Healing and Hope

“Healing and Hope”

Matthew 5:1-12 (5:1-2) – June 19, 2022

Have you ever been particularly in need of hope? I know that hope is usually an internal thing. Hope is often quiet and even smooths challenging emotions and buoys people up when they are going through difficult times. Healing is something that many folks are in need of! The healing that many people immediately think of is physical healing. Have you ever thought about the other ways we can need to be healed? Emotionally, psychologically. Spiritually, as well. The need for healing of any kind is truly great in this world!

The Beatitudes from Matthew 5 are a wonderful description of hope and healing, from our Lord Jesus Christ. The Rabbi Jesus preached this sermon of hope and healing very early in His ministry. People flocked to hear Him, and to see the miracles He did.

Who was He preaching to, we might ask? Answer: lots of people! People not only local from Nazareth and the rest of Galilee, but from further south in Palestine, from the area north of the sea of Galilee, and from the area east of the Jordan River, too.

Except – how did the people who heard these Beatitudes feel? Did they have hope? Did they need healing? Our Lord Jesus had been spending a lot of time healing people. Remember, He was getting quite the reputation already as a miracle-worker. So, yes. He was ministering to many, many people’s physical needs.

Jesus had been spending a lot of time healing people. I don’t know about you, but when I reflect on the Rabbi Jesus’ public ministry, I can’t help but see His first disciples as not only His students in the way of God’s kingdom, but they needed to be good at crowd control. Seriously, any person who had the reputation that Jesus did would have been mobbed wherever He went! It would only make sense in today’s world that such an important, high-profile person – healer – an in-demand preacher and teacher – would have staff, and assistants, and handlers, and be really difficult for common folks to reach and talk to.

Have you ever tried to talk to someone really important and high-profile? Or, get a few minutes of their time? Imagine going through a secretary or administrative assistant. I’ve met with administrators and presidents on college or seminary campuses, and that was difficult enough! I cannot imagine how difficult it probably is to meet with someone really big, like the CEO of a multi-national corporation or the owner of a major league sports team or a high-profile media personality.

Except, Jesus wasn’t like that. Our Lord Jesus when He was here on the earth was accessible to anyone. He recognized that the people surrounding Him had broken hearts and unsteady hope. They needed healing in so many ways. One important way for these dear people to receive care from Jesus was to hear His teaching about healing and hope. That is why the Rabbi Jesus led them to a mountain in order to preach and teach. (And, I suspect the mountain had an area similar to a natural amphitheater, where Jesus’s voice was naturally amplified.) Plus, mountains are traditionally places that remind people of God’s presence ith them.

We know that sermons are talks meant to teach and to help people grow in their love for and relationship with God. People were so committed to Jesus and His ministry and message that they followed right along to listen to Him and as the expression goes, to sit at His feet.

The Beatitudes are the opening segment in this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivers. I’d like to point out that Jesus meant the Beatitudes for different groups of people from this wide crowd He was preaching to! Unexpected individuals, not typical, on the borders or off to one side in the typical congregation. And, Jesus was deliberate in His teaching and preaching. He knew He was being reactionary and unconventional, and that was okay. Our Lord Jesus never shied away from doing and saying reactionary and unconventional things!    

Jesus knew very well that many people in His day had an unclear or incorrect understanding of how to live their lives. Jesus knew they were living with the wrong goal in mind. So, the Rabbi Jesus purposely said unconventional things to shake up the establishment and to show them God’s way of living. Lo and behold, it was the opposite of the way many people understood it to be! [1]

The highlights of the Beatitudes were (and are) granting blessing, hope and healing for those who did not normally receive hope and healing. Jesus purposely turned the spotlight on groups that were dismissed, or glossed over, or ignored, or slighted. We have groups like “the poor in spirit,” “the mourners,” “the meek,” “the merciful,” and “the pure in heart.”  

