Let us pray: God of all hope be with us as we await your coming. Come, Lord Jesus. Fill our minds with your word, fill our hearts with your love, and fill our lives with your light. Come, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Waiting is the hardest thing to do because it feels like you’re not doing anything. And it seems twice as hard when you’re young. When we’re children, Christmas always seems eons away and we think the end of school or our birthday will never arrive.
And we 21st-century people certainly have an ever-shrinking attention span; our wealth and technology allow us to access virtually anything we want any time we want. Everything is sooner, faster, now. And boy, do we love that speed, especially technological speed. Wait ten seconds to let a webpage load? Are you kidding? Get a faster connection! Wait five seconds for a document to print? What the heck is wrong with this printer? Wait to let yourself cool down before sending that email or posting that social media rant? Are you kidding? Go, go, go! You snooze, you lose, that’s our motto. If anyone needs to learn the Advent virtue of waiting upon the Lord, it’s us.
Virtually the only things we haven’t been able to speed up or shorten are our basic biological processes. It still takes nine long months to have a baby, whether we want to wait that long or not. And so, if we want to be with Mary in her journey toward giving birth to Jesus, we need to settle into the long haul. We’ve already been busy doing other things for the first eight months, and now in her last month of pregnancy, we’re just going to have to take these four weeks of Advent and wait.
Our reading from Isaiah today has an interesting take on waiting. The writer is marveling at how different the God of Israel is from the other gods in the cultures of the time. And then the writer remembers, “When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”
What is it like to wait for God? Many of us know exactly what that is like. We wait for God to explain why a family member died too young. We wait for God to open a path out of a marriage that has ended, into a new place where healing might begin.
And of course, virtually this entire year has been a time of waiting. We’ve waited during lockdowns and quarantines. We’ve waited on masks and respirators and toilet paper. We’ve waited on test results for the coronavirus, wondering whether we are positive or not. We’ve waited endless weeks and months, not able to visit our loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes, in order to protect them.
We’ve waited on our kids going back to school and waited to see if our jobs would hold out during the crisis. We’ve waited on unemployment checks and stimulus checks. We’ve waited in line to vote and waited to see if our mail-in ballot went through, and then waited on the results of the election. We’ve waited for a vaccine. And we’ve waited and waited and waited to go back to church in the old ways that were familiar and comfortable to us.
2020 has been nothing but a year of waiting. Perhaps we are better equipped now than we ever have been to understand the Biblical mandate to wait upon the Lord. The Good News shared with us today is that God is working for us as we wait for God.
And we’re actually doing two kinds of spiritual waiting right now. We’re waiting for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day, that glorious moment of incarnation when God comes to be with us in human form. That’s a fixed endpoint that we know ahead of time. Come December 25, we will be celebrating Jesus’ arrival.
But we’re doing another kind of waiting. We’re waiting for the signs of the Incarnation in our own lives. We’re waiting to see the new and next way that God will be manifest in our own individual time and place. God is with us, but where and how? That is how we keep company with Mary: as the watchful sentinels always on the lookout for the new revelation waiting to be discovered among the everyday.
Patience is a hard-earned virtue, and many of us are deeply wearied by all the waiting we’ve had to do, all the times we’ve had to say no to ourselves and our children this year in order to stay safe and keep others safe. It might feel like 2020 is a year out of time, a wasted and empty expanse that consisted of nothing but life on hold.
But is that true? Was this time of waiting really wasted? Mary’s time of waiting was almost as long as ours has been. What has been blossoming and growing in your heart during this time of waiting? What new thing is ready to be born in your spiritual life after having been forced to slow down and really ask what is most important about your faith? How has your family found new strengths by the call to adapt and the sudden multiplication of time together and new challenges with school and work?
Mary’s time of waiting was for a purpose. It had a goal and an end, and she faithfully pursued it with God’s help. As you reflect on your waiting this year, what has God grown in you? What will be the gift you offer the world this Christmas as Mary did? It takes awake and alert eyes to see the grace even amid the suffering we’ve endured.
And Paul reminds us of what we most need to hold on to through the long weary days of waiting for grace: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end.” Look back on this year and see the strength with which you endured its trials. See the call to justice and peace that rang even through our most bitter divides in society. And know that it has all led to this, the season of Advent, the time of upheaval and waiting, of change and pause, of grace and truth.
