Solemn Warnings!

“Solemn Warnings!”

Luke 16:19-31 (16:28) – September 25, 2022

Have you seen homeless people begging for money? Every so often I encounter them, along busy street corners, next to off ramps from expressways, along bustling downtown sidewalks. Often, they hold hand-printed signs with heartbreaking requests for money. So often, the passersby rush right past. I must confess that I often drive or walk right past them, too.

Today’s Gospel reading about the poor man Lazarus and the uncaring rich man is meant to make us a little uncomfortable. Even, a lot uncomfortable. Jesus spoke more about money than about faith and prayer combined! Jesus was so concerned with people’s attitude toward money, possessions and finances – and we ought to be, too!

I also want to point out the close connection today’s reading has with a reading we associate with Christmastime. Or, more correctly, Advent. This second reading from Luke chapter 1 is Mary’s song, the Magnificat. This reading also makes us feel uncomfortable.  

Both of these Scripture readings reference rich and poor, reversed. Both of these powerful readings turn things upside down. Talk about Topsy-Turvy Teachings!

Let’s look first at the rich man and Lazarus. This parable of Jesus is different, because it names one of the major characters. Plus, this parable makes the rich man anonymous. He, or, in today’s egalitarian view, she, could be anyone. “He could be the one Jesus was accusing of loving money. He could be those who have when they are surrounded by those who have not.” [1] One of the big points Jesus makes in this parable concerns the gulf that exists between the haves and the have-nots. This parable shows us how huge that gulf can be!

Let’s think more about that name: naming the character with a real name, not just “such-and-such” or even “John Doe.” Does giving him a name cause us to relate to the poor man better? Just think about the concept of knowing and using a person’s name. Names can communicate respect. Not just some faceless, nameless, anonymous one.

Doesn’t using their name also show we recognize their worth as a person? What’s more, their name shows that we give them dignity! And, doesn’t every human creation of God deserve some dignity? [2]

In my work, I often go into skilled nursing facilities. Some of the patients in the facilities are very sick, very sad, and have very little in the way of money. We can view these dear human beings as being extensions of the poor man mentioned here in this parable. Sometimes these poor and indigent patients receive very little in the way of visitation and attention, too.

I am friends with someone who is on Social Security disability. He lived in a studio apartment in Rogers Park. Yes, he had a mental illness diagnosis, and yes, it was controlled with medication, so he was able to live a somewhat normal life. But, he was on the edge of poverty, and was almost like the poor man Lazarus from today’s parable. I lost track of him around last Christmas. He just stopped answering his cell phone, and I did not know where he had gone.

Imagine my surprise when I just happened to come across my friend several months ago in one of the skilled nursing facilities I regularly visit, in Rogers Park. I was really relieved to find him, but really sad to see him there, an indigent patient with no money and no resources. And recently, he has disappeared again. I hope and pray his sister in Crystal Lake brought him to live in a skilled nursing facility out near her house. I can hope and pray for him and his situation.

Let’s switch gears, and turn to Mary’s song from Luke chapter 1, the Magnificat. Talk about reversals! Listen to several verses from this song that Mary sang after the angel came to her and told her that she would be the mother of the long-foretold Messiah: 50 God’s mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

Mary tells us through her song that “The poor are filled with good things, and the rich are sent away hungry;[she clearly states that] brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. Here it is acted out in the parable Jesus told to those who were ridiculing him because they loved money more than God’s kingdom.” [3]

I suspect you all can understand that this message did not go over too well. The Rabbi Jesus was not popular at all with the rich people and religious leaders of His day And, I doubt that Mary would have been very popular either, given the reactionary nature of most of the Magnificat. Talk about topsy-turvy!

One of the main problems in both of these readings from Luke is the gulf between rich and poor. This gulf is not only an actual one, in terms of money. (which is serious enough!) “the gulf doesn’t seem fixable in that life. This means that it can only be crossed or closed in this one. Jesus is calling all his listeners to pay attention to the gulfs that exist in our world. How do we close the gulfs between the haves and the have nots? How do we close the gulfs between those who hold power and those who live on the margins? How do we close the gulfs . . . or how do we cross them?” [4]

Does this church build bridges to cross that gulf? Not only with the financially poor, but what about those with mental illnesses? (which sometimes can be in similar situations!) Does our church include both the folks with financial stability as well as those who are not, and who go to the Niles or Maine Township food pantries? Does our church include the people with mental health diagnoses, who often are also on the edge of poverty? Do we have ministries at our church for those who are struggling? These are serious questions, and ones we all need to grapple with.

Where are you in this parable today? Where am I? This is a serious question, and one that I am seriously considering.

Thank God our Lord Jesus is willing to help us! Willing to give us a hand when we ask, willing to assist when we start new ministries. God bless all those we encounter in our daily journeys, wherever they may be on the financial spectrum or the mental health spectrum. God be with us, every one!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to umcdiscipleship.org for their excellent notes and commentary on this week’s Gospel reading. Another reading in the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-youth-lessons

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes

[4] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-preaching-notes

Serving Two Masters

“Serving Two Masters”

Luke 16:1-13 (16:13) – September 18, 2022

Lots of people in this modern day know the rules of money in this world today. Money tells us to get all we can, no matter who gets hurt. Money tells us to measure people’s value by how much money they have or how much they make. Money always wants “more, more, more!” And of course, “those with all the money make the rules.”

Isn’t that the way things so often work, in our world today? How about in your neighborhood? How about in your group of acquaintances? What about in your workplace or with the politicians in your town? Aren’t the rules of money the most important thing in the world, for so many people?  

How different are the practices of the Kingdom of God! This is another in the series of sermons we have about the Topsy Turvy Teachings of Jesus! Here again, the Rabbi Jesus tells a parable that absolutely turns the worldly teachings about money upside down. And of course, the ideas of how justice works in God’s Kingdom are very different from the way things work in this fallen world. Talk about Topsy Turvy Teachings of Jesus!

