Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… – Sermon Text


Preached at Wilson United Methodist Church, February 3, 2013
Series: The Kingdom Experiment – Part 5
Text: Matthew 5:6; Isaiah 55:1-5
Listen to it HERE 

Introducing myself to congregation

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Good morning! I’m Joe, the associate pastor at Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church in Monument. It is an honor to worship with you this morning and to have the opportunity to preach today.

The connection between our two congregations is due to our lead pastors being good friends. They are such good friends that when the Hiesters were evacuated during the Waldo Canyon Fire just days after moving to Colorado Springs, they stayed with ow lead pastor Bob Kaylor and his family. Bob told me about a meeting in his kitchen between your former pastor Randy Jessen and at that time new pastor, Dave Hiester, as the fire was raging. It is so good to know how connected we are as United Methodist congregations.

I find it ironic to be coming to you today in the midst of your sermon series about the Kingdom of God called The Kingdom Experiment. I have long admired how Wilson UMC serves as a Kingdom outpost in the Mountain Shadows community. Years ago, I came to a meeting here where I learned about your congregation’s dedication to the needs of the community, and the great mission work you are about, like sending your pastor and 9 others to Costa Rica on a mission trip. I have heard about the preschools you run in the community, and the blessing they are to working parents who know their children are cared for. This, along with all of your mission work, serve as signs of the outbreaking of the Kingdom of God through you.

But since the Waldo Canyon Fire, I have seen that expand even more. I saw the article with pictures in the Gazette of the worship service you conducted outdoors on the church property, the first Sunday you were allowed back in the area. What a fantastic way to welcome all in the area who were and are broken, hurting, and filled with questions – including those who might have been uncomfortable entering a church building. What a tremendous way to build community, offer the love and grace we know in Christ to your neighbors, to act as the Kingdom.

Since then I know of your Trunk-or-Treat event, a coat drive, the Community Christmas Tree, and caroling to your neighbors. All Kingdom activity. While on vacation in October my family and I worshiped with you and heard Pastor Dave talk about going to a home to pray with a family over what had been rebuilt, and meeting others who were hurting. I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg of all the Kingdom work happening here, as you individually extend the love of Jesus every day through a listening ear, a meal, a helping hand, and more.

In some ways, I want to sit at your feet and learn what it means to be the Kingdom of God in the community of Mountain Shadows, and how we might be able to do similar things in the Tri-Lakes region. But that is not what I’m here for. This Sunday and next, I will be helping continue The Kingdom Experiment sermon series which today has us exploring the next Beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Before we dive into that, let’s pray together.

Prayer

Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl Football

I don’t need to tell you the Super Bowl is this afternoon. I join many of you in disappointment. The Broncos were supposed to be in New Orleans this evening playing for the championship. Instead today we will get to see the Baltimore Ravens, who beat the Broncos in the playoffs, play the San Francisco 49ers for the Lombardi Trophy. Go… uh… Oh, who cares? I am not excited about either of these teams. I just hope the game is good and worth watching into the fourth quarter.

If the game is not very good, at least we know we can look forward to the commercials, because the Super Bowl is not just about football. It is also about the commercials. Advertisers are reportedly paying as much as $4-million for a 30-second spot during the big game this afternoon. They have also poured in even more money to create an ad that will stand out among the others. Tomorrow, around the water cooler, I would guess there will be as much talk about the ads as the game.

Finally, if you are not into football and not mesmerized by the advertising, there is another element which completes the triumvirate of power on Super Bowl Sunday: food. Football, commercials, and food. If you are going to a party there will probably be an exorbitant amount of chips, dips, pizza, and other snacks.

3a-WingsChart

But, the top snack for the Super Bowl, apparently, is wings. Some economists, with apparently a little too much time on their hands, were predicting a spike in the price of chicken wings this week due to simple economics of supply and demand. On Super Bowl weekend the demand for chicken wings is ridiculous!

3b-SFBaltMap

The National Chicken Council estimates 1.23 billion chicken wings will be consumed this weekend. If laid out end-to-end, they say, that many wings would stretch from the Ravens’ home stadium in Baltimore to the 49ers’ home stadium in San Francisco, which are roughly 2,800 miles apart, more than 27 times! That over 75,000 miles of chicken wings. That’s kinda gross.

I did a little math to calculate that if the same 111.3 million people who watched last year’s Super Bowl watch it again this year, and we really do eat 1.23 billion chicken wings, that means the average viewer is eating 11 wings. Wow!

