Thursday, February 21, 2019

Things are not always as they seem. . .

Sermon for Epiphany 6C, preached on Sunday, February 17, 2019, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    We trust our eyes the most; that’s just who we are.  We want visual proof.  We want to see the truth.  But our eyes can’t see everything.  Our eyes can be fooled; after all, that’s how magicians make their living.  We can see one thing, but reality can be something completely different.  Things aren’t always as they seem, especially when it comes to our lives of faith. 
     Today we heard Jesus speak His Beatitudes, and every time we hear these “blesseds” they sound like complete nonsense.  Jesus’ words don’t fit with how the world works.  They don’t line up with what we see.  “Blessed are you who are poor….Blessed are you who are hungry now….Blessed are you who weep now….Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil,” (Lk 6:20-22).  This makes no.  Looking at our world, we’d never say these people are blessed.  Driving by those who stand on the corner with signs saying “Will work for food,” we don’t say to ourselves, “Hey look, that’s one blessed guy.”  No, we think of them as unlucky at best and swindlers at worst.  Hearing about people who are bullied and persecuted, those who are being sued because they’ve try to live and work by their faith, we don’t think they’re blessed.  No, we view them as victims.  Nothing we see about these people and their circumstances ever suggest they’re blessed. 
After this Jesus continued to speak more nonsensical words.  “Woe to you who are rich….Woe to you who are full now….Woe to you who laugh now….Woe to you, when all people speak well of you,” (Lk 6:24-26).  Again, this is backwards.  This isn’t what we see.  Those who have money, those who have all their needs met, those who appear to have a happy life, those who have a good reputation, we don’t consider them cursed or woeful individuals.  No, we say they're blessed, that they’ve been given all the good stuff.  We envy them.  We want to be blessed like them. 
Christ’s words are completely counter-cultural and counter-experience.  We just don’t see it.  We don’t understand what He’s saying.  How can those who have nothing be blessed and those with everything be cursed? 
The truth of Christ’s words here aren’t based on what we see though; it’s not grounded in the world around us.  Instead, Jesus is speaking about faith, about the life of faith, about what and who we trust in. 
Jeremiah spoke similar words in the OT reading.  “Cursed is the man who trust in man and makes flesh his strength….Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD” (Jer 17:5, 7).  Jeremiah calls those who trust in man cursed because man will fail.  And this is why Jesus speaks His woes as well. 
Christ doesn’t speak His woes simply to those who have, but those who trust in the earthly things they have.  Man, others, ourselves, our strength, the things of this world like money, power, and reputation, all of these will fail.  People betray us.  Our health and strength gives way to disease and weakness.  We never have enough money and it only takes one slip up to ruin our reputation.  These things don’t last, and they can’t give us what we truly need.  These things can’t give us life.  Even though we look at them and see what they can give us in the here and now, they can’t provide us with the everlasting life we need.  By trusting in these things, we’re like a shrub in the desert with no water to survive.  We have no hope at all.  But trusting in the Lord, we’re like a tree planted by the water, remaining green forever.  We have what we need, and in that, we’re blessed. 
    Jesus spoke His Beatitudes after people came to see Him, the very type of people He called blessed: those with diseases, those troubled with unclean spirits, and those who were in need.  These were the outcasts of the society; men and women and children that no one wanted around.  And yet, that’s not how Jesus saw them.  They were blessed in their need because in Christ their need was met.  He healed them, He cleansed them of their unclean spirits, and He proclaimed the everlasting life of God’s kingdom. 
    When you hear Jesus speak His Beatitudes, He explains why the blessed are blessed.  It’s not because of the condition that they’re in, but in what will be.  They’re blessed because their need is fulfilled in Christ!  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Lk 6:20-23).  The people who came to see Jesus were blessed because they trusted in Him and He gave them what they needed.  He healed them and He brought them into His kingdom.  And this is exactly how we are blessed too.
    When we come before our Lord, trusting in His grace and mercy, recognizing our woeful and shameful condition; confessing our sin, knowing that He alone can meet our need with His forgiveness and His life, we are blessed; you are blessed. 
    Our Lord never fails, and He’ll keep His promises.  That’s what the Beatitudes are, promises.  Yours is the kingdom of God.  By His grace and mercy, because of what Christ has done for you with His death on the cross, atoning for your sin, and with His resurrection from the dead, overcoming death, you receive everlasting life.  This is a certainty, even when what you see with your eyes looks completely different.
    You and me, we’re the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are reviled.  We go through life and have to endure all sorts of struggles, pain, and strife.  We appear to be pitiful and woeful individuals, but with faith in Christ, we’re not.  Trusting in the Lord, Your Savior, you are blessed because He gives you all that you need: forgiveness, life, and everlasting salvation.  In Jesus’ name…Amen.