Posts Tagged ‘Beatitudes’

The Sun Will Come Out 2-2-20

After a period of not posting my sermons due to travel as well as a non-scripted approach, today I’m sharing one again.

Today’s sermon is based on the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12. We explore what it means to be blessed now, even when the world makes it feel like we aren’t.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen

The weather this time of year is pretty fickle…with all the back and forth in temperature…it snows one day and melts the next. We get fog, we get ice…but if there’s one thing I noticed through most of last week…there isn’t a whole lot of sun is there?  Sure, we get clear days here and there…but for the most part we are living the truth of that age-old hymn (sing) In…the bleak…mid…win…ter. (Pause) Admittedly, that’s the only line I know…but there’s some truth in it isn’t there?

It reminds of another song that I find myself singing sometimes…usually at this time of year when we don’t see very much of the sun…a little adaptation on a familiar song.  (sing) The sun’ll come out…eventually…least I hope so cuz if not its really bad…REAL…LY Bad… (pause)

Now I’m guessing that most of you recognize that tune and know the actual song that it references…the signature song from the musical Annie…come on everyone…sing it with me… “The sun’ll come out…tomorrow…bet your bottom dollar that…tomorrow…there’ll be sun…” (pause)

Isn’t that song just amazing?  It oozes optimism…like a recognition that today is hard…things just aren’t going my way today…but…regardless of how lousy it is…the sun WILL come up tomorrow…tomorrow’s a new day…and we can take all this hard stuff…and put it behind us. No matter how hard this moment is…we’re still okay because this is not the end…and all this junk that is going on…whatever it is…it does not define who I am (pause)

And that right there…that sense…that recognition that our lives…that our very identity is not defined by the haze that sometimes surrounds us…its not dictated by the gloom that sometimes dominates our attention…that sense RIGHT THERE…that’s where we’re gonna jump into the lesson for today. (pause)

Matthew 5…the Beatitudes…arguably one of the better-known pieces of Jesus’ teachings…the beginning of a much larger ministry moment known as the Sermon on the Mount…as Jesus sits down to teach these giant crowds who have already started to gather around him.

We’re still early in his ministry…last week, we heard about the opening portion…as he settled around the region of Galilee and started calling a few disciples to come along behind him…and since then not a whole lot has happened…honestly, its been more of the same…but his fame is spreading around Galilee and even over the borders…and we hear that people are bringing the sick to be healed…and that they’re coming from all directions…Galilee, Syria to the north…the cities of the Decapolis on the far side of the sea…up from the city of Jerusalem and the southern region of Judah…and even from the area to the east of the Jordan river. (pause)

Its worth noting the geography spelled out in this bit of narration…because these giant crowds aren’t all the same type of people…while we often think of Jesus’ earliest moments in ministry being centered around fellow Jewish folk…we find here that’s not the case…and he would have a giant mixture…Jews and Gentiles…people from a WIDE variety of cultures and nationalities…all matters of different faith and deities…you name it.

And so…as Jesus sits down and kicks off 3 chapters worth of teachings…a lot of his audience would probably be scratching their head…and even the phrasing that he uses in this earliest portion that we’re focusing on today…even that would have been foreign to many in the crowd.

Blessed…now that’s a loaded word isn’t it?  What does it really mean? Its probably safe to say that we would all define it a little differently wouldn’t we…and maybe its hard to articulate…maybe its hard to put into words…but…I think we all know it when feel it don’t we? The sense of blessing…the peace that comes with it…maybe the joy or happiness…I think those can all be associated with it. But still…its hard to define isn’t it?  Because “blessed” isn’t just something that happens when you sneeze in public and someone rattles off “bless you.” Its more than that isn’t it?

And so maybe…in order to REALLY wrap our heads around what this word means…we need to realize HOW Jesus is using it…because there’s a distinction…Jesus is NOT using it as a verb…its not like Peter inhales some mountain dust and blasts off a sneeze and JC goes “Bless you Pete.”

What Jesus is actually doing is using this word as a statement of identity…almost like a name…that these individuals…that these types of people…these folks who are having a specific type of experience…if they were wearing a name-tag it would say “Blessed one.” And that is the case throughout all 9 of the beatitudes that we have heard today.

Now I want your to bear with me…because in a lot of ways, we’re gonna have an English lesson today…because the specific language and tense…and sensibility within the Beatitudes is VITAL to understanding it.

For starters…every one of the statements starts the same doesn’t it…with that identity…that the person embodies…right now…present tense…across the board…BLESSED…ARE…the poor spirit…blessed are those who are mourning…blessed are the meek…and those hungering and thirsting for righteousness…blessed ARE…the merciful and the pure in heart…and the peace makers…and finally BLESSED ARE…those who are persecuted and singled out because of the name of Jesus…blessed ARE…right now.

