Tag Archives: Blessed

Who are Your Favorites? (February 17, 2019)

Luke 6:17-26

[Jesus] came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

There is a major theme throughout the gospel of Luke. Everywhere in this gospel God is lifting up those who are low, revealing God’s loving intentions for the poor, the hungry, and the powerless. We can see God’s vision all through this gospel. We can really hear God compassion for those the world excludes and looks down on. In this gospel, the author is clear that the low are lifted up and those up high are brought down. Everyone is level, even. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t.

Unlike Matthew’s “sermon on the mount,” in today’s text Luke deliberately has Jesus doing this “Beatitude-like” teaching on a level place. Luke has everyone at the same level.

The author spells it out, making it very clear. Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those who are hated and excluded are blessed by God. Regardless of what others say, they aren’t lower. They aren’t despised. They are loved and included and welcomed and valued. Just as much as those whom everyone thinks are favored.

The playing field is level. Good news, right? Well, think about that, because the implications of a level playing field affect us more than we may believe. It goes in all kinds of different directions and extends into parts of our lives that we hadn’t considered before.

Not only is the man who stands at the intersection with a cardboard sign and a mental illness just as beloved by God as I am, but it goes beyond that. Beyond those who are socioeconomically low. It also means that those whose theology I despise, those who use the holy name of Jesus in abhorrent ways, those who abuse and twist and distort this life-giving gospel message for profit and their own agendas, those who give Christianity a black eye, are beloved to God. And that’s hard to hear.

That means God favors Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, and rest of them just as much as God favors Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, the apostles, Mary Magdalene, all those who are deliberate about revealing the living, resurrected Christ in our world.

This level field of God’s favor applies everywhere. Including political figures and parties, business and non-profit, race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual identity, citizen status and documentation. Those who are low or ignored or hated or treated unfairly are favored by God.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that, but it also means they have to be favored by me, too. As a disciple of this Jesus who taught about levelling the field on a level place, I need to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each of these people. In all of these people. Those who are not favored by me are nonetheless blessed by God. And I need to deal with that. If not, then I’m included in the “woe to them” part of this gospel text.

This level, lack of favoritism by God extends beyond that even. It also means that those the world seems to favor, e.g., the rich, the powerful, the popular, the good-looking, the healthy are not favored by God over me. There are those people who just seem to have everything put together. They’re gifted, talented, intelligent, good incomes, have well-behaved children, they’re respected in their field, never sick, have yet to experience hardship—even the death of a loved one. And I know everyone has their issues and it’s not fair to generalize, but it does seem that a few people already have a leg up on life. We call them blessed, we think of them as favored—if not by God then certainly by everyone else.

Jesus’ teaching and example on the level place today says that as far as God’s compassion and love, they have no advantage at all. Luke uses the language of “woes,” meaning these who seem to have everything need to recognize, too, that none of that matters to God.

Those at the top, those we look up to, those who have all the luck, those who are constantly fortunate, those who are our heroes, they are not that way because they are closer to God.

And those at the bottom, who can’t catch a break, who fight and scratch every day to pay rent, who live in fear of the next catastrophe that will put them over the edge, who struggle to gain some kind of acknowledgment that they are present and valuable, they are not that way because they are further from God.

God’s care, God’s compassion, God’s grace all rain down equally on everyone—regardless of how much value the world places on them.

But like rain, God’s mercy and justice, though it falls on everyone, still flows down and pools in the lowest places. Some days that’s you. Some days it’s not.

This major theme of levelling in the gospel of Luke becomes real for us in the church. That which God does, we do also. Those who are at the bottom today, need us the most today. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded today are to be cared for, fed, comforted, and welcomed today. Those who think they are God’s favorites discover they aren’t, and those who think they are far from God discover they aren’t. As Christ lives, may he live through us.

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Posted by on February 15, 2019 in Sermon


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Who Does God Really Bless? (November 5, 2017)

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Before we can really look at the Beatitudes here, we need to clear up some language issues. First and foremost is this word “blessed.” Chances are, anytime we use that word in normal life we’re using it incorrectly—at least as far as the Beatitudes go. When we’re feeling good and life is fine, and someone asks how we’re doing, if we answer “I’m feeling blessed today,” we missed the mark a bit. Or, at least we’ve misunderstood what being “blessed” looks like.

Blessed, or the word translated as “blessed,” isn’t really about being successful or having good health or receiving a financial windfall or living in a free country. The best translation I could find is “greatly honored.” I think that gets at the meaning Matthew’s Jesus is getting at. And it’s a bit surprising at who he says is “greatly honored.”

Regardless of how much our Lutheran theology informs us that God loves everyone and God’s grace is for everyone, do we really believe that? When something really tough happens that has no legitimate explanation, how many of us say, “How could you let this happen, God?” Or, “Why them, God? They deserve better than that”?

Deep down, at some inner core of our being, we have this sense of fairness that flies in the face of God’s unconditional grace. Some people deserve better than they get. Others deserve worse than they get. We all kind of tend to agree on who belongs in which group. Because some people deserve to be honored, and others don’t.

It’s always been that way for us. In our honest moments, we have to admit that it appears that God favors some people over others. These are the ones who we tend to honor, that we often refer to as “blessed.”

We honor those who work hard and overcome obstacles.

We honor those who get good grades.

We honor football teams that don’t turn the ball over 5 times in Kansas City. . .

These are the ones who deserve to be greatly honored. We think of them as “blessed.”

Think about it. We really don’t honor the meek. We kind of feel sorry for them and wish they would stick up for themselves.

We don’t honor the pure in heart; we just think they’re out of touch and naïve.

We don’t honor the peacemakers; we call them wimps or even unpatriotic.

So what is Jesus really saying here? How are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who show mercy honored or blessed?

What Jesus is saying is that we still don’t fully get how God works. Those that we feel sorry for or disregard or lose patience with are the very ones toward which God shows great honor. Those who get bad grades, who embarrass their families, who are addicted, who live on the street, who can’t seem to get their lives together. These are greatly honored by God. Even if they are not always honored by us, they are nonetheless honored by God.

And as the church, our job is to honor those God honors; recognize as blessed those God blesses.

And guess what? That includes you. God won’t honor you any less when life gets overwhelming. God won’t bless you less when you’re in over your head. God still sees you when people are blaming you for their problems. God’s love for you continues when you’re facing an uphill struggle.

That’s the connection to All Saints’ Sunday. That God has honored those we love who’ve gone before us. Not because they were more perfect or holier or never wavered in their faith. No. They are honored by God as saints because God has named them blessed people. God accompanied them when they were low. God stood with them when they mourned. God took care of them when they were dying. God held them when they struggled. They are saints, honored, blessed by God.

And today, we remember them as saints. Today we acknowledge that God loves those we love, that God blesses those we miss, that God honors those we are grieving for.

For in the same way, God blesses us in our mourning today. God comes to us and honors us. That’s how God works.

During the next song, make your way over to the memorial candles, and light a candle for those you’ve lost recently. Write their name and place it in the basket. We’ll read all the names and commend them into God’s care. As we do so, we thank God for honoring them. And remember that in your grief, you are blessed by God too.

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Posted by on November 7, 2017 in Sermon


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