When Jesus talks about money, people often feel weird. I mean, everyone has a close relationship with money, don’t we? At some time or other, who hasn’t worried about how much money we have, or where the money is coming from, where money is going, or how much money we will need for the future? Seriously, all those questions have crossed my mind, and I am sure they have crossed the minds of many people listening to these words!

            I reflected about the parables of Jesus where He refers to money. Overwhelmingly, it is the attitude people have towards money that concerns Jesus! This reminds me of a children’s Christian video series called “Veggie Tales,” with anthropomorphized vegetables and fruits. Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber were two of the stars of this series. One particular video showed Madame Blueberry who loved buying things. Sure, she bought lots of lovely things, and lots of clothes, and lots of furniture; everything of every kind that made a home an attractive place to be. But, her crammed-full home had a whole lot of stuff in it.

            And then, one day, a brand-new super store opened just blocks from her house. The super store was called “Stuff-Mart.” Madame Blueberry couldn’t wait to go shopping, yet again! I suspect we all can guess what happened. Madame Blueberry bought so much more stuff at “Stuff-Mart” that her cartoon house finally blew up because she brought so many more bags and more boxes and more furniture into it.

            What kind of relationship do you and I have with more money? What kind of relationship do you and I have with more stuff? You know, the stuff money can buy, whether it is smart phones, or the latest style of shoes or clothing, or the fancy cars or up-to-the-minute laptops or video screens. Or swank houses, or fancy vacations, or the prettiest, shiniest jewelry.

            It’s not that any of this stuff is bad, in and of itself. Some of it is pretty, and functional, and sometimes really cool. But, as Bible commentator Carolyn Brown says, “Jesus tells us is that how we use our stuff is important. We can be selfish with our stuff, [and with our money] not sharing with others. We can spend all our time thinking about and messing with our stuff [and with our money], never taking time to see what people around us may want and need from us. We can forget that who we are is more important than what we wear and what we have.” [1]

            I realize that in this society we live in today, we need at least some money to survive. Money is the means by which we purchase food, clothing, housing, and transportation. We cannot exist – at least here, in the suburbs of Chicago – without some way of getting money.

            Two thousand years ago, in Palestine, society was not too much different. Money can do a lot of good, and money can do a lot of harm. Our Lord Jesus spends a large percentage of His time in the Gospels talking about money, preaching parables about money, and discussing how His followers are to relate to money, finances and possessions.   

            Jesus closes today’s parable with some sobering words: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

“Money is something we think we need, and most of our lives revolve around money. We have built systems where we rely on money (and our ability to earn it) as opposed to relying on other people and bartering for goods and services. So how can we, as Christians, have a healthy relationship with money?” [2]

Two thousand years later, this parable is still challenging us. We are still faced with important questions about the place of money – and stuff – and finances – in our lives today. Like the manager in the parable today, our relationship with wealth is complicated.

            Jesus’s parables explain how things work in the Kingdom of God. Carolyn Brown says “The child’s version of Jesus saying is “who you are and what you do are more important than what you have.” [3] That is our Lord’s way of ending this particular parable.

We want to have our cake and eat it, too. As our Prayer of Confession today reminds us, we so often want to be a friend of the world, and still be friends of God, too.

Perhaps this parable is calling us to self-examination and repentance? We can see Jesus clearly tells us: “No one can serve two masters.”

We strive to seek God’s blessed, topsy-turvy kingdom! And remember: the best relationship we can possibly have is the one with God – not with money, and not of this world. Not with stuff. Jesus wants each of us to have a closer relationship with God, our heavenly Parent! And, that will set our feet toward God’s Kingdom, for sure.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-c-proper-20-25th-sunday-in.html

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/having-words-with-jesus/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-youth-lessons

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-c-proper-20-25th-sunday-in.html

Rejoice with Me!

“Rejoice with Me!”

Luke 15:1-10 (15:6-7) – September 11, 2022

Lost and found—this concept is very real and meaningful to my children. I have four children, and at various times, they have had to go looking for various possessions of theirs. You know, small items, things that were very precious to them somehow got lost. And oftentimes, they were persistent in looking for those precious things.

            I can remember when my son was younger, probably in first grade. He had a favorite stocking cap he wore almost every day in the winter. He wore it to school, out to play, on the weekends, almost everywhere. And then one day it got lost. My son could not find it anywhere. He was heartbroken at the loss of this precious stocking cap—precious to my son, at least. We searched everywhere—and I mean everywhere—in the house, in the car, in his classroom, in his locker. He even looked in the lost and found at his school. Sadly, we never could find it.

            Can you relate? Have you ever lost anything that was precious to you? Maybe not valuable in a monetary sense, but precious to you, your very favorite. Losing something precious can be quite a blow.

            This is exactly what our Lord Jesus talked about in our scripture passage today. He tells the parables of the lost things. In fact, one nickname for this chapter, Luke 15, is the chapter of the lost things—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son.

Our scripture reading today tells us about the lost sheep. We will leave the parable of the lost son, or the Prodigal, for another time and another sermon.

            How precious was that sheep the shepherd lost? Let’s back up, and think about the parable our Lord told. He mentioned one hundred sheep belonging to this shepherd. One hundred sheep. A good-sized flock for one shepherd. And out of those one hundred sheep, one gets lost. We aren’t told how the sheep gets lost. The sheep could have done any number of typical things sheep do—sheep cannot just take care of themselves. This particular sheep could have wandered off, or lallygagged behind, or stubbornly gone its own way. We don’t know.

            What we do know, from what Jesus said, is that the sheep is lost. Gone. Missing.

If a statistical analysis is done of this flock of one hundred sheep, what are some possible extenuating factors? Certainly, the rocky hills of much of the area and the subsistence-level terrain have a bearing on the well-being of the flock. And the difficulty of finding water can also be a factor. Statistically speaking, losing only one sheep out of one hundred is not much at all, not when the shepherd is dealing with such unfavorable conditions. From a loss prevention point of view, this percentage – one percent – of loss may very well be acceptable.