Now, let’s move on within the very one…blessed are the poor in spirit…WHY? Because theirs IS…the kingdom of heaven.  Present tense…theirs is the kingdom now…because Jesus has already told us that the kingdom has come near hasn’t he?  Its already among us…and those who are blessed now, are blessed because its already here. (Pause)

And now let’s move on…the next batch…we see a now leading into the future don’t we? Blessed are those who mourn…for they WILL BE comforted….the meek…for they WILL inherit the earth. And that same trend continues…blessed now with a future result.

And as I think about it…I can’t help but think that Annie’s song has this whole thing figured out doesn’t it?  That sense that it might be lousy in this moment…that it seems like I can’t catch a break…that the world is ending…or that the world has it in for me…but (sing) the sun’ll come out…tomorrow…” (pause)

Don’t get me wrong…this isn’t just some self-help…buck up because its not that bad…feel good drivel…that’s not what Jesus is about.  He’s not denying that lousy stuff goes on…and that as we grow in our faith and get more outspoken about the brokenness in the world…as we follow the prompting of the Spirit within us to point out injustice and inequality…and ways that the powerful take advantage of the marginalized…and they start to potshots at us because of it. Jesus IS NOT saying all that stuff is going to go away…he’s simply saying that in the midst of all that junk that is a reality within our existence…this does not define you…and you ARE Blessed because we have a God who desires to be with us and who CONTINUALLY is found with those pushed to the margins…and even if its hard to see…I believe that it is possible to see these little glimmers of that kingdom that is already among us when individuals step out of their comfort zones and reach out to those experiencing life at the margins…lives that the world discounts or throws aside…those moments that we’ve talked about over and over again when we reflect the light of the one who took on flesh and dwelled among us.

Now the world might not like that…it might even strike out against those who are willing to live their lives in this way…but just think…Jesus reminds us that when we live out this NEW way of life…this NEW way of love and joy and acceptance…a life lived in the reality that we’re all on the same page…that despite wealth or prestige or power or authority or the car we drive or the clothes we wear or the restaurants we eat in or the number of likes on our latest Instagram picture, or retweets on Twitter…or shares on Facebook…all that stuff masks the truth that each one of us is broken…and flawed…we’re all sinful…we all fall short of the glory of God…and we constantly fail ourselves and each other…but thanks be to God that GOD KNOW IT…and this is why God took on flesh in the first place…to come near to us in a way that we can see.

To be with us as one of us so that we can hear and touch him…so that we can record his words and teachings…and remember the miracles of his healings…and that when the dark powers of this world lashed out and tried SO hard to snuff out that shining perfect light of God…not even death could accomplish it.

And as we consider THAT amazing aspect of the gospel…maybe Annie’s song needs a little tweak…because I imagine it was pretty gloomy on that Friday when Jesus died…but then… (sing) God’s light’ll come back…on Sunday…bet your bottom dollar that on Sunday…we see the SON… (pause)

Maybe Jesus even hinted at that very point today…blessed are the pure in heart…for they will see…God. (pause)

Life’s not perfect…and the gospel…the scripture…the Bible…its honest about that…God knows it…and Jesus professes it…but despite the brokenness of this world and of us…we are claimed by the one who NAMES us…blessed ones.  Amen.

WOE!!!! 11-3-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 6:20-31, I explore Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Not only does Jesus speak of blessings, but he also offers the wake up call of Woe.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours now and forever. Amen.

We live in a time that is ripe with good storytelling…and it comes to us from a lot of different sources. I’m a big fan of the visual mediums like movies and tv shows…and as a fan…I’ve never been the type to get bogged down when a story seems unrealistic.  Just tell me a good story.

Now there are a lot of good examples of this type of thing, and I love it…if the story is engaging, I don’t care…and while there are a lot of good examples, its probably safe to say that Disney and Pixar do the best job of this.  Take, for example…the recent movie Finding Nemo.  A great story in which we learn in this reality that clown fish are neurotic…seagulls are greedy…pelicans have Australian accents…and sea turtles talk like surfer dudes.

That’s probably my favorite aspect right there…and we learn it from the instant we first meet one…now this sea turtle…named Crush by the way…first enters into the story after the main character, the neurotic clownfish named Marlon, he has a run in with a bunch of jelly fish…and promptly passes out…and when he comes too, he finds himself riding on the shell of Crush the sea turtle…and we hear “Dude….oh HEY DUDE!!!!” And then Crush introduces Marlon, who he calls the Jelly-man to his son…and we hear “Allow me to introduce my offspring…Offspring, Jellyman…Jellyman, Offspring.”

