Friday, April 14, 2017

The Cross

When I think of the cross and those last hours of Jesus life; it is impossible to think of anything other than pain.  Physical pain from the flogging, the intense pain of skin and muscle being penetrated by large metal nails, the agony of a slow painful death.  But the cross also tells us of emotional and spiritual pain.  The pain of friends who’d rather save their own skin than stand up for what is right.  The pain of humiliation to be stripped naked, insulted and spit on.  The spiritual pain of feeling abandoned by God.   

I have tried to imagine these last moments of Jesus life, and I simply can’t relate.  I take Advil at the first sign of a headache.   Our TV’s are bombarded with commercials that tell us if we use this drug we will never need to feel uncomfortable much less pain.  We avoid seeing and experiencing emotional pain often at any cost.  We don’t like to see people grieve- after a week sympathy often dries up; we think people should be “over it” already.

We live in a happily ever after society which tells us we should never have to sacrifice our own happiness and pleasure for someone else; especially those who have hurt us in some way.  Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did.  The world threw every possible evil pain at Jesus and he took it. And, not only did he accept it- he mercifully forgave those who embodied this evil.

Why?  So that we, all humanity, could have life and hope. 

Hope that life is more than accumulating money and things.  Hope that life is more than just being a good person.  Hope that life is more than retiring comfortably in a house that’s paid off.  Even hope that true life is more than simply living without pain. 

As a Christian I am, we are, challenged to commit this life we are given to the difficult task of following Jesus.  That means we live into his call to take up our cross and follow him.  This means not avoiding pain, but finding purpose in the pain and sometimes even purposefully entering the pain of another. 

It is seeing a world full of the real pain of despair and hopelessness and willingly listening for how Jesus is calling us to offer the hope of Christ into their life and situation. 

This ultimately requires sacrifice:  time, money, comfort, judgement, resentment, blame and most of all our desire to live without pain. 

It means no longer avoiding the TV news, so we don’t have to see the pain of others.  It means no longer looking at children dying needlessly of hunger or serine gas and turning a blind eye.  It means no longer giving lip service to the plight of refugees but not being willing to open our own homes. 

It means no longer ignoring the pain and longing in the heart of a foster child.  It means acknowledging the pain of hunger, homelessness, Mental Illness and addiction in our own community and being willing to make real changes to breathe hope into their lives. 

It means being able to enter the pain of someone else with compassion and being willing to get personally and intimately involved in the life of others- not looking on with pity from a distance. 

It also means offering forgiveness to those who have caused us pain. 

This is what Jesus did on the cross.  He willingly, unapologetically, sacrificed everything to enter our world, our pain, our brokenness and our imperfections.  Not because we deserved to be helped or we could someday pay him back, or would eventually not need him anymore.  These are the limitations we put on helping others not the limitations Jesus put on us.  No, he entered our pain so that we would know we always have someone who understands, advocates for us and loves us even when we fail and forgives us at our worst.   

This is the beauty, hope and challenge of the cross.  Jesus knows that we will fail.  Jesus knows we are just as broken as the people we are called to love.  Jesus knows we are the ones in need- in need of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  In need of perspective.

So, Jesus offers that to us in the cross.  A challenge to love more fully, the beauty of being loved, even in our sinfulness and shame, and the hope that where we fail- Jesus will be, forgiveness will be and mercy will be. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Great Expectations

Matthew 21: 1-11

Hosanna in the Highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the Highest!

I can almost hear the crowd now!  It was a festival, a party, a celebration!  Jerusalem, a town of maybe 40,000, was brimming with people.  Some estimate the population rose to over ½ million during Passover week.  Ancient Jerusalem, knew how to throw a party and Passover was the best of them all.  Passover is a time to celebrate how God saved the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.  It is a reminder to them of who and whose they are. 

