Summary: Those who trust in the Lord are blessed
February 17, 2019
Hope Lutheran Church
Rev. Mary Erickson
Jer. 17:5-10; Ps. 1; Lk. 6:17-26
Where True Blessedness Is Found
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
Blessedness. That’s the common word in all of our readings today.
• Jeremiah tells us, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord”
• The Psalmist says, “Blessed are those who haven’t walked in the counsel of the wicked.”
Sometimes the word for “blessed” is translated as “happy.” But the word connotes something much deeper and more substantial than mere happiness. The word in Greek is MAKARIOS. The root of that word means to become large. Blessedness has to do with increase and expansion.
That’s why the mention of blessedness in the reading from Luke doesn’t seem to compute. Jesus associates blessing with the very places suffering from an ABSENSE of expansion. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor; blessed are the hungry; blessed are those who weep and blessed are those who are hated.”
These aren’t expanding places. They’re the shrinking places. These should be the realms with an absence of blessing. These are the territories of woe. But Jesus calls them blessed. So there must be something expanding in these situations. Something must be emerging for Jesus to say that they’re blessed.
The people have been crowding around Jesus. Picture the Beatles coming to America in 1964. Huge crowds wherever he went. People have come from as far away as the foreign regions of Tyre and Sidon to see Jesus. They’ve come to hear him speak. And they’ve come that he might heal them. People swarm in to touch him. They have a deep yearning, and Jesus seems to fulfill their need. This is when Jesus tells his disciples “blessed are the poor and hungry.”
The way Luke recalls it this encounter much more raw and literally when compared with Matthew. Matthew tells us, “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT, and blessed are those who hunger AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS.” In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Matthew’s version connects us at a higher plane of human needs. Matthew connects us to the spiritual level. But Luke’s version connects us with the very basics of human needs: want, sorrow, and rejection. These are the people Jesus says are blessed.
Luke goes on. Jesus doesn’t stop with who is blessed. He also relates who is not blessed:
• Woe to you who are rich
• Woe to you who are full
• Woe to you who are laughing
• And woe to you when all speak well of you
On the surface, doesn’t it seem like this is the better lot? In each one of these, life is becoming large! Isn’t that blessing? Who doesn’t want to be rich and satisfied? Who doesn’t want to live a happy life and be accepted and well esteemed by society? The poor and hungry certainly do. The scorned and hated want that.
Jesus is drawing a careful distinction of where we derive our security. When our lives expand, we feel blessed. And it’s easy to anchor ourselves in those worldly advantages.
It’s also very easy for the church to get swept up into it as well. How tempting is a Gospel of Prosperity! If we do what is right, if our lives are pleasing to God, then God’s bounty will enrich us! It’s very convincing. We go to church to improve our lives. Faith will make us more positive, and when we’re more positive, then the world’s riches will open to us.
But Jesus didn’t preach a gospel of prosperity. He said, “Blessed are the poor.”
In 2004 I had the opportunity to visit our companion synod in Malawi, Africa. We visited several congregations located in cities and also in the rural villages. People in the villages are especially poor. They live off the land.
While there we also witnessed one of the vital ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi, their orphan feeding stations. Our synod helps to support this ministry. At every station, the villagers have identified the 50 most at-risk children under the age of five. These children are placed on the list to receive nourishing meal several times a week. The goal is to prevent permanent brain damage from lack of nourishment.
Many years ago, a Catholic sister developed a fortified hot cereal called Likuni Phala. It supplies all the essential nutrients needed for a day. The villagers prepare a large pot of this nourishing cereal. One by one, the names of the children are called out. One serving is very carefully measured out in a bowl and given to each child.
Watching this feeding event occur was extremely humbling. It felt almost sacred to watch these very skinny children and babies be fed this life-sustaining cereal.