Sermon 8 6 14. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst” – Andrew Monk

Since I accidentally deleted the audio of this message, I thought I would just post the transcript as a blog post.

Psalm 63:1-8
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your loving-kindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after Righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Truly understanding this beatitude and working towards having a heart that expresses what we just heard in Psalm 63 hinges not on how we understand hunger and thirst, but on how we understand righteousness. Most of us here who have grown up and lived in New Zealand do not truly know what it means to hunger or thirst. It is easy for us to accept that we are supposed to seek after this thing called righteousness as veraciously as we would seek after food or water if we were to experience a true hunger or thirst. The 40-hour famine happened recently, and having done it myself in the past, I know the small pangs of hunger that you get after about 8 hours of not eating. It usually hits Saturday mid-morning when your body realizes that you actually aren’t going to give it breakfast. Over the day, a slow increasing burn creeps into your stomach until it rages fiercely from about hours 30-40. The desire for food you have makes you say crazy things as that clock counts down the last 5 minutes. I believe that this feeling is about the closest most of us will come to understanding truly what it means to hunger or thirst.

And so for those of us who are satisfied in our own means most of the time, our experience of hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the same as our experience of hungering and thirsting after food. Most of the time we eat, not because we are hungry, but because the clock says it’s time to eat, and we know we are supposed to. Or maybe, we realize that we have missed a meal, or time has gotten away from us, and our stomach starts to grumble to remind us that we haven’t met or exceeded our caloric intake yet, and it might have to start utilizing some of our stored fat for energy if we don’t stop and eat. And so we treat our hungering and thirsting after righteousness in the same way, we seek God only when the clock says it is time to seek God, or because we know we are supposed to, or we seek him when we realize time has gotten away from us, and it has been a while since we have sought him. And I think this not only comes from our understanding of what it means to hunger and thirst, but also our view of righteousness. How can our lives reflect the earnest desire we hear in Psalm 63? I believe by seeking an answer to this question: What did Jesus mean when he spoke of righteousness?

Did he mean the same thing that we normally think of when we think of what it means to be righteous? I don’t believe so. I think that what we understand righteousness to be is an ingrained New Testament idea of the legal standing between God and ourselves. We are sinners, and therefore, we are guilty, we are unrighteous. We have failed to live up to God’s standards of right living; we haven’t earned our righteousness. This is how Paul has been interpreted from a Greco-Roman perspective and how it has been drilled into us through our experience of salvation. But Jesus, being a Jew, speaking to Jews, in a Jewish way wouldn’t express or understand the term in a Greco Roman way.
A Hebrew understanding of righteousness comes from a very different perspective. The Hebrew word for righteousness denotes faithfulness to a relationship. Righteousness signifies the meeting of obligations laid upon the individual by the relationship of which he or she is part. In other words, to be righteous is to be right in one’s relationship with someone else. For the Jew, righteousness is experienced within covenant. It is faithfulness to the covenant, to the relationship. Primarily, understood as being between God and a person, or God and the nation of Israel. This is why Jesus is able to reduce the whole Law to what Scot Mcknight calls ‘The Jesus Creed’. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Being righteous, for a Jew, isn’t following a system of rules and making sure that you don’t break any of them, but rather, they follow the law, because it outlines the expectations of the relationship that God has with Israel and the one he expects people within Israel to have with each other. This is the covenant of relationship. This is righteousness for a Jew. The Ten Commandments illustrates this covenant of relationship by laying out the way that a person is required to act towards God and towards others. And we see this idea that Jesus talks about played out even in the Old Testament in verses like, Isaiah 56:1-2,
“Thus says the Lord, Preserve justice and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness is about to be revealed. How blessed is the man who does this and the son of man who takes hold of it; Who keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil”
In other words, blessed is the man who remains in right relationship towards God, and lives in right relationship with others. And Ezekial 18: 5-9.
“But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness, and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbours wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period – if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing, if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man, if he walks in My statues and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully – he is righteous and will surely live, declares the Lord.
So when we hear Jesus talking about hungering and thirsting after righteousness, he is making sure that we are taking seriously our relationship with God and with others. And as we see, the natural progression of the beatitudes continues. If you are poor in spirit, recognizing your relationship isn’t right with God and that you need Jesus to make that happen, then you begin to mourn for those things that you do, and the things that are on God’s heart. You become a biblically meek person of God, knowing your true worth is in God, and that leads to you breaking the Kingdom of God into the world, and the next step is that you continue to hunger and thirst in keeping your relationship right with God and with others. This beatitude is the predominant focus in your life, and the beatitudes that follow this one all flow from this desire to have right relationship with God and with others: to be righteous.
There are many illustrations of this in the Old Testament that play out this idea that being in right relationship with God and others is the key idea in what it means to be righteous for the Jew. There is a whole list of people in Hebrews 11 that are considered heroes of the faith, that have lives that would hardly be considered righteous overall. And so if we look at a couple of these people’s lives we can look to identify what it is that made them righteous.
Abraham is considered the ultimate role model when it comes to being someone who is considered righteous in the Old Testament. But when we look at the life of Abraham we see it was littered with indiscretions, things that we wouldn’t necessarily consider in a righteous person. The list of indiscretions includes: inciting Sarah to lie, causing her to sleep with another, and marrying his half-sister. Hardly a man most people would admire. Even when God promised him a son, he and his wife took matters into their own hands to try to fulfill this prophecy. So we have to ask ourselves, what was it that Abraham was considered righteous for?
In the same way David is called a man after God’s own heart, yet when we look at his life, the obvious question is, how could God call David “a man after His heart” when David was such a terrible a sinner. He is portrayed as a murdering adulterer and a pretty poor parent to boot. So what do we see in both of these men’s lives and others from the list of Hebrews 11 such as Noah and Samson that would lead us to understand how they fulfilled the term righteousness in the way of covenant relationship with God and with others?

