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At the Center of It All

(a sermon for November 17, 2019, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Colossians 1:11-20)

A couple of Sundays ago after church I made a quick pilgrimage to northern Maine for what has become for me a bittersweet autumn ritual: that of closing up “camp” for the winter.

Actually, as it turned out, my two sons had done most of the hard work and heavy lifting the week prior, so thankfully there really wasn’t all that much I needed to do! Nonetheless, I’m glad I made the trip:  first off, it’s always a good thing to spend some time at the lake, even on these brisk days and frigid nights of November that just call out for a warming fire in the woodstove; and yes, what with another Maine winter swiftly approaching, for me there’s no small satisfaction in seeing that the cottage itself gets buttoned up before snow flies and the lake freezes over. Plus, even though I’ve spent some part of just about every year of my life in that particular spot, let me tell you that it’s a whole different experience to be up there about now.

I’d actually awakened at daybreak that next morning, and to be honest my plan was to stoke the fire and get a little more sleep; but one look out the window convinced me I needed to get dressed and go down to the shore and watch the sunrise.  So that’s what I did, and it was… beautiful, and amazing as it always is; but it was also… stark. To begin with, thanks to that windstorm we’d had a couple of days before, there wasn’t a single leaf left on a tree anywhere, from what I could see there no boats left in the water, all the docks were pulled up to shore and the campground across the lake was completely emptied out.  And it was quiet – I mean, it was deafeningly quiet – there wasn’t a breath of breeze in the air, no chattering of squirrels overhead nor the lapping of water against rocks on the shoreline; even a small group of loons who were floating out in front of me remained silent and still.

Even after all these years, I’ve really experienced such a morning “on the pond.” Understand, in the summertime our lake, even in the wee hours, is filled both with both the sounds of nature and the communal beginnings of a new and busy day; dogs barking (and not just ours!), motorboats headed out for fishing, children’s laughing voices as they jump into the water for an early swim.  But on this particular morning in early November there was none of that; rather, what there was what could easily be compared to what scripture refers to as an “enveloping silence.”

And as I sat there for a very long while, just taking it all in, I have to tell you… I felt very, very… small.  I mean, small in the sense of knowing that you’re all alone and surrounded by miles and miles of the stark and silent grandeur of creation slowly moving toward its winter hibernation; small in the sense of being humbled by this reminder of just how incredibly tiny you really are (!), just this little speck of dust in comparison to the vastness of the universe or in relationship to God; but also small in the sense of realizing that even as you’re sitting there on your little spot amidst the enveloping silence of this new morning, the world around you is still spinning like crazy, in a way that’s ever changing and ever disorienting, so often to the point of seeming like it’s spinning helplessly out of control.

And you have to wonder… small as you are, if that’s happening to your world – or for that matter, our world, yours and mine – what is at the center of it all and what’s supposed to hold it all together?

I know… that perhaps was a bit much to consider in the midst of a beautiful sunrise on a cold November morning in Maine (or just maybe I needed a cup of coffee!); yet, on the other hand, I suspect this may be a question that many of us are asking ourselves these days: what’s at the center of it all?

It was the Irish poet William Butler Yeats who, upon witnessing the devastation that remained at the end of the first World War, famously lamented that “things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”  In other words, throughout history there have always been times and circumstances that in which it seemed surely that the world was falling apart right before our very eyes, and truthfully, in many ways and for many people, it was: times of war and holocaust, deadly plague, economic depression, terrorism, political upheaval, and on and on; truly, many have been the moments across the centuries when even the most faithful among us have begun to feel very small; and have wondered, however fleetingly, whatever was to become of them.

There are also times, if I might quote Craig Barnes here, writing in The Christian Century, “when [you and I are] forced daily to defend ourselves against the demise of our personal worlds… [when] we’re surrounded by marriages that crumble, companies that downsize, and diseases that rob us of loved ones.”  And yet, ever and always, life has to go on, right?  We do what has to be done, we get on with the business of life and we keep on trying to find the center of things, “all in the hopes of keeping [ourselves and] our little world together;” yet, writes Barnes, “despite our best efforts to be healthy, things still fall apart.”