And so, we pray, and we stick together, and we love one another, and we wait upon the Lord. And Isaiah, the great prophet of the Advent season, announces the Good News:
“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24 Ephesians 1:15-23 Matthew 25:31-46
Let us pray: Lord God, Creator of the Universe and Power behind all powers, we come together to praise you and hear your word. Assure us once more of your divine control over all things and help us to surrender ourselves completely into your loving care. We ask this in the name of our Savior and King, Jesus. Amen.
It would be more appropriate to call this Sunday “Christ the Shepherd Sunday” rather than Christ the King. The Old Testament lesson certainly gives us that impression, staying with the shepherd image in glowing and dramatic language, focusing on God as the Great Shepherd, a description and promise eventually leading to a human shepherd, David. He became and then evolved into the best-known and loved king of ancient Israel. His name became a symbol of a great king, but he was not a saintly king – not with his many wives, dysfunctional children, and constant, unending wars.
The New Testament lesson, by contrast, paints a picture of a glorified Christ raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God “in the heavenly places.” The word “king” does not enter in this account, even though the language of the passage is filled with power beyond that of kings and emperors. Paul’s letters don’t use the designation “king,” which is found only in 1 Timothy, but that was likely written much later than the time of Paul. Of course, the book of Revelation is filled with kingly images, as is to be expected from apocalyptic writing. It is nearly impossible for those of us familiar with Handel’s Messiah to think of Revelation without hearing the triumphant words from Psalm 24:
Lift up your heads, O gates; lift them high, O everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. “Who is this King of glory?” “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.”
This rather militarist victory is missing from the gospels, however. So, how did this image of Christ the King come about?
We first encounter the title “king” in Matthew’s story of the Magi’s visit to the infant Jesus. The wise visitors, accustomed to the great potentates of the East, come looking for a child born to be “king of the Jews,” but Herod, a once-great but troubled man, is already the king of the Jews by order of the occupying Romans. He did a great deal of good for Israel, but now he is old, having killed his wives and his own children in order to hold on to his throne. When he hears of the purpose of the Magi’s visit, he is terrified. Who is this child born to be king? The image he leaves to us of what a king ought to be is a rather miserable one.
In Matthew’s gospel, a child is called king of the Jews, and no one in his immediate family seems very surprised while the Magi recount ancient prophecies. The myth of David’s succession runs strong through the ages of Hebrew history and hope. Yet, that same title will be used thirty-three years later, written on a tablet with a vicious, ironic intention, a tablet nailed on top of the cross where the child, now a grown man, is hanging between two thieves. In the starkest language, we have the story of the greatest tragedy, one not easily conceived by the human mind.
What did the grown Jesus, the wise teacher and most appealing prophet, do with the title “king”? He used it in his parables. In his stories, we don’t have triumphant kings glorious in battle; we are given examples of kings who make difficult decisions based on justice; kings who give banquets where everyone is invited; and finally we are presented with this judgmental image of a king who bestows justice in Matthew 25. This parable, called the Great Judgment, is so familiar to all those who understand what it means to serve others in the name of Jesus that it has become almost a cliché in our times. Here, the image of the king is one of unwavering justice. This is a tough parable, without sentimentality, without evasions. We hear no trumpet calls and no triumphalism. Here, humility reigns.
All the teachings of Jesus find a conclusion in this parable. The one who taught that “the last shall be first” presents the king as bringing to his right hand, a position of honor, those who have lived a life that honored others above their own selfish needs. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This king invites into the heavenly realm those who paid attention to the poor by giving them clothes to wear and food to eat. This king opens his kingdom to those who saw human injustice and took the time to visit the ones who were imprisoned unjustly; this king praises those who welcomed the stranger and the migrant by offering them hospitality and shelter. And they did it all, not knowing that in the process of feeding, clothing, and welcoming, they were responding to the Giver of all good things: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
This is a radically different image of a king for those who were listening to Jesus in the first century – and for those of us who, while no longer living under kings, know what it is to live under the leadership of persons who promote greed and selfishness instead of compassion and humility. This Jesus ate with the poor and the outcasts and honored women while elevating the worth of little children. This Jesus, this king, does not appear holding a sword but instead hangs on a bloodied cross.