Psalm 143
Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my plea! Answer me because you are faithful and righteous. Don’t put your servant on trial, for no one is innocent before you.
My enemy has chased me. He has knocked me to the ground and forces me to live in darkness like those in the grave. I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear.
I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done. I lift my hands to you in prayer. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain. Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don’t turn away from me, or I will die. Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord; I run to you to hide me. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on a firm footing.
For the glory of your name, O Lord, preserve my life. Because of your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress. In your unfailing love, silence all my enemies
 and destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.

It seems that what made Abraham and David righteous was not that they achieved it through sacrifice, prayer, following the rules or the Law, but that their righteousness was reckoned to them when they put their faith in the promises that God made to them, and that they returned to God when they did make bad decisions or run ahead of God or try to achieve the promises through their own means. The essence of Psalm 143 is the Old Testament reflection of the Beatitudes. In it David recognizes that he cannot be righteous apart from God granting it to him by his love. In the same way, Abraham learns that his righteousness comes from trusting God to fulfill his side of the covenant relationship; In essence, to fulfill the promise to make his descendants as numerous as the stars. This is what Abraham places his faith in when he leaves his country and begins his life in a land he did not know. And while he makes plenty of mistakes along the way, he learns that God is faithful, he continues to return to him, and to seek to uphold his part of the covenant. We see he has learnt, because when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac, he is ready to do it. He understands that righteousness only exists within right relationship, and his trust in God to fulfill his role of the covenant is why he is considered righteous.

In the same way with David, in spite of his many failures along the way, his faith rested in the promises that God had made to him regarding his lineage. He trusted God to fulfill his side of the covenant to himself and to Israel. This is what led him to pick up his sling when he was a boy to confront Goliath, the promises that God would be with Israel and fight for them. It is what led him to write these beautiful Psalms. It is what kept him from killing Saul when he had the chance, and this is what kept him coming back to God, hungering and thirsting after that right relationship with God and others when he failed.

So then, righteousness seen as being in right relationship with God and others becomes the desire of those who are poor in Spirit and recognize their need for right relationship, mourn for the separation with God and others, are meek because they know that their righteousness comes from God alone, and that they hunger and seek to maintain and restore that right relationship with God and with others, especially when they mess up. They seek that forgiveness, that restoration, not only to God, but also, in line with the Jesus Creed, others and the world. When we understand our continuing need for righteousness in these relational terms, while we can rest easy in the knowledge that our legal justification has been met by Jesus, we can continually hunger and thirst for that right relationship with God and with others.

Edwin Friedman once said that most people spend their life reacting to other people’s reactivity. Mr. A might be reacting to what happens in his life and gets angry at Mr. B; and Mr. B reacts back with vengeance. Reactivity is often what makes relationship turn sour. Stephen R Covey suggested that the opposite of being reactive is being proactive.

Some people live in the so-called stimulus-response condition. They react or respond to others based on the stimuli that they receive. But, Covey argues that there is a gap between stimulus and response. A proactive person is someone who can take advantage of the gap, which allows him or her to make a choice before they respond.

We often hear people say, “You pressed my button and that’s what you get.” That’s the sad nature of a reactive person because this person acts like a robot—responding to the pressing of a button. It is not an easy habit to change. Sometimes we just have a surge of rage when someone uses certain word on us, or when we hear someone doing certain things behind us.

When we keep our hunger and thirst for righteousness in mind—that is to desire healthy relationship with God and others, God can help us make good choices before we respond.

And Jesus says that when we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will be satisfied. The word means sated, bloated, or filled to overflowing. The metaphor expresses absolute and utter satisfaction. Those who pursue the righteousness Jesus promises will experience the kind of satisfaction that David expresses in the Psalms, and find the kind of kingdom society where love, peace, justice, and holiness shape the entirety of creation. When a group of Christ followers truly adopt the Jesus Creed and accept the beatitudes and create a community that lives out a kingdom society, all needs will be met, both relational and spiritual. But it begins with understanding that righteousness that leads to this spiritual and relational satisfaction will not be experienced in isolation from the other beatitudes. Nor will it be experienced in isolation from deep involvement in the community of faith. Deep involvement where we share our lives, our hurts, our weaknesses, our anger, our struggles. Where we are more honest with each other than just the idol chit chat we talk about on a Sunday morning, or even in cell groups. Where we let our real selves be know. The church cannot be the church to you, if the church does not know you. But we don’t open ourselves up to one another in our vulnerability and then we complain or leave when the church doesn’t respond to our relational and spiritual needs.

Do you really want to experience this satisfaction? Do you really want to be filled, sated, overflowing with the joy that David expresses in the Psalms? To be filled you first need to hunger, you first need to be thirsty. You first need to seek, desire and trust God like David did, like Jesus did. Having the right relationship with God will lead into having a right relationship with others. It will lead to mercy, peace, love, grace, healing, and demonstrate to the world the type of Kingdom that Jesus rules over. It will give them a reason to stop and take notice of what we say about God, because we will be living out what we say we believe, and we will be bringing a glimpse of that glorious kingdom to them, and they will believe us when they see our hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Psalm 42
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.