Now, I don’t say any of this today to sound at all morose or to paint a bleak picture on such a beautiful Sunday morning as this; it’s just to say (quoting Craig Barnes again), that “if we’re paying attention, we have to realize that the world as we know it is always a thread away from unraveling.” (Okay, maybe that’s a tad negative!) But there’s point that needs to be made here, and it’s that because of this world’s unraveling, because of our incredible smallness in the scheme of things we are in need of a true center; something, someone who holds all things together.  “What we need is someone who can intervene in the world, destroying the power of evil.  We need a Savior.”

And the good news today, and always, is that we do have that Savior in the person of Jesus Christ, the one whom Paul proclaims in our text for this morning as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… [the one who] himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together… for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and  through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”

It’s worth noting that this portion of Paul’s letter to the Colossians was considered to be something of a hymn of praise and a confession of true faith and was in fact addressed to a group of beleaguered Christians who were living in the area that is now modern-day Turkey, and who had been so despised and persecuted for their Christian faith that now they had deep doubts as to the validity of that faith, and were uncertain of what truly was at the center of it all.  It’s a testament to how much the world has always tended to spin out of control; and us along with it. In fact, we’re told that it was now to the point where these Colossians were gleaning on to anything and everything they could find that might possibly make sense of life and living, and as a result they found themselves being pulled between the values of their faith and the values of their culture.

It’s a conundrum we know all too well, isn’t it?  Indeed, many are those in our own times who have sought to fill up the uncertainties of living with our own self-created notions of what will make it meaningful:  money, power, pleasure; the need to find acceptance and, quite frankly, to get our way.  But all this comes at a cost:  the Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, a Presbyterian pastor and blogger out of Texas writes that “perhaps one of the most destructive myths to define our lives is the notion that ‘it’s my life, and I’ll live [it] how I want.’”  It’s not, Brehms says, that we shouldn’t have the right to make choices for ourselves, because certainly most of us do just that; it’s just that taken to the extreme, “it is a formula for life that pretty much undermines all chance of real happiness,” because in the end, this attitude of “I don’t care anymore this is my life,” (with apologies here to Billy Joel!) falls far short of our true purpose in life, which as Paul tells us in this passage is that we “may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that [we] may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”  The true center of our lives, you see, is found as we learn more and more about God works; and as we do we“will learn how to do our work” in life, in the process gaining “strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy.” [The Message]

It is no accident, by the way, is that in this particular text, five times in six verses (!) makes a point of saying that “all things” are held together in Jesus Christ: “in him all things in heaven and earth are created… all things are created through him and for him… he is before all things and in him all things hold together… and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things.”  Paul is relentless about this: that nothing – and no one – “is left out of the realm of redemption.” (Barnes)  At the center of all things, beloved, is Jesus Christ, bring peace to a fractured world “through the blood of his cross;” and it is this center that will hold us together as his much beloved creation.

You know, the interesting part of spending that early morning down on the shore of the lake watching the sunrise is that I really did feel very small; but then again, I’ve felt very much the same way on hot August nights when I’ve floating on that same lake beneath a magnificent canopy of stars watching the Perseid Meteor Shower; I’ve had the same kind of experience in the middle of a thunderstorm when lighting flashes in every direction. It a big universe, with all of its wonder and its danger and it’s utter uncertainty; and I always end up thinking the same thing, that we really ought to count for nothing… and yet, even as the world keeps on spinning day by day, year by year, and age to age… here we are.  You and me… each one of us created in God’s sight; each one of us uniquely created and loved and nurtured as God’s own, and redeemed by the one who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”   That awareness, even more than that of the sheer expanse of the universe itself, is what fills me with joy at its wonder… with hope for a world that at times does seem at times to be within a thread of its unraveling, but with peace that the world can neither give nor take away… and above all, with faith in the infinitely loving Christ who is at the center of all things and who holds all things together.

This, beloved, is our gift of true life, the “inheritance of the saints in the light.”  For this, and everything that goes along with it, may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Maine, Paul, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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God of the Living

(a sermon for  November 10, 2019, the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 20:27-38)

“You’re going to be a minister… maybe you can answer this question.”

It was a phrase that I would hear many times in my life; but on this particular night it caught me completely by surprise.  First of all, at the time I had barely begun my seminary education and I was as yet unaccustomed to answering such questions; or at least those that did not give me 45 minutes and a blue-book to answer!  And moreover it was 11:00 on a Saturday night (!) and I’d just come in for the late shift in my part-time job as weekend janitor and night watchman at the Bangor Daily News, most certainly an unlikely setting for theological discussion!  But… as it happened, the man asking the question was not only the one I’d come to relieve that night but also my supervisor, so there was indeed ample time to talk.

