Following Directions

Heritage Presbyterian Church

4th Sunday after Epiphany
Sunday, January 29, 2023

Scriptures: Micah 6: 2-8 and Matthew 5: 1-12

For almost 40 years, I have tried and tried and TRIED to cook as well as my wife.  I have failed at this quest, often spectacularly.  If there is a recipe, I follow the directions faithfully, carefully, and completely; the dish I am attempting to create comes out pretty good sometimes, just average other times.  But if my wife follows the same recipe with the same directions, her end result will far outshine mine.  It is a frustrating thing.

Perhaps it is because she has studied food preparation, whereas I have studied the Last Supper.

In any case, it is a frustrating thing to follow directions and have something not necessarily come out perfect or wonderful.  I have learned to live with it – and to use my experience as a sermon illustration for today’s message.

Now, if you want directions from the Lord, you have only to look at the Scriptures and you can find them.

Let me give you some examples:

The Ten Commandments: When the Lord gave Moses the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved upon them, that was THE LAW for the people if they wanted to be the people of God.  Note that they contained two positive laws: honor your father and mother, and remember the Sabbath day; the rest were stated negatively: do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet what your neighbor has, etc.  These ten sets of directions became the backbone of the way of life for the people of God for over the past 3500 years.  

As if that were not enough, the book of Leviticus contains over 600 other directions known as the Holiness Code.  Just in case you really wanted to live a good life and be obedient to the Lored, you could look there.  Examples of these include:

  • Do not hold back the wages of a hired man.
  • Do not seek revenge or hold a grudge against anyone among your own people.
  • Show respect for the elderly (I really like this one!).

So, perhaps over 600 is too many for you?  Isn’t there anything shorter and simpler that we could all remember?  How about these:

  • In the reading from the prophet Micah that we heard today, we have: “What does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before your God.”
  • In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper that he has a new command for them:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

So there are some nice, short ones too.

But perhaps these directions are too well known.  Perhaps you want a little more Jesus in your directions to follow.  Look no further than today’s Gospel reading from Matthew.  Today we have the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount. Here we are given a really interesting, attention-grabbing set of directions guaranteed to startle and lift up even the most hopeless among us.

First of all, we don’t get a list of “do’s and dont’s.”  

We also don’t get 600 specific directions that most of us can’t even name, much less follow specifically.

Instead, we get perhaps the most interesting list of statements that Jesus ever made.

They begin with “Blessed are those who….”  This is not exactly accurate, although it is close.

Some translations have “Happy are those who…”  This is close, but again not exactly accurate either.

This is why the study of Biblical languages is required for many programs that train preachers and ministers.

Many modern scholars believe that this phrase should really be:

“Congratulations to those who…”  Never heard that before, have you?  But I really like it!  Imagine you are listening to the Lord give this sermon and he begins a direction for your life with the words, “Congratulations.”  

You are already a winner and you didn’t even know it!  Now let me read you these wonderful directions with this new beginning…I admit it will sound strange to your ears, but again…put yourself in the place of the people Jesus was speaking to.  Or any other group who is wondering if God is still there, if God still loves you, if God is even listening.

“Congratulations to those of you who are poor in spirit!  Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven!

Congratulations to those of you who are mourning.  You will be comforted.

Congratulations to those of you who are meek, for you will inherit the earth.

Congratulations to those of you who are merciful, for you will be shown mercy.

Congratulations to those of you who are pure in heart, but you will see God.

Congratulations to those of you who are peacemakers for you will be called children of God.

Congratulations to those of you who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of Heaven is yours!”*

[*Interpretations Bible Commentary, Gospel of Matthew]

So, consider this list of directions, fellow Christians, whenever you consider your own life and how it’s going so far.  If you feel like you are far from the Kingdom, perhaps you are already following the directions from Jesus – and you are doing alright!

There are not that difficult…and the loving way he states them reveals the true nature of Jesus Christ, the one who came to save us all.