They retell stories of how God showed power and might over pharaoh and his slaveholders.  They tell stories of provision of how God provided guidance in the wilderness, food and fresh water when they thought they would die.  They celebrate God’s promise for the future; to send a messiah, a savior!  Someone who would make all things right. They dream of a day when they will no longer be subject to any power other than God!  They had a lot to celebrate and hope for! 

I imagine the Passover described in Scripture to be like Mardi Gras in New Orleans… people everywhere, singing, dancing, cooking lavish meals for friends, family and strangers alike. 

And this year was special.  They had heard about Jesus.  They had heard the rumors that this man might be the One!  Some of them knew someone he had healed with a touch or a word, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons and making the lame to walk.  Maybe some of them had been in the crowd when Jesus multiplied bread and fish to make a meager meal into a feast!  The rumors were swirling that Jesus was special. 

As Jesus arrives in Jerusalem people cannot wait to see him.  It was bigger than crazed Beatles’ fans trying to get a glimpse of John or Ringo.  This is a once in a life time experience!

As they catch a glimpse of him coming down the road, it all starts to click in their minds.  Isn’t this how Zachariah and Isaiah said it would happen?  He’s coming from the East from the Mount of Olives, that’s where the messiah is to come from.  And, he’s on a donkey too!  All the pieces are coming together.  They tell their friends and everyone comes out to see Jesus! 

So they throw him a parade with whatever they can find!  They pull branches off trees, take off their coats and wave them in the air!  It is a spontaneous celebration fit for a victorious king!!!!   But do they know exactly what they are celebrating?  What do they expect from Jesus?

Their chanting tells us what they expect!  Hosanna to the Son of David!  Hosanna literally means “Save us”!  Come Jesus!  Save us!  You, the Son of David, save us! 

But save us from what? 

Son of David, tells us much more than just the ancestry of Jesus.  This is huge!  Son of David is a political title.  David is the King, the one whom God promised would always have a descendent on the throne.  The rightful heir of the king is his son. This is Jesus.  This title, Son of David tells us they expected Jesus to be king!  They expected a king of old who led them in battle, who would defeat their enemies, kill Goliath, the giant who threated to enslave them. 

They expected a king who would be powerful and in control.   They also  expected a messiah who would led them as a priest, who would teach them about God! 

They expected the temple and religion to be the center of their nation.  Not one nation under God but God’s nation for God, God’s people united together to worship and live for God. 

Maybe they expected Jesus to lead a revolution.  Many people had claimed to be the messiah, led revolts and while some had succeeded more than others, in the end they had all failed.  So maybe the crowd that day put their hope and expectations into Jesus that he would be the one to succeed in overthrowing Rome. 

The question for us this Palm Sunday is then; what do we expect from Jesus?  Someone who will comfort us, tell us we were right all along?  Someone who will challenge us, correct us?  Or someone who will answer our prayers and smite our enemies?

We still pray that Jesus will come again.  In the apostles creed, the bedrock statement of our faith, we say that we believe that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead.  So what do we expect Jesus to be like when he comes back?  Do we expect a king or a servant? A warrior on a white horse or a calm peace-loving pacifist?  The final battle between good and evil or for all things to magically be free from evil?  Jesus descending from the clouds like an angel or walking down the street like an ordinary person?  Will everyone recognize God’s glory or just a few? 

We have anticipated the return of the Messiah so many times now.  Early Christians expected he would come within days, weeks or a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  When that didn’t happen, people decided it would be a thousand years, then two thousand years.  None of them seem to have been correct. 

If we look ahead to Matthew 25 we get another glimpse as to what Jesus return will be like.  This is the story of Jesus returning as judge to separate the sheep, those who do the will of God, from the goats, those who don’t do the will of God.    

What happens when Jesus returns and some of those who think they are sheep are actually goats?  In Matthew 25 Jesus says he was the one who is hungry, thirsty, the stranger, the one who is in prison; not a king on a white stallion.  What if Jesus comes back in a way we don’t expect?