And talk we did; as there, in the tiny maintenance office on the basement floor of the news building, my boss Roger shared with me his story.  Seems that he’d been a widower for many years after a long and happy marriage, and that there’d been a lot of lonely days for him since his wife’s passing.  But now, seemingly out of the blue, he’d met someone and much to each of their surprise, they’d fallen in love.  I’ll never forget it; with his eyes full of light and happiness, Roger described to me in very simple but eloquent terms of just how much this woman had come to mean to him; about the unexpected feelings of joy and how his whole life had been renewed just by the fact of her being with him.  They had even begun to talk about marriage and the good news was that their families and friends were as excited about this possibility as they were!

So it was all good… except that now, Roger was beginning to have some second, troubling thoughts. And with his eyes now revealing a hint of his heart’s anguish, he looked at me and asked simply, “Do you think this alright with God?”

He explained, “I married my wife in the sight of God and I did it for love and for life.  When she was dying we promised each other that we’d be together in heaven; so if get married now, is that still going to happen? Or by getting remarried, am I going to be betraying the promises I made to her?”  He paused for a long moment, as though he was letting that sink in; and then Roger said, “You know, I do love this woman, and I want to marry her… but if I do, what happens when I die?”

Now, remember, I’m just this greenhorn seminarian without a clue as to how to answer him!  And desperately I’m trying to remember something, anything of value I might have heard in in one of my Old and New Testament classes, perchance to glean some small nugget of theological insight that could provide this man some definitive moral and ethical guidance; but alas, nothing was forthcoming.  I mean, here’s this man, he’s pouring out his heart to me and looking for some answers; and I can’t even begin to give him any real insight as to what was good or right or acceptable where faith was concerned (and all the while I’m thinking to myself, some kind of minister I’m going to make!).  But I did need to say something, I knew that much; and I realize now that what came out of my mouth was most certainly not the result of my seminary studies or was the product of my congregational heritage, and it certainly wasn’t based on any inherent wisdom on my part (!) but had to have come instead by the graceful movement of God’s own spirit in that particular moment.

“I don’t know,” I said finally, “but it seems that God loves you more than enough that He’d want you to be happy.”   Of course, I never really did answer his question… but innocently and unknowingly, I think I gave him the right answer.

Actually, in our gospel text for this morning, a group known as the Sadducees came to Jesus posing much the same kind of question: to wit, if each of seven brothers were to marry the widow of the brother who died before him (as would have been customary according to Old Testament family law) then when the widow herself passed away, in the resurrection whose wife among all those seven men would she actually be? Hmmm?  Of course, understand this was meant as something of a trick question, an impossible riddle without a real answer; in truth of fact, in our modern day parlance this would be considered a “gotcha” question, one designed solely to make Jesus look like a fool before those around him, and thus destroy his credibility among the people.

A little background: the Sadducees were this small group of mostly wealthy, well-educated and very conservative scholars who held places of great power in the Jewish religious hierarchy.  But as opposed to the Pharisees, who spent their lives in pursuit of achieving something beyond their lives, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection; mostly because resurrection is not mentioned in the Torah (that is, the first five books of the Old Testament), and for the Sadducees only the Torah held any validity or true authority.  Any talk of eternal life, therefore, was viewed as false teaching and heresy, not to mention an affront to what they perceived as their own authority regarding the truth!  So here’s Jesus out on the streets of Jerusalem – not long after his triumphal entry, in fact – teaching openly and with great conviction regarding the resurrection to eternal life, and of course, this infuriated the Sadducees; and they reasoned that by asking Jesus this utterly confusing question about marriage and resurrection they might just possibly trap Jesus into making some kind of heretical statement, thus discrediting him, while validating themselves and their authority in the process.

However, as he did so very often, Jesus by-passed the question in order to deal with the questioner; he wasn’t about to get drawn into the Sadducee’s games.  But here’s the thing; he did give them an answer, and it cut right to the heart of the matter.  And in essence, he’s saying to them, you’re missing the point!  Now, our reading for today records Jesus as saying “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage… but in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”  In other words, the whole idea of who’s married to who, and when, and how, isn’t really all that applicable when we’re talking about the resurrection!  That’s sort of what you get more directly in The Message translation:  “Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there,” says Jesus. “Those who are included in the resurrection of the dead will no longer be concerned with marriage nor, of course, with death. They will have better things to think about, if you can believe it. All ecstasies and intimacies then will be with God.”

