Summary: You can be poor,hungry,hated, and still be blessed.
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.”