            But this is not taking into consideration the plight of that one lost sheep. This individual sheep matters. This sheep is a creation of God.  How does the lost sheep feel? Is the sheep scared? Lonely? Hungry? Injured?

This reminds me of my oldest daughter years ago, when she was just a preschooler. I was at a department store in Chicago with my two children (at that time), my older daughter just turned three, and my second daughter a baby in a stroller. I was looking at clothing on the round metal racks that are common to many department stores. And as I looked at clothing and tried to keep track of my toddler at the same time, she got lost. I could not find her, and she was much too small to see me over the clothing racks.

            It only took me about four or five minutes of searching to discover where she had gone, but that time was anxious for me. And that time was traumatic for my daughter—I suspect those four or five minutes seemed to go on forever. She was lost. She did not know where she was, or where I was. And she was all alone, far from her home and familiar things, until I found her and reassured her that everything was all right.

            Isn’t this similar to us? Isn’t this our situation, from time to time? You or I lose our way, get off track, slip and fall, or even stubbornly go our own way.

Periodically, I try to put myself into the scripture passage I’m considering. So, where am I in this scripture passage? Where are you? How do we fit in? Is this just a nice little story, or is there something more?

Theologian Howard Thurman reflects in his sermon on this passage, “Now, Jesus says that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are out of community with their fellows, and when they have found it, when they have found their community with their fellows, then all the world seems to fit back into place, and life takes on a new meaning. . . . The lost sheep. The searching shepherd. And the cry of anguish of the sheep was the voice of identification that the shepherd heard. That is how God is, if we let him.” [1]

But, how did Jesus see this parable? “Most often readers assume that they are the lost ones sought out by God and celebrate God’s persistence in finding them.  But, Jesus told these stories to the Pharisees who were unhappy that Jesus was eating with known lost sinners.” (Remember, the Pharisees and other religious leaders were all part of the ‘in-crowd,’ the people who were really trying to follow God and God’s rules.)  “Jesus’s message to them is that God is more interested in the lost than in them – and they should be too.” [2]

Jesus doesn’t just throw up His hands and forget about the lost ones. No! He goes after me, and you, searches for us, and makes sure that we are back with Him, in the place of security and protection, and says, “Rejoice with me! For I have found my sheep that was lost!”

            Isn’t that good news? And the best part is, the Lord Jesus, the good Shepherd, is our good Shepherd, too. He cares about me, and He cares about each of you, as well. To me, the news about our good Shepherd is the best news in the world.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables, ed. David B. Gowler and Kipton E. Jensen (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 22–24, 25.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/08/year-c-proper-19-24th-sunday-in.html

Rejoice and Be Blessed!

“Rejoice and Be Blessed!”

Matthew 5:1-12 (5:11-12) – September 4, 2022

We are at the last of the Beatitudes, and another challenging two verses to consider this week. When people talk about the sayings of Jesus and how “nice” or how “sweet” are the words of Jesus, I wonder, are they aware that most of the words Jesus spoke were divisive? Even arresting? Many of His words are not to provide encouragement and comfort, but instead are to be counter-cultural and challenging to the status quo!

As we come to an end of an extended Gospel reading of the words of our Lord Jesus, I am reminded again and again that Jesus was often counter-cultural and provocative. He wanted to mix it up with the comfortable, settled leaders of His day.

            Let us consider this last Topsy-Turvy Teaching: Jesus said “‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’” Challenging words, indeed!

            Just think about it. Looking at His whole ministry over three years throughout Palestine in the first century, the Rabbi Jesus said and did some pretty audacious things! He upset the status quo and the Roman military leaders. Jesus very much disturbed the settled, privileged religious elite of His day. And, the common people, the voiceless and powerless and helpless of His day, flocked to hear what the Rabbi Jesus preached. They were hungry for His counter-cultural message of peace and love and caring for all people, no matter what.

            As we listen to this final Beatitude, we find it is the only Beatitude that Jesus explains in a little more detail. All of the other Beatitudes are a single sentence. Some of them have challenging words, true, but this last Beatitude is particularly difficult to swallow.

            Sure, you and I can TALK about people being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, but to actually experience being persecuted because we are doing the right – and difficult – thing? Persecuted and ridiculed and sometimes even thrown in jail for following Jesus can be an extremely difficult thing to hear. Jesus does not make it any easier by telling us that this kind of persecution was common for the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, too. And, we are to “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.“ Challenging words. indeed!

            We know that people can ordinarily be mean and nasty to one another. That is part and parcel of being human, I am sad to say. Humans make mistakes, step on other peoples’ toes, and sometimes fight and persecute other people simply because of our fallen, fallible, human nature.

            But, in following Jesus Christ, we Christians are fundamentally changed from the inside out. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, we Christians are a new creation! The old has passed away, and behold! We are new from the inside out!

            We can think of a lowly caterpillar. Caterpillars are perfectly functional insects, crawling around, crawling, eating and existing in their environment. Except, have you ever seen a caterpillar spin a chrysalis around itself? After some time, the caterpillar goes through an amazing transformation, and becomes a beautiful butterfly!   

            We Christians have gone through this butterfly process! We are no longer caterpillars, like some other people surrounding us. Butterfly Christians are essentially different, with a completely different nature from the inside out! And, that is a huge reason why following Jesus is such a huge deal. We are as different from people who do not follow Christ as butterflies are different from caterpillars. Non-Christian people recognize this fundamental difference, and thereby revile, speak all kinds of evil falsely, and even persecute Christians, just as the Hebrew prophets were reviled, had all kinds of evil and insults thrown at them, and were even persecuted and jailed for standing up for God and God’s ways.

