The World’s Yuk Becomes God’s Yes Matthew 5:1-12 1-29-17
“The World’s Yuk Becomes God’s Yes” Matthew 5:1-12 1/29/17 at Lake Murray Presbyterian by Dr. Ben Sloan
Jesus came to encourage the discouraged with this- if you trust in God- you can have hope. This means there is a redemptive opportunity for suffering. I know a person who will do everything in their power to keep from going to the hospital or the doctor because that is where they get stuck, prodded, tested, and billed. But that is also where they need to go to get well. The suffering of going to the doctor can be a good thing. The poor in spirit- it sounds like they have nothing- but Christ says they have everything- the very kingdom of God! We have the illusion that pain is bad and comfort is good, but as Philip Yancey has said, Pain can be good. He gives the illustration of leprosy. Leprosy is the oldest recorded disease. It is caused by the deterioration of nerve cells- the inability to feel pain. People used to think leprosy caused missing limbs, but what we know now, is that leprosy deadens nerve cells so that say- when our hand is wounded we do not know it. One doctor studying this noticed a leper would put his hand into a fire to retrieve a hot potato. His whole arm would be blistered, but he would feel nothing, and not take care of his arm. Pain is a designed reminder to us to be careful and to take care. In this wonderful passage on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, we are reminded that what we may think on the surface is bad- with the eyes of only the moment- may actually be better than we can imagine. The world’s “Yuk” can become God’s “Yes.” You may lose one job only to get a better one. You may fail at something in order to find out where your true gifts and passion lie. You may grieve only to have your eyes opened to eternal hope in Christ.
But more than this is the God factor. Jesus was reminding people not to leave God out of their lives, or their hope. The illusion is that those who have all the stuff are the real winners in life. Or as some say, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But Jesus turns that on its head. Having stuff is not the most important thing. I remember talking to a lady, now dead, who was one of the wealthiest women in South Carolina. She owned an island. She owned a castle in Europe. She owned multiple beach houses and plantations. But her family was far away. She ended up giving a million dollars to the elementary educated lady who came to care for her in her last years- buying her a new Cadillac each year and a new house. Her socialite friends had deserted her as she got older. Her grandchildren only saw her when they wanted stuff. Two of them, had all the money they could use but committed suicide out of an inability to see meaning in life. She told me that she wished she could tell people about the lost hope of money.
We are trained in our culture to think the opposite of the Beatitudes: Happy are the proud- for they will be respected; Happy are those who do not have to mourn for they don’t need anything; Happy are those who relish in their selfishness for they will be filled with selfishness; The opposite of the Beatitudes is: Happy are those who are tough- hard- and never show mercy for they will be feared; Happy are those who don’t worry about purity and holiness for they won’t have to worry about God; Happy are those who don’t get involved in other people’s troubles for they will not be called nosy; Happy are those who are not persecuted for their riches and prosperity will increase and they will fit right in. But all that is an illusion. It is buying into the surface of things, and not looking deeper. Do not seek to fit right into this world or you will simply become part of the world. You will be ashes to ashes dust to dust and that’s the best you can hope for. But let your soul rise above the ashes of the world. Let your hopes leave the dust of the world behind as you soar above your troubles.
Dallas Willard asked a question that is really important when we look at these verses: Who do you think is unblessable? Who do you think cannot be blessed by God? Jesus intent in these verses is to take those we feel are unblessed and say they are blessed. Anyone- whosoever will- who comes to God can be blessed. Your sins can be forgiven. Your burden however great, can be lifted. Your past- however scarred- does not have to control you anymore. Your Yuk, can be an opportunity for God’s yes.
This sermon is an effort to summarize the Beatitudes- the greatest teachings of Christ. I will be writing more details about the Beatitudes in my daily devotional blog. The Beatitudes are so important. I have asked that they be memorized by our children as a part of our teaching here at LMPC. Some have called these words “The Constitution of the Christian church.” I want to say three things about these in general.