And finally the surfer dude image culminates as the Jellyman tries to remember what happened and Crush tells him “Oh dude, at first you were like WOAH…and then we were like WOAH…and then you were like…woah.” (pause)

Now given our gospel lesson that we shared just a moment ago…you probably see where I’m going with this. Today we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes…part of a larger teaching of Jesus…a long sermon…one that covers almost an entire chapter here in Luke…but one that we also hear elsewhere…this whole sermon from Jesus, including the Beatitudes are also found in Matthew’s gospel…and to be honest, his account is longer and more in depth…

But that reveals something very common within the gospels…often times, the same stories…the same teachings…they are found in more than one gospel…but even when the different authors record them in similar ways, there are still differences…and we certainly see that here with the Beatitudes.

We hear about the people who are blessed…that sense is present in both accounts…but in Matthew, Jesus talks a little longer…there are more of them…they could probably be called a little more spiritual in nature, Luke is a bit more on the nose.  Matthew kinda generalizes, using language like “theirs” or “they.” But in Luke its more direct, as Jesus addresses “you.” (pause)

But the main difference…the thing that really sets Luke apart from Matthew in this particular instance…is the presence of the Woe-statements…Crush would be impressed. (pause) but in all seriousness, Luke gives us a very different sense with these woes listed along with the statements of blessing.

What really seems to be happening as Jesus teaches…is that we’re hearing two sides of the same coin…the statements all partner up and they’re very much connected…something we see if we mix them together rather than listing them separately.

Blessed are you who are poor…but woe to you who are a rich.   Blessed are you who are hungry now, but woe to you who are full.  Blessed are you who weep now, but woe to you who laugh…and finally blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you and defame you on my account…but woe to you when all speak well of you. (pause)

Isn’t that interesting, how that little shift really highlights these reversals that Jesus is talking about? The ups and downs…the back and forth…which…I can’t help but think…that sounds like life…one minute we are on top of the world and the next everything falls to pieces….but maybe what’s most eye opening here…are some of the specific words that Jesus uses through this teaching…words that don’t really work when we really stop and think about them at face value…

Words like “blessed.” Think about that one…what images come to mind when you think of something as blessed? Or what other words could we use? Maybe the most prominent word is…happy? (pause) But does that work?  Are the poor…happy?  Are the hungry…happy?  Are the ones hated…HAPPY?  And here’s the real kicker…blessed are you who weep now…HAPPY!?!  I don’t buy it.  (pause)

Well what about the flipside…and all those “woes?”  Admittedly, Woe isn’t a word that we throw around much is it? So what does it mean?  If we take this whole thing at face value…and if we consider the ongoing theme of a great reversal that Jesus is bringing about…the ultimately switch in things in the kingdom of God as opposed to the reality of this world….well then maybe we hear about blessings and then woes…and we think that woe equals damnation…

Fair assumption on my part? If we keep things surface-level we hear Jesus say blessed and we think happy, and we hear woe and we think that person is damned…I think we can make that jump…but only if we take things at face value…because digging a little deeper brings some better insight.

And it really stems from the original language of Woe…because it implies emphasis…like there needs to be an exclamation mark with it…and its not the only word like this…there’s another one that we usually translate as See or Behold! And you can’t just say (flatly) behold…its (boisterous) BEHOLD!!!!.

I discovered this week that WOE…is the same way…its not “woah.”  Its WOE!!! (pause) Plug that in there. WOE!!!! To you who are rich for you have received your consolation…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…WOE!!! To you when all speak well of you….

It seems like Jesus isn’t say you’re out of luck…it seems like he’s trying to get your attention.  Maybe we should say “YIKES” or “WAKE UP.”  Pay attention!  This is a wakeup call…and honestly I think it goes both ways because of the truth that life swings us both directions doesn’t it…this wakeup call is for those called to be content in their present circumstances every bit as much as it is for those he cautions against getting comfortable in things that are fleeting.

This whole thing…the entire first portion of today’s scripture is all about reminding us that we are all in this together…and that we are equal in the grand scheme of things regardless of how our present creature comforts are treating us.

And so hearing that wakeup call, maybe we need to perk up our ears and pay attention to what comes right after it…something we could probably call the golden rule section.  Love your enemies…do good to people who hate you…bless those who curse you…turn the other cheek…offer your shirt and your coat…give to whoever needs it….and like our mom’s taught us…do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Now I don’t know about you…but I hear that and its like “Duh!”  (pause) Or at least it should be.  But is it? Does life really work out that way?  Do we act like that? Or do we foul it up? (pause) This whole deal…this entire thing…it all serves to show us how the world works…and how that’s utterly opposed to the kingdom of God that Jesus has brought near to us.

The world says ‘this is what’s right…this is power…this is authority.” It even tries to tell us “this is what’s blessed.” But Jesus is over here “uh-uh…not even close.”  But we get caught up in it don’t we?  That selfish nature takes over…and time after time…we foul it up…putting ourselves first…cuz I gotta get what’s mine right?

