Things Aren’t Always What They Seem
Why do you come to church on Sunday? One answer could be that you come to exercise your faith or, in other words, your spiritual muscles. Well, today we’re going to exercise your physical muscles, as well.
I’ve read that it takes more facial muscles to smile that it does to frown. Therefore, when you smile you are exercising the muscles in your face much more than if you frown. So let’s exercise. Smile…and frown. Smile…and frown. Smile…and frown. Good. Feel the burn.
Now, you have a choice whether you go through life smiling or frowning. That is just one of the many, many choices we are offered every minute of every day. Of course, maybe you’re thinking, “I am extremely happy. In fact, I’m laughing on the inside. I don’t need to smile show it.” Well, maybe you are. I guess things aren’t always what they seem.
That’s the situation we have here in our readings for today. Three of our four lectionary readings contain a beatitude. For Jeremiah, we have “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord” (Jer. 17:7). The psalmist tells us, “Happy are those…whose delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:1-2). For Luke, “Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the grieving, the hated” (Luke 6:20-22).
Things aren’t always what they seem. It’s obvious the biblical definition of being blessed is different from what our culture views as blessings. We are blessed when we choose to follow and live for God and live within His grace.
And it’s not just our present day culture viewpoint and the biblical viewpoint that differ. It was same back when Jesus spoke these words to his disciples. Jesus, in these words from Luke, is saying that things are not always what they seem to be. What you see is not necessarily what you get.
You see, Jesus is talking about a place where everything is backwards and the rules are the opposite of what we expect. The kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God are very different.
The Jews in Jesus day believed in the “punishment theory”. They thought that if you were rich, successful, popular, you were blessed by God. But if you were poor, rejected, had a disease or disability, then you had done something to displease God and were being punished and therefore NOT blessed.
We still live under this same theory today. We hear a singer and think they have been “blessed” with a wonderful voice, or some athlete has been “blessed” with outstanding ability, or an inventor has been “blessed” with a great analytical mind.
We can’t sing, so we’re punished (or NOT blessed). We can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, so we’re punished (or NOT blessed). We can’t program our VCR, so we’re NOT blessed.
But what kind of people does God bless? And what kind of blessings does God give? What are God’s criteria for being one of the “chosen ones” to receive a blessing from God? I often wonder about that last question, especially when I hear the phrase "God bless America." Why? Why should God bless America? Is America in a place spiritually and morally where God can bless it?
We have chosen to stray from God. We have chosen to allow prayer to be removed from schools. Many people choose to misinterpret the First Amendment, twisting it to suit their needs. Persecution of Christians, while not nearly as bad as many countries, happens right here in America. Why should God bless America?
For that matter, why should God bless anyone? I don’t have an answer for that, but I do know that God does bless us. Blessings are something we as a people, receive from God every day of our lives. Some of those blessings are things we often take for granted - like our heart beating, our brains thinking, eyes seeing, ears hearing.
But blessings from God are not commonplace. They are something special and very important. As early as the book of Genesis, God’s blessings were special. In Genesis, Chapter 12, verses 1-3:
1. The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
And from Genesis, Chapter 17, verses 18-20:
“And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.”
Blessings are often the result of choices we make. Like all actions have a reaction, choices we make have consequences. The psalmist tells us:
1. The righteous are blessed (v.1)
2. The ungodly are cursed (vv.4-6)
3. The righteous delights in God’s Word (v.2)
4. The ungodly delights in his own ways (vv.4-6)
5. The righteous will prosper (v.3)
6. The ungodly will perish (v.6)
Luke lists 4 blessings. He also lists 4 woes. Running through Luke’s passage is the contrast between blessings and woes, between the present and the future. Those hungry now will be filled, those who weep now will laugh.
On the other hand, the rich have already received their consolation. Those full now will be hungry and those laughing now will weep.
Jesus addresses “the poor” and then “the rich”. He is not saying that all poor people go to heaven, or that all rich people go to hell. It’s just that material wealth gives one the idea they have no need of anyone or anything. They are self-sufficient and become arrogant, the opposite of “poor.” Such folks make a choice to rely on their riches, not on God. Comfort is not the same thing as blessedness.
Jesus follows this teaching of blessing for those who weep in a few verses with a corresponding woe in verse twenty-five, “ Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep.” Laughter indicates satisfaction and contentment. He is saying to the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, the excluded and the insulted that there is the prospect of something a lot better. He is warning the rich, well fed, laughing and popular people not to trust in these things because, otherwise, this is all they will get.
The choice before us, as Christians, is not a choice between good and bad. Being rich is not “bad”. Being full is not “bad”. It is actually a choice between what is good and what is better.
And we need to understand that Jesus is not saying that you have to be poor and persecuted and hated in order to be blessed. He’s not saying that you are blessed because you are poor and hungry and crying and hated. There are lots of poor, hungry, crying, hated people who are not blessed at all.
On the other hand, Jesus isn’t saying that if you are poor, if you are hungry, if you are crying and hated, it doesn’t mean that you are NOT blessed.
Things are not always what they seem. That singer “blessed” with the great voice probably went through years and years of voice training, and may be miserable because of a troubled marriage. That athlete “blessed” with that enormous talent probably had to practice long, long hours to improve so they could be successful.
Albert Einstein is considered a genius and was “blessed” with brilliant, analytical mind. But while in school, his teachers often said that he would never amount to much. Things aren’t always what they seem.
Being successful by the world’s standards of blessing, does not mean either that you are blessed, or cursed by God. The problem is, when you judge yourself by the world’s standards, you’re shortchanging yourself.
Woe to you, because that stuff – those riches, that food, that laughter, that popularity – it doesn’t last, you’ll have your time of knowing just the opposites. If you rely on money, you’ll know poverty. You may be full now, but you’ll get hungry. If you rely on good laughs, you’ll end up crying. And if you get by on your popularity, people will begin to hate you.
I’d like to ask you a very simple question. What kind of life would you like to have? When you ask for God’s blessing on your life, what kind of blessing are you thinking about? Or maybe I should make it even simpler. DO you want to be blessed?
I’m making an educated guess here that all of us want to be blessed. The choice is ours. It’s up to us.
We can be blessed if we CHOOSE to trust in the Lord. We can be blessed if we CHOOSE to delight in the law of the Lord. We can be blessed if we CHOOSE to be like the tree planted by the stream, nourished by the living water.
Regardless of our lot in life, if we choose to follow and live for God and live within His grace, then we will be blessed. The world may hate you, exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
Remember, things aren’t always what they seem. “You shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. You shall not fear when heat comes.” “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.”
Smile. Or frown. The choice is yours.