Yes, says Jesus to these learned Sadducees, the law is essential, tradition is important, matters of life and death are crucial and human relationships are always precious and sacred in God’s sight; but in the resurrection, which is God’s gift and God’s act, all of that becomes irrelevant.  In the resurrection, even death itself is irrelevantindeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Even Moses understood this, says Jesus.  Didn’t Moses, in the presence of the burning bush, speak of the Lord as being the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?” No past tense spoken here – it isn’t that God was the father of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob, but is the father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now ands forevermore – for God isn’t the God of those who are dead and gone, but of the living, “for to him all of them are alive.”

It turns out to be such a good answer to the impossible question that even the Sadducees had to admit that Jesus had answered well, “no longer dar[ing] to ask him another question.” But even more than this, Jesus showed them and us a little bit about the character of God of and of his steadfast love.  What we have in this text, friends, is a reminder that God has made a covenant with us; God has a relationship with his people that stretches back from generation to generation, and was in place long before you and me, long before Sadducees and Pharisees,  long before the prophets, long before Moses.  And at the center of that covenant is the promise that nothing will ever destroy that relationship; for when God enters into a relationship with us, nothing can end that:  nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Romans 8:38-39) will be able to separate us from that relationship of divine love. Our God is the God of the living, not the dead, and because God loves us that much, we live… now and forever, abundantly and eternally.

The glorious truth of our faith, dear friends – this truth which we proclaim with song and in prayer through moments both of utter joy and inexpressible grief – is that death does not end us.  And that’s because death does not change who God is, and has always been unto us: the giver and nurturer of our lives, the restorer of our identity as the persons and the people we are meant to be and have always been from the moment of our creation. That is our truly good news, but it’s also our challenge.  Unlike the Sadducees, we do believe in the resurrection to eternal life – it’s at the center of everything we confess to be true about our Christian faith – but in truth, perhaps more alike to the Sadducees than we’d like to admit, most of us do struggle to understand all of what that belief means as we go through the joys and the challenges of this life, much less how it applies in the life to come; the very idea of resurrection is something we can’t even begin to comprehend in its fullness.  But what Jesus assures us of in this passage is that whatever our concerns or doubts we can trust in the promise of resurrection, because God loves us more than enough that come what may, God is never going to let go of us!

Of our three children, Zachary was always the one who slept the least; it was certainly true when he was an infant, continued all the time he was growing up and, frankly, he’s still the one who’s most apt to be up late at night!  But when he was very young, despite our best efforts to keep him in his own bed, he’d often end up in our room and cuddled up next to his mother and me.  But aside from our bed always being very crowded on those nights, what I always remember about that is noticing how Zach would reach out to touch my face – stroking my hair, feeling my beard, getting a sense of my breathing against his own skin – and then, having done this,  he would almost immediately let out with this contented sigh and drift off to sleep.  It’s as if he needed to know in every way possible that we were there for him, that we weren’t going anywhere, and that he was safe… “all through the night,” as it were..

I’ve never forgotten that, and it always sort of reminded me of a piece I read years and years ago in which a mother tries to explain death to her child:  “You fall asleep,” she says, “and God, your heavenly Father, with strong arms comes and takes you to your room, a room in heaven made just for you… for you are God’s child… you belong to God, and nothing can ever take you away.”

The Sadducees wanted to know to whom the widow was married in the resurrection, and in the larger sense to whom she belongs eternally.

And Jesus gave them an answer… she belongs to God… always has, always will.

And the good news?  So do you, and so do I.  So do we all, beloved, you and I who “are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

For life now and for the life to come, thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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“Blessed Are You…”

(a sermon for November 3, 2019, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 6:17-26)

Amongst the very first textbooks I purchased as a seminary student, and one that still holds a space on my crowded bookshelf, is a copy of “Gospel Parallels.”  Edited by no less than our own esteemed New Testament professor, the late Burton Throckmorton, this volume served a unique purpose in that it presented the three “synoptic gospels” – that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke – in such a way that you’re able to read all the identical or similar passages side by side.  In other words, if you’re interested in comparing how each of those Gospels, for instance, records the events of the crucifixion it’s all right there on one page, complete with all the footnotes and textual cross-references.  So it’s an essential tool for Biblical study and exegesis; but perhaps even more than this for me it’s served not only as a reminder that Holy Scripture tells a story but also that it’s also a collection of stories, each one told in its own unique way.

