The Rev. Linda Taupier – February 17, 2019
Then Jeremiah urged each person to trust only in God. The prophet was concerned that people realize the importance of life choices. Trust only in God. He tells us: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord”.
One of the things I enjoy about our Bible is that there are times we hear almost the same story, told by different voices/writers, relating different ‘facts’. We need to use our imaginations. We wonder what really happened? Which version comes closest to the actual? Is there, in fact, an actual? We don’t have a stagnant God that we can put in a box (or a book) and call God complete. And we know that there is more than one way to do something and more than one way to tell a story and we all hear a story a bit differently. (Remember the game telephone from your youth?) That’s what happens in today’s Gospel.
I think we may be a bit more familiar with Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes as a preface to the Sermon on the Mount yet today we heard Luke’s version and it’s called the Sermon on the Plain. In Matthew’s version Jesus is on a mountaintop surrounded by his disciples and followers; the mountaintop indicating a closeness to God as found so many times throughout scripture.
Jesus, in Luke’s telling of this experience, the Sermon is on level ground with his disciples and followers, not on a mountaintop. Jesus had come down from the mountain to be with the people. Here we have God with us; in the midst of us. God among us.
In Matthew’s version Jesus says, ‘they or those who’ – far more distant than Luke’s version of ‘you who’. There’s a much more intimate sound on the plain. This is directed to us, His listeners, not someone far away.
Matthew’s version has 9 Beatitudes, yet Luke has 4. Luke also has warnings or ‘woes’, not found in Matthew. In both versions we find that the Kingdom values demand that Christians makes choices that may bring us in conflict with others. God’s values are quite different from worldly values.
Beatitudes are a way to teach about who will find favor with God. The word blessed in this context might be translated as “happy,” “fortunate,” or “favored.”
Beatitudes are also found in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as in the Psalms (I urge you to re-read today’s psalm later) and in Wisdom literature.
As I often do, I used a dictionary to do some research. The biblestudytools.com/dictionary/beatitudes: They are defined as: Condition or statement of blessedness. In the Latin beatus, the word for blessed, happy, or fortunate.
Happy, in this instance is the deepest form-that of hope and joy no matter what’s going on in our lives. We gain this happiness when we always follow Jesus. This isn’t the same as we might think of happy, no cares.
We all either want to feel blessed and favored right? So, what was it that Jesus said?
“Blessed are you who hunger, who are poor, who cry, blessed are you when people exclude you, and blessed are you who jump for joy when people reject you.” And then he said, “Woe to those who are rich, who are well fed, to those who laugh, and woe to those whom everyone speaks well of.”
This is troubling. I imagine many if not most of those present were shocked at hearing these words. He had just turned their world upside down. This is not at all what they expected to hear. Today it is still difficult to hear if we really listen to what is being said.
The Beatitudes of Jesus contain no imperatives, no exhortation, there is no “let us go and do,” which, if you’ve heard me preach before you know it’s hard for me not to tell us all to go & do! There are no “oughts,” no “musts,” except by implication.
Yet, the Beatitudes describe for us a framework for Christian living. What does God see when God looks at us? We are challenged to examine our present situation in the context of our faith in the Kingdom of God. What is Jesus telling us? Is he telling us we can’t be rich or have possessions; a good reputation, laugh? No, that’s not the message. It’s what we do with what we have that matters to Jesus.
I’m sure you have all heard the phrase ‘you can’t take it with you’ and I believe this is what we are being warned against. We can’t depend on money and possessions as our source of eternal happiness. If we believe we are happy because we have money, possessions or a good reputation we can get caught up in a lifestyle that supports that belief. We have our reward in the here and now.
Does God love the rich less than the poor? NO! God loves everyone exactly the same. What God is looking for is a relationship with each and every one of us – on his terms, not ours. He wants us to trustingly place our full being into his loving embrace.
I know there have been times in my life when everything was going along really well, and I felt I was in control. It didn’t mean I’d stopped loving God, but it did mean that I’d stopped giving God as much thought on a daily basis. This is the ‘woe’ part. I know I’m asking for trouble when I don’t put God first in my life. Sometimes it can be difficult to stop and realize the goodness of God’s gifts.
Our relationship with God is the most important one. All relationships worth having require work and it’s our job as Christians to do our part.
Jesus always wants us to recognize our need for a relationship, in all times and in all places. Jesus wants us to be aware of our actions and what our impact is on others.
Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” So often we forget that everything we have been given, life itself, our possessions, our resources are given to us by God as a gift to be shared with others.
Matthew talks about the ‘poor in spirit’ but Luke talks about the poor. Those people who are the nameless, faceless forgotten people both in Jesus’ day and today.
God’s son Jesus was poor, persecuted, hungry. God knows those feelings. Sometimes it’s in our most helplessness that we seek after God. It can be in that helplessness, that poverty, that hunger that we recognize our need for God. It’s in those dark moments that we more readily recognize the power of God which can transform us into the joyful, loving people that we are meant to be. Jesus’s words that day gave those poor, persecuted people one thing the world couldn’t give them – hope. Those words can also give us hope, no matter our current circumstance.
Oswald Chambers in his devotional writings says, “You do as you believe. You believe as you do.” The kingdom of God is not a place, but a condition.
Our response to The Beatitudes might be one of advocacy. We who have the means can help others and make sure they are not forgotten. Let us help the poor who are motivated to improve their lives have a way to do that. Jim Wallis said, “The most onerous thing about being poor is the ostracism; being branded as a failure, as worthless, and being treated that way”. I see that on the streets. In our community at Church Without Walls people coming for the 1st time might stand back, fearing they are intruding. There are several people at that service whose job it is to make sure everyone who comes is welcomed and included. People are made to feel valued and that’s what it’s all about.
Life is a gift. Jesus speaks gently to us today. Jesus doesn’t tell us all to be poor nor does he hold hunger up as a good thing. Jesus doesn’t tell us not to laugh. He tells those who are in need that their needs will be met. What he does tell us is to have compassion. If we have compassion, we will have joy. Our relationship to God can be defined as to how we treat the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised. We can make a difference.
Our psalm this morning reminds us:
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.