In raising these disparate, separated people to prominence and granting each one His blessing, our Lord Jesus shows He cares for each and every one listening. No matter what, no matter who. What an inclusive sermon! Leaving no one out! Including many different groups and individuals from all over, from all segments of society, and beyond!

What is more, that wasn’t only just two thousand years ago. Our Lord Jesus is still raising disparate, separated people to prominence. He still proclaims His care and grants His blessing to all, in an inclusive embrace that leaves no one out. Sure, Jesus welcomes faithful, church-going folk! And Christmas-and-Easter church attenders, too! And people who would never darken the door of a house of worship, as well!

Don’t you think Jesus can heal people from the inside out? Don’t you think Jesus can give hope to the hopeless, sight to the spiritually-blind and unstop the ears of those who are stubbornly hearing just their own opinions?

            May our Lord open all of our eyes and ears to the all-inclusive message of the Beatitudes today. 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 curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)


[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/2-kingdom-life-matthew-5

Prologue to the Beatitudes

“Prologue to the Beatitudes”

Matthew 4:23-25 (4:23) – June 12, 2022

We are starting a new summer sermon series this week. We will be looking at the Beatitudes from Matthew chapter 5, all summer long. The Beatitudes, blessings of God, and blessings from our Lord Jesus. Plus, blessings to a number of unlikely groups of people, too!  

We toss around the word “blessed” here, but we ought to define this word. What is “blessed,” anyhow? Is “blessed” a secret code word for Christians or churches? Or a word that only people on the inside “in-crowd” know about? Well, of course not! I just got done telling you that Jesus blesses a lot of unlikely people and groups! “Blessed” in the first century meant “happy” or “content.” A deep down happiness, and not just on the surface!

Can you remember a time when you were really deep down happy? That’s what our Lord Jesus is talking about, Jesus can bless individuals, and He can bless groups of people.

When I say less-than, downtrodden, overlooked, or excluded, what do you think of? Poor people? People who don’t have enough? People on the sidelines or borders of society? How about people who are definitely not in the inner circle, not having preferred places or special treatment? Our Lord Jesus went around Palestine and Galilee preaching and teaching to just these kinds of people. The unimportant. Excluded. What some might call “the little people.” The Rabbi Jesus was always hanging out with people the “in-crowd” wouldn’t possibly recognize!

I do not have much of a problem considering myself an outsider, on the sidelines, or overlooked. That’s the attitude and the outlook we all are going to take this summer, as we take a closer look at the Beatitudes. Another title for this series is the Topsy Turvy Teachings of Jesus! Where Jesus blesses unexpected and unlikely groups of people!

First, we need to set the scene, and take a look at the backdrop where the Rabbi Jesus is teaching and preaching. Matthew chapter 4 is right at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. He is just starting to travel around the northern region of Galilee. Right off the bat, Jesus preaches and teaches to everyone. He heals all who come to Him. He does not discriminate.

Jesus had only just started His ministry, and I am sure that many, many people were moved and touched by His words. Imagine – “News about Jesus spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.”

Pay close attention: Jesus was not just another traveling dog and pony show. A number of these itinerant preachers traveled in Palestine, at any one time.  Jesus did more. Much more! He healed anyone who came to Him, and healed really serious diseases. Do you have any serious disease in your life or body that you would like to have totally gone? That’s what Jesus did. And, the word spread! How could it not? Word about amazing miracles, especially!

Plus, Jesus taught these crowds, wherever Jesus set up shop. People flocked to hear Jesus, from the next country of Syria, from north of Palestine, and from way south around Jerusalem and beyond the Red Sea. Wouldn’t you, if you had the opportunity to travel to see a proven miracle worker? But, wait! There is so much more! The Rabbi Jesus also taught about hope! God’s kingdom. God coming close to each person.

