An Enviable Position
At the start of his ministry, Jesus travels throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and healing people of every disease and infirmity. Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry powerfully demonstrates that the kingdom of heaven has come among to the people, and the sick and desperate come to Jesus from near and far seeking healing, wholeness and new life as God’s people.
It’s amazing. Something strange and remarkable happens when the good news of Jesus is proclaimed: all that’s sick and diseased, poor and broken, sad and miserable comes out of the shadows and into the light. Or when the light finally comes on, we revel in the light, but quickly notices that light exposes what had been hidden and gone unnoticed for so long.
In everyday life, when the way of the world goes the way of the world, we tend to not notice or see the sick and suffering among us. For those who lose the zest for life, for those overcome by grief and sorrow, for those the system forces to the bottom because they are poor or sick, for all of these isolated and pushed to the edge, we turn our eyes away. Even the healthy among us sense the frailty of our condition. Nothing seems to scare us more than coming to the realization that someday we too might have to count ourselves among the crowd of people our competitive society considers losers. We fear the time when we too are sent to the margins, overlooked or pushed into the shadows. Yet, when the good news of God’s kingdom goes out, the light of God’s mercy and God’s love shines into the hidden corners and dawn rises on the shadowlands. When God's light shines, It can be overwhelming to be suddenly confronted by the breadth and depth of the brokenness and sorrow of the people on this planet. As we follow Jesus through this Gospel, we will find this happening to Jesus and his disciples again and again: So many people. So much need. What can we do?
And what’s so overwhelming is that we see very little reason for hope, very little opportunity for change and no evidence that things will every improve when the reality of the situation is that the need seems so much greater than the resources we have to address it. When we think of people who are in the enviable position of being able to change and better themselves and the lives of those around them, we think of people who are energetic and full of the spirit; people who have drive and even better some money and other resources they use to advance; people who have access to opportunity — education, employment, mentors and networks of friends and communities of people who will help them succeed; people in the enviable position of being young, smart and connected, on the edge of making something happen that will make all the difference in their life.
Those are not the people Jesus sees when he lifts up his eyes, sees the crowds who have come to him, and then goes up the mountain and sits down to teach his disciples the ways of God’s kingdom. And yet, Jesus tells his disciples that the first word they need to hear about the coming of God’s kingdom is … “Blessed are the poor in spirit...” — Blessed are the out of breath. Blessed are those on the edge of death. Blessed are those completely dependent on others for life — “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Blessed. Normally, we think of blessed in past tense terms. We count our blessings — whatever we might feel them to be — and we consider ourselves blessed. That is a good practice. It shows gratitude and thanksgiving to God who has given us all things and by whose will we enjoy all the gifts of life. It’s a practice that also leads us to consider blessings in the ordinary gifts of life and in the people and relationships that give life, and this practice helps us to see that the material blessings we enjoy have a purpose in resourcing a good and righteous life and role in our call to be a blessing to others.
But that is not the sense of blessing that we find here in Jesus’ words. It would be better in this case for us to think of blessed in terms of privilege of position or status, these are the fortunate ones, the ones in the enviable position of standing on the edge of momentous events for their benefit. And Jesus’ proclamation runs contrary to almost every estimation of good fortune and happy status we have ever held. Look again.
Happy. Fortunate. In the enviable position of entering the promise of the blessings of life under the reign and rule of God. Happy. Fortunate … are we. By God’s grace and mercy we emerge from the human experience of suffering and pain and loss and sin and death into the promises of God’s love for us resulting in eternal life.
So, as we start our apprenticeship to Jesus with a new perspective and new way to look at the world that is incompatible with the world of winners and losers. Jesus teaches us not to fear poverty, spiritual or material, or mourning, or meekness. Jesus teaches us not to fear the brokenness and shortcomings in ourselves or in others, but instead to trust in God’s salvation in Jesus and follow Jesus in the way of God’s righteousness and justice.
In Jesus, we are turned around to face the crowd from which we have been called and gathered, and to learn that we are not to despair in the face of wickedness and injustice, but instead to continue to hunger and thirst for the good that comes from God through Christ. We learn that we are not give up on mercy or look to our own self-interest or to give up on the hope of reconciliation just because the world says strength shows no mercy, winners look out for themselves first and peacemaking only makes us vulnerable. Instead, Jesus sets us on the path that leads to the cross where Jesus courageously goes for our sake, with God’s single-minded purpose of saving and reconciling the world to God through his death and resurrection. That giant cross out front is not symbol of our self-righteousness, but a symbol of God’s love and mercy and justice, a sign of humble sacrifice so that human beings might be reconciled to God and in Christ to each other. That cross outside is a witness to what goes on inside here and inside us, as we receive the good news of Christ in faith.
Not long from now, we will gather at the Lord’s table, gathered as we are into one body, and will receive what people so poor and needy as us need for life and health and salvation, what we hunger and thirst for more than anything else … God’s own righteousness, God’s own love … the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us. In coming to Christ, we come poor in spirit, mourning our own sinfulness, meekly seeking relief from the curse and cycles of sin and death that keep us lowly. And we receive the promise of the kingdom in Christ.
After worship we will gather for our annual meeting, accept the reports of this year’s ministry, vote on a budget, elect leaders for the year … but from that gathering, Christ sends us back into the crowds of people who stand waiting for the promise of God’s kingdom. As Jesus’ people, we seek and desire to be the good news that some in this neighborhood are so desperate to hear. But we should also realize that our efforts to proclaim good news to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the prisoner, the foreigner among us … may lead some who remain smug in their own self-righteousness to hate us, to slander us, to despise us as they despise our master Jesus. When that happens, Jesus says we should rejoice because we have taken our place among God’s servants throughout history.
The world is growing dark. Shadows are falling on the corners of our neighborhoods, and it seems even the hearts of people are growing cold and dark. But we belong to Christ. We are God’s baptized people, and by God’s grace we have received the light of God to shine in this world … but we will talk more on that next week.
For now, for today … we rejoice to find ourselves in the enviable position of being with all the other losers of history gathered around the Christ, to receive the promise of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ name. Amen
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