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”

How timely that on this Sunday when we will gather around television sets with mountains of wings and other foods of limited nutritional value, we turn to the fourth Beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6, NIV).

One of the challenges of preaching on a text like the Beatitudes, is it is so familiar to so many of us.  For 2,000 years people have been hearing, reading, and interpreting these words. Some of us who were raised in the church, may have at some point memorized them. But even if not we have heard them so often, we can finish them as they begin. They sound today so normal, but that was not always the case. Imagine being among Jesus’ first hearers, part of the crowed that climbed the hill that day and heard these words, “Blessed are those ho hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Would you have understood it?

There is a great scene about this that I believe appears in a not so great movie called The Last Temptation of Christ. Jesus sits on a rock, and out of the blue, begins to teach his newly called disciples, “A sower went out to sow,” the beginning of what we know as “The Parable of the Sower.” As Jesus’ voice fades into the background, the camera turns its focus on the disciples. They are confused. “What is he talking about?” asks one. “A sower? Why is he talking about sowing? I though he was a rabbi to talk about God?” (from memory).

When I try to put myself back in the sandals of one of Jesus’ first followers, I think I might have reacted similarly. Passages like the Beatitudes which have become familiar to us today, were probably, upon first hearing, quite surprising.

For example, it might be easy to overlook the way Jesus chooses to frame this beatitude. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus says, “for they will be filled.” Hunger and thirst would have been power-packed words for Jesus’ first hearers. They knew about hunger and thirst firsthand. Not as we will experience today watching the Super Bowl who can reach out for a wing and a soda, but as those struggling for survival. Living as a Jew under Roman occupation meant second class citizenship where poverty was the norm. They people eked out their existence, struggling for food and water. They knew hunger and thirst.

They also knew well their Bible, what we call the Old Testament. Sitting on the hillside that day, hearing about hunger and thirst, may have reminded some of the Exodus story. Moses had led the people from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, to Mount Sinai to receive the covenant, and then to the doorstep of Canaan. Camping just outside of this land promised to them by the God who had just saved and claimed them, the Israelites sent spies in to scope it out. The spies found “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27), and brought back grapes so big it took two of them to carry a cluster tied to a pole (Numbers 13:23).

God was ready to provide richly for them in Canaan, but they were afraid. Rather than relying on God, they doubted their own ability. They refused to enter, and wound up wandering the wilderness for 40 years where they experienced great hunger and thirst. All of which could have been avoided had they trusted God who had already done so much for them.

God’s plans don’t typically match ours. In fact, they sometimes go directly against conventional wisdom, and we like the Israelites, can get scared. As I listened online to the previous sermons in this series, I heard Pastor Dave mention several times the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God Jesus is introducing; how these Beatitudes run counter to our natural way of thinking. We don’t normally consider being poor in spirit a blessing. We assume the rich – materially or otherwise – are the blessed ones. Nor would call someone blessed who is mourning. We equate blessedness with happiness. Our society also tends to value boldness over meekness, yet Jesus says the meek are the blessed ones.

Jesus does it again this morning, and will continue to do it throughout this series. Blessed, he says, are the hungry and thirsty. That doesn’t make any sense. We see having everything we want as a sign of blessedness, not a longing or a sense that something is lacking. So what is Jesus talking about?

Righteousness = God’s justice

KingdomExperimentJesus is specific about what the blessed – the exponentially happy, as Pastor Dave has said – are hungry and thirsty for. It’s not wings, but righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

I would venture to guess many of us quickly associate the word righteousness, with the self-righteous. Those who have set themselves up and apart as holy – holier than me, holier than you, holier than Thou. The Pharisees, lawyers, and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day were quick to point out their own righteousness, and happy to tell others where they were lacking. In the gospels, we find Jesus challenging them time and again on this kind of righteouness, so that can’t be what he means here.

For Jesus, righteousness is not about keeping God happy by coming to church, participating in a Kingdom Experiment small group, or by having a seriously long devotional time every day. Instead, Jesus is talking about doing what God has called us to do – care for one another. Righteousness is treating one another as brothers and sisters, all created in the image of God.

If you are reading The Kingdom Experiment book with your small group, family, or on your own, you may have noted the authors’ description of what Jesus is referring to: “That word, righteousness, often feels too obscure to have any real meaning. That’s because we have strayed away from its original understanding, which in the Biblical narrative was translated more closely to divine justice” (Nuffer loc 222).