 At its most basic, God’s kingdom is a reality in the nuts-and-bolts living of life. Our Lord Jesus told everyone about the kingdom of God coming near to each one. This is the good news that comes near to all, that forgiveness of God’s love, that seeking of healing from all. Not only looking for actual physical healing, but also spiritual and mental healing. Who wouldn’t want to know about the healing forgiveness of God’s love? Available to everyone!

Just imagine that good news preached here and now, today! In the kingdom of God, there is enough for everyone – not only in terms of spiritual things, but in physical resources, too. Not so in the imperfect, worldly world. Imperfect, fallible people hoard money and resources, prestige and honor. This keeps them from the weaker, poorer, less fortunate parts of society. Let’s not forget that the few, the favored, the people on top of the world exclude anyone they think is unworthy. That almost always means the weaker, poorer, less fortunate parts of society.    

Can you even imagine our Lord Jesus discriminating or excluding people?

No, I can’t, either. Never, ever. Simply impossible. Jesus would never do such a thing, especially in uncertain, topsy-turvy times. The Rabbi Jesus brought healing to their physical selves, and also to their hearts, souls and minds. He wanted everyone to know that they are blessed and favored by God, no matter who, no matter what. Everything Jesus taught and did was about breaking down hurtful expectations and separations in society and among individuals.

Even though we all live in this very imperfect world, we are all blessed by God. Even though our modern times are uncertain, Jesus wants everyone to know that followers of Jesus will have what they need. Even though times are hard and questionable, there is always more than enough love to go around! Jesus makes sure we all know that. When God provides abundance and love, no one needs to bicker or fight or exclude or oppress any more.

Jesus and His topsy-turvy teaching shows us all that we are loved. Each of us is special to God, and we are never alone. That is a marvelous truth, available to each and every one.

That is good news for all of us! 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 curriculum on the Beatitudes. I will be using this curriculum all summer as source material for a summer sermon series on Topsy-Turvy Teachings of Jesus!)

Blessed Are We

“Blessed Are We”

Matt 5 beatitudes, word cloud

Matthew 5:1-12 – February 2, 2020

This Thursday afternoon, my husband and I are taking a short trip to St. Louis to see our daughter. Before we leave the house, we are going to print out some maps on our computer. Lots of journeys begin with a road map. There are signs to follow and road maps we can consult, just in case. We have landmarks we know along the way. I wonder, when you are on a journey, do you have a road map to follow?

In the previous Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 4, our Lord Jesus gives a summary statement of the message He wants to get across to everyone. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” That message is—in brief—a headline for the whole of the next three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters tell the world what God wants them to do, how to act, even what to say.

Today, Eileen read to us the first twelve verses of Matthew 5. These verses have a particular name: the Beatitudes. In these statements, our Lord Jesus tells us about His followers’ road through life. In other words, Jesus gives us a road map which will guide us to the kingdom of heaven. (In other parts of the Gospels, this is identified as the kingdom, or the reign, of God.)

This is great! Isn’t it? We have a road map to heaven! If we follow the signs and landmarks that Jesus describes for us here in the Beatitudes, we will make it to heaven, for sure! Won’t we? Or, will we? How easy is it to follow the signs and landmarks that Jesus tells us about?

Hold on just a minute. Following Jesus is more than just a pleasant walk in the park. Let’s take a look at who benefits from being selfish, who gets the lion’s share of attention, and how the faulty, selfish world wants people to act.

In case you and I haven’t noticed, there is a huge difference between what God wants and what the selfish, self-centered world wants. This is the first detour we are going to take from the road God means for all Christians to take.

Let’s look at a topsy-turvy, cynical, worldly view of the Beatitudes. In today’s faulty, selfish world, things are 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. Things are good for the winners, they get all the prizes. It’s good for the smart, and the smart-alecks. They get straight A’s, go to the best colleges, and get great jobs. It’s good for the beautiful. They will get their pictures in magazines, on social media, and get to be in movies. Things are good for the important people. They get to make all the plans and all the decisions. [1]

But, is that the way God wants people to live? Is that what Jesus tells us here, in the Beatitudes? Is that how God wants us to live? If you and I live in that selfish, self-centered kind of a way I just described, will we be traveling on the road to the kingdom of heaven?

