Friday, November 10, 2017

Sermon: Shocked By a Blessing

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus teaches on the mountain, he has a whole group of people sitting around him. And he begins to talk to them about people who have troubles: the hopeless, the grieving, the hungry and thirsty, the harassed and the insulted. But what follows is a shock – Jesus tells them that they are blessed by God for what they are going through.

That normally isn’t our attitude when we are going through things like this – much more likely people ask what they did to anger God, or why are they being punished – but that is not how Jesus frames the situation. He says that they are actually favored by God, beloved of God because this trouble that they are facing leads to blessing. And look at the blessings! Jesus tells them that they will be given heaven, happiness, fullness, mercy and more. They will be rewarded. He turns what they have been feeling as a negative in their lives, their suffering and he turns it into a positive.

I wonder what people were thinking when they heard this for the first time. Did they try cleaning out their ears to see if they heard him correctly? Or did they think that Jesus was crazy? Did they think he was an optimist who not only saw the glass half full, but insanely thought the water in it could be transformed into the best wine? Or did they hear the deeper promises of God that Jesus was conveying and did it fill them with hope?

I pray that it was the latter. You see, one of the most powerful things that Jesus does throughout his life and his death is reframe the way we see the world.

Treasures are not as important as things that don’t rust. The first shall be last, the last shall be first. Don’t worry about what you shall eat or what you shall wear. Love your enemies.

In fact, this is the same thing that Jesus does on the cross. When Jesus suffers and dies, it appears to be a horrible and awful punishment. But God transforms that suffering by producing life from it – suddenly Christ’s death is about being set free from the limitations of our humanity. Sin and death no longer have a hold on us. Forgiveness is offered for our past, and promises laid out for our future. His resurrection reframes the horrific image of crucifixion into a source of salvation. And with it, we are reminded that all suffering including even death is not the end. Instead there is a shocking blessing which follows, eternal life.

So perhaps Jesus does really get it. Perhaps he sees our suffering more clearly than we do because he has a wider perspective. So let’s look at this teaching again, and try to open them up like a stubborn oyster and find the pearls of wisdom inside. Remember, these are just my thoughts, I encourage you to look at them and come up with ways you see the blessings in each as I go through them!

The first one is Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. The blessing of hopelessness is that despite the fact that they have broken spirits, heaven is theirs -- even if they have given up on the promises of God. They will be surprised when the blessing they had stopped hoping for happens for them!

The second is Happy are people who grieve because they will be made glad. The blessing of grief is that joy comes. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. In fact, the situation may be like the previous one, it may be that they have grieved so long that they have given up hope that joy will ever come, but then comes the day when heaven’s blessed reunion is theirs, and they will be shocked when God wipes the tears from their eyes and joy is restored!

The third says, Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Those who don’t think they are worth a damn are shown they are worth a blessing. For those of you who think I just swore and are shocked, I used that phrase on purpose. Being damned is being condemned by God, right? So people who feel like they aren’t even worth enough of God’s time to be condemned by God are given the world. They will be shocked to discover they are valued far beyond their own self-assessment.

The fourth says, Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Righteousness in Greek is the same word as justice. It is a word meaning that everything is right and good: internally and externally. So the blessing is that those who are desperate to see good done, will discover so much goodness, that their souls will be overflowing with it, and so will our world. Those who desire this will be shocked when they discover God the immensity of God’s goodness.

The fifth of Jesus’ statements is, Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. This one breaks the pattern of most of the others because being merciful doesn’t really seem like a situation of suffering that the prior ones have been. But I suppose it could be, if the person is the type that all around sees wounded and hurting people in a merciless world. So perhaps the blessing is that God shocks them by showing that ultimately mercy wins, and they experience the healing of everything around them.

Jesus’ sixth statement is Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. Once again, this one doesn’t really seem to be addressing a group of people that are obviously suffering, unless it is that their innocence is stained by the impurity of the world. Like a child, the pure of heart are traumatized by foul things done around them, and perhaps even to them. God will bless them with the purity of God’s presence, which may truly overwhelm and shock, and a realization that God has cleansed and purified everything.

The seventh statement, is Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Like the last two peace-makers don’t strike us as people who suffer. And yet those who make peace must see conflict, they must open their eyes and be witnesses to war and hatred. And such sights do not easily leave the heart and mind. One could come to believe that conflict is the only reality. But God promises that it is not, and one day peace will be the ultimate reality, and I suspect that will be a shock for us all.

Finally Jesus tells us that Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, who are insulted and have bad and false things said about them because of Christ. They have suffered the harsh condemnation of others. But the blessing is that they will find the complete and utter acceptance of God.

Each and every one of these statements reminds us that what is now the current situation, is not what will be. So the sufferings, the difficulties of this present age, are not part of the age to come.

Jesus is trying to encourage us to see beyond the present, to look into the future, and remember that God is still at work. If we could but see what he sees, we would know it. He wants us to reframe what we experience in life and know that the worst of what we go through can be transformed into something new and beautiful. God is always at work recreating, reshaping and reforming our world and our lives. The suffering of today is the blessing of tomorrow.

When we have lost hope, we need to know that the reign of God is very real and never gives up. When we grieve, we need to know that the deaths that we have witnessed in the last year are the reunions that are planned in heaven. When we are hungry, thirsty, insulted, harassed, merciful, humble, and stepped on by the world, we need to know that God plans to fill us, love us, lift us up, show us mercy, until the very kingdom of heaven is ours. And just knowing that gives us joy.

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