            But why, Jesus? Why do we have to go through this persecution? That’s a great question, and Jesus gives us an answer right here. He says, “Rejoice and be glad! For great is your reward in heaven!” We know that non-Christian people sometimes behave in a nasty and even devilish manner! We butterfly Christians feel our hearts breaking “at the effect of sin in others that makes them do this. So, [Christians] never rejoice in the fact of persecution.” [1]

            How often do you think of heaven and rejoice as you think of it? I am sorry to say that I do not think of heaven as often as I ought to. Yet, this is exactly what our Lord Jesus tells us to do. Because, when you and I are persecuted, we receive the proof positive that we belong to Christ, that we are going to be with Him in heaven and share in all the joy that heaven can hold!

As we come to the end of these Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus, it is good to consider what Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, these few short but important verses. Let’s summarize: “We are poor in spirit and recognize our need for a savior. We mourn over our sins and meekly submit to the Lord. When we do these things, we begin to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. God gives us the kingdom of heaven, he comforts us and tells us we’ll inherit the earth, and he fills us with his righteousness. After all the brokenness, we begin to grow in our ability to love others. We become merciful and pure in heart and peacemakers. When we begin to do those things, we will be persecuted. And that’s okay, because we gain the kingdom of heaven!” [2]

As we “work to bring God’s kingdom on earth, you can expect there to be people who react harshly. Even though this is really hard to face and experience, Jesus tells his followers persecution is a normal part of living out God’s love. You are actually blessed as a result of people persecuting you.” [3]

If there is one thing I want you all to remember from the past weeks we have considered the Beatitudes, it’s this: God blesses us abundantly when we follow God. So, we do not need to be afraid to stand up for Jesus. I ask again, as I have in most weeks: what would Jesus do? Or, how would Jesus act? What would Jesus say? Go, do that. Speak like Jesus. Walk like Jesus. Go, do that. And be richly blessed, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.   

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I have been using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 141.

[2] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-nine/

[3] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Blessed Persecuted Ones

“Blessed Persecuted Ones”

Matthew 5:1-10 (5:10) – August 28, 2022

Have you ever stood up for what is right? Even when everyone else was voting against you? That’s a difficult stance to take, for sure. Many prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures stood up and told the people of Israel that they were going the wrong way, or that God was angry with them. And what did the people of Israel do, more often than not? They chased the prophets out of town, or jailed those unpopular prophets. And sometimes, they even killed the prophets of God.

I know the Rabbi Jesus was thinking about some of these same prophets described in the Hebrew Scriptures when He gave the eighth Beatitude: “10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

This is a difficult position to take. A difficult position to be in, too! Followers of Christ are persecuted because they are a certain type of person and because they behave in a certain type of manner. Isn’t that what our Lord Jesus is saying?

Our summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus is almost at an end. But, that doesn’t mean that we stop listening to Jesus after next week.

Looking at His whole ministry over three years throughout Palestine in the first century, the Rabbi Jesus said and did some pretty audacious things! He upset the status quo and the settled, privileged religious elite of His day. And, the common people, the voiceless and powerless and helpless of His day, flocked to hear what the Rabbi Jesus preached. They were hungry for His message of peace and love and caring for all people, no matter what.

In today’s world, not much has changed. Powerful, power-hungry people are still just that – powerful, privileged, usually uncaring about the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. We see it every day in the news, splashed across social media. Who are the downtrodden of today? Those without jobs, without opportunities, without money, without a voice to speak out about injustice and inequality. And, overwhelmingly, these are people below the poverty line, disabled people, persons of color, LGBTQ people, persons who are marginalized in any number of ways. These are often the people who now flock to hear what the Rabbi Jesus (now our Lord Jesus Christ, after the resurrection and ascension) preached to one and all.  

But sometimes, the powerful people of today’s world are not only powerful. They are also satisfied with how things are. After all, they have got theirs! Many people today do not want the world turned topsy-turvy. They want the status quo to continue, very much. Sometimes they will do anything in their power to cause everything to remain exactly the same.

Things were exactly the same in Jesus’ day. The Roman rulers wanted to kill Jesus because they did not want change in their government or their power. They liked making all the decisions, getting richer and more powerful, and did not care what happened to everyone else. [1]

In this eighth Beatitude, Jesus gives His followers fair warning. “Jesus foreshadowed the problems his followers would face if they lived out this upside-down kingdom where the powerless are blessed. Sometimes when we make courageous choices, we will endure criticism, scrutiny, mockery, and sometimes even retaliation from people who do not desire change.” [2]

            Let’s look at this topsy-turvy topic another way. One of the most impactful ways that Jesus taught was through parables. Out of 39 parables in the Gospels, 11 of those parables are about money. In fact, Jesus talked about money in the Gospels more than He discussed faith and prayer combined! Our Lord Jesus really considered money and people’s relationship to money to be of high importance.

            So, why am I pointing out this focus on money? Because talking about money is certainly one way to disturb many, many people today! And I am sure this was true in Jesus’ day, as well. I am sure many people here can remember the FBI or CIA having files or dossiers on “radicals” or “rabble-rousers” who were publicly known for raising a ruckus, for disturbing the peace with their wacky, or way-out speech. Some people even are reminded of the Red Scare of the 1950’s, with the McCarthy hearings in Congress, blacklisting so many people in this country.

            Is the fear and disturbance of the powerful ones today much different from the fear and disturbance of the powerful people of Jesus’ day? I think not. And, what is one way to disturb people today? Start talking about money. How it’s used, how it’s saved, and how it’s spent.  That is sure to get many, many people riled up! Just like Jesus did.