In many churches, Christ the King Sunday is filled with the sound of trumpets and with hymns of extravagant praise, accompanied by images of gold and precious jewels. The contrast with the life of Jesus jars and troubles us. It becomes easier to accept this conflict when we realize that this Sunday is a very late addition to the church’s liturgical calendar; Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925.
Almost twenty years later, the Anglican writer and theologian Dorothy L. Sayers examined the question of the kingship of Jesus in her series of radio plays called The Man Born to Be King. When the Magi visit Mary and Joseph and the baby to offer gifts of great value, Mary wonders about what it all means. One of them tells her: “I speak for a sorrowful people—for the ignorant and the poor. We rise up to labor and lie down to sleep and night is only a pause between one burden and another. Fear is our daily companion—the fear of want, the fear of war, the fear of cruel death and of still more cruel life. But all this we could bear if we knew that we did not suffer in vain; that God was beside us in the struggle, sharing the miseries of His own world.”
The Son of Man, as Jesus referred to himself, proved through his own death that he is beside us in the struggle, sharing our suffering and our miseries. At a time of a rampant virus, in a climate of fear and even hatred, this realization gives us comfort and hope, for Jesus, who rules with love, is the kind of king we can also love.
Let us pray: Gracious God, teach us to hear your voice in the cry of the poor, hungry, sick and oppressed, and teach us in responding to them we are responding to your Son and our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Zephaniah 1:-7, 12-18 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-30 Let us pray: Gracious and eternal Father, we come before you this day seeking to make the most of the gifts you have given us in life. Lord, as we hear your word, may we learn how we may serve you with all that we are. Lord, in these moments, grant us wisdom, understanding and peace. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Today I’ll begin with a little story for you: It seems a wealthy tourist is separated from his tour group in the Sahara. After a long morning in the hot sun, he comes upon a nomad traveling by donkey. “Please help me!” the tourist begs. “I’m dying of thirst.” “I’m sorry,” the nomad replies. “I have no water. All I have are these beautiful neckties which I will happily sell you.” “Neckties!” the thirsty man cries. “I need water, not neckties.” “Look,” the nomad offers. “I feel bad for you, so here’s what I’m going to do. I normally get $25 for these pure silk neckties. But seeing as you’re suffering, I’ll let you have two of them for $35.” The wretched tourist turns away in disgust and continues on in search of water. Some time later he stumbles upon an oasis and, to his surprise, there before him is a grand hotel and restaurant. By now he’s crawling on his hands and knees and collapses in front of a man in a tuxedo, standing under a palm tree. “Please, please, do you have any water?” “Yes, sir,” the Maitre'd replies, “we have plenty of cold water;” “Oh, thank God!” the poor soul sighs. “Where do I go?” “This way, sir. The restaurant is right inside. But, unfortunately, sir, no one is admitted without a tie.”
So much for passing up a good chance to buy a silk necktie. In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of a man who also passed up a chance to benefit himself. He is the third servant to whom the master gave one talent. Instead of investing his talent on the stock market and possibly making a bundle for his master, the servant buried his talent. All he had to give to his master on his return was that same talent. The master became exceedingly angry that the servant had not taken the risk of investing and threw him out.
This is a particularly appropriate gospel to contemplate against a backdrop of volatility on Wall Street. The master has split his portfolio among his servants, and he expects a solid Return on Investment (ROI) from every one of his servants. On average, their performance is outstanding. But this master isn't playing the percentages. And neither is ours. He wants us all to do our part.
God has a tremendous investment in each one of us. He created the universe for our amazement. He raised us from the primal ooze for his glory. He gave us the life, death and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation. No hedging. No shorting. God is "all-in" on you and on me. He doesn't look on us as numbers to be crunched or costs to be averaged. Each one of us is unique. Each one of us is his beloved. At our baptism, each of us was entrusted with his divine saving grace… the "talent" of the parable.
God’s gift of grace is precious… but it is not decorative. It is nourishing… but it is not consumable. It is strictly functional. God expects us to cooperate with his grace… to work with it to build his kingdom. God did not play it safe with us. He wants us "all-in" for him. That means daring to take risks for his sake… the more radical the better. As St. Paul puts it, we must be willing for the world to see us as: Fools for Christ's sake. That means loving when the smart money says hold back. That means giving when it hurts and forgiving when it hurts even more.