And so as much as we might think we are the ones who fall in the “blessed are you” category…when we’re really honest maybe we hear Jesus sparking off that “WOE!!!” in our direction…and we should…because that’s what the gospel is supposed to do…its supposed to remind us that we can’t pull it off…no matter how hard we try…we need God’s grace…and you know what…in that instant when we recognize it…its there…every time.

And what’s wonderful is that we’ve been given gifts to receive that grace from Christ…and we find that in the sacraments…one which we will share today…and for some of our young people…today they will share it for the first time…what a blessing to be here in community with them, as we all gather around this table…equal in our need for grace…and as we cling to that grace throughout the course of our lives…we are also reminded of the faithful witness of those who have come before us…those who have now gone on ahead into whatever it is that lies on the other side of death…those who are now experiencing first hand…the fullness of the kingdom which we have only glimpsed.

This is a wakeup call that is worth having…one we should be aware of every day…one that should fill us with gratitude…because we have God who cares enough about us to get into the midst of it with us…as one us…We have a God who gets right in our faces with a hearty “WOE!” So that we might rely on his grace…and be recipients of his blessing. Amen.

The Same Level 2-17-19

In this sermon, taken from Luke 6:17-26, I explore Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. In this version, Jesus includes the woes, which should give us some pause. And yet, we find a sense that Christ is placing us all on the same level…and it is one in which we are blessed.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of our Triune God be yours, today and forever. Amen

Many of you know that I have an older brother who is about 4.5 years older than I am…and while I feel pretty fortunate to have grown up with an older brother that was pretty quite tolerant of me as a younger brother…that age difference meant that in any sort of physical altercation or contest, no matter what form it took…he had a clear size advantage.

This was probably most apparent when we would wrestle, as brothers are known to do. Even though I was a wiry little bugger, inevitably he’d get a hold of me and win…and its also worth noting just how long this went on.  I was, to be sure, a small kid…one of the smallest in my class all the way through elementary and jr high…and since I was a bit of a late bloomer…I was still pretty small during my freshman year of high school.

Throughout all this time, my brother was able to throw his weight around…but then…things changed.  I grew 8 inches in one summer…finally put a little bit of weight on…and in a day that will forever be memorable for the two us…I was standing in the living room of my parents house, and he came up behind and tried to put me in a headlock…and without even thinking about it, I grabbed his arm and gave him a little hip-toss over my shoulder…and before he knew what was happening…he was laying on the couch looking up at me as I was looking down at him.

To say he had a shocked look on his face goes without saying…but I’ll never forget how his look changed from shocked to understanding…and his verbal response….SHOOOOOOOT.  Now, at the same time that he was realizing the new dynamic between us, I was realizing the same thing…that we were now on an even playing field…that somehow, the dynamic between us was level.  (pause)

Its that idea right there that connects us into today’s gospel lesson…an account of Jesus sharing a teaching known best as the Beatitudes…the start of a fairly lengthy sermon here in Luke’s gospel…but what’s important for us to notice right here at the beginning…is the logistics.

Now Matthew, if you’re familiar, places this story on a mountain…but Luke tells us something different…in fact Luke tells us that Jesus intentionally comes down…OFF…a mountain for this particular event…and that’s what we hear in the first verse…that he came down and stood on a level place.

Now this points us in a couple different directions…first of all, the logistics of the situation…he was on a plain…flat ground…a place where he could potentially walk around and look every one of the people there that day in the face…and secondly…a bit more metaphorical.  That Jesus…the man who is also God…the divine made flesh…intentionally came to the same level as his audience…a mixture of people from many different places and cultures and backgrounds…people from every point of every single social ladder…divided by every possible aspect…and yet as Jesus stands among them…everyone is on level ground.

Now maybe, just maybe…as the people stood there that day…able to look this God-man in the face…maybe a new realization began to dawn on them as well…that things were no longer the same…that the reality they had known to this point was now different. (pause)

Now that being said…the actions of Jesus are worth noticing…for as he comes down to this level place…fully intending to preach and teach those who have gathered…Jesus does something else first.  He begins to heal…he casts out demons…the people crowd around for the divine power is flowing through him…out of him and into those who need to be freed from that which has hindered them.

That caught my attention…that the very first thing he does…especially considering that he has JUST named the 12 disciples immediately before this moment…the first thing he does is allow his divine power to free all kinds of people from whatever it is that hinders them…and its only then…when that’s done…that he begins to teach.