The people who celebrated Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city had plenty of expectations.  Expectations that were founded in solid Jewish theology and common understandings of scripture.  But what Jesus taught and what Jesus preached and the way Jesus acted was not what they expected of a Messiah.  He didn’t pat the religious people on the back and tell them what a good job they had done. 

He challenged them, corrected their thinking about God and power and judgement.  He told them that all people were valuable not just the ones who fit a specific description.  He challenged the way they did business in the temple.  He challenged the rules they followed of who was right and who was wrong.  He challenged their power and their authority.

When he rode into town on the donkey and people started calling him king he challenged everything they knew to be true.  They already had a king, Caesar.  Anyone challenging that authority, would be disastrous for everyone!  Rome would not blink at using military force to put down an insurrection, they had done it before and would do it again!  That could mean disaster for everyone. 
Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Religious leaders would lose their power, their influence, their wealth and what little freedom they had and those who chose to fight may lose their lives along with many innocent people who get in the way.  They prayed for a messiah, but didn’t really want one that would change the world.

We like to think we would be different.  We tend to paint “the Jews” as a group of people in scripture that we don’t’ want to be.  Especially as this week comes to an end and the cry of Hosanna is replaced with Crucify him!
We like to think we would welcome the Messiah, sing Loud Hosanna’s and wave palm branches in the air and never think twice.  But would we?   Would we recognize Jesus if he came as a mighty king in flowing white robes?  Do we recognize him in the face of a stranger, a homeless man, a convicted criminal in a jail cell? 

Jesus may have not fit the expectations of the Jewish majority.  And Jesus may or may not show up the way we expect him to show up today.  But ironically, the chant of Hosanna that the people cried that day and the chant of Hosanna that people cry out every Palm Sunday was more accurate than they realized. 

Jesus, did come to save us- just not in the way they or we expect.  Praise God that the Messiah exceeds all our expectations!  Jesus doesn’t come to save us from “them”, from someone or something else.  Jesus doesn’t come guns blazing, condemning everyone or everything we don’t like. 

No, Jesus comes to save us from ourselves.  To save us from narrow mindedness, from thinking the world revolves around us, from greed, materialism, commercialism, from doubt, fear, shame, and sin.  Jesus comes to save us from whatever separates us from a loving, honest and perfect relationship with God and our neighbor. 
Jesus comes to save us from death.  Death in whatever form it takes in your life, not just physical death by giving us eternal life but the death that keeps us from living into who God created us to be; gifts, talents and shortcomings alike. 

Jesus comes to save us from the smallness of our imaginations.  We cannot imagine what true life is like when we try to imagine it without Jesus. 
Jesus came so that we might have life.  Jesus saves us from death so that we can live life on earth and in heaven.  Sometimes Jesus shows up just as we expect and sometimes he doesn’t and that’s exactly how God wants it.  God wants us to wait expectantly to see Jesus in both the shepherd and the king.  Because as we learn to love both in this life we begin to love with the eyes of Christ and live a life of fullness and compassion for all of God’s creation.

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Save us Jesus, today and every day!  Amen. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Challenged Assumptions

John 9

When I was 15 years old, my sister brought home a new boyfriend to introduce to the family.  He was a likable guy but the one real memory I have of him was of an argument.  Apparently, I thought he was going to do something and he decided to not do what he said he would do.  In my bratty teenager, little sister kind of way I told him “I assumed you would do it.”  In a very angry tone, he got in my face and told me I should never ASS-UME anything.  Saying that it made a ___ out of U and ME. 

I did learn to stop assuming a lot… about him anyway.  And, reluctantly I will say in some ways he was right.  We shouldn’t make assumptions. 
Unfortunately, this is part of who we are as humans and how our brains work. We take a partial piece of information about a person or situation and we transfer that information and apply it to a current event.
When I do this today, it drives my husband, Jay, crazy.  He will ask me a question like- is a restaurant open for lunch.  I will then answer without looking it up.  I assume people eat lunch, most restaurants serve lunch, surely this one will be open for lunch too.  Only to drive 30 min out of the way to discover it is closed.  My understanding of what is expected, and what is true are not the same. 

