“Built Up in Blessedness”
Sunday, January 29, 2017: The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Micah 6: 1 – 8/ Psalm 15/ 1 Corinthians 1: 2 – 9/ Matthew 5: 1 - 12
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
It is such a nice day today. Today is a special day, so I am going to preach a prosperity gospel. In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus talked about what is commonly known as the Beatitudes. It comes from the word blessed. In His several verses, He starts it with, “Blessed are the.…” The word means prosperous; fortunate; doubly blessed; immensely, tremendously and enormously happy; IFwe do certain things that Jesus identified. God wants for us fullness of life. He wants us to enjoy the life that He gave us, and it is ours for the taking.
The Beatitudes says, “Blessed are you… yours is the kingdom of heaven… you shall inherit the earth.” We might say, “I thought God the Father already gave us the kingdom of heaven gladly?” Yes, He gave it to us for us to take. It is ours for the taking; it is available. Provisions are available so you avail of all. How is this? It is by walking in what is good. Micah said, “He has shown you what is good and what the Lord requires of you.” Jesus also lays out what is good for us, what is appropriate for the kingdom that He has prepared for us to walk in.
Micah said, “The Lord does not delight in rams, in a thousand rivers of oil as sacrifice? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” God doesn’t require sacrifice and offering. What He requires from us is for us to walk in what is good that He has shown us. He wants us to prepare for this life of the world to come.
We confess that in the Creed, “…For the life of the world to come.” We believe in this. God is preparing us for this. This life of the world to come is a restoration of what is good. I believe that the first time the word ‘good’ appeared in the Bible was early on in Genesis. “Behold, all that God created was good.” This was before the fall, before sin and the curse of sin entered, and sickness and death, and all these other things, including the spirit that is opposite what is good – that is against what Jesus said in the Beatitudes. God is preparing us for the restoration of that which is good. Our life is a rehearsal, a preparation for this because that which is good is appropriate for that which is also good. It is for the reward of this kingdom that is coming that we are destined for, that which is good for eternal life.
In this life, in this state, in this kingdom, everybody says, “Glory!” Everyone does everything to the glory of God, in the Name of the Lord. No curse of sin, sickness or death, but all peace, prosperity and love and abundance. This is the kingdom of God. On this side of the fall, we walk on the principles of this kingdom. The kingdom of God is first about love before it is about law.
There is a big deal in some countries, particularly in the United States, about some people pushing for their right to display the Ten Commandments in schools, in public places, and offices. Some people do have this question, “What about the Beatitudes? Why not display it?” In Matthew 4, Jesus began His ministry and what He did is He preached the gospel that the kingdom is here and He said, “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.” The first thing that He mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount is not about commandments, not about sacrifices or burnt offerings, but about what the kingdom is about. It is loving your neighbor; being humble; being a peacemaker.
The Kingdom is first about love and the King of this Kingdom is love. This is what Jesus preached. He is the exact representation of the invisible Father, and He preached loved first before commandments. God is about love and not about commandments. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is here.” How did He preach and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom? How did He show that the Kingdom is here? He healed the sick; He fed the people; He was a Shepherd to them. He was love personified, being His Father who is love, who is invisible, and He was the embodiment of the Father.
Jesus drew large crowds. Thousands of people came to Him – there was free food; free medical benefits; and they were loved. Jesus was like a crowd magnet. He just drew crowds because He was the expression of love. For the first time, people who experienced condemnation and being put down by Pharisees and religious leaders now found One who would accept them. They found Someone who would hang out with them, drink with them and eat with them when they were ostracized by the religious people.
The Pharisees and the religious leaders were like tear gas, like a crowd dispersal unit. They pushed people away because they were about law, and they had a wrong interpretation and wrong impression of the Kingdom. What they preached is about sacrifice; meal offerings and other things. Jesus preached the good news of God’s love. He taught the Kingdom ethos or conduct, and He said that the greatest commandment is love, not law. Can you imagine when Jesus was asked about what the greatest commandment and He saying, “Do not smoke. Do not drink. Do not gamble. Do not put on make-up. Do not eat food sacrificed to idols and strangled animals. Do not eat blood.” This is not the kingdom of God. What is the greatest commandment of all? Love the Lord your God. Love Him back because He is love.