Now his message…its eye opening…We are, perhaps, more familiar with Matthew’s take on this teaching…the Beatitudes…we’re used to hearing more of them listed…and a more spiritualized version of each statement. We listen for the poor in spirit…or those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

But Luke presents it a little differently…and Jesus is, perhaps…a little more on the nose in terms of the actual/physical reality that many face.  Blessed are the poor…blessed are those who hunger…Blessed are those who weep…blessed are you when people hate you, or exclude you, or revile you or defame you. (pause)

And Luke takes it further…because Jesus has some things to say on the flip side too…Woe…woe to you who are rich…woe to you who are laughing…woe to you who are full or to you spoken well of. (pause)

I can’t help but think that Jesus is covering the bases here…because these various aspects of life…all of them are fleeting…and we don’t have to try very hard to realize just how easy it is to slip from one extreme to the other…and maybe as we think about this we begin to understand that Jesus is giving us a pretty accurate view of life…and the fickle nature of the things that we tend to put stock in…those things where we place our hope and our trust and even our faith. (pause)

Now I don’t know about you…but as I consider this list of “blessed are’s” and “woe to’s” I hear just a touch of rebuke…and I think that we should…and its only by dumb luck that we happened to be born here in this time…don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everything is perfect in our lives…far from and we all know that…but from a worldly standpoint…we would certainly fall under the category of “blessed” wouldn’t we. (pause)

But remember…Jesus…God in the flesh, has come down to place us all at the same level…and maybe, just maybe that’s what the blessing and the woes are really pointing at…that in the things that ultimately matter…we’re all on the same level…and that maybe just maybe, Jesus is trying to wake us all up to the invitation to start living our lives like we ARE at the same level. (pause)

And if that’s the case, then maybe we need to start looking at things from the same level that Jesus sees them…and to do so we need to pay attention to the order in which he speaks.  (pause) What comes first? The blessing or the woe? (Pause) The blessings right?

Maybe, just maybe Jesus is inviting us into a bit of reversal for how we see things…because its all too common for us to see the negative…to view the things that we feel ought to be condemned or cursed…but Jesus starts from a place that seems to be positive…that seems to be good…which might just point us all the way back to the beginning and the fact that when God made all this stuff…it started from a place that’s good…and we see now that God still begins by focusing in on that which is good.

And to continue to flesh this out…its worth noting that when Jesus calls a particular type of person blessed…he’s naming them…that’s the form that this word takes in Greek. Makarioi…sorta fun…but its literally an identity…a way to identify the individual…just like a name.  Who are you? Blessed one…that’s who you are…and it is in this sense of identity…called out by Jesus…named by God…that we begin to connect back into our Baptismal identity that is, perhaps, so vital to our Lutheran understanding of faith.

In the waters of baptism, God speaks a promise…a claim upon the individual…naming them beloved Child…and this identity is one that nothing overcomes…and I believe that the same thing is going on today….when Jesus calls us blessed…it is an identity that nothing changes…even in the moments when it doesn’t feel like it…or when the world tries to tell us the opposite.

Because to be a blessed one…is to be one that God is found with…God is found with the poor…God is found with the hungry…God is found with the one who is mourning…and God is found with the one that is excluded and marginalized simply because the world says so.

This is the truth of the gospel…one that we come back to time after time after time…that God knows we are unable to ever be good enough to reach God’s level…and so God becomes human and meets us in ours…broken and humbled as we are…this is where God meets us. (pause)

There’s something significant that happens when we discover the truth of being found on the same level as another…the ability to look them square in the eye…or to know that things are somehow equal…and isn’t it amazing that the almighty…all powerful creator of the entire universe…the one who made the expanse of the ocean…the one who created the majesty of the mountains…the one who created the beauty of a sunset…this same one looked at the world and thought this amazing world needed one of you too…and then that same all powerful God gets right down to your level…looking you in the eye…and this God calls you Good…this God calls you blessed.

May we all be changed by this truth…may we be encouraged, both in those times when the odds seems stacked against us…as well as those times when our circumstances allow us the opportunity to share those blessings with another….bringing us all to that same even ground…that same level where God meets us all. Amen

So We’re Blessed 2-2-14

This sermon is based on the Beatitudes, the opening portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5:1-12. Jesus lays out a series of statements regarding those who are named blessed by God.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