            Talking of money is just one striking example of how Jesus upset the status quo in the first century. But, if we consider the wider picture today, around the world, countless followers of Christ are being actively and bitterly persecuted. It’s happening right now, in dozens of countries, usually sanctioned by their governments. “But will we stand with and pray for those who do [face life-threatening persecution]? Will we choose to stand firm in our faith when we face any form of persecution in our own lives?” [3]

            It does not matter whether we are talking about the first century or the twenty-first. When people challenge powerful people and worldly systems, they face a fight. “Sometimes Jesus’ followers were put in jail, made to leave their country, or shamed by their communities. This is persecution. It’s when people are treated badly and unfairly, especially because of their race, identity, or beliefs.” [4]

            Jesus is very blunt. These are stringent words. He says His followers will face persecution for righteousness’ sake. And, we can thank God for this persecution. This is proof positive that we are indeed Christians, followers of God. Jesus Himself tells us to rejoice! “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” We are indeed citizens of heaven. We are looking forward to our heavenly home!

I ask again, as I have in weeks past: what would Jesus do? How would Jesus bring about righteousness in a tangible way? Go. Do that. And, be blessed, for yours is indeed the kingdom of heaven.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-nine/

[4] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Blessed Peacemakers

“Blessed Peacemakers”

Matthew 5:1-9 (5:9) – August 21, 2022

We are drawing near to the end of summer. For some of us, summer is already over! I remind all of us that we just blessed the backpacks for the children and young people going back to school. And, I can remember my children going back to school – they missed those days of summer vacation, even though there was excitement in being in a new grade, with new classes, new teachers, and new books. We are drawing near to the end of our summer sermon series, too. Only two more Beatitudes, and our weekly examination of these Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus will come to an end, as well.  

With our focus on the children and young people today, with our blessing of backpacks, I am reminded of one of my favorite bible commentators. Carolyn Brown, retired Children’s Ministry Director from the Presbyterian Church (USA), has tremendous insights in her weekly lectionary series Worshiping with Children. Listen to her version of the Beatitudes: first what the world considers great and powerful, and then what Jesus says is important to God.

“In today’s world…

It’s good for the rich, they can buy whatever they want.

It’s good for the strong, they can take whatever they want.  They will also make the team.

It’s good for the winners, they get all the prizes.

It’s good for the smart.  They get straight A’s, get to go to college, and get good jobs.

It’s good for the beautiful.  They will get their pictures in magazines and get to be in movies.

It’s good for the grownups.  They get to make all the plans.

Jesus says that in his kingdom…

It’s good for those who know they do not know everything.  They belong in God’s world.

It’s good for those who are terribly sad.  They will be comforted.

It’s good for those who obey.  They will be in charge.

It’s good for those who don’t get justice now.  They WILL get it.

It’s good for those who forgive and care about others.  God forgives and cares about them.

It’s good for those who are pure in heart.  They will see God. 

It’s good for the peacemakers.  They will be praised as God’s own children.

It’s good for those who are hurt because they stand up for God’s ways. They will be called heroes and heroines. [1]

What kind of topsy-turvy teachings are these? We are looking at Jesus’s blessing for the peacemakers this week. Certainly, most of the world today does not promote peace. Looking at the military and armed forces all over the world, I don’t think most of the national governments worldwide promote peace, either. Oh, they might SAY they are for peace, but what would happen to the big corporations and all the bombs and tanks and fighter jets and military equipment that keeps getting produced and sold, all over the world?

If we go back to Matthew chapter 5 and double check today’s verse, we find “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” How marvelous is that?  

Many people use the word peace to mean stopping conflict, or being free from disruption. Those things are very desirable! But, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom: much more than calm, quiet, or a lack of conflict. “True peace is what Jesus and his followers called “shalom,” which means wholeness and wellness. All of your needs—physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.—are met and lovingly cared for. Have you ever felt that kind of peace?” [2]

Sadly, large, powerful countries have taken over smaller, weaker provinces and states, for thousands of years. We can see it right now with Russia trying very hard to take over the Ukraine. (And, the Ukrainian people are putting up one huge fight!) Many countries are holding their collective breath, watching the worldwide wars, conflicts, and rumors of wars.

Look at peacemaking from another direction. When you and I are willing to make peace and to be peaceful, that way of thinking is alien to the world. Worldly people think, “How will that affect me? I want mine! To heck with anybody else!” This sounds exactly like the worldly system, not God’s way! Exactly what Carolyn Brown said: “In today’s [crooked, self-centered] world, it’s good for the strong; they can do whatever they want.” This selfish, self-centered way of thinking and acting is so negative. That is exactly the starting point of all quarrelling, fighting, arguing, and when it gets big enough, going to war. Not God’s way, at all!

Sometimes, governments say they will bring peace to a neighboring province or country, but they end up as conquerors, imposing harsh laws that hurt and oppress. But, how can you and I bring about peace, when we face such overwhelming forces? We can create peace with one kind and loving act at a time. We need to use our voices “and what power we have to bring justice, not just say we want peace. People have been chanting “No Justice, No Peace” during protests since at least the 1970s. It means there won’t be wholeness or peace until there is justice among us.” [3]

God is not pleased with warfare, that is for sure! Instead, God wishes peace! Shalom! Peace is not only the stopping of warfare and conflict, but wholeness and wellness in all ways. Shalom is to be among all people: “young and old, disabled and non-disabled, among all genders, between nations, and among all expressions of faith. Remember, God’s peace is not fake peace.” [4] This peace, this shalom is a deep and abiding wholeness that can sometimes be surprising, even disruptive. This is why Jesus blessed the peacemakers. This is why Jesus blesses each of us.

I ask again: what would Jesus do? Go. Do that. Go and be a peacemaker, like Jesus.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany.html

[2] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

“Heart-Pure Blessings”

“Heart-Pure Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-8 (5:8) – August 14, 2022

Our modern society today is noisy, that’s for sure! So many noisy people, so many competing advertisements, all kinds of sound and visual media vying for our attention. How can we manage if we want to step away from all of this clutter and clatter and cacophony filling our ears? And what about the overwhelming smorgasbord of visual media overloading our eyes?

I want to do as Jesus suggests in this Beatitude and strive to be pure of heart. You may want to do this, too! I know that seeing God is something that many Christians really desire. But, how can we be pure of heart when we have all of these competing audio and visual noises, sounds and media constantly in our faces?

