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.