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Blessed are you...

Rev. Dan Smith
Sun, May 05

Feeding Sunday
Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Baruch Atah, Adonai Elohenu, Melech Ha-Olam, Ha-Motzi Lehem Min Ha-Aretz.

“Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”.

This is a classic Hebrew blessing that’s shared before a meal. Like we say ‘grace’, this blessing is affectionately called a ‘motzi’ which is the Hebrew for Bread. The first words of this and countless other Jewish blessings are Baruch Atah or “blessed are you”. Baruch Atah. Though my Hebrew is a little rusty, I dare say this is close to what it would have sounded like if you were standing on that hillside where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount of which our famous passage for today is just an excerpt. Jesus would have been speaking in Aramaic, not Hebrew, but it would have sounded similar. Baruch Atah. Blessed are you.

You know you can go to that Mount today. Back in January when I was still on sabbatical and traveling through Israel with our own Brent Coffin, I was driving along the Sea of Galilee on a shoreline drive about a hundred meters above the water when our private tour guide, Koren, a brilliant, deeply soulful and deeply intellectual Israeli, told us to pull off the main road, near the north end of that great and famous fresh water lake. We had a spectacular view of the water and of the surrounding hills and valleys that cradled it. Koren pointed out several churches and steeples including one in particular on a hilltop across from us. It was the Church of the Beatitudes, the “traditional” site where Jesus supposedly gave his Sermon on the Mount.

I think you would have liked our guide because he told us right away that it was completely impossible that Jesus would have given the sermon there. Koren made the case on very practical grounds. There was just no way a crowd could have heard him preach from the top of that hill. “However”, he said, “take a look at the valley just below and to the left.” Our eyes shifted focus to a lovely and unassuming grassy vale, nestled between several hilltops, dotted with a few small olive tree groves and sloping right down to the lakeside. He went on to explain. He told us a colleague of his once did an experiment where he went to the top of the valley, not the top of the hill mind you, just the top of the valley, and began speaking into it as I’m speaking to you now – not yelling but speaking loudly. He asked a friend to stand a full kilometer away. The acoustics were remarkable enough that the friend could hear his every word. As Koren said, those living in the area during the first century surely would have known that this was the place to come for an all-natural amphitheater. This, not on top of the hill, was the place you wanted to be if you needed to speak to a crowd. And thus, our extremely well-grounded, part-archaelogist, part- historian tour guide, showed us the far more likely place where Jesus first spoke the Beatitudes! He said he’d bet money that this was the place.

Moving as that vista was, I can’t help but recall another Sermon on the Mounh scene. Have you ever seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian? It’s a mock-up of New Testament times, and in the movie a crowd is trying to hear what Jesus is saying while he’s giving his famous sermon. “What was that?” one of the crowd says to a neighbor. You catch pieces of a speech being spoken in the distance but the sound is muffled. Another guy standing there says, “I think it was, ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.” Another asks: “Ahh, what's so special about the cheesemakers?” To which the guy replies, “Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

So much for a little British comic relief. Let’s get back to the baruch atah, shall we? “Blessed are you,” Jesus says. Blessings like these would have been commonly heard by first century Jews. There are similar blessings in the Psalms and in the Prophet Isaiah. The pattern starts with an often sobering acknowledgement about our human condition– a recognition of mourning, poverty and persecution, say. The pattern of these traditional sayings is such that the blessing and recognition would then lead into a resulting promise of future and divine reward. Once again, we see our Rabbi Jesus carrying forth the wisdom from his Jewish tradition. He collects and elevates these common themes into a treatise on spiritual values and compassion. The extent to which these blessings are meant to be taken literally, however, is a matter for debate amongst biblical scholars and apparently amongst the gospel writers themselves. In Matthew, it’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit, and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Luke’s version says more straightforwardly, “Blessed are you who are poor.” And, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.”

Today is our feeding Sunday, a day on which we take these blessings, especially the blessings of hunger and the promise of fullness, both literally and figuratively. Blessed are you who hunger! Then as now, there are hungry people in our world, on our streets, even gathered with us today, people who are literally hungry. Blessed are you, and blessed are the homeless of the outdoor church who will be eating these sandwiches we are about to make, probably by about 2 p.m. today. Blessed are you who move around town during the day and week to stand in lines for daily bread. Today, we bless the hungry and bless our children and our grownups that we all may be especially aware, as Jesus was, of those who are literally hungry.