The faithful servants took risks. They made themselves vulnerable. But they had faith in their master. They put the talents he gave them to work. They knew "no risk, no reward." Our master expects his faithful servants to make ourselves vulnerable for his sake. He does not expect us to play it safe… hoarding his grace, burying his love in a heap of self-indulgence. Christ did not endure Calvary to lead a host of cowards… too timid to proclaim his love… too lazy to build his kingdom.
In this gospel, Jesus tells us to snap out of it… to stick out our chins… to dare to love. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a commandment. It overrides the inhibitions and inertia that cripple our ability to love. C.S. Lewis captured Christ’s challenge to love when he wrote: "To love is to be vulnerable. The alternative... is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the distresses of love is in Hell."
Let's take a moment to get in touch with God's grace within us. Dig deep. Have we buried his grace in a heap of self-absorption… of ambition… of resentment… of distraction? Are we taking grace for granted, treating it like an insurance policy on salvation… filing it for future reference? God expects a lot better ROI than that.
Each one of us is called to greatness… not to grandiosity, but to greatness. It is the greatness of a couple struggling to raise a Christian family in a hostile, secular world. It is the greatness of a youngster defying peer pressure to do the right thing. It is the greatness of seniors remaining actively faithful in the face of increasing infirmity. It is the greatness of every individual believer daily witnessing Christ’s love in word and deed. It is the greatness of all who carry his cross today.
The gift of God’s grace makes this greatness possible. But it’s more than a gift. It’s an investment. God expects us to give it back to him with interest… to build his kingdom. Starting with family and friends, let’s share his love deliberately… fearlessly. Let’s take it with us right out the church door. Let’s spread his love wherever we go today. The more we share the love of Christ, the more love we have to give away. And the more we give away, the richer we are. Let’s give God his ROI… his return on investment. You’ll find it pays handsome dividends… in peace… in joy… in eternal partnership with Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Gracious God, help us to offer you all that we have, even our very lives, so that what we offer through Jesus Christ may be multiplied abundantly. We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be: All that we have is thine alone, a trust O Lord, from thee. Amen.
Amos 5:18-24 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Matthew 25:1-13
Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, give us a vision of your Kingdom and show us the part you would have us play in bringing it closer. Help us to strive each day towards that goal, for your name’s sake. Amen. "Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (vs13) When I'm confronted with this story about the bridesmaids who weren't ready when the bridegroom came, I realize it is a story about readiness. It is about readiness at any time - for what? We are urged to be ready for almost anything in our lives these days. We are continually bombarded with appeals from insurance companies to be ready for events that can happen to us unexpectedly such as accidents, sickness and even death. We are also urged to be ready for retirement - that we have the resources to see us through the years when we will not be working. "Get ready", "Prepare" are constant messages in our time. In regard to readiness, cartoonist Jules Feifer in one of his cartoons pictures a person hiding his head under a blanket, and the person says: "When I was five they made me go to school and I wasn't ready. When I was ten, they made me go to camp and I wasn't ready. When I was eighteen, they made me go to the army and I wasn't ready. When I was twenty - three they made me get married and I wasn't ready. At twenty-five, they made me have children and I wasn't ready. Now I'm fifty and I am going to stay here and I'm not coming out until I'm ready." But what is this passage in scripture asking us to be ready for? What are we advised to stay awake for? Many people have surmised that Jesus is telling us to be ready for the "Second Coming" which could happen at any time. However, I'm not sure that when Jesus told this parable he would have meant the second coming, and I don't think that he would have been talking about the end of time at all. "The kingdom is here, right before your eyes" was the message of Jesus in the Gospels. In other words, I think that Jesus was referring not to the end of time but what was happening in the present time. For us today I think that we have to be ready for what God is doing in the world and our lives today. We have to look at the world (Sin sick, and as full of evil and hatred as it may seem) and be prepared to see God's hand, because it is most surely there. I don't think that God wills all the things that happen in this world but surely God is in the midst of everything that happens. God is there working out the redemption of the world and of us. You have to be ready to see it day by day...and to participate in the things that God has planned for us in the midst of it. For this, we have to keep our eyes wide open for the presence of God - to see our lives and the world a different way. We are reminded daily in our newspapers about traffic accidents, murders, conflicts between individuals, groups and nations and the television fills our minds with images of hatred, violence, and destruction. These images that we face everyday paralyze us and seduce us to an existence in which our main concern becomes survival in the midst of a sea of sorrows. By making us think about ourselves as survivors of a shipwreck, anxiously clinging to a piece of driftwood, we gradually accept the role of victims doomed by the cruel circumstances of our lives. We need to be wide awake to be aware of where God breaks into our lives, often in unexpected ways. This is necessary if we are to be fully human and fully alive. When we become awake to the activity of God we may realize that we are called to see things differently and to act differently in the world. We may be called to love more deeply, to offer forgiveness that we have been denying, to seek spiritual nurture in many ways (the care of our souls), to pay attention to all our relationships, to be a better person and friend to others, to change in our lives what needs to be changed, and to look at each day as a gift. Some of us seem to spend our lives half-asleep. Have you noticed that when you are talking to some people they don't seem to be there. They are there but they are not all there. They are alive but they don't seem to be fully alive. The real tragedy of life is not that to die but to find that we have never lived. "When it's time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived." Henry David Thoreau Let us pray: Gracious God, in the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, help us to keep on trusting you, watching and waiting, confident that your purpose will win through and your love triumph over all. To the glory of your name. Amen.
