Blessed are the Cheesemakers

A Sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian on Jan 30, 2011

Matt 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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 receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Micah 6:1-8

Hear what the LORD says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the LORD has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

There is a scene in a Monty Python movie about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Apparently it was difficult for the characters to hear what Jesus was saying.  Big crowd, no sound system.
“What was that?”
“I think it was “blessed are the cheesemakers”.
“What’s so special about the cheesemakers?”, another person asks.
“Well, it is obviously not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

Clearly, the comedians of Monty Python were making a joke, but I wonder if there isn’t some truth in it too. Because cheesemakers might as well be listed in the category of people who are blessed. It is a fairly inclusive list. At some point in our lives, I suspect we inhabit all of these categories.

Okay, maybe we aren’t cheesemakers.

But at some point, we mourn and cry over the pain in the world. At some point, we feel poor in spirit, meek, and hungry for justice

On facebook this week, one of my friends asked people to finish the sentence “blessed are you who…” and the answers were interesting.
–blessed are you who remember to laugh even though you may want to cry!
–blessed are you who write books for us to read, compose music for us to hear, create art for us to view.
–blessed are you who speak the truth in love.
–blessed are you help us keep our senses of humor and not take ourselves too seriously!

And these final ones seemed to really capture the spirit of the beatitudes.
–blessed are you who have cancer and blessed are those who accompany and love them and those who accompany care givers…
–blessed is the community who cares and abides.

The list could go on and on. And that, I think is sort of the point. Because Jesus preaches a different message than we hear in the world.

We hear that blessings should be limited. That only the rich or the powerful or successful are blessed. But Jesus calls us to impart blessings, to be blessings, to proclaim blessedness, in situations one might least expect to call blessed.

The message in the Beatitudes, which might seem familiar and comfortable language to those of us who have heard them again and again, would not have seemed familiar to Jesus’ audience up on the mountain that day.

That’s the other reason I think the Monty Python joke is so true. I can imagine the crowd saying, “what’d he just say? He couldn’t possibly have said “blessed are those who mourn?” I must have heard it wrong. “Blessed are those who are persecuted?” What’s he talking about?”

Because many of the things Jesus lists as blessings are not things we want to sign up for. We don’t want to have to mourn for the pain in our own loss or mourn for the injustice and hurt in the world.
We don’t want to be poor in spirit, acknowledging that we can’t do it all ourselves and that our only help and salvation come from God.
We don’t want to be meek, patiently waiting for God’s time that will come.
We don’t want to be peacemakers, because that requires us to stand up and use our voices for justice, leaving the comfort of our own lives.
We don’t want to be persecuted for righteousness sake because we know that the powers of this world work hard to keep the world unjust. Speaking against injustice can put you in harms way. Why would we want to do that?

The Beatitudes don’t tell us to intentionally set out to become mourners or persecuted or poor in spirit just so we can say we’ve done it. Because that would turn our faithful action into an attempt to earn our salvation. We are, instead, to recognize that God is present in the midst of situations that the world might call “god forsaken”.

The Beatitudes remind us that people aren’t blessed because of their success, their wealth, or their power. They are blessed because God chooses to be with them and for them. It is a reminder to bring hope to the seemingly hopeless and to speak a counter message to those who oppress, those who benefit from injustice and pain, and to those who try to earn their own blessing.

The Sermon on the Mount continues in the following verses. We’ll hear from more of these texts in the coming weeks, but Jesus begins his sermon by making a bold claim that his teachings will be different than you have heard before. He puts us on notice, from the beginning, that we shouldn’t presume to know the answers ahead of time.
Jesus will not be parroting back our preconceptions and our prejudices.

While the Beatitudes offer comfort and hope for people in desperate need of it, they also challenge us to make a world that more closely resembles God’s intention for it, so that the Beatitudes will be considered a statement of fact for all of God’s children.

The Prophet Micah wants to challenge Israel in similar ways. They have not been living in a way that created a more just and peaceful world either. They might have been going through the motions of religious behavior in terms of worship and sacrifice, but those behaviors didn’t lead them out into the world to make a difference.

The passage we heard today is a courtroom drama. Israel is on trial and God is pleading the divine case. The judges are the mountains, the hills, and the enduring foundations of the earth.

O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!

But the people don’t give a great answer. “What more do you want from us? We already make sacrifices. Do we need to sacrifice thousands of rams? Tens of thousands of oil? Do you want us to sacrifice our first born children?

The people don’t get it. They think they can just show up on Sunday, make their offering, punch the worship clock, and then go about their business through the rest of the week, with no regard to God’s instruction.

In a surprising display of patience, God does not smite them for their answer. God lets the prophet answer with a gentle message of instruction.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Even though it is the grace of God that saves us, and not our own achievements, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have work to do. We are, simply, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
And when we do that, we proclaim God’s blessings on a world where people mourn, where people are spiritually poor, where they hunger for justice, and in all of the other situations in need of blessing.

What does the Lord require of you?

To live into your calling as God’s blessed people, helping the world recognize their own blessedness.
Amen.

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