We are the sons of God and citizens of His kingdom; and this Kingdom is being reestablished in this world where it was before in Eden. Sin entered and tried to destroy this Kingdom. Jesus came reestablishing this Kingdom and this Kingdom is eternal. We may die physically, but we will be resurrected and Jesus wants us to prepare for this Kingdom where the system is love. It is not like what the Gentiles do, as Jesus said, where they lorded over one another and they had self-advancement – pulling down each other; walking over each other. Jesus said that this is not so in the Kingdom so He says, “Prepare for this eternal Kingdom for which you will be resurrected and live by doing what is good.” This is why Jesus showed us what is good because this is what we will need for the Kingdom.
Imagine Jesus saying, “This is My commandment. I am leaving and I am going to be tortured and crucified, so you should listen carefully. This is My commandment: don't eat pork; don’t eat shellfish.” This is not what He said. Jesus said, “Love one another because I am going to be back. I am going to reign King in My kingdom, and you will reign with Me and I am showing you what is good and what is appropriate.”
Before Jesus gave commandments, He first loved, forgave and accepted. He first had mercy and He first healed. He first fed and met needs. In His encounter with Mary Magdalene, He forgave her first. In the life that we are going to live, we don’t need the commandments. I am not advocating lawlessness. Jesus wasn’t because He told Mary Magdalene, “Sin no more.” When he met Zacchaeus, He did not tell him about any commandment. Zacchaeus was ignored by people so he went up a tree for him to be noticed by Jesus. Jesus noticed him and showed him love. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and no religious leader would have anything to do with him. Jesus, the Messiah, paid attention to him and accepted him. Zacchaeus realized that his wicked ways are not appropriate with his relationship with his Savior who loved him and gave himself for him.
Jesus was misunderstood because He first preached about love, about healing before He preached about the observance of the Sabbath. He was accused of healing on the Sabbath, of eating with dirty hands and other things, but Jesus was saying, “These are part of the law, but the weightier matters of the law are to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. Be a peacemaker; prefer one another over yourself. Regard them as more important than yourself.” This is how destroyed the system of that old kingdom is, and this is how He is inaugurating His own kingdom of love. Jesus came to restore His kingdom by destroying the works of the enemy, which is sin and death that brings us pain, sickness, and all the other problems that teaches us to hate and to be violent and to love ourselves.
The cross is where Jesus nailed all of these things. When St. Paul said that he made a public display of principalities and powers, it is not the magic arts or witchcraft, but the works of darkness which are sinful desire, lust, love of self and advancement of self and not treating others with love as God loved them. Jesus nailed all of these to the cross and put that to death by losing His life, offering His cheek, and giving of Himself. Thereby, He was gaining life on behalf of all men.
Jesus said, “I will take the heat for you. I, who is sinless, will take the sin for you. I will bear the shame.” What love God has for us! Everything was taken care of the cross. Everything was paid on the cross. You don't have to pay God anything because He is not a retributive God. In Micah, God has shown him what is good and what He requires of him, not to sacrifice. I am not saying that there are no consequences. We still reap what we sow which is what free will is all about. God is saying, “I have given My Son, so that you may have life. Choose life. Turn from your wicked ways.”
From the movie Patriarch, Mel Gibson said, “I am afraid one day my sins will overtake me.” He probably thought that this was the reason that his children got killed, and things happened to him. I used to think this way too. In high school, I had stage fright. When I would sin, I would make a deal with God and say, “I don’t like to get embarrassed in front of my classmates. Can it be that when I am asked to report, do not let me pay for my sins by making me look funny and embarrassed. Can you just let me make me sick or meet an accident and this will be my payment for my sins?” I used to think that God was retributive and that He was an eye for an eye God. Our God is not blood-thirsty. Our God does not require retribution. He does not count the sins against man. Our God is a loving Father to us. We don't appease His wrath by sacrificing things. We don’t appease His wrath; we satisfy His love.
When parents discipline their children, they use some measures. They want results. The objective is not to inflict pain, but to correct their children for their own sake. What is satisfied is the parent’s love for their children. Jesus said, “If you, being evil, know how to do good to your children and you know how to give gifts to your children, how much more your Father in heaven?” God requires good from us because we are good and God is good all the time. We cannot do anything that will make Him better. What He requires is for our good and our good satisfies Him. It is not our sacrifice, our pain nor our suffering. Many times, our suffering is self-inflicted.