Let us pray: Gracious God, teach us that our judgment and yours are not the same, and so awaken us to all you are able to do, through others and through us, however unlikely it may seem. Always to the glory of your name. Amen.
I never thought I would be quoting from the comedian, George Carlin, in a sermon. He became famous for his routine, “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.” Lest you worry, this is not a list of seven words you can’t say in church. Instead, George Carlin has come up with a list of imponderables. Or topsy-turvy if you will. Here are some of them. Why do we say something is out of whack? What's a whack?
If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled? Why is the person who invests all your money called a brok-er? Why do croutons come in airtight packages? Aren't they just stale bread to begin with? If lawyers are disbarred and clergy defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?
If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it Fed UPS? Do Lipton Tea Company employees take coffee breaks? If it's true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for? No one ever says, "It's only a game" when their team is winning. My favorite one is: Why do people drive on parkways and park on driveways?
I like these kinds of word plays. I do these for a point, however. Whenever we take the time to ponder the Beatitudes, I’m struck by the fact that they are also rather topsy-turvy. The word, blessed in the Bible, means profoundly happy. Nothing could be better than to be blessed.
If you ever have taken the time to listen to them, think about what the Beatitudes say: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Wouldn’t this make more sense if it went like this? Blessed are those who are rich in spirit, for they know about the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Wouldn’t it be better if we could say: Blessed are those who have suffered no loss, for they have no need of being comforted? Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Ever see a meek candidate run for office? Maybe you have. But the better question is this. Ever see a meek candidate win an office? The list goes on. And in every case, as you read the Beatitudes, we might ask the question: So these are blessings? They are, but they remind us that the way of God is not the way of humanity; and the way of God often appears to be topsy-turvy to us. The thing that makes the Beatitudes the Beatitudes is that they are topsy-turvy from the way of the world; however, they define Christianity at its core. Jesus, to make the world a more godly place hung out with the most ungodly people of all. In the parables, it’s always the underdog who is the hero. What do we do, in Christianity to receive? We give. What do we do in Christianity to truly live? We die. Christianity, at its core, is a contradiction.
And the reason is usually simple. When we are rich, when we are happy, when we are not suffering in any way, shape or form, we have no need of God. If you want to get a person away from God, away from church, make that person rich and successful and make the person highly accomplished in the world. They will have no need of God.
When things are going great in the world, church attendance goes down.
It is only when things are not going well, when our worlds turn topsy-turvy, that we begin to recognize that we need God, profoundly. It is then, and only then, that we see that we need God, and we find ourselves greatly blessed.
On the Christian calendar, November 1st is All Saints Day. On the first Sunday of November, in our lectionary we always hear the beatitudes so it must have something to do with what makes us saints. All of us. Because we are reminded, even in the midst of grief, even in the midst of our losses, that which is topsy-turvy, when those seeming curses of this world, are best seen as great blessings from God.
Nice sentiment, Jesus, but it’s just not the way things are done now days. Live that way and you’re going to get beat up.