Yet, today and every Sunday really points to another kind of feeding. When we come to church, we aren’t just hungry for food but for a deeper nourishment as well. Jesus said “man”, and we would add “woman”, “does not live by bread alone”. This lesson came home to me recently while doing some reading about mindful eating. An MD and Buddhist meditation teacher named Jan Chozen Bays, wrote a book called Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. If you are at all like me, and you get home from a hard day’s work and open the fridge and find yourself literally blessing the cheesemakers, and then eating way too much of their products, well, I highly recommend this book. It’s been helping me change my relationship with food. It’s not a diet. Instead, it’s a way to reconsider the practice of eating. It’s an invitation to slow down, to eat with smaller portions and with fewer distractions. She even suggests occasionally eating alone, in silence, without any reading, radio or tv so as to appreciate the taste, smell and experience of eating all the more. The book offers an antidote to the mindless and rushed chowing down so many of us do. A core practice that she recommends is to ask yourself before eating, “Who’s hungry in there?” She goes on to trace seven kinds of hunger. There’s eye hunger – when something that looks good tells you that you are hungry. There’s also nose hunger and mouth hunger which operate similarly. But there’s also mind and heart and stomach and even cellular hunger. Not surprisingly, she writes, “most unbalanced relationships with food are caused by being unaware of heart hunger. No food can ever satisfy this form of hunger. To satisfy it, we must learn how to nourish our hearts!” In the context of hearing these blessings on our Feeding Sunday, we might well want to practice this kind of mindful eating for our hearts and souls. Go for it. Say to yourself right now, “Who’s hungry in there?” And for what is your heart and your spirit craving?

Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness!” Some scholars read the word righteousness here as right relationship with God. Blessed are those who hunger for right relationship. Others translate it as integrity. Blessed are those who hunger for integrity! For you will be filled. Imagine if that’s what our hearts are most hungry for. Or what if another way to read this line is blessed are those who hunger and thirst for right relationship with God, self and others, relationships that are balanced and whole. Blessed are you, for you will be made whole! Blessed are you for you will be filled, in right relationship with God, self and others!

Some of you will remember our conversations back in March. Doesn’t March feel like a long, long time ago, before Good Friday and Easter, before the marathon? Well, if you will recall way back then, we spent a good amount of time talking about these themes of wholeness, balance and deeper connection. Thinking about it now, I wonder if there was also craving for a deeper sense of safety in community as well, a theme which may now have an even broader resonance for us. My own sense of those meetings is that they gave us a chance to name some of our heart’s hunger when it comes to our individual lives and our life together in this community. We were naming some of the realities and conditions of our contemporary lives but also hearing a sense of promise in our life together in God. One could even say we were beginning to script some contemporary Beatitudes, some collective blessings for ourselves. I think it would have sounded something like this.

Blessed are you who are stretched and stressed, for you will know the right size and right pace of God!
Blessed are you who are lonely and who long for connection, for you will know the joy of solitude and the gift of true community.
Blessed are you who are feeling hurt and vulnerable, for your wounded self will find welcome and God’s healing in this household of God.
Blessed are you whose lives are full of ever mounting tasks. Blessed are you who strive to do and to be more, for you will thrive in the knowledge that you already do and are enough!

In the end, maybe what we are most hungry for is the blessing itself, simply the baruch atah! Just the “blessed are you!” For that is how blessings work. Blessings lead to promises, and promises lead to hope and hope leads to new life and new life leads to joy. Baruch atah. Blessed are you! When we hear even this, when we really hear it even from a kilometer’s distance, what follows is nothing but promise. For… you …will. Maybe that’s enough of a promise too.

Blessed are you! For you will!

As in you will get through, you will land on your feet, you will and we will together process this amazing collective trauma that we’ve shared over these weeks. Blessed are you, for you will, with God’s help. Baruch Atah. Blessed are you. Baruch Atah, Adonai. Blessed are you, God. For God will and you will and we will together.

As we gather now to make sandwiches, as we gather at our communion table to offer up a motzi and break bread together, as we gather after church today for our congregational conversation over lunch, I hope we can together hear these sweet blessings and the promises of God.

Hear them once more now, as if you were there that day on the hillside. As we prepare to make and break and share the bread of life, hear them as if Jesus were speaking them to us right now. Baruch Atah, Adonai Elohenu, Melech Ha-Olam, Ha-Motzi Lehem Min Ha-Aretz. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”.

Thanks be to God from whom our every blessing and our every promise flows. Amen.

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