousness because they, too, dream of a day when God’s justice will prevail for all people everywhere.

May we live in such a way that others will see in the way we live that God’s people are merciful because we have received God’s mercy and know how wonderful that is. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we can be completely open and honest with God and others.

May we live in such a way that others will see that God’s people are peacemakers because we do more than Pass the Peace on Sunday mornings but we Make the Peace in our world because we have received the peace of God in our hearts. 

May we live in such a way that others will see that we have come to the place where we know what we are living for and are not afraid to suffer for it and are willing to “take the heat” and stand alone for what its right.

Lord help us to live in such a way because we have had a change of heart..   Amen.

  1. William Barclay
  2. Bill Bouknight, Collected Sermons,
  3. Peacemaking and Self-Control, Phil Thrailkill

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