Feb 17, 2019 6th Sun aft Epiphany
Some decisions are easy, some are difficult. When people ask me do you want ice cream? EASY decision!! When people remind me (like my wife or kids) that I had a quadruple bypass a decade ago and should cut back on ice cream now all the sudden an easy decision get difficult. Now for some of you you’re saying no that decision isn’t hard at all! Other’s are thinking “boy, that is a hard decision.”
I sometimes wonder why it’s easier for us to see the answer for other folks than it is for us to see life’s answers for ourselves? Today’s scripture pose a difficult question…or easy depending on your natural inclination.
Jeremiah “Cursed are those that who trust in mere mortals… Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.” We all know of folks who thumbed their nose at God and decided they can figure out what a fulfilling life is meant to be with out God. The path of destruction they ended up leaving in their wake and experienced themselves served as a precautionary tale. Yet, how often during life’s trials do we “lean on our own understanding” rather than patiently waiting for a word from God, or consulting God’s word.
“Trust in the Lord” does not simply mean the window dressing of the fish bumper sticker on the back of the car. Trust, in a relationship, is based on past history, future hope, patience and perseverance. God’s word shows time and again the past history of God being trustworthy, but it takes patience and perseverance to realize that. You almost always have to go through that experience in the present and struggle to put it in the past to realize you gained patience, your perseverance increased. It’s only when you realize that present moment gave way to a developed history that now points to where your future hope is In Christ. Christ is what stabilizes our direction and focus and hope by his presence in the past.
Trust is often tested, that’s why patience is needed. Sometimes God doesn’t act immediately in our lives simply to give us the opportunity to develop better patience which in the end creates greater trust. So often we dutifully put our fears and needs in front of God and humbly ask for God’s help, only to snatch those fears and needs back to do something about it ourselves simply because God hasn’t followed our time table. Our impatience actually shows our distrust of God, our “leaning on our own understanding.”
Are you going to trust in God or not? To trust in God is to also trust God’s timing. What’s it going to be? Yes or no? Tough question, challenging question. The second tough question comes from our second scripture reading. Paul “If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…we are of all people most to be pitied…but in fact Christ has been raised form the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
What’s it going to be, Christ raised from the dead or not? Many people accept Jesus as a great teacher, principled religious figure but treat his rising from the dead as a silly folk tale. As C.S. Lewis the great Christian apologist argued- either Jesus is a risen savior or he’s a delusional lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God’s son, predicted his death and rising several times over. His teachings were based on his authority as God’s son, God’s chosen messiah. To say a proven lunatic’s rantings are sensible is to just repeat the lunatic’s insanity. Either his authority is legit or not! Risen son of God or not!? Tough question to come up with a consistent answer.
Jesus in our Gospel comes up with another tough question- how are you going to define a “blessed life?” He says this is what a blessed life looks like: “Blessed are you who are poor for your is the kingdom of God,…Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” These are the Gospel writer Luke’s beatitudes. Many of us are familiar with the beatitudes, from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. But we probably most familiar with the Gospel writer Matthew’s version that has blessings without the corresponding woes.
While the blessings Jesus lists challenge our normal standards and definitions for blessings: blessed are the poor, hungry, weeping, persecuted. We don’t often stick around to consider the even more challenging woes to those who are rich, satiated, and laughing. It would seem nonsensical Jesus’ reversal of all the things we’ve been taught by American society- blessings are being rich, being satiated, being happy. How can Jesus say the opposite is true?
It makes no sense if one leans on their own understanding. It makes no sense if one has decided that Jesus is a lunatic and his rising from the dead is just a fairy tale. Yet, if I haven’t lost you yet… I’d like to say don’t walk away from this decision lightly. God…yes or no? Jesus yes or no? What’s it going to be?
Before all the technological advances in audio visuals such as streaming digital and the like, there was a technology called slides. In fact, the computer program Microsoft Power Point still calls the individual frames “slides.” I learned using this technology that you may have a great picture within this little cell but without powerful light shining through it, its blank, lifeless, dark. People spend all sorts of time and effort in the composition and the focus of what’s inside their cell of life, but lack the powerful light shining through it. I argue when it lacks the powerful light of God’s love to shine through it, that perfectly composed life cell just ends up dark and empty.
I also found out that because of the way light projects through a slide that in order for the image in the cell to come out right side up, it needs to be put before the lamp upside down and backwards. Something about the rules of light that the way that light refracts and reflects through that cell makes it come out right. Jesus takes our normal rules of a meaningful blessed life and turns them upside down and backward.
And yet for so many lives that have trusted in Christ as to what was a blessed life, they’ve been blessed. For those who allowed Jesus’ powerful light to shine through them, they’ve reported living a blessed life. For those who trusted that Jesus was right about God’s rules of life, and allowed for values of blessed being upside down and backwards to this world’s goals it has turned out right, projected well, amazed and astounded. Think of the life of Mother Teresa ministering to the sick and dying on the streets of Calcutta. For us Lutherans many of us have heard of the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who defied Hitler and Nazism and despite being executed as a traitor felt he lived a blessed life. Not exactly our normal definition of blessed but each one lived a life of significance and meaning with lasting influence and eternal rewards. Blessed? Not Blessed? You decide.
What’s it gonna be? Yes, or No? Trust in God or yourself? Christ raised or Christ dead as a doornail? Blessings or Woes? So many people have competed, pursued, and fought to compose their little life to the best of their ability and left out the light of Jesus Christ. Are you willing to live life in the upside-down backwards values of Christianity, love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, prepare for heaven rather than hoard on earth and by doing so let the light of Christ shine through you? Or will you lean on your own understanding, and the sensibilities of this society? A society that wants to provide an opportunity for a mother and her doctor to discuss whether or not the infant just born is worthy of a continued life or not?
Will you reject the supposed fairy tale of a resurrection or life beyond this realm for the pleasures and sureties of this earth? Will you have the courage to try out Christ’s admonition that blessings are found in being poor, hungry, and mourning with God? Or will you decide its better to be without God and have a full belly, rich with worldly goods and laughing at other’s miseries?
The decision is yours, its before you today but not just because a preacher says so…it faces each of us in differing ways and degrees everyday of our life, every time we get out of bed, every time we lay down our head the world asks of us who are you following today? What’s it gonna be? Yes, or No?
I like the words of Joshua when talking to the Israelites about to enter the promised land “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15