The people in our scripture lesson from the Gospel of John today are no less vulnerable to this thought process.  Jesus and the disciples are walking down the road when they see a man who has been blind since birth.  They do the natural thing many of us do: We ask why.  Why did someone get sick, be born with a disability, suffer from mental illness?  It seems to be against the natural order of things so we question. 

What did I/ they do to deserve this tragedy or problem?  It is the age-old question:  Why do bad things happen to good people?
When the disciples see the blind many they assume that he or his parents must have done something to deserve it.   Jesus tells them: neither he nor his parents sinned to deserved this ailment.  Their assumption is wrong because they don’t have all the information. 

After the man is healed; his neighbors start making assumptions.  This miracle is out of their realm of understanding, impossible.  So instead they try to rationalize what they cannot understand.  For some of them it is easier to believe that a man they’ve known all his life has a mysterious twin brother they have never met and somehow, they have now switched places.  As hard as that is to understand, it is more plausible to them than a miraculous healing. 
We are not immune to this error either.  We try to explain away what we don’t understand.  We blame people for getting sick- not eating right, or exercising.  We hear people blame natural disasters on some punishment from God for an assumed evil.  Then when something miraculous does happen we try to explain it away too.  It must have been a shadow on the scan- not a tumor that has now disappeared. The medicine did what scientists designed it to do, the mud must have had medicinal properties.  Anything other than a miracle that we can’t explain.   

Then the Pharisees put in their 2 cents.  After they can’t deny the healing, they begin to discredit the source.  These are the religious leaders who everyone looks to for faith in God.  These, one would suspect, would be the most accepting of miracles from God.  But, instead they assume that it is not from God because it doesn’t fit into their preconceived understanding of how God works.
So, they try to explain it away.  Either this man is lying or the cause of his healing is from an undesirable source.  It can’t be of God because it doesn’t fit in their God shaped box.  When they can’t make the situation fit with their assumptions, they refuse to accept they might be wrong.  They assume that what they know about God is correct, that God will only act in ways that are suitable to their understanding, they insist the man who is healed is wrong and they cast him out of the synagogue. 

Unfortunately, we can’t write this off as something these “Pharisees” would do, because we do it too.  Even if we believe in miracles, even if we believe that God works in supernatural ways we still struggle to accept that things/ people are of God when they don’t fit into our understanding of God.  We have rules, just like the Pharisees, of what God and godly people, look like, how they act and how they think. 
Nadia Bolz-Weber is kind of a Christian rock star at the moment.  She pastors a Lutheran congregation in Denver Colorado, is an inspirational author and spends a significant amount of her time traveling and doing speaking engagements.  On first glance some might challenge her call as a pastor, and as a Christian.  First of all she’s a woman, she’s a recovering alcoholic, she is covered in tattoos, usually wears jeans and a black tank top and she cusses like a sailor.    

She doesn’t fit our stereotype of a pastor, religious leader or Christian for that matter.  We tend to assume “those people” are clean cut, well behaved, never curse, never drinks, always knows their place, and whatever else you’d want to add to that list of expectations.  But I have never read anything like her.  I have never heard anyone else speak of Jesus and faith in a way that is so loving and approachable.
Through her writings and stories my eyes are open to see the Holy Spirit in ordinary people and places one wouldn’t assume Jesus would be.  And through her, many broken people have found healing in a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

But isn’t this the story of Jesus?  Jesus does the unexpected with the unexpected.  Jesus challenges all our assumptions of what it means to be a follower of God.  Jesus challenges our assumptions as to what it means to be loved and accepted, just as we are.  Jesus ate with sinners, with those the community had condemned as unclean, unworthy and unwanted and in that act of hospitality said “no!  your brokenness is beautiful, you are loved and you are accepted by the one who made you.” 