We misunderstood the Old Testament. We have pictured God as a cruel God who requires retribution. The Old Testament is a pre-figuring of God, a shadow of things to come, of real true things to come. If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and in the Old Testament, they sacrificed animals, why can’t it be done now? Even the Jews today don’t sacrifice animals anymore because the Old Testament is only pointing us to the real sacrifice. In fact, the Old Testament tells us, “What is real fasting anyway? Is it to starve ourselves, to break the bonds of wickedness and slavery?” The true fasting is to meet the needs, to feed the hungry.
In Psalm 51, it says that God does not desire sacrifice and meal offering. The sacrifice of God is a broken and a contrite heart. God requires what is good for us. If we want to please Him, let us amend our ways. Children will please their parents if they order their lives. Parents derive satisfaction in seeing their children walk in what is good. Jesus says, “Blessed are you, good for you if you are a peacemaker, if you are humble and if you thirst for righteousness.”
This is how we defeat darkness and its principalities. We turn from sin. Sin is what is short of what is good. We missed the mark of what is good. God created us good. Sin is not walking according to this goodness. We bear the image of God who is good. We sin, then, we fall short of the glory that image. It makes us sub-humans. God gave His life - His body and blood- so what more can we do? Nothing, but what can we do? We are to feed on Him in our hearts with thanksgiving.
St. Chrysostom said, “May we be thankful not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up of ourselves to Your service and by walking before You in righteousness and according to the Beatitudes.” This would satisfy God and it would fulfill the greatest commandment of loving Him and loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we walk in these principles, then, we would rock the boat. We would stir up the hornet’s nests of the world. They would react naturally because their system is being upset and confronted. They would persecute and attack us. They would say that we are strange and something is wrong with us. Jesus would say, “Rejoice,” because this means that we are fulfilling and walking in the principles of the Kingdom that is eternal. This Kingdom is that which will be here long after we are dead and it will be waiting for us when we are resurrected. This is if we so choose to walk according to it.
In the prodigal son’s story, I am sure that the son realized his physical being was not appropriate for his father’s mansion. What is appropriate and right in living in the mansion? Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions and I go there to prepare a place for each of us.” He is preparing a place for us! Are we preparing for this place? This is what Jesus is preaching the Beatitudes for – to prepare us for that place. If we are faithful now in this imperfect and hostile world, then, we will be ready for the life of the world to come.
This is what Jesus wants and this is God wants – for us to be prepared for the Kingdom to come by living in the Kingdom now. An author talks about life after life. He was asked, “What happens after we die?” He said, “I don’t pretend to know, but popular belief is that we would go to a holding place, to heaven, but one day, we will be resurrected and we will have physical bodies again. Believe in the resurrection of the physical body. This is life after life after death. In this life, love is the number one law. In this life, people are peacemakers. They are merciful. They hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
God is preparing for this life after death, the life now and the life of our children and children’s children. I believe that there is a life of the Cathedral of the King world to come. This COTK world to come doesn’t just involve us in this generation. This life continues on with our children and our children’s children. I believe that God wants us to prepare for this, and this is why we are planting a seed.
I still believe in the vision of the COTK complex where there will be a hospital, a drug rehabilitation, housing for some, and ministries in one complex, but I am resigned to the fact that it might not happen in my lifetime. Who knows that if we plant the seed right, and we walk in what is good which God has shown us, who knows how far our children would take what we left them? We may have run one hundred meters and as we give them the baton, who knows how far they would go until they pass the baton to the next generation? Who knows that in our generation or in the next generation, we will be able to acquire the adjacent lots beside our property?
I believe in this, which is why we need to prepare to walk in what is good now! This is what God wants for us. We are not building the kingdom of the Cathedral of the King, but for our part, we have these things in front of us. What are we going to do about it? God has shown us what is good, so walk in it. Our choice and God’s grace is at work in us. I don’t know about you, but I would rather walk in this ever-increasing Kingdom and love is the way it is in this very Kingdom.