Jesus speaks a word of blessing to the crowds who have gathered, and we have to admit – it seems –Jesus is way, way off base. Blessed are the poor in spirit? The meek? Those who mourn? You’ve got to be kidding! We all know what blessing looks like, and Jesus isn’t even close. In Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” a group is at the fringes of the crowd when Jesus is giving the Sermon on the Mount. From where they are, it’s a bit difficult to hear. “What did he say?” someone asks. Someone closer to Jesus replies, “He said, ‘Blessed are the cheese makers.’” And the first person’s response is, “Well what makes them so special?”
In the world we live in, “blessed are the cheese makers” makes at least as much sense as “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
No Jesus, that’s not the way things work. The real beatitudes for our day should be more along these lines: ~Blessed are the rich, for they will always be catered to. ~Blessed are those who laugh, for they have a good time at the expense of others. ~ Blessed are those who are strong, for they will be able to fight their way out of most difficult situations. ~Blessed are those who have it made, for they will never be hungry or thirsty. ~ Blessed are those who are tough, for they will never let anyone else push them around? ~Blessed are those who can shrewdly climb to the top of the ladder, for they are self-made men and women. ~Blessed are those who exact revenge, for they will show others who has the upper hand. ~Blessed are those who don’t let themselves get pushed around, for theirs is the prize to claim. ~Blessed are you when people revile you and spit your name in anger, for they are merely being jealous.
This is the way things really are – isn’t it? These are the truths we hold to be pretty much self-evident, aren’t they? These are the values we live by; we really live by – aren’t they? Now Jesus is not giving us a list of ought-to’s: you ought to be peacemakers, you ought to be meek, you ought to seek righteousness. We are not to aspire to mourning. Jesus is simply telling it like it is, describing what really counts in God’s kingdom. Fred Craddock points out that Jesus is blessing the victims of society, not calling people to be victims. He is saying that those who give away their coat, who love their enemy, who turn the other cheek are no longer victims. They are God’s people. They are the true saints. What Jesus says, essentially, is this: “In the kingdom of God, things are valued and people are valued that this world doesn’t give a rip about. Jesus is not saying that it is better to be poor than rich, or better to be lowly than powerful.
Barbara Brown Taylor says, “In (the Beatitudes), Jesus does not tell anyone to do anything. Instead he describes different kinds of people, hoping that his listeners will recognize themselves as one kind or another, and then he makes the same promise to all of them: that the way things are is not the way they will always be. The Ferris wheel will go around, so that those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world's lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom, while those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars. It is not advice at all. It is not even judgment. It is simply the truth about the way things work, pronounced by someone who loves everyone on that wheel.”
OK, so Jesus blessed those who seem to be more losers than winners. OK, so God cares about those at the bottom of the Ferris wheel. How does this blessing work out? How can we really call these people blessed by God? This morning each of us as Christians must ask himself or herself: “How does my internal disposition and consequent behavior distinguish me from a non-Christian? How do my thoughts and behavior reflect Jesus’ most important teaching: His teaching about true happiness? What changes in my life and thinking would be required for me to become a genuine Christian disciple? We don’t call ourselves followers of Jesus just because we observed all the big commandments and only committed a few respectable minor violations. We instead should ask ourselves: “Have I been a true and recognizable disciple of Jesus this past month?” We want to discover whether our hearts and our behavior have been that of a disciple of Jesus. And so we ask: “did I struggle to live the Christian life as outlined in the Beatitudes?” How was I poor in spirit? How was I meek? What does the word “meek” mean in the Bible? Did I hunger in my heart for righteousness? Did I really have a merciful heart for folks in trouble whether I like them or not? Was I single-minded in seeking God and his will? Was I at peace in my heart and with others? Was I a peacemaker in tense situations? Why didn’t anyone persecute me? Is it because I don’t take a stand for what I know to be right? How do we obtain God's blessing? Well, the answer, of course, is that it's not something we obtain – it's not for sale. It's something he has already freely given to you, but which you can only recognize when you accept it as a gift. It's something you can only take up when you are willing to lay everything else – all your striving, all your hard work, at his feet; when you can come to him with empty hands and an open heart, ready to accept his love as a gift to you. When you finally understand that, and can accept it as just that, and begin learning to live in the freedom of that gift, then he will turn to you, and finally tell you what you've already come to know, but your ears had to become ready to hear – those wonderful words, "Blessed are you."
Let us pray: Gracious God, you have blessed us in so many ways, help us not to look at what we are, nor what we can do, but rather at what you can achieve within us by your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.