Jesus tells us that in God we are loved, we are accepted, our brokenness can be healed and made acceptable through the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Jesus spits and makes mud.  Spit is gross, spit is full of bacteria and germs, spitting on the ground is what you to do expel something undesirable from your mouth or insult the person in in your presence.  And mud. Mud is made from dirt, the stuff we wash off our hands before we eat, the stuff that everyone has been walking on, the stuff that makes us dirty.  And yet, repeatedly in the gospels, Jesus uses dirt and spit, the things we reject, to bring healing to someone who has been rejected by the community. 

This man whom Jesus healed is one of those outcasts.  As a blind man, he is a beggar, an outcast, so forgotten that the people don’t recognize him without his disability.  Even his family doesn’t welcome him with open arms.  Instead of celebrating the healing of their son, his family throws him under the proverbial bus to save themselves from being expelled from the synagogue.  The religious leaders expel him for not conforming to their understanding of what was right and for not cowering to their insistence that he defame Jesus. 
When everyone else rejects him, Jesus seeks him out.  Jesus welcomes him, confirms his faith and tells him that he is good, worthy and acceptable to God. 

This week in Bible study as we work through Mike Slaughter’s Renegade Gospel, we talked about why it is difficult to see Jesus.  It is often because we assume we know how, where, when and through whom God will act.  We are blinded to the true actions of the Holy Spirit in the world.  Our assumptions prevent us from seeing God in the ordinary because we only expect God to work in specific and extraordinary ways. 
We assume God only shows up in faithful believers when God has dominion over all the world.  Or maybe you assume that God would never work in you or them; sinful, broken, rejected by good “Christians”.  All because life doesn’t fit in the expected Christian Mold. 

But we see over and over that this is not how it is.   Jesus is always at work.  Jesus always offers healing to our brokenness and pain.  The Holy Spirit is always moving, creating, re-creating.  God is always there we just have to open our eyes.  We do this by practice.  Realizing that God can and does act in ways beyond our understanding, beyond our expectations.  The more we look for Jesus, the more likely we are to find him. 
The way you know it is of God is not whether it fits in our box but by its fruits.  Are people being healed, loved, accepted, treated with kindness and compassion?  Are people serving, caring, welcoming and generous to those in need?  Then no matter the box or the packaging.  This is of God. 

God broke the mold when you were made.  God is constantly challenging us to break the cycle of assumption and disbelief telling us the more right you think you are- the less you truly understand and any time we think God can’t or won’t do something we are wrong. 
This is the beauty of Jesus, showing up when we least expect it and don’t deserve it.  Offering grace upon grace, using ordinary dirt, ordinary us and making miracles happen.  All we have to do is open our hearts to see. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

To Enter God's Rest

Psalm 95: (NRSV)
O come, let us sing to the Lord;  let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;  let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!  For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.  In his hand are the depths of the earth;  the heights of the mountains are his also.  The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.  O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!  For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.  O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.  10 For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”  11 Therefore in my anger I swore,  “They shall not enter my rest.”

My first job out of college was in a group home just outside of New Bern, NC.  It was a locked facility for juvenile offenders and runaways who had been mandated by the courts to live there.  Not only were the kids under lock down but so were the staff- unable to leave or go outside on our own without another staff person to relieve you. 
Surprisingly, the kids were pretty well behaved, the pay was ok for a first job, the company was good and my co-workers were great. Several of my friends from college struggled for years to find full-time work I should have been grateful. 
And, honestly, there wasn’t a lot to complain about, but around my 1 year anniversary, complaining is just what I did.  It had begun to feel like I was the one in jail.  The more I complained the more miserable I became; nothing would suit me but to look for a “better” job.  I had lost perspective.  I had stopped being grateful.  I could not be satisfied. 