When Jesus mentions those who are pure in heart, I think of those who have integrity. Can you think of someone you know who is truly a person of integrity? How do they live their lives? Do they watch eight, ten, twelve hours of television or other kinds of media each day? Do they have their ears and eyes filled with all kinds of extraneous noise and clutter and cacophony? Do they bicker and argue with family and friends, ignoring what God finds important?

Jesus spent time regularly being quiet, peaceful, allowing Himself to listen to God as well as to His inner thoughts and feelings. Do you take the time to listen to your own heart, as well as listen to others expressing their deep thoughts and feelings?   

If we look at Jesus and His message throughout the Gospels, it’s all about the heart, and the inner person. As preacher and theologian D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, says, the observant Jews of Jesus’s day were so concerned about external behavior. It was the Rabbi Jesus’s “great charge against them always that they were interested in the outside of the pots and platters and ignored the inside. Looked at externally, they were without spot…they were most concerned about the external injunctions of religion; but they forgot the weightier matters of the law.” [1]

Instead of the outside of a person, again and again throughout the Gospels our Lord Jesus reminds His disciples (and us!) that all along He is talking about the heart. Those weighty matters of God’s Law include love to God and the love of one’s neighbor. Again and again, the commands of Jesus to love God and to love neighbor trump any other command.

I am reminded about the prophet Samuel in the Hebrew Scriptures. When God sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse and his sons, Samuel looked at the outward appearance of Jesse’s sons. “Surely the Lord wants to choose one of these fine, upstanding young men!”

How do people today judge leaders, or kings, politicians, or CEOs? Most people “tend to judge others on how they look, what they do, how they act, and what they say.” In other words, all of the external stuff, all the stuff on the outside. But, what about the Lord? “God goes much deeper in relationship than that; God goes right into our hearts. God knows the secrets that we don’t tell anyone, and knows our greatest fears and what embarrasses us the most…God knows us better than we know ourselves.” [2]

Think about it. Seven of Jesse’s sons were considered by the prophet Samuel, and none of them were chosen by God. I can’t help but remember 1 Samuel 16:7 – “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” God encouraged Samuel to find David, Jesse’s youngest son, the one with the least amount of honor and standing in his family, who was indeed anointed king of Israel.

God wanted to find someone after God’s own heart!

“We have to remind ourselves again that the Christian faith is ultimately not only a matter of doctrine or understanding or of intellect, it is a condition of the heart.” [3] It does not matter whether we are considering the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament. Here in this Beatitude is the concentration on the heart. Your heart, and mine, too!

 If we take the time to read through these Topsy-Turvy Teachings from Matthew 5, and read them slowly, savoring each one, this collection of traits of followers of God honestly makes me take a step back. I am serious. This list is daunting. And, this week, the idea that if someone is pure in heart then they will see God? That makes me hold my breath and hesitate again.

I guess I am still tentative, agreeing with many people in the Hebrew Scriptures who are hesitant at actually seeing God. If God is making Godself available so that the run of the mill pew-sitting Christian can have a deep friendship and an intimate relationship with God, that is something very serious indeed! Am I really ready to see God? Are you?

“Jesus reminded us that when our actions align with our thoughts and feelings, we can see God around us and in our world. But it is difficult to see God around us if we do not quiet ourselves and listen to our hearts.” [4]

The thoughts and ideas we carry in our hearts have a big impact on the actions we take and the choices we make. Our insides – our hearts – guide and direct the words we speak and the actions we take. This is why the heart – the inside of us – is so important to Jesus.

One big way to be pure in heart is to show love for God, your neighbor, and yourself in how you act, speak, and think. God wants to find someone after God’s own heart!

What a way to be a blessing to others! Remember, this is how Jesus said the “pure in heart” will be blessed. Amen, alleluia!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Wm. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1971), 108.

[2] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-7/

[3] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-7/

[4] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Blessed Merciful People

“Blessed Merciful People”

Matthew 5:1-8 (5:7) – August 7, 2022

Have you ever snapped at a family member or a friend? Flown off the handle? Gotten really upset, and even yelled? That’s one thing about family and friends who are close to us – emotions can run deep, and arguments can flare up. Things can get tense, too. When these kinds of emotions and feelings happen to you, how do you handle these feelings? What about thinking of Jesus’ words “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” 

            Showing mercy must have been important to our Lord Jesus. It was so important that Jesus even included it in His Topsy-Turvy Teachings! Here in Matthew 5 in the Beatitudes, Jesus mentioned some extremely significant ways of thinking, acting and general behavior.

            In previous Beatitudes, Jesus’s thinking has a definite progression, a logical sequence. This idea of mercy follows the others, and especially the one in the previous verse: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus follows this with “Blessed are the merciful.” What a description of the follower of God! But – what if we do not understand what Jesus means by mercy? What is mercy, anyhow?

            One definition: “Mercy is feeling what someone else feels, acting on their behalf, and then dedicating yourself to continue to work for their well-being. Sometimes it is easier to show mercy to a stranger than to show mercy to a family member.” [1]

Let’s look at these Topsy-Turvy Teachings another way. As you and I start to hunger for God, Jesus gives blessings for those who hunger (and thirst) for a righteous life. What does God freely give when people desire to be right with God? You’ve got it. God’s mercy. “We can’t earn God’s mercy, though. It isn’t something we can buy by being good or going to church or saying the right things. Mercy is a gift from God.” [2]

            So often with family or friends, those old, ingrained ways of thinking and acting can kick in automatically. Do you recognize yourself when you snap and snarl at family, or fly off the handle with friends, and not even know where those deep emotions and reactions came from?

Those ingrained habits and reactions go back decades sometimes, often back to childhood. They might have helped you deal with situations and people once, in the past. But what about now? Would Jesus fly off the handle? What if you and I were to react in a different kind of a way? What if instead of getting mad or irritated, we were to speak with mercy and grace? How would our tense or awkward situations be transformed?