People of God, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Who here ever has to deal with insomnia? (wait for them to raise their hands). Those of you who are immune to this scourge of the modern age…I envy you…Those of you that have raised your hands…we stand together.
Insomnia is a crazy thing…the inability to sleep…for whatever reason, being unable to do exactly that which your body and mind want to do.  Insomnia can be caused by a wide variety of different things.  Sometimes its stress related. Something in your life has you so worked up that you simply can’t switch off, and you’re up.  Other times, insomnia can be chemically induced…any night time coffee drinkers? Caffeine will do it…been there done that. Other times, it can be a physical problem like chronic pain or restless leg syndrome. (pause)
But sometimes…sometimes, insomnia just catches you and for whatever reason, your brain just will not shut off and you are wide awake regardless of how exhausted you feel.  Last Wednesday night…I found myself in that boat. I simply could not wind down from the day and so my normal bedtime of approximately 10-10:30 stretched to 11:30, and then midnight…and then 12:30 and finally about 12:45 I felt like it was time to turn off the light…and I did…only to have my daughter wake up needing to go to bathroom at 1.
Needless to say, it was a long night, and once I finally did get to sleep, the alarm went off WAY too soon. After dragging myself around to get ready for the morning, I found myself sitting at my desk, admittedly lacking any motivation, and I actually said to myself, out loud…well, at least I’ve got coffee. (pause) In moments like this, we take our wins where we can get them…we find ourselves blessed where we can.
Now blessings are obviously a key idea in today’s Gospel lesson aren’t they. Most of the time when Jesus is teaching, he pretty much gets to the point. Sure his parables can get a little lengthy from time to time, but his direct teachings…they’re usually shorter, but today we find ourselves at the beginning of a pretty major block of teaching on Jesus part.  The Sermon on the Mount…encompassing 3 entire chapters of Matthews Gospel…111 verses…approximately 2500 words…no wonder we see Jesus sit down at the beginning…his body language almost seems to be saying “take a load off, we’re gonna be here awhile.” And then, when everyone’s situated, he dives in.
And what is the first thing we hear? Probably one of the better known sections of scripture…commonly known as the Beattitudes…statements of blessing…And in a lot of ways, Jesus seems like he’s being REALLY repetitive here doesn’t he?
Each statement starts the same way…blessed are…I talked about this passage with the high schoolers earlier in the week, and we pretty much agreed on two things about this passage…first off, that Jesus preaching repetitive statements from a mountain sounded an awful lot like Moses preaching the 10 commandments…and then second, that these statements pretty much sound like Jesus is telling us Blessed are those who have it lousy now because its gonna get better. (pause) And if we take these statements by Jesus at face value, well, maybe that’s what its telling us.
Let’s think about who Jesus calls blessed here…the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…well jeepers…doesn’t that apply to all of us at one time or another? Sounds like it covers about 100% of humanity…but then Jesus goes on…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…and the merciful…and the pure in heart…and the peacemakers…funny, that sounds like a lot of the ways that we are called to live our lives as followers of Christ…so it appears that he’s got the religious people covered even more in depth.
Well then Jesus throws in blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake…interesting, sounds like anyone who’s ever been martyred, or that’s ever been picked on or singled out because of what they believe…and then, in a bit of a twist, Jesus changes up who he’s talking about…he switches from generically listing those that are blessed, which as we’ve seen covers…pretty much everyone as a whole…and he aims his final statement at you…Blessed are you when people revile you…blessed are you when people persecute you…and blessed are you when people utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (pause)
As I read all these statements…these declarations of blessings…I can’t help but think that Jesus must have some warped sense of humor or something, because it really seems like the high schoolers have it right…blessed are you when life stinks…and that sounds like sour grapes to me. (pause)
But maybe…just maybe, we need to stop trying to figure out who is blessed…because as we’ve already figured out…everyone is…because everyone is poor in spirit at times…and everyone mourns…and everyone is meek…and we all show mercy…and we all seek peace…and at times we all feel persecuted…and as we see Jesus says Blessed are YOU…and so, if we all fall under the blessed category…then maybe we need to stop paying attention to the question of WHO…and start paying attention to the WHEN.
All 9 Beattitudes…every single one of them start off exactly the same. Blessed are…ARE…the blessing is here now, regardless of the circumstance…but if the blessing is already here, where did it come from?
Are blessings self generated?  I sure hope not because if they are, God’s got a funny way of showing it doesn’t he? Make yourself poor in spirit…get down on yourself…then you’re making yourself blessed…no…I don’t think so…it doesn’t work like that.
You see, blessings, come from someone else…that’s what makes it a blessing. Now it could be something physical. It could be a present that someone unexpectedly gives you…or it could be financial, like when a random utility rebate shows up in the mail out of the blue…or it could be personal, like when a random person says just the right thing at the right time to cheer you up…those are blessings aren’t they? But as well all know when we stop to think about it, we are blessed in many ways…and there is no limit to the blessings that flow from our Father that loves us when we really slow down enough to think about it.
But unfortunately, there are those times when it REALLY doesn’t feel like it…and those blessings can be really hard to see…and that voice in the back our heads gets really loud…you know that voice…the one that tells us we aren’t good enough…or we aren’t smart enough…or we aren’t pretty enough or we aren’t rich enough…that stupid voice that at times just won’t leave us alone…and continues to harp on us that we just aren’t good enough…that voice is the enemy…the one that hates the fact that God choses to love us.
But as loud as that voice can get…and as much as the enemy hates the love that God has for each and every one of us…that voice cannot overcome the truth spoken by Jesus when we calls someone blessed…because Jesus is God and that which God has declared CANNOT be proven false…and so if God calls you blessed today then guess what, your circumstances don’t matter because the BLESSING…is already here…even in those times when our own sinful nature listens to that evil voice and blocks out the blessings around us…even then, the blessing is real and its present and we find it in Christ himself….for as he says two different times in this passage…blessed are they…for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom is here…now…today…whether we want to realize it or not…and whether it feels like it or not…despite our inability to recognize it, the kingdom is here…and despite our inability to see the blessings, God has decreed it…he has called you blessed…
And so, if you find yourself today in a situation where any of the beatitudes really sound familiar…remember this…God has called you blessed, and in any way that you can muster…rejoice and be glad.
And if you find it difficult to find anything to be glad about…and I know that those times happen…ask God to shift your focus just a little bit…because somewhere…somewhere…that clouds got a silver lining…all it takes is a little flip.
Maybe that little flip is a hot cup of coffee when you’re droopy…that’s where I found mine the other day…or maybe it’s a little bit more like this prayer I heard recently. (pause)
Dear God, I did not sleep well last night, but I did wake up. My muscles are sore, but they work. My wallet is not full, but my belly is. I may not have all I want, but I have all I need. My life is not perfect, but my LIFE…is good. Thank you God. (pause)
Blessings come from others…that’s what makes them blessings…and we have a God who showers blessings upon us, even when we fail to recognize it…so today, let’s offer him our praise, knowing that he gave us the greatest blessing by offering his only Son to die in our place…and by doing so, brings the blessing of the kingdom of heaven…even if we can’t see it yet.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow…Praise Him all creatures here below…Praise him above ye heavenly host…Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost.