I had hardened my heart, stopped listening to God.  I had lost my patience, so I took the first job I could find which turned out to be 10 times worse than the first.  Even though it had better pay and better hours, and the doors weren’t locked 24/7 but oh My- it was horrible!  I was ill prepared to work with this new group of kids.  I was miserable!  And, looking back almost 20 years ago, I can hear God say… I told you so.   
I struggled in that time to see God present or at work in my life.  I felt like I had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.  Things had gone from bad to worse.  I felt unqualified to do anything in my field.  I struggled to find a place in God’s rest.  But honestly, I wasn’t really looking for God’s rest. 

This wasn’t because God was keeping me out but because I chose to stay out. I was stubborn and felt I could create peace for myself.   Except, I couldn’t because it is a place that doesn’t exist without God.  It is a place you find as you surrender your life to God not one we make for ourselves. 
The Psalmist speaks for God at the end of Psalm 95 saying that God loathed the Israelite people for their lack of faith and trust in God’s provision.  That in his anger he prevented them from entering his rest.  I understand that feeling but in my experience God’s rest is there.   I, and probably many others am just refusing to enter it. 

This place of God’s rest requires us to enter through gates of trust.  A trust that is often difficult to live into because it requires a sacrifice, not necessarily of money or anything tangible, because that would be easy, but a sacrifice of submission. 
Submission to a truth that may not be clear.  Submission to a plan with an outcome that cannot be controlled.  A sacrifice of control, a sacrifice of not having it my way.  But mainly the sacrifice of the selfish desire of wanting more, better and different. 

In this second job, I gave up.  I cried myself to sleep so many nights that I just couldn’t take it anymore.  My only option was to give up.  Give up control and learn to trust and accept the peace that I couldn’t create but that God was offering.  And, God being God, I was rescued. 
Psalm 95 is a psalm of Praise, it is a reminder to us that God is indeed God of all creation.  A God who made us, provides for us, saves us with love, compassion and understanding, even when we rebel, even when we choose to go our own way, even when we complain to God and about God.  Even when we just can’t be satisfied with the gifts we’ve been given.  God is still there, still providing, and still keeping God’s promises. 

God reminds the people of their waywardness in Meribah and Massah, not to show off what happens when God gets angry or threatening to withhold God’s love if they stray but as a reminder that God does provide, that God can be trusted, now and in the times to come. 
God is reminding them that it was God who saved them from slavery in Egypt, God who heard their complaining and lack of trust in God’s provision and loved them anyway, providing them with fresh water in the desert. 

Remembering the past has a way of helping us to look forward with hope and optimism.  It’s not that life isn’t hard at times.  It isn’t that we are supposed to put on a happy face with blind, Pollyannaish optimism.  No, because there are times, when God calls us to intentionally live in difficult times- resisting evil and injustice.    
Hope, true optimism, even in the face of challenge and difficult times comes as we look back at all the ways God has provided to get us where we are today.  We can sit around and complain about how horrible it is: it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too wet, it’s too dry, or we can look back and see all the reasons we have to give thanks, even when we are living in a time or place that feels like wilderness. 

When we look around us we can see the beauty of God’s creation, the snow tipped peaks and the daffodils blooming and trust that God knows what God is doing and created the world as it should be.   We can watch as the seasons change and trust that winter will lead to spring, just as it always does. 
We can look at our lives, our past and see the mistakes we have made, the decisions we chose to exclude God from and the consequences of those choices and recognize that even then God was there.  We can see the times when the sound of our complaining drowned out the sound of God’s voice trying to shepherd us through a difficult time.  We can remember the times when in fear we ran from God instead of trusting the guidance of the One who holds all things in his hands. 