And such is the case with the four gospels and the story of Jesus: by most historical accounts Mark, with its precise language and great brevity, came first, followed by Matthew and then Luke which drew from Mark’s account and then expanded upon it, including, for instance, the story of Jesus’ birth and, in the case of Luke, even writing a second volume, recording the “Acts of the Apostles.”  And then, finally, there’s John’s Gospel, which is sometimes referred to as the “Spiritual Gospel,” in that it looks at Jesus’ story through a more deeply theological lens, so to understand the “why” of our Lord’s coming.  And it’s all the same story, by and large – at times even word for word the same – all about Jesus’ miracles and healings, his parables and teachings, and of course his death and resurrection.  But for me having four different accounts is a lot like how family stories get told around the table, with one sibling having his or her own version of the story in question and the other offering up another version; one with a different emphasis and maybe with bits and pieces that were previously left out!  It’s not that the story wasn’t true, or that it was changed or exaggerated somehow; rather it’s a story that’s gotten richer as it gets told from a different point of view.  The same story, you see, but a different telling; and in the end, you end up with a much better understanding of what actually happened and even more so of what it all means!

Take for instance our text for this morning, Luke’s version of what is commonly referred to as “the Beatitudes.”  It’s generally thought of as being part of what’s called “the Sermon on the Mount,” and that’s how these verses are presented in Matthew, as part of many teachings included in that “sermon,” and specifically pointing out that Jesus “went up the mountain,” (5:1) that his disciples came to him up there, and this is where Jesus stood to speak to the crowds gathered below on the hillside. I dare say that for most of us this is probably the image that comes to mind when we picture Jesus saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (5:3-4) Truly, it’s the stuff of many a Sunday School paper and a whole lot of Biblical-themed movies, a beloved scenario one would not easily seek to change!

But here’s the thing; Luke, in his version of the Beatitudes that we’ve shared today, does tell the story differently.  Not only does Luke claim that Jesus “came down with them and stood on a level place,” not standing above the people but right down there where this “great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people” from all over were gathered – to the point of where Luke is specific about Jesus “look[ing] up at his disciples” as he’s about speak, suggesting he might actually have been sitting as he began to speak – not only that, but Luke emphasizes that the whole reason that Jesus had actually come down to this level place was because so many “had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases” and that “power came out from [Jesus] and [that he] healed all of them.”  And really, that’s a significant difference in storytelling, because now, rather than this image of an incredible oration offered up to an attentive multitude from a lofty hillside cathedral what we get in Luke is… this literal throng of people all pushing and shoving to get close to Jesus, all of them in the fervent and even desperate hope that they might be cured of their troubles and unclean spirits. To put it bluntly, it’s an over-crowded, chaotic mess of a scene, but it’s in the midst of all this noise and confusion some incredible words of hope are being offered.

And therein lies the other big difference in Luke’s version of this story: because what happens on this “level place” is that Jesus does, in fact, heal them all; but then, as we’ve said, he looks up at his disciples (which in and of itself suggests that Jesus is surrounded by all these people!) and says, “Blessed are YOU who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are YOU who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are YOU who weep now, for you will laugh.” (Capitalization mine!)  Understand the difference here: in Matthew, it’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek… blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (5:3-6) For starters, there’s a slightly different selection of “blessings,” and that’s worth noting (Matthew records eight, as opposed to four in Luke); but the major difference has less to do with that than it does the point of view!

In Matthew, you see, is talking about “those” who, by their place in the world, are placed squarely in the midst of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, in the words of Craig Barnes of Princeton Seminary, these are the qualities that describe “what life looks like under the reign of heaven, a reign that has already begun in Jesus Christ and will someday be realized.”  It offers us, writes Barnes, “a glimpse… of what it means to be a citizen of this reign of Christ… it’s a blessing, a grace that places you on a path that takes you somewhere you did not expect to go.”  So on that basis, Matthew’s words kinda sorta suggest it’s something that’s still yet to come, and as we understand the truth of the kingdom’s eventual fulfillment, that sense of what will be rings true; truly, that’s the second advent we’ll be awaiting in our worship when that season begins in a few weeks.