            But, wait a minute, Lord! I don’t want to be a doormat! I don’t want people to walk all over me!  I don’t want to get beaten up by all the bullies who come by and cross my path! I can just see a group of kids on a school playground, with several bullies picking on one particular kid. Teasing him or her mercilessly.

            And, what about when we get to be adults? Aren’t there bullies in many workplaces? At some senior centers? People can be hateful and bitter and angry. How are we to act towards them? Are we supposed to be mean and hateful, right back? Again, what would Jesus do?

            Jesus explained mercy another way, in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10. “Let’s talk about a story most of you are familiar with: The Good Samaritan. Instead of just reading through it, let’s see if we can remember the story on our own. Someone who knew the law of God really well once asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what the law had to say. The lawyer correctly answered with the greatest commandment. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” The lawyer wanted to make excuses for not following this commandment perfectly, so he asked Jesus who his neighbor was. Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan.

“How does it start? With a guy walking along the road getting robbed and beaten half to death. Who walked by first? A priest, who was like the pastor of the time. He ignored the poor guy. Who walked by next? A Levite, who was like a worship leader of the time. He totally ignored the injured man too. Who came by next? A Samaritan. Samaritans were the worst enemies to the Jews back then. [Jews and Samaritans] got along about as well as cats and water, fire and gasoline, peanut butter and pickles. A Samaritan was the last person you would expect to help a Jew. But this guy went above and beyond to do everything he could to help take care of the hurt Jew. After telling this story, Jesus asked the lawyer who he thought was neighbor to the man who was robbed. The law expert said, “The one who had mercy on him.” [3]

How do you respond when you are in arguments or tense situations? Pay close attention to how you respond this coming week. If you feel yourself starting to snarl, or beginning to argue, or have harsh words with a family member or friend, stop yourself right there.

            God can help us, you realize. If someone is particularly difficult to show mercy to, ask God. And, our God will assist us! Those situations can be transformed! Take a moment (or two, or three!), breathe, remember Jesus’s words about mercy, and start over again.

            “And when we try to feel how others might be feeling and show mercy by acting on their behalf and dedicating ourselves to their well-being, we are following God’s example. This is why Jesus said those who are merciful are blessed.” [4] A Beatitude, indeed!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent Summer 2022 family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-six/

[3] https://ministry-to-children.com/beatitudes-lesson-six/

[4] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

Hungry and Thirsty Blessings

“Hungry and Thirsty Blessings”

Matthew 5:1-7 (5:6) – July 31, 2022

Have you ever been really hungry? I mean, have you ever gone without food for more than a day? Longer than that? Hunger can be an ache inside, an actual pain inside your abdomen. Being physically hungry and thirsty can be dangerous for people’s health. Yet, food is not all that people hunger for.

Our Lord Jesus wanted to specifically mention those who were hungry and thirsty. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Yes, we can think of people who are actually, physically hungry and thirsty. That is a real need, and it’s a need for individuals and families all over the world.

Let us take a step back, and consider actual, physical hunger. What is that like? I have had the blessing of steady employment at a decent rate of income for several decades now. I do not recently have the first-hand experience of going to bed hungry, with nothing to eat in my kitchen. Not a can of vegetables in the cupboard, not a package of food in the pantry.  

My friend Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks is the director of A Just Harvest, located right next to the Howard Street El station, in that congested and now gentrifying area on the far north side of Chicago. A Just Harvest is a nonprofit organization. Their summary statement is “Breaking bread, restoring community – every day. One meal at a time. One job at a time. One change towards wellness, peace, and justice at a time.”

After the Covid shut-down in March 2020, St. Luke’s Church was still receiving baked goods on Saturdays from Meier’s Bakery. Except, the men’s residence at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston – where I donated the baked goods – shut down, too. That meant NO more deliveries or donations, for many months. I had to quickly pivot, and so I gave a quick call to my friend’s organization, A Just Harvest. Part of their outreach is a food pantry; an industrial-service kitchen that provides a complete hot meal for free, between noon and 2 pm, 365 days a year. That is every day, even on bank holidays and major holidays, when other service centers are closed.

The Community Kitchen was overjoyed to hear about all the baked goods! So, for each weekend for over a year, I would take the baked goods from Meier’s on Waukegan to the Community Kitchen after church on Sundays. Until, Meier’s sadly closed for good in April 2021.

It is a marvelous thing to share our resources with others who do not have enough. That is part of what our Lord Jesus was getting at!

Yet, Jesus also mentioned “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” That adds a whole deeper layer to being hungry and thirsty. (as if regular “hunger and thirst” were not significant enough!) Yes, many people who followed Jesus were very hungry. They needed a secure food source. But, many people in Jesus’ day were also hungry for justice.

“One understanding of “righteousness” is justice. God’s justice means we make sure everyone has what they need. When we partner with God to bring justice to the earth, we are working toward a world where living things live in right and healthy relationships.” [1]

I know that sometimes, people get really caught up in their own lives, their family challenges, their health problems, and yes, financial difficulties. It’s really hard to focus on other people and their deep needs when you or I have some very deep needs of our own.

The same was very true in Jesus’s day, as well as all the times in between the first century and the 21st. We have talked about this before, how a huge crowd gathered around the Rabbi Jesus, and He saw their hurts and pains and cared for them in all kinds of ways. Yes, Jesus physically healed many! And yes, Jesus also saw each and every individual as worthwhile, as blessed, and as created by God.  That is a big reason why He preached about God’s kingdom, where there is abundance for all. More than enough honor, food, money, love, power and resources for everyone to thrive.

“A lot of things were not right for the people listening to Jesus. In that time, some people had a lot of money and power. They used what they had to dominate other people. Some people were poor and felt powerless. Jesus speaks here to the people who feel that ache for a better world—God’s kind of world. Jesus knows their hearts are hungering more and more for relationships and systems to be fair and right. Just like we need food to live, we need love, hope, and healthy connections with others. Jesus understands and cares about all these needs.” [2]

Bringing in God’s kingdom is not just a task for our Lord Jesus. No! He has given that task to each of us, to each of His followers. That is what the Beatitudes are all about. It’s a commission, a charge for all of us, to go out into our own communities and put these tasks to work. Each idea from our Lord Jesus, each and every day.