And, in this remembering we can look forward trusting that just as God has provided for our past; God will continue to provide for our future.  We can move forward, following in the footsteps of Christ, desiring not our own will, but the will of the Father and as we move forward in hope we trust that the Rock of our Salvation is always present, always offering us a place in God’s rest if we are only willing to enter through the gates of trust, peace, hope and love. 
For this we have reason to give thanks and shout songs of Praise to our Lord.  For this we bow down, worship at the feet of the One who loves us even in our sinfulness, offers us a peace and rest that we cannot create on our own and offers us healing and wholeness amongst the brokenness of our world.  This is the reason we have hope, not only in times of plenty but in times of want too. 

Praise be to God!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

flip the script

Matthew 5:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31

I want to start off by saying just how blessed I am.  As I wrote this it was sunny and warm outside, I got to celebrate my Mom and niece’s birthday this week, I had a chance to spend quality time with friends and family.  I am blessed. 

I feel blessed to be called by God to this wonderful vocation, to work alongside fantastic people who want to make our community better.  And, I get to spend time with great youth in our church.  I am blessed!

We often talk like this don’t we? 
We say things like “I am so blessed; I got to spend time with loved ones.”  “I am so blessed because I have a good paying job where I feel respected and successful.”  “I am blessed with a nice house, a nice car, health insurance, and being healthy enough not to need it much.”  “I am blessed because a storm missed my house.”  Whatever seems to be positive for you is a sign you are blessed.

This is the way the world works, right?

We are taught from a very early age to be proud!  Be proud of your achievements, you worked hard for them!  If you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will.  We are taught to hunger for success, power, money, popularity, influence and respect! And when we get what we want- we are blessed!

We are taught not to grieve:  Keep a stiff upper lip/ don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. If we do have a reason to mourn it should be temporary; we medicate people if they mourn for too long- people have a limited tolerance for sadness. 

We are taught not to be merciful- if we show mercy people will think we are weak.  We doubt if anyone has a pure heart- we assume the worst in everyone and struggle to trust anyone.  So, we hoard our blessings- fearful someone might try to steal our joy. 

And peacemakers?  It seems that there is little room for peacemakers today.  We are told you must choose sides, everything is polarized, you are either for or against. If you don’t agree then you are hated and despised, your faith, your patriotism, your value as a human being is challenged. We completely discount the experiences and feelings of anyone who might feel differently: accusatory instead of empathetic.

There is even war in the church!  And usually not over anything of substance- We aren’t arguing whether or not Jesus is Lord.  We argue over which side of the sanctuary the piano is placed, if our favorite paint color for the nursery wasn’t used, or someone doesn’t like a woman preacher or slaves to be buried in the cemetery.  Whatever the argument of the day happens to be; we would rather take our ball and go somewhere else than concede our position.  Peacemakers are hushed, accused of taking a side or told to choose- there is no middle ground- and we are only “blessed” when we get our way.

And then we read the Gospel of Matthew- and Jesus flips the script.  This stuff isn’t what matters to God.  Striving after power, success, “happiness” isn’t what brings us happiness and blessings at all.  These are empty platitudes which only make us hungry for more and angry when we don’t get it!

 Paul tells us in Corinthians that anything other than striving after the cross of Christ is foolish and only leads to pain.  There will always be a need for more when we search after things of this world- always more to know or be right about, more respect to have, more money and things to be get: the thirst is never quenched. 

Jesus says blessed are those who are poor in spirit, when those who feel hopeless find hope in a relationship with Christ as they long for the hope that is the kingdom of God.  When the world is falling apart it is foolish to scream that the sky is falling.  Just know that God is in the storm and know you are blessed because of a hope found in the cross of Christ- not the world. 

Jesus tells us that it is those who grieve who will be made glad.  Not simply because those who grieve the loss of a loved one will receive comfort, which is true- but there is a special promise for those who willingly enter into the grief of others.  We are blessed when we are empathetic to the needs of someone else, and who grieve for the pain and oppression of people unlike themselves.  When we spend time trying to understand someone else’s point of view, we experience blessings because we know we are not grieving alone. We grieve together and we know that Jesus grieves our heartache and carries our burdens with us.

