02/02/14 Sermon (February 2, 2014) "Upside Down Blessings"

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:40 AM by David Hawkins

02/02/14 Sermon (February 2, 2014)

"Upside Down Blessings"

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-12  (Liturgist)

 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

"Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Sermon: "Upside-Down Blessings"    Rev. David Hawkins

Have you seen those Southwest commercials, where someone does something that attracts all kinds of attention, and then as everybody turns to look at them, the announcer says, “Do you you want to get away?”

Have you ever felt like that? That the world is paying just a little too much attention to you? When you feel like too many people are watching what you’re doing for comfort? Sometimes, you just want to go find someplace to hide out. No people, no questions, no expectations. To just get away for a while would be nice.

In our scripture today, Jesus has just begun his ministry. He’s called his disciples, and has begun travelling around Galilee, teaching, healing, proclaiming the Gospel of God’s forgiveness. He’s just getting started, but already, he is getting people’s attention. People are being brought to him who are ill with various diseases, who live with pain,  who are demon-possessed, who have seizures, or are paralyzed; and he healed them. Before he knows it, he’s being pursued by huge crowds. Wherever he goes, masses of people from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region all around the Jordan manage to track him down.

And I get the impression that Jesus is starting to get a little bit exhausted by all the demands being placed on him. So many hopes, so many expectations. He might be God, but he’s also human, and he is reaching his limits. He sees the crowds, and he decides it’s time to head into the mountains for some quiet time. I wonder if he just wants to get away, too.

Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for us, he wasn’t alone for long. First the disciples come to find him, and then gradually the hillsides fill up with people who need to hear some good news, an encouraging word, something, anything to give them hope.

Because hope was hard to come by in those days. The Jewish people were under the thumb of the Roman Empire. They lived in fear that their way of life would be taken from them at any time. Their faith in one God, the God of the universe, was countercultural to the polytheistic Romans.  At best, it was interpreted as an affront to the emperor at best. At worst, it was outright treason.

The Jewish people are living on a political razor blade, at the mercy of the whims of their Roman overlords. Some of their own leaders have joined the Roman occupiers outright. For the people on that hillside that day with Jesus, there is no justice, no light at the end of the tunnel. They are beat down, hurting, hopeless, afraid. More than anything else, they want to get away, to get away from it all. The problem is, there’s no place else to go. Except to Jesus.

And so they’ve come for healing, they’ve come for comfort, they’ve come for encouragement, they’ve come for hope. They’ve come to hear that God has not forgotten them.

And it can feel like that, sometimes, right? When the world closes in on us, when we feel like failures, when our options are limited, or non-existent. When we find ourselves out of time, out of money, out of a job, out of ideas, out of hope. It can feel like God has forgotten us.

Or even worse, it can feel like maybe we’ve done something to deserve it. That there is something in our lives that has caused God to remove his blessing. When we are the end of our rope, it’s easy to think that it was our own sin has caused God to come down on us, to bring the weight of his wrath onto our shoulders.

But you know what? That’s really too much to bear. To go through life thinking that God has forgotten you, or that God is actually working against you, it’s simply too much. No one can live like that for long.

And so when Jesus turns around, and sees that the disciples have followed him, that the crowds have followed him, and he sees their pain, when he feels their hopelessness, he stops and sits down, and prepares to deliver a sermon that takes up three entire chapters from the Book of Matthew, a sermon that we’ve come to call the Sermon on the Mount.

The sermon on the mount is the longest example of Jesus’ teaching in the Bible, and it touches on pretty much every main point of our Christian faith. In it we find the Lord’s Prayer, The beatitudes, many, many ethical and moral imperatives, and a description of what the path of discipleship really looks like. It is quite simply, the greatest sermon ever preached.

The interesting thing is, when Jesus sees the crowds following him, with their wounds and their despair, he begins this epic sermon with a blessing. Not with advice, not with demands, not with commandments. Not even with prayer.

And this is so different from the way we do things, isn’t it? When someone comes to us with their problems, with their grief, with their questions, we too often move right into advice don’t we? I know that I do. When we see someone who is hurting, someone who finds themselves in a bad place, we move too quickly to prayer or an examination of the problem in search of a solution. It rarely crosses our minds to begin our conversation with a simple blessing.

And part of the reason for this, I think, is that we are still just a little bit captive to the tempting idea that we, somehow, are responsible for our blessings. That we ourselves are capable of living in such a way that we deserve God’s blessing. It’s hard to give up the idea that God alone gives his grace to whoever God desires, for God’s own mysterious reasons. It’s hard to comprehend that God’s blessings might fall on the just and the unjust, like rain -- and we don’t like it when it does. We don’t want to believe that our own innate goodness doesn’t move us up the ladder somehow into God’s good graces.

And so we tend to see people who are wealthy as people who have lived correctly in the eyes of God, and those who are poor as those who haven’t. The beautiful, the successful must have done something right to earn their blessings in this world, and the sick, the hungry, the oppressed must have done something wrong. In the world’s way of thinking, God’s blessings are earned, and so are his curses.

And you know, this isn’t such a strange thing. In fact, Jesus encountered in his own time as well. You all might remember the story of Jesus healing a blind man. His disciples asked him, “Who was it that sinned, that made this man be blind? Was it his mom? His dad? Was it someone else?” You see, there had to be someone to blame. Someone had to have done something bad in order for this to happen.

It’s the same thinking that leads people today to blame hurricanes on the results of elections, or tornadoes that wipe out towns on the sins of a few people. Someone simply has to be be at fault.

But Jesus doesn’t go there. In fact, he flatly denies that there’s any connection. “Nobody caused this by their sin,” he says. “That’s not what this is all about.”

And so, while the world assigns blessings and  curses according to the world’s standards of value, Jesus begins his sermon by turning that whole way of thinking upside down.

He’s not telling us to live in a particular way. He’s not assigning blame, or giving us a secret code to live by, in order to receive blessings. He is simply saying, “This is the way it is. This is what God’s kingdom looks like.”

In the new creation that is breaking in on this world, this is the kind of thinking that will be normal. The weak are blessed, those who are afraid are blessed, those who are ashamed are blessed, those without hope are blessed. Those who look at our world, and despair of ever experiencing a time without war are blessed. Those who hear the cries of the orphan, of the hungry, of the vulnerable, and work to bring them some sense of justice but are frustrated at every turn, are blessed.

Those who have lost loved ones, those who have lost their jobs, their children, their friends, or their nerve are blessed. Those who desperately want to get away from all the pain, the fear, the shame, the hopelessness of their lives, and have no place else to turn but to Jesus, are blessed.

This is the upside down nature Jesus’s blessing. It’s given to those who seem the least likely to deserve it. Yet, God has, for whatever reasons, decided to bless them. They will be filled, they will be comforted, they will receive mercy, they will inherit the earth.

And in those times of our lives, when we have no other place to turn, we  are invited to come and be blessed by Jesus. Not because we earned it. Not because the world thinks we deserve it. Not because we have lived right, or because we have prayed right, or because we have lived right.

But because when we have no place else to go, and we find ourselves broken, alone, and hurting at the feet of Jesus Christ, that is the moment that we too will receive his blessing. Comfort, mercy, and wholeness await those who come to the mountain.

This is the promise of the meal we are about to eat. That Jesus has broken the barriers of life and death, and is calling each of us to come and see that his blessing is waiting for whoever cries out for it. In this meal we are brought into the presence of the one who begins his ministry, not with demands or advice, but an invitation.

Do you want to get away?

Come to the table and feast at the eternal banquet of our Lord.

Thanks be to God. Amen.