Sunday, January 29, 2017

What does the Lord require of you?

Scripture Lessons: Micah 6: 1-8 and Matthew 5: 1-12 Sermon Title: What does the Lord require of you? Preached on January 29, 2017 I love to read the paper, especially a good local paper like ours which covers a lot of local news. That’s what I really like to know about – how the sheriff is doing and what’s going on with the school board, so I mostly gloss over the articles that the Daily Herald prints from other newspapers covering state or national issues, but last Monday our paper ran an article from the Chattanooga Times Free Press titled: “Corporations make their employees use scripts, but what do customers think?” He was talking about the likes of Chck-fil-a. You’ve been through the drive-through at Chick-fil-a and maybe you heard them say, “It’s my pleasure!” And maybe you heard them say it so many times you wanted to start eating at Zaxbee’s instead. Or in the drive-through at Taco Bell as soon as you pull up they’re supposed to say, “You can order when you’re ready” because the higherups at Taco Bell corporate believe saying “Can I take your order?” puts too much pressure on the customers. And the one I’d never heard before is at Kohl’s, if you call them on the phone, they’re supposed to answer saying, “How may I help deliver greatness today?” “How may I help deliver greatness today?” Are you kidding me? Well, Tim Omarzu is the journalist who wrote this article all about these phrases or scripts that corporations are making their employees use, and we can all recognize the benefit of these scripts – not everyone is naturally polite or has been trained in how to respond to customers appropriately, so a restaurant manager should teach her workers how to speak just as she should teach them how to flip burgers, but according to Omarzu customers don’t like it when the people taking their order sound fake. That’s a problem: when you don’t really mean the thing that you are supposed to say. Maybe you can remember as a child having to go apologize to your sister. Your mother was standing right behind you with her arms crossed just waiting, and since you must say it you do, but you don’t even look her in the eye. Looking at the floor or the wall, “sorry” you say, but just saying this word does not have the desired effect so your mother says, “say it again, and this time, say it like you mean it.” Perhaps you can tell that I’m speaking from personal experience here, but even if you’ve only ever given heartfelt apologies maybe you can agree that saying words with your mouth without meaning them in your heart is off-putting, false, certainly fake just as Omarzu said, but still we do this, certainly Christians do this. Did you notice that a few years ago, you’d ask someone how they’re doing and some would respond, “I’m blessed”? Or you’d be saying good-bye and they’d say, “Have a blessed day.” This is good thing to say – it’s the perfect response based on the 2nd Scripture Lesson that I’ve just read where Jesus says again and again, “Blessed are you – even when you suffer, even when you are oppressed, even and especially when you face hardship.” So, on the one hand, could there be a more appropriate thing, a nicer thing to say? I can remember numerous times when just this word, this little blessing brought tears to my eyes because the one who said “have a blessed day” really meant it – but on the other hand – how does it sound if you say the words without meaning them. When I think about being blessed or blessing someone I realize that maybe all things are possible to say, but some of the things that we say are very difficult to really mean. I wonder how many Christians who would tell you that they are blessed really mean it. That is what these Beatitudes are about. Jesus is making that statement. That blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted, and I’m sure that any and all of them could say that they are blessed even as they face such hardship, but how can one say “I’m blessed” without being fake? How can you really mean it when you say, “I’m blessed?” That can be a challenge. For me, the easier thing, especially when I am poor in spirit, is regret. Looking back again on my childhood, I can remember how much I loved hitting the reset button on video games. I’m making my age clear here – I’m young enough to have grown up with video games but old enough that most of the video games I played were pretty horrible and never really caught my attention. But there was one game I could pay for hours, Civilization it was called, and you’d start with this one settlement and you’d move around colonizing other parts of the world, until you were either wiped out or achieved world domination. What I would do when I played this game is I’d send out my little colonies, and occasionally the native inhabitants of that land would attack my colony, taking it over, and whenever that happened I’d just hit the reset button on the game and could start over with a clean slate. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do the same thing with life? Hit the reset button on your dinner party so that you could start over with the roast that ended up burnt. Hit the reset button so you have the chance to not say the mean thing that you said. Hit the reset button on college or high school, hit the reset button on a marriage – go back and do it all over – wouldn’t it be nice to just start over and do something to avoid the outcome that you’re stuck with? But Jesus points us towards something different. His is a step beyond regret and wishing you could do it all over to see that even in times of hardship that we caused or are the victims of - still we are blessed: blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who mourn Jesus says, but what I say or think most often is not “blessed are those who mourn” but “blessed are those whose loved one never got sick, who never smoked that first cigarette which led to lung cancer, who took better care of themselves, blessed are those who avoid death altogether, and wouldn’t it be nice to hit the reset button and do somethings differently?” I remember my father thinking along those lines when his mother suffered a stroke; a stroke which led to her losing her ability to drive, her ability to paint, then her ability to remember, and finally took her life. My dad would look back on the year leading up to the stroke and wonder what could have been done differently to have prevented it all. He would say: If only I never would have let her go out in that canoe alone, then she never would have fallen into the cold lake water. If only we had watched her diet. If only I had been there when stroke happened then we could have gotten her to the hospital faster. If only, if only, if only I had a reset button, and that hope is so different from what the Lord expressed as he taught up on that mountain. We wonder why bad things happen and wish for a way to avoid them, to start over and steer around tragedy. “Why do bad things happen to good people,” we ask – and to this question I can imagine the Lord’s answer based on these beatitudes – “don’t be so quick to be defined by the bad, for you are not children of suffering, but of blessing.” So when bad things happen, while I look back wondering why or what could I have done, the Lord calls me to look forward – to see that beyond mourning is comfort. To see that the meek may have little now – but they will inherit the earth. That those who hunger now, will be filled. That those who are persecuted now – their suffering will be turned to joy for great is their reward in heaven. A preacher once said that there’s a reason the windshield on a car is so big and the rearview mirror so small – so that we can keep our eyes focused on what’s ahead, only glancing from time to time at what’s behind and the suffering and hardship of the past or present must not cloud our vision of what is to come. We cannot live mulling over again and again what should have happened. We must be about looking forward to what will. It is a promise you see – that blessed you are because the future is yours – and seeing beyond your past or your present circumstances is just what these Beatitudes call us to. Blessed are the poor in spirit – for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek – for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and their reward will be great. I heard William Ralph Inge quoted this week. He was an Anglican Priest and author and is famous for saying all kinds of things but the one I heard this week is: “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” To apply such a thought to the Beatitudes would be to quote the Apostle Paul: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” We may suffer today – we may face hardship and challenge and setback today – but we are not married to the suffering of this present time for the future is ours. He is our Lord, and so we are blessed. Amen.

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