Blessed are those who are humble because they know that it is God who makes all things possible.  They don’t have to strive and earn and struggle because they know the gifts they have come from God, they know that grace comes from God and that the love of Christ- the ultimate gift is free and limitless for those who accept it.  Jesus humbly offered himself on the Cross so that we might have eternal pride, not in our own doing but in the fact that God loved us enough to become a vulnerable human so that a way could be paved toward eternal blessings.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… it is only through God that we can be satisfied.   Striving for things of this world may give us immediate gratification but before long we are hungry again. 

When we crave things like bragging rights, kudos, respect, power and material wealth, there is always another argument to win, another person to impress, another mountain to climb or battle to be won.  It’s like eating a high calorie but non-nutritious fast food meal.  It’s fast, convenient, takes little effort, and provides immediate gratification to your growling stomach; but you’re hungry again in an hour, your stomach is upset from the grease, and your body isn’t getting the nutrients it really needs so it craves more. 

When we crave a relationship with Christ, when we desire to know the love of God more fully- we are filled to the brim with all we will ever need, our relationship with God, our love for Christ and our love for neighbor will grow exponentially because our lives are filled with things that nourish our souls. 

Blessed are those who are merciful.  Mercy is an act of compassion, forgiveness and vulnerability done by someone who doesn’t have to.  It comes from a place of power where someone has offended us in some way and yet we choose to express love instead of exerting the power to hate, hold a grudge or punish.  It is what we desire when we are the ones who are the offender. 

We pray that Jesus will be merciful to us so that we will benefit from his sacrifice on the cross, that we will somehow be forgiven of our sins and yet we struggle to offer that same compassion to others and we are left wanting.  We can never exact the revenge or punishment we think the other deserves, we always thing the punishment we receive is too harsh and it reminds us just how much we fall short of deserving the mercy of God ourselves. 

Blessed are the pure at heart- for they will see God.  We talk about God being in everything, in every place in every time but we struggle to see God in anything.  It isn’t because God isn’t there- it’s because our hearts are too hardened to see- our hearts are contaminated by pride, business and hate so often that we have built walls around our hearts afraid to let people in and blocking the blessing that is a heart open to God. 

Blessed are the peacemakers.  This requires all the other attributes of blessings we have already named- mercy compassion, a pure heart, a desire for God instead of power, walking alongside those who are hurting so you can see life through their eyes and their perspective.  We cannot encourage and advocate for peace if all we do is point fingers of blame, discounting someone else’s feelings of oppression, turning the heat up on arguments, stirring the pot of anger and distrust.  It requires knowing when to speak and discerning what God is calling you to say and when to simply keep quiet.  Choosing words which build up instead of tear down. 

Living into these Christian, Christ like, values would fill our lives with blessings that aren’t temporary, limited to changes in weather, or limited to whether or not we get our way.

Living into these values seems too difficult, too counter cultural, foolish even, but this is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  Paul tells us in our reading from 1 Corinthians:  The message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing- following Christ and living into the values Jesus gives us is foolish to those who don’t know Christ but there is power in it for those of us who know the saving love of Christ. 

We know we don’t have to stress because we live into the never-ending love of God.  We know we can’t earn God’s favor and don’t need the world’s favor.  We don’t have to strive to be better, smarter, or more worthy than anyone else because of the grace of God in Christ we were all made children of God-all loved, all cherished, all blessed equally.  We don’t have to fight because our prize is not in this world- our prize is the cross of Christ. 

What a true blessing it is when we can finally let go; surrender our hearts, our mind, our will and our future to God who has already won the war, has mercy and compassion for us, even when we fail, and who has promised that his grace is sufficient for all our woes.  When we trust God and accept the grace given to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ- true blessedness is known, true peace is experienced and true love is shown. 

We don’t have to succumb to the never ending search for happiness- when we seek it in Christ blessings are yours to be found.