Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Incongruity of Blessing (Luke 6:20-31)

     “Blessing” is a messy word.  Messy because most of us would probably define the word as being something that connotes some sort of favor or state of well-being . . . a quasi-divine happiness and good fortune.  Yet, at the same time, very few of us think of ourselves as being “blessed”.  None of us feels we are as blessed as we should be.  We are not as blessed as someone like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.  Oh, we don’t see ourselves as not having anything—see ourselves as being poor, but we don’t see ourselves quite where we would like to be when it comes to be “blessed”.  A few more dollars in the old bank account wouldn’t hurt.

     When we consider the word “blessed” we begin to feel the incongruity of that word . . . the incongruity of that state of being.  When things are going great, we feel “blessed”; when life is a bowl of lemons, we feel . . . well, we don’t feel “blessed” . . . no, we feel as if we are being picked on.  Especially those of us who stand in the land between what is seen “blessed” and “cursed” . . . between the poor and the rich, as the writer of the Gospel of Luke writes.

     The words we hear this morning in Luke’s gospel sound familiar to us, yet they don’t quite sound right . . . there is something different in what we are hearing.  The words just don’t echo right in our ears.  That is because we are more used to . . . and accepting of . . . these words as they are shared in Matthew’s gospel.  In Matthew’s version the poor are poor in spirit . . . those who hunger and thirst do so for the sake of righteousness; but, not in Luke’s version.  In Luke’s version they are not equated as some sort of spiritual warriors; no, they are just poor, hungry, and hated—they are vagrant beggars who can’t sustain themselves, can’t provide for themselves or their families, are hard to look at, and are a drain on the system. 

     In short, they are losers.  Aren’t these the people we are always complaining about?  The ones we crack welfare jokes about?  Ones that say are worthless . . . a burden on our society . . . eye sores on our communities.  Aren’t these the ones we try to avoid, to never have eye contact with, to deny their existence except when we feel that they are draining our coffers?  The ones we wish would pull themselves up by the bootstraps and help themselves out of the hole they are living in?  

     Yeah, they are losers . . . losers that Jesus says are “blessed”.  How incongruent . . . the losers are the blessed . . . doesn’t make sense does it?  Yet, in the presence of God, in the eyes of God, it has always been.  Simply because God always reserves God’s most acute attention for those in need, those left behind by the powers that be, those left out of the lavish bounty of the world’s produce.  God is always on the side of the underdog, God’s unfailing and unflagging concern for the losers of this world is etched across the pages of Scripture in letters deep and clear enough for anyone willing to read.

     And in case we’re not sure, Jesus goes on (in Luke’s version, though not Matthew’s) not only to uplift the poor and hungry and those hated for his sake, but also to warn those who are rich.

     Remember last week’s scripture lesson about the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple?  Remember how I stated that we struggle as followers of Jesus . . . as a people of the faith . . . to recognize that most often we stand between the two no really knowing whether we were praying like the Pharisee or like the tax collector.  In hearing Jesus’ words in this reading this morning, I am pretty sure most of us would lift up a prayer stating we thank God that we are not like these people with a sigh of relief that we are not!

     And, we’re not . . . are we?  We have worked hard to have a house over our heads.  We have worked hard to have food on the table.  We have worked hard to have nice clothes . . . nice cars . . . fairly easy lifestyles . . . especially when we compare ourselves to all those poor people in the world.  Yes, we thank God that we are not like those other people . . . that we are not like those losers.

     Yet, the fact of the matter is that Jesus is for losers.  And the kingdom of God he proclaims is populated by losers. And unless we identify as a loser, we’re likely not going to find ourselves anywhere near it.  We put great effort into convincing ourselves and those around us otherwise. We dress well. We live in nice homes. We work hard to be upwardly mobile. But no matter how hard we try, we are still racked by insecurities, still find it hard to love ourselves or others, still destined at the end of all of our striving for a hole in the ground. We, too, are losers, and unless we recognize and confess that -- not as something to be ashamed of, mind you, but rather as one of the defining elements of our existence -- we will have a hard time receiving the mercy and forgiveness, grace and life Jesus offers.

     For what is the promise of mercy to those who are not weak, forgiveness to those who have not sinned, grace to those who do not need it, or life to those not dead?   Nothing . . . nothing at all.  Only can losers appreciate the blessing Jesus offers and confers.

     Now please understand that this is not to trivialize those identified as “losers” . . . not to trivialize their situations or place in the world by stating that we too are “losers”.  This is not a word game . . . a spiritualizing of the word.  The situations and conditions of those who are considered to be the “losers” of the world is a real and harsh reality that none of us would wish upon ourselves.  Their world and lives suck . . . and, yet, when it comes to our own spiritual lives, we too are among the poor, hungry, and hated.
Because of this we need to recognize and affirm our common bond and union with all God’s children of all times: women and men, rich and poor, all ethnicities and races, from all times and places, joined together as one Body not because of who we are, what we have, or what we’ve done, but because in Christ God calls us holy and blessed and has set us apart to be witnesses to God’s grace and goodness.

     And, if we recognize our own existential and basic poverty of spirit might we grow less afraid of actual poverty and less attached to our own security. Only, that is, as we recognize ourselves as those losers for whom Christ died might we reach out to those the world declares losers and embrace them as brothers and sisters.

     None of us likes the incongruity of “blessing”.  None of us likes it especially as it is laid out in the scripture reading this morning.  In understanding this incongruity we are confronted with the fallacy in which we live that allows us to keep telling ourselves that things are just hunky dory.  But we know better . . . we know better as we toss and turn in our sleep . . . we know better when we are stressing out about life . . . when we are thanking God that we are not like those others.  We know better because we know that Jesus came for the losers . . . and, we are among those losers.  We know that we need God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  In those moments, we are grateful that Jesus seeks out the lost, eats with sinners, and blesses the losers of this world.  Amen.

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