N. T. Wright, a wonderful author, theologian, and former Bishop of Durham in England, translates today’s beatitude this way, “Blessings on people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice! You’re going to be satisfied,” (Wright, Matthew 5:6, loc 751). He chooses to use God’s justice where other translators use the word righteousness, as The Kingdom Experiment authors would also.

In other writings, Wright teaches that justice, divine justice, is one of the marks of the Kingdom of God. To use Wright’s words, God is in the business of “putting the world to rights” (see Simply Christian, and other writings by NT Wright). The world has been broken by sin, and throughout history God is in the process of restoring it. One day, Jesus’ prayer will come to fruition as God’s Kingdom will come “on earth as it is in heaven.” On that day God’s justice where every person will be treated as one of great worth, will be restored.

We – who live in the in-between time of God’s Kingdom being announced through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the coming of God’s Kingdom in its fullness at the end of the age – are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God here and now. To be people of this counter-cultural, upside-down, blessed life of divine justice. We do this by reaching out to the oppressed, offering comfort to the depressed, feeding the hungry, clothing those who do not have enough, and providing wells to those who thirst for clean water.

Again I note how interesting it is Jesus chooses to use the language of hunger and thirst for this Beatitude. These are words his first hearers would have used regularly to describe their own plight. How excited they must have been to hear they were blessed for being hungry and thirsty, but Jesus turns that thought on its ear. It is not about their hunger and thirst but the hunger and thirst of their neighbors that is to dominate their thoughts. They are to hunger and thirst for justice.

Jesus calls our focus off of ourselves – our needs, our struggles, our pain, our hunger, our thirst – and refocuses it toward the needs of others. Those, he says, who will take their minds off their own stuff, and will instead consider the needs of others, the justice God longs to provide for them, will be satisfied.

Will Be Filled

8-Woman at wellI’m reminded of a conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman while sitting by a well. His disciples had gone to buy food for lunch when a woman comes to draw water for her household. Being the middle of the day, this is odd. Everyone else in town was inside, in the shade when the sun is burning so brightly.

Jesus asks this woman for a drink. He is thirsty. When the woman questions why he would ask her for a drink, he tells her that if she knew who he was, she’d ask him for living water. This captures her imagination, because she doesn’t like coming out to the well every day. Jesus knows she needs so much more than water. He knows her pain from a series of failed marriages, and the embarrassment she now feels from living with a man who is not her husband.

Jesus then points to the well and says, “Everyone who drinks of this water, will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus knows the woman has a thirst much deeper than the physical thirst that can be temporarily quenched with a drink of water. She needs something more. She needs a relationship with God through him.

Earlier in the service we read from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Eugene Peterson’s rendering of these verse in The Message speak to me with particular power today:

Hey there! All who are thirsty,
come to the water!

Are you penniless?
Come anyway—buy and eat!

Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything’s free!

Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?

Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest.” (Isaiah 55:1-2, Msg)

Spiritual Wings

9-WingsThe question to consider is this: Are we filling up on spiritual chicken wings, junk food, and cotton candy while there is a land flowing with milk and honey, a spring of living water that could be in us? Today we celebrate that Jesus has offered us a place at his table where he serves the best and the finest. No junk food. No wings. Instead here is what will truly satisfy.

Our instinct is to hunger and thirst for things that will satisfy the self – power, prestige, prosperity, security, safety, self-fulfillment, and some of the things we will see in some of those ads during the big game this afternoon. In the words of Isaiah, that’s just junk food, cotton candy, chicken wings. Oh, we think it will satisfy, but it is temporary.

Jesus calls us to a feast filled with the best, the finest. A place where we can come and be truly satisfied. All are welcome.

There’s a simple meal here on this table. As broken and undeserving as we may be, Jesus invites us to sit at his table for a feast. Today it is just a piece of bread and a sip of juice, a foretaste of the feast yet to come, a sign of Christ living in us and for us, and offering what truly satisfies. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s justice. They will be filled. Come and be filled today. Then go, and offer others the divine justice of God. Then you will be satisfied.


Bibliography

“Americans to Eat 1.23 Billion Chicken Wings Super Bowl Weekend.” The National Chicken Council. 22 Jan. 2013. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

Nuffer, Bruce, Liz Perry, and Rachel McPherson. The Kingdom Experiment: A Community Practice on Intentional Living. Kansas City, MO: House Studio, 2009. Kindle.

Wright, N. T. The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. New York: HarperOne, 2011. Kindle.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Scripture are from the New Revised Standard Version available online at http://bible.oremus.org.

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