Confirmation Questions 11-3-13

Last Sunday I preached on Luke 6:20-31, which is Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. You can find that sermon here.

One question came up from the sermon notes submitted by the confirmation students. I’ll try to address it here.

-Why is it that people who are full will be hungry when those who are hungry will be full?
Great question…and really gets to the heart of this particular passage. Jesus makes 4 different comparisons. First he says “blessed are you [who have it rough], for [it will get better] but woe to you [who have it good now] because [it will get worse].” As I read this passage over and over again, it really seemed to be pointing towards what an individual is putting their hope in. Jesus speaks to those who are suffering now, due to hunger or lack of resources to let them know that if they trust in the promises of God, there will be something more for them following this life. Eternal life in heaven. But on the flip side, when Jesus addresses those that have much, I believe he is saying that we are not to place our trust in those resources…because they can fail us in this life, and they won’t earn our salvation.  This whole passage seems to be saying “be careful what you place your hope in” because things of this world will fail you.

Life’s A Roller Coaster

Today’s sermon came from Luke 6:20-31. You can listen to it here.

In this sermon I tackle Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. I explore the comparisons between the “blessed be…” statements and the “woe to…” statements. I explore how life is full of ups and downs like a roller coaster…and how that back and forth is like Luther’s teaching that we are simultaneously saints and sinners.  You can read along here. Disregard the odd punctuations and indications to pause. I gotta remember these things somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Back in April of 1997, my senior year of high school, the administration of the Graettinger Community School district approved something that they hadn’t allowed in many years…an overnight senior trip. My class of 24 students and a few chaperones headed to the Des Moines area for a couple different class activities…the most prominent in my memory being an afternoon at Adventureland.
Now, Adventureland is, of course, an amusement park…and as most of you likely know, amusement parks are best enjoyed in sunny, warm, calm weather.  Iowa in early April…not overly sunny, warm, or calm…We had a breezy overcast day…and so you can imagine…there weren’t a lot of crowds flooding the gates of Adventureland that day…and so for this group of 20 odd high school seniors…we pretty much had the run of the park.
As we all jetted around the park, trying out the various rides…the lines were short…if there were lines at all…and the anticipation of trying out a new ride was very short lived…we pretty much spied a ride…and hopped right on it…including the park’s roller coasters.
Now if you’re anything like me…you like roller coasters…They are exciting…they are a thrill…especially the first time you ride it because you really don’t know what to expect. The twists and turns…flying around…side to side…up and down….all those reversals. (pause)
That first time on a roller coaster…now that’s livin right there…but then…each time you ride it again…it loses a little something doesn’t it? Sure, its still exciting…but you start to develop an awareness of what’s coming…and the thrill of the unknown begins to drain out.
That day at Adventureland…about 8 of us hopped on the main rollercoaster…no line…no waiting…we just ran up the ramp and hopped on…and away we went…screaming our heads off in excitement over that first ride…and it was exciting…when we came pulling back in at the end of the ride, one us hollered “THAT WAS AMAZING!!!! CAN WE GO AGAIN?” The guy looked…saw no one else waiting…and said “Sure…looks like you kids can go as many times as you want to.” We hollered out approval…and went out on lap number 2…and 3…and 4…and 5…and 6…and 7…and finally 8. (pause)
By lap number 8…it was getting a little old…and when we pulled in that last time…we just wanted to get off the ride. All the thrill was gone…and in the end…the ups and downs…well they were just making us sick to our stomach. (pause)
Ups and downs…does that sound familiar to anyone? We experience plenty of ups and downs in our lives don’t we? We experience a lot of reversals…and we see quite a few reversals in today’s scripture lesson don’t we?  Luke’s account of the Beattitudes…a little shorter than Matthew’s account…a little more blunt…and also…we’ve got the woes in there don’t we? (pause)
This is one of those passages when I’d like to go in and switch up the order of the verses a little bit. Luke starts off on one foot, goes for a few verses…but then drops the hammer.  He starts off with the blessings, but then flips the switch…but I think it’s a little more eye opening if we pair them all up together. (pause)
Blessed are you who are poor…for yours is the kingdom of God…but woe to you who are rich…