1) For the most part, the beatitudes are descriptive rather than imperative. They are not commands. Jesus is not saying, “You ought to mourn so you will be comforted.” He doesn’t say, “Seek persecution so you will be like the prophets.” Most of us will face these things- mourning, persecution of some kind, and being poor in spirit. Some things are commendable- showing mercy, being meek. Being pure in heart, and being a peacemaker.
2) The word Blessed is important. It is a translation of the Greek word “makarios” which could be translated “happy.” But we use the word happy in our culture so flippantly, and happiness tends to depend on our circumstance. A better word would be “joyful” or “blissful.” In my mind perhaps a better translation for each beatitude is to say, “In a state of bliss are the poor in spirit- for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
3) It is evident that the focus is not on our state but on what God can do for us when we are in this state. In other words, the focus is on God and being a part of His kingdom- His cause- His love. Apart from God- none of these blessings happen. But when you trust in God- you will find great blessings no matter what your circumstance or problem you face. Perhaps that is Jesus main message. It is one that must be received by faith. If you do not have faith- none of this makes sense at all. But those who do have faith and have lived through periods of life of mourning or persecution or humility you can testify to this.
Most scholars have said that the first Beatitude summarizes all of them. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke’s version is a little different- “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” Sometimes our stuff becomes such a distraction for us that we cannot pay any attention to God. When it is all stripped away- and one day it will be- will we have ears to hear?
It is not an accident that in the exceedingly wealthy areas the church is in decline and that in some of the poorest areas the church is exploding in numbers. Chiapas Mexico, where our young people are going, is one of the poorest sections of our hemisphere. There’s only a couple of cell phone towers in the whole state. Most people walk wherever they go- most do not have cars- and many do not even have shoes. Yet the church there is one of the fastest areas of Presbyterian growth in the world. And whatever they have- they are willing to share. They are some of the poorest Christians I have ever seen, but some of the most generous, and I might say some of the happiest. I could say the same for our fellow Christians in our partner church in Peru. There are those who say that the more money you have the more you know money can do for you and the more you know the value of money. But I would caution that sometimes the less money you have the more you know the true value of money and you have not been hypnotized by the spell of the longing for more and more, shinier and more glittery.
Some say this phrase, “Poor in spirit” refers to being down or depressed. Certainly in America we know a lot about depression. We lead the world in per capita income and the number of hours worked but we also lead the world in sadness- in depression. The use of anti-depressants has increased 400% since 2000. Suicide is the leading cause of death among our teenagers and those over 65. The rise in illegal drug use could also be tied to both a rise in depression and a rise in meaninglessness. Many people would rather turn to drugs than to turn to Jesus. As the faith and church attendance has gone down- drug use has gone up. Depression is epidemic in America- and it is not that we need more education or more stuff to be happy. Jesus sharply against this says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Being depressed without God can lead to despair. But it is possible to turn depression into a thirst for Christ and a healthy way to handle the sadness of life. Christ can take our sadness and turn it into joy and hope.
The Message version of this Beatitude- written by Presbyterian Eugen Peterson says, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” At some point we all reach the end of our rope. Some, when they reach the end of their rope do not know where to turn.
Years ago, when I was in the hospital, someone sent me a Card that had a kitten hanging onto a rope with a panicked look on its face . The card read, “When you reach the end of your rope- tie a knot and hang on!” But the problem is sometimes we cannot tie a knot. This Beatitude reminds us that when we reach the end of our rope, God has already tied a knot. Hang onto Him. He is our rope. He is our lifeline. He is the One we look to when we are poor in spirit- when we are in sorrow, sadness, or even depression. Look- you can become a part of the kingdom of heaven. But you can only do it when you know you can’t make it on your own. To bow our heads before God we need to humble our spirits before Him and say, “Not my will but Thine be done.” Today- I invited you to humble your heart a bit more. I invite you, after doing that to enter into God’s hope, purpose, grace, and life.