Matthew sets forth these “beatitudes” in a way that’s “now, but not yet,” which is fine and good and theologically correct.  But did you hear what Jesus said?  He said, “Blessed are YOU who ARE poor… Blessed are YOU who ARE hungry NOW… Blessed are YOU who weep NOW…” (again, capitalization is mine)  As Luke sets forth the “beatitudes,” it’s not something that’ll happen someday in the life to come, but a blessing that applies to life right here and right now, life as it’s truly experienced.

Because I don’t know about you, friends, but there are times in my life when I do weep, moments when any kind of laughter or joy evades me.  There’ve been moments when I’ve felt hungry, and not just for something to eat; but rather because in emptiness I’m yearning for something to fill up that space in my life.  And yes… there are times that I’m poor; poor by the world’s standards of wealth, perhaps, but more often poor in the sense of lacking hope or strength or spirit (it’s no accident, you know, that the Greek word used here for poor is ptōchoi, which refers to one who crouches or cowers in fear; in fact, it’s also where we get the slang term for spitting, ptooey, which ends ups here suggesting someone who’s been constantly spat upon in life).  I’m here to tell you, friends, that there have been moments in this life when I’ve been just about that poor in spirit; and unless I miss my guess, I suspect you can say the same!

So isn’t it good, then… isn’t it a true blessing to know that in the midst of all the difficulties and challenges that we endure in this life that ours IS the Kingdom of God; isn’t it good to know that in our emptiness we WILL be filled up with good things; isn’t it truly hopeful to have that assurance that even in the midst of all of our tears we WILL be laughing?  And while we’re on the subject, isn’t it also great to know, as Jesus says and as is translated in from The Message, that when “every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit” your faith and your allegiance to God,  not only are you “in good company,” but all heaven applauds the steadfastness of your faith?

Don’t misunderstand; Jesus is not saying that poverty and hunger, weeping and being hated are good things in and of themselves; nor is he suggesting that our relief, our comfort, our recompense is some measure of “pie in the sky,” so to speak.  But he is proclaiming that in such sufferings, there is joy that is already ours in the reality of God’s kingdom even now coming to pass; a true joy that is ours in having the healing power of the Lord with us in times of trial. To quote some words of commentary on this passage from the Taize faith community, “Hunger and poverty, weeping and hatred are sometimes unavoidable… but these situations are not the deepest reality; behind this, already just visible, God’s Kingdom is present.”  The blessedness that Jesus promises, it says, “is both an objective state of affairs for their current situation and the promise of a joy to come.”  What Jesus wants for us – truly, what Jesus promises us for the here and now – in the midst of literally the worst of what life brings you and me is “to show us the incredible newness and fundamental otherness of this reality that is the Kingdom of heaven” in our midst.

And that blessedness is good news, indeed.

Of course, it should also be said that in Luke’s version of these blessed promises, Jesus also mentions a few “woes:” as in “Woe to you who are rich… woe to you who are filled now… woe to you who are laughing now…” in fact, (referring once again to The Message version of this text) “there’s trouble ahead [for you] if you think life’s all fun and games,” or “when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them.”  Those verses echo Mary’s “Magnificat” in the Nativity story, which is no accident; this truth that the coming of Christ and his Kingdom proclaims a complete inversion of worldly ways and means; where the powerful are brought down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up, when the hungry are filled “with good things,” and the rich are sent away empty. (1:52-53) In other words, friends, we need to remember that true happiness is never wholly achieved by the world’s misguided and all too often imbalanced standards, but rather by that of a kingdom that is even now being brought by a God who loves us beyond measure and wants for us to know true joy.

So let me again just state the obvious here:  life is not easy.  It’s filled with challenge and difficulty, contradictions by the number and utter uncertainty at every turn. And the sad truth is that we are all too understanding of what it means to be poor, and empty, and in mourning – if not literally or physically, then certainly spiritually – and I dare say that most of us in this sanctuary have felt the sting of being hurt or reviled or excluded in one way or another.

Like I said, Life is not easy… but that is not what all of life is about.  We know this because God in the person of Jesus Christ has loved and redeemed and brought us into his kingdom, and because of this, in the midst of this life and in the life to come, we are also blessed.

Blessed are YOU, beloved.  Blessed are you, and blessed am I.  For ours is the kingdom of God… be thinking about that as we come to table of blessing this morning.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019   Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Scripture, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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