(sermon note: 01-22 sermon note)
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.
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a guy who started his new job and made it a habit to get coffee from the nearby cafe and give some of the change to the same homeless guy. As time went by, the homeless guy noticed that over the years the amount he received was going down. He stopped the guy one day and asked if everything was going ok. The guy let out a sigh and told him, “See, when I first started, I was single so I could afford to give you $20. Later on, I met someone and we started dating so I could only afford to give you $10. Things got more serious and we ended up getting married so I could then only afford to provide you with $5. More time passed and we were blessed with a child so I could only spare $1.” After hearing this the homeless guy got up and looked at the man with indignation and yelled, “YOU MEAN TO TELL ME THAT YOU’VE BEEN RAISING YOU’RE FAMILY WITH MY MONEY?!”
That reminds me of the age-old adage, “One man’s blessing is another man’s curse.” As the one man’s family grew, the other man’s income lessened…the adage held true. That being said, the homeless man had every right to complain about it since there was a time when both men were blessed by the one man’s job! But nooo, the one man had to run off and get a family and leave the other guy in the lurch! Now I’ll leave it up to you to decide if having a family is a blessing or a curse. Maybe both men were cursed after all! Both blessed and both cursed…where’s the adage on that one?!
Truth be told, being homeless and having a family are BOTH a blessing and a curse. In homelessness there is no stress and responsibility of maintaining a home. But there is stress and worry over where to sleep and reside and take shelter from the elements. At the same time, a family can be a great source of love and encouragement but boy, it can take a lot out of you too! So much stress and worry raising a family! I guess a person just has to decide which situation is more of a blessing than a curse and choose accordingly. I’d imagine most of us would choose a more blessed situation than a cursed one but I could be wrong. In any given situation, the key thing to remember is that each of us has the power to choose. Each of us can not only weigh the blessings and curses of any given situation but we also have the ability to choose which situation to live into. Friends, we can’t underappreciate this gift…the ability to choose! What a great gift to have discerning minds and freedom of choice!
While I tend to believe that discerning minds are a gift from the Father, I also tend to believe that freedom of choice is a gift from the Son. In all that he does and in all that he says, Jesus is determined to set us free. This is no more evident than in his first great teaching as we heard in today’s reading. For the first time since being publicly outed as the Son of God by John and resisting Satan’s temptations in the wilderness, Jesus has gathered his disciples and the people of Israel to begin teaching about God and what a teaching it was! Right from the start, Jesus was determined to set us free from our restricted, limited ways of thinking. And how does he do it? By getting us to reconsider what we believe it means to be “happy” or “blessed.” But he does so by wrestling with the duality of a couple handful of situations…by wrestling with the blessing and curse of the situations. We typically dwell on the cursedness of being poor in spirit, of being in a time of mourning, of being meek and persecuted, of being hungry and thirsty. We typically consider these to be bad situations but Jesus puts a positive spin on them, a blessedness. And even in our blessed situations, our good situations, Jesus builds them up into even greater blessed situations. Is Jesus simply trying to “always look on the bright side of life,” as that famous Monty Python sketch suggests? Not necessarily. No, Jesus is setting us free! We don’t have to consider cursed situations as cursed! We can consider them as blessed! We are free to choose how we perceive our situations! Jesus showed us our very freedom in his teaching! Don’t underappreciate this gift from God!
When we choose to consider the blessedness of an otherwise cursed situation, we are exercising God’s gift of freedom. Perhaps more importantly, we are inviting God into our situations. Remember our God is a God of blessing, not cursing. Our God wants to bless us, wants us to know the joy of blessings. Our God is a God of blessing! And oh, how each of us has been blessed! We’ve all received the gift of the Son, the embodiment of God’s pure love. And through the Son we have been reconciled and saved as Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (2:8) Through the Son, we have been forgiven for our sins. Psalm 32 boldly proclaims, “blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (vs. 1) Oh, we have been blessed indeed! Appreciate that blessing! Our God is a good and gracious God!
As we continue on in Jesus’ early years of ministry, let us give thanks for the freedom he taught us to appreciate and cherish. Let us give thanks for being oh, so blessed. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.