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Sunday, April 30, 2017

So What Does it Mean to be Blessed? (Psalm 1, Joshua 1)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 30, 2017 - Psalm 1; Joshua 1:1,7-9

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Every Promise of Your Word (Getty/Townend)
Singing Together: Ancient Words (DeShazo)
Offering of Music: Bobby White, piano
Hymn of Sending: How Firm a Foundation (FOUNDATION)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we come to the end of a series by the same name as this sermon: “What Does it Mean to be Blessed?” We have looked at Jesus’ own teaching , as well as some other scripture, to try to understand this term which gets used in so many ways in the church and our culture.

Today I’d like to walk us back through what we’ve learned, then end with a brief look at the two passages you heard read today from Psalm 1 and Joshua 1. My hope is not just that you would better understand blessing, but that you would also BE blessed as you draw near to God’s will and Word in your own life.

Blessings and Woes (Luke 6:20-26)

Blessed are the poor (v.20) – Jesus warns against settling for any comfort in life that is less than God’s own hope, healing, and true comfort. Blessing is to be found in God alone, not in the stuff of this earth.

Blessed are those who hunger now (v. 21a)
– Jesus speaks of what ultimately feeds or satisfies us, warning again against settling for the immediate, temporary, or mundane. As he taught in John 6, Jesus is the Bread of Life – the source and sustenance for our lasting and true satisfaction.

Blessed are you who weep now (v. 21b)
– Jesus speaks of sorrow over the brokenness of this world and the joy that God will set things right. It is this perspective, even in sorrow, that is the source of true joy, the present experience of our future hope.

Blessed are you who are hated… for the sake of the Son of Man (v. 22)
– Jesus speaks of true rewards, not as a prize given to us for our service to God, but as the blessing of trusting and following Him. The relationship with God through Christ is itself the true reward or blessing.

Action Steps (Luke 6:27-38)

Jesus moved from those blessings and woes to three pretty direct action steps. In a series of varied and repeated teachings and illustrations, he said that blessing is found in doing three things: LOVING, DOING GOOD, and GIVING FREELY. But he goes way beyond the ordinary expectation of what these mean by challenging us to love, do good, and give freely to those who have not treated us well, even enemies. Our example is God Himself, who has lavished us with these things even though we didn’t deserve it and have been, at times, enemies of God.

Jesus teaches that blessing is not a one-way gift from God to us, but is a lived reflection of God’s intent toward us. If we want to experience blessing, then we live as Christ has lived and love as God has loved.

Jesus, Our Example (Holy Week events)

We saw several examples of Jesus as our example of blessing over the course of Holy Week…

Palm Sunday (Mark 11)
– Jesus was BLESSED, the one who came in the name of the Lord. That wasn’t just something the crowd shouted or a prophecy fulfilled, it described Jesus and describes blessing for us. Jesus was blessed because he was perfectly aligned with God’s will. That’s where blessing is rooted, not in our will or wishes. That is perhaps most simply and powerfully captured in his prayer, “Thy will be done.”

Maundy Thursday (John 13)
– In that simple act of footwashing, Jesus demonstrated what it means to love. Remember the action steps? Loving beyond ordinary expectation is one of them. Jesus commanded his followers to love others like he loved them. It was (and is) a welcoming, generous, humble love. It extends the love of God to others. That is blessed.

Easter Sunday (Acts 13)
– The resurrection account in Acts 13 read like a news report. In the course of that report, it is explained in Jewish-historical terms and also in relational terms. Part of the historical explanation named the resurrection as the “holy and sure blessings” of David because it made good on God’s promise to His people through David. The report went on to describe forgiveness and freedom as two specific blessings that we can enjoy because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Resurrection Appearances (John 20)
– Last Sunday we looked at Jesus’ appearance to the disciples after the resurrection. Thomas missed it and did not believe. We looked at some of the unhealthy fruit of his unbelief: doubt, demands, and isolation. But we also saw the healthy fruit of belief, which may still include doubt, but leads to love, salvation, and worship.

Rooted in God’s Word (Joshua 1, Psalm 1)

Today you heard part of the introduction to the book of Joshua. He was the leader God chose after the great leader Moses died. In charging Joshua for that task, God told him not only to be “strong and very courageous,” but also to be very careful to obey the scripture. And God told him not just to obey it, but to “meditate on it day and night.” (v. 8) In so doing, God said, Joshua would experience blessing.

Here in Joshua, then, as well as again and again over these past weeks, we have seen that blessing is rooted in God’s will and Word. Last week we talked a bit about Psalm 1, but I was drawn back to it this week to look a little more specifically at how we can root our lives in this way. People often ask me, “How can I know God’s will? How can I be ‘rooted’ in God’s Word?”

The picture described in Psalm 1 is such an easy one to picture. It is a tree planted next to a stream of water. (v. 3) For that tree it doesn’t matter if the weather changes or if drought comes. The tree is rooted and those roots reach the life-giving water nearby. That allows the tree to bear fruit in season and not to weaken or wither or fade away.

Just like that healthy, fruit-bearing tree planted near life-giving water, spiritual health and blessing comes from our being rooted in and nourished by God’s Word in scripture. And the Psalmist gives us two specific non-metaphorical descriptions of how to relate to scripture in that way: study and delight.

Study and Delight (Psalm 1)

By STUDY, I don’t mean cramming the night before a test. That’s not how we are to relate to scripture. The Psalm describes the blessed person as one who meditates in God’s Law day and night. I mean the kind of study that keeps returning again and again for more knowledge – and not just head-knowledge, but the kind of knowledge that is life-changing and life-giving. To ‘meditate’ on scripture is to read it and learn it and ponder it and test it and live it. That kind of study only starts in a Sunday school class, Bible study, or quiet time. It continues throughout the day and the week until it becomes part of who we are. And that kind of relationship with scripture is closely related to the other description given here.

To DELIGHT in God’s Word is to be captivated by it. It becomes something we enjoy and look forward to, not a burdensome chore or obligation. I realize there is not a delight switch that can make you love the Bible like some of us love ice cream. But that’s where the study comes in. It is very rare for someone to delight in something they only relate to casually and don’t spend much time with. It may be that studying the Bible starts as a decision and a commitment; but precisely because it is full of life and hope I think it will turn to delight. And if you can experience just a little delight, it makes it all the easier to then study and meditate on scripture.

Our desire in offering opportunities for study at Good Shepherd is not to put one more spiritual obligation on you, but to offer a place where you can, with others, experience both the study and the delight that is described in Psalm 1.

So What Does it Mean to be Blessed?

So do you want to be blessed? It doesn’t mean trouble will go away. It doesn’t mean you will get rich or famous or get well. What it means is trying to figure out what God is up to – what God would want – and aligning your choices, desires, decisions, and life with Him. The very practical way to figure out how to do that is to root yourself in God’s Word, in scripture. That’s where God reveals what He’s up to and what He wants. Study it; delight in it. Or at least study it until you can delight in it!

There will be times when you won’t want to hear what God has to say. Many of us have had that experience when we are headed in the wrong direction and a parent, teacher, or friend calls us on it. It’s hard to delight at that stage. But surely we know the wrong direction is not #blessed. God loves you perfectly and His Word and will are always worth heeding, even if it’s hard to delight in the moment. But it is the way to come to know and experience real blessing, which is what God desires for you and for me. Amen.

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