Blessed are you who are hungry now…for you will be filled…but woe to you who are full…
Blessed are you who weep now…for your will laugh…but woe to you who are laughing now…
And finally…blessed are you when people hate you…and exclude you…and revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man…for surely your reward is great in heaven…but woe to your when all speak well of you…
Isn’t that kind of eye opening?  Last Wednesday night I was talking with the high schoolers about this passage…and we all though it was weird that Jesus seemed to be saying…if it stinks now, it’ll get better, but if you’ve got it good now its gonna go downhill…ups and downs…lots of reversals…just like life.
Because life is full of those reversals isn’t it?  When we stop and think about it, its kind of a no brainer…sometimes things are going great…but then one thing goes wrong…and then another…and then another…and the next thing you know, you feel like you’re at the bottom of the barrel…just trying to stay afloat…
And on the flip side, we have those times in our lives when everything’s lousy…nothing is going your way…and then something changes…and before you know it…things are going okay…ups and downs…reversals. (pause)
Now if you’re anything like me, you might be sitting there thinking about the notion of reversals…and wondering just what the heck it all has to do with All Saints Sunday…I wondered the same thing this week…and in yet another moment of personal exasperation, I found myself wanting to smack the people that created the lectionary right upside the head because they seemingly took a scripture lesson that has nothing to do with the saints and put it right in there…smacking us in the face with it…thanks lectionary authors…
But then I stopped and thought about it for awhile…and I thought about All Saints Sunday…and what we’re really celebrating today…Yes, one hand, on this day, we stop and remember those that have gone on before us in the past year…those that have crossed the great threshold between this life and whatever lies beyond…between this existence that we all know…and the next one…that we’ve only caught glimpses of…that’s one of the things that we remember today…but it’s not the only one.
It occurred to me this week that two church festivals…two church celebrations for us Lutherans…are actually closer together than we tend to realize. Last Sunday we celebrated Reformation Day, and today All Saints Day…but they actually fall on October 31st, and November 1st…Thursday and Friday…back to back days…
On Reformation Day we remember Martin Luther nailing the theses on the church door in Wittenburg…and one of the concepts that Martin Luther taught…one of the tenants of the Lutheran faith…something that we recently talked about in confirmation…is the notion that we are simultaneously saint and sinner.
Each and every day we go back and forth between the two…each and every day we feel the effects of sin in our life, yet we recognize that Christ’s sacrifice has made us free from that sin…and each of us…is in essence…a saint…we go back and forth all the time.
And so, when we celebrate All Saints Sunday…we are not only remembering those that have gone on before…but we are celebrating each and every believer across time…those that have gone before, those that are still here today, and those that will come after us.
And while we all fall under both categories…its important to remember just what a saint really is. (pause)  A saint…is someone that has received that which God has promised… (pause) And so we ask the question…just what has God promised?
Well…he has promised that if we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior…our savior from our own sinfulness…that same sinfulness that we feel and experience every day…when we receive that promise in faith…then its done.
And as I’ve hammered into the confirmation students time after time, faith is the key…its not by any merit of our own…but only by faith through the grace of God. (pause)
And what a blessing to be able to hear those promises…we can hear them in many places…one of which is right here in worship…and more specifically, we hear those promises in the sacraments.  In our baptism we are named and claimed as a child of God, secure in the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ…and in Communion, we hear the promise again…that through the broken body and blood of Christ we receive the forgiveness of sins…we hear those promises and through faith we receive them and God has told us that the promise is ours…that’s what makes us all saints despite being sinners…each and every day…not just today.
Martin Luther once said every time you wash your face remember your baptism…and Christ himself said as often as you eat and drink do this in remembrance of me…we live in the promise of God every day…through the ups and the downs…through all the reversals…throughout the roller coaster of life…we claim those promises…and we know that one day…when we cross the threshold of this life into whatever lies beyond…and we join in that cloud of witnesses that has gone on before us…that God will be faithful to the promises that we claim today. Amen.