We can even call the Beatitudes directives from God. Yes, each Beatitude holds a personal blessing, and each Beatitude holds a direct charge or task for each of us to complete. When we look at this list of blessings from God in this way, it can be incredibly daunting! Yet, with God’s help, all things are possible.

We all have the opportunity to fight for justice in many different ways. Are there particular issues that you and your family engage in? Do you hunger for environmental righteousness? Racial and gender equality righteousness? Food security righteousness? Senior care righteousness? Employment righteousness?

If every person in this world knew what it was to truly “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” there would be no danger of fighting or war, no need to fear bombs or muggings or name-calling or any other destructive behavior. Herein lies the way to true peace and justice on a horizontal plane, with our fellow humans, and true fellowship with God, on a vertical plane.  

I ask again: what would Jesus do? How would Jesus bring about justice in a tangible way? Go. Do that. And, be blessed, for yours is indeed the kingdom of heaven.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent Summer 2022 family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Ibid.

Blessings to the Meek?

“Blessings to the Meek?”

Matthew 5:1-7 (5:5) – July 23, 2022

I love puppies and kittens. Don’t you? Who doesn’t love small animals, so adorable and so tiny? One thing about small puppies and kittens – and other baby animals, like little rabbits, and baby chicks and ducklings and piglets – you need to be gentle with them! If anyone caring for small animals is not gentle and caring, the baby animals will probably be mistreated.

Along comes the Rabbi Jesus, and what is the next Beatitude that He proposes? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Now, wait a minute, Jesus! This is completely the opposite of everything that earthly society and worldly people say to us all the time. If we want to dominate the world, we need to show everyone who is boss! We need to show off our strength and power and domination! Don’t we?

Or, what does Jesus say? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Those words don’t sound very dominating or power-hungry to me! Here again, Jesus tells us explicitly that followers of Christ are not like the world. We are following the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus, here! Not going along with the world, at all!

The large crowd listening to the Rabbi Jesus was probably puzzled, too. What was this unknown Rabbi talking about?

Meekness is a synonym of gentleness. In Jesus’ day, land was meaningful and important and many people had their land taken away by people who used force and violence. Jesus promises the gentle, kind, and humble people (“the meek”) will receive not just land, but the whole earth.” [1] People of that day were used to hearing about the land grabs that the people in charge did, almost always without any consequences. Land was a source of wealth, and to be stripped of your family’s land was to have a great deal of wealth stolen right from under your noses. This was the situation with the oppressing, conquering nation of the Romans. They took a great deal of land and wealth from the Jewish people as an occupying nation.

When Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth, how do you think that sounded to the crowds listening to Jesus? What would that do to the occupying forces of Rome if meek, gentle people from Israel inherited the earth, right from under their occupying noses?

The worldly point of view – both in the 1st century and in modern-day popular society – is that fighting, conquest, and gaining material power is the key to getting to the top of the heap. Dominating other strong people, bulldozing your way to the front of the line is the way that worldly people get ahead. That’s the way people inherit the earth – isn’t it? Think about it another way. How are we to act as followers of Christ? Cut-throat, or Christ-following?

When you think of being meek and gentle, what do you think of? I mentioned caring for small animals a few minutes ago. Can you think of someone who cares for tiny puppies or kittens, and imagine them steamrolling over smaller, weaker people? These two pictures are not compatible. Which do you think Jesus would do? Which would Jesus want us to do?

I realize being meek and gentle gets a bad rap today. Someone who is meek and gentle is not the kind of person I’d imagine as a poster child for military organizations. Someone who is meek and gentle often comes across as a Casper Milquetoast, a person who is shy, retiring, and inoffensive. But, have you ever thought of someone who is meek and gentle as being a strong individual? Someone who is so strong and confident themselves that they do not care what other people think? I think that is exactly the kind of person our Lord Jesus was lifting up.

This promise – this Beatitude – this blessing towards gentle, kind and meek people is the wonderful blessing that these unlikely people will be the ones who become inheritors of the earth. The ones who will receive land, and therefore will receive riches and wealth, as perceived by the world. Not the worldly people who use power, force and control. Yes, these are indeed the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!

Jesus is not just talking about the physical land of Israel, but the whole earth. “This also holds a powerful message for us about caring for the earth. Meek, or humble, people live with an awareness of others’ needs—the planet, animals, and other people. They remember that the whole earth—everything they have and receive, including land—belongs to God. And they care for it with that in mind, using what they have with respect and love.” [2]

Are you uncaring, oblivious to the needs of others? Have you been conscious of others’ needs today? Or, do you walk along, without a care in the world? I know there are people who are preoccupied with their own challenging problems and difficulties. The Rabbi Jesus is calling us to be outwardly focused, to come alongside of those who are struggling, becoming aware of others’ difficult journeys. There is much suffering and sadness in the world. We need to be strong – in meekness and gentleness.

Which would you rather be? Would you rather think and act on the side of the world, and steamroll and punch down any little pipsqueak who asks you for a hand or a cup of cold water? Again, what would Jesus do?

Or, would Jesus continue to be courageous and strong – strong enough to be gentle, meek and kind? It’s a clear decision that is open to us all. We are to follow Jesus. Be meek. Be gentle. Be kind, like our Lord. And especially, we are commanded to show love. Not picking and choosing, but instead being meek and gentle to all. No matter what, no matter who. Blessings from God to the meek, indeed!  Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks to illustratedministries.com for their excellent family Sunday school curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on the Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] Illustrated Ministries, Curriculum for Summer Sunday school family series, “The Beatitudes.” Summer 2022.

[2] Ibid.