Summary: What does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to be favored by God? And what does it mean to be among those who are cursed with troubles and woes.
In the Monty Python movie "The Life of Brian" (I am not advocating seeing this movie) Jesus goes up on the mountain side to teach the people. There is a huge crowd gathered around him. In fact, the crowd is so vast that the people who are on the outer edge of the gathering cannot hear what is being said and must ask others what the master has said.
As Jesus pronounces what have become known as the beatitudes, one of the characters in the movie, desperate to know what Jesus is saying, asks a man who is ahead of him the crowd: “What is he saying? What is he saying?”
The man checks with a person in front of him, who in turn checks with someone else and then the message is relayed back, “The Master says ‘Blessed Are The Cheese Makers.’”
From there a theological debate ensues about the importance of cheese makers in the Kingdom of God, and whether Jesus literally means “cheese makers,” or could his pronouncement of blessing equally fall upon all producers of dairy products.
I have titled my sermon today "blessed are the cheese makers" as a way of reminding us how often we get wrong what Jesus has said. Further, I want us to explore what we think in terms of what it means to be blessed.
On a recent visit in the hospital, I boarded an elevator, and stood next to a woman. “How are you today?” I asked. She replied, “I am blessed!”
“Really,” I said. “How so?”
“God has been so good to me,” she said. “I have a wonderful husband, three terrific kids, a nice home, and I just got a brand new car!” Then, just before departing the elevator, she reiterated her initial comment. “I am blessed because God has been so good to me!”
What does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to be favored by God? And what does it mean to be among those who are cursed with troubles and woes.
The response of this young woman seems to be in line with our modern American philosophy of success. Those who succeed are the ones God favors. The ones with good health, a happy family, a nice wardrobe, a luxurious home, a new car, and the large investment account – these are the blessed. Meanwhile, those who struggle with illness, broken homes, tattered clothing, and extreme poverty – these are the cursed and the afflicted.
The only problem is that this is not what Jesus taught about the nature of being blessed.
We are all familiar with the “Sermon on the Mount,” as it comes to us in the Gospel of Matthew. Luke’s account is vastly different. It is not that Luke contradicts Matthew, but rather that he gives us a different point of view of Jesus sermon.
To begin, in Luke, the sermon is not set on a hillside where Jesus can look over the top of the crowd and hand down the word from on high to those who are beneath him. Rather Luke sets the sermon on a plain, a level place, where a large crowd has gathered and pressed in upon him. ON the plain Jesus moved among them, touching them, healing them, curing their afflictions, and teaching them about the ways of the Kingdom of God.
Next, Luke’s list of those who are “blessed by God” is a bit more graphic and tangible. And there is one more thing that Luke does that Matthew doesn’t. In Luke’s version of the message, Jesus not only speaks about those who are blessed, but he also announces a series of matching curses or woes:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Woe to you who are rich now for you have received your consolation.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Woe to you are full now for you will be hungry.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on the account of the Son of Man.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
Think about these words. What do they say about our aspirations? What do they say about our dreams? What do they say about our rushing out to buy lottery tickets so that we might win the big one? What do these words say about the value of our sorrow, our pain, and our hunger?
Let us take it a step further. What does this list of blessings and woes say about what God is about? What do they say about where God is, whom God blesses, and who God is for?