We know the selfish, self-centered world rewards the powerful, the wealthy, the attractive, the ones who push others out of the way and trample the weak and poor and sick ones.

Now that we have figured out the topsy-turvy, twisted detour way of looking at the Beatitudes, let’s look at a second detour some might take when they consider the Beatitudes.

Sometimes, certain people think that only super-holy people can possibly follow God’s way to heaven. You know, only real saints of God. People like Mother Teresa, or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Augustine, or Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The rest of us cannot possibly measure up to such a high standard. I am sorry, but you and I are only going through the motions. Some say we are much too weak and sinful to ever be able to follow God’s high and lofty recommendations in the Beatitudes.

Now, this detour around the Beatitudes is a bit closer to the true road map that God marks out for us, but still not quite on target. God wants all of us—each one of us—to have an opportunity to walk more closely with the Lord, and to follow God in each of our individual journeys through life in this selfish, self-centered world

But, wait! Does that mean that you and I need to follow each of these items on the road map of the Beatitudes, to the letter? We have already seen how selfish, self-centered people often live, disregarding all of God’s recommendations. How instead would Jesus want us to fit into His world and His kingdom?

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 God. They will be in charge, according to God’s way. It’s good for those who don’t get justice now. Sooner or later, they WILL get it—God says so. 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. It’s even good for you and me when people come after us in anger because we follow Jesus. We will be rewarded by God in heaven. [2]

Some people will scoff. How do any of Jesus’s suggestions work properly? If I do any of that stuff, I’ll be laughed out of my workplace! People will taunt me and ignore me, or even worse. Well, I think that is just the point. Our Lord Jesus said these things might happen. In fact, Jesus tells His followers, point blank, that these kinds of things will undoubtably happen. And, Jesus also tells His followers which people are His precious ones, His dear sisters and brothers.

There is a kicker—a high point in this section of Jesus’s sermon. When you and I follow the road map Jesus shows to us, He calls us blessed. This is our Lord’s description of every single Christian. In each Beatitude, everyone who follows God is declared blessed.

Are you mourning for a loved one right now? Jesus said you are truly His sister, His brother. Are you poor, and especially poor in spirit? Jesus says you are really on the road to heaven. Are you meek and humble? Then, the world will be in your hands—in this world or the next. And what about those who work for peace in our neighborhoods, our cities, our country? What a wonderful thing to be called God’s children—God’s daughters and sons. And, God promises to abundantly bless us as we journey with Jesus.

This road map of blessing, this road map to the Christian life, shows us a God who delights to create, bless and redeem. May we always remember that we—all of us—have been abundantly blessed with the Beatitudes, for now, and for always.

 

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

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

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

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

What Are You Expecting?

“What Are You Expecting?”

Jesus teaching

Luke 6:17-23 (6:18-19) – February 17, 2019

Have you ever been expecting something, with all your heart? Perhaps, getting to a stadium early, and expecting a great ball game? Or, arriving at the church, expecting a wedding of two people who are dear to you? Maybe, finally going to a concert you’ve been waiting for, for many months. You are there with many other people. And, all of you have such expectations!

Expectations—of what?

We see something so similar with the scripture reading Eileen just read to us, from Luke chapter 6. Yes, this was early in the Rabbi Jesus’s ministry, but there already was talk about this promising young Rabbi. He not only teaches with authority, but this Jesus heals people’s diseases, too! And, He even casts demons out of people!

Wouldn’t that be something to travel a long distance for? Just imagine—a Rabbi, a high-profile teacher who spoke with authority. On top of that, He’s a healer and miracle-worker, too! That is something to see, indeed!

We need to step back a bit, and look at the bigger picture. Did you know that Luke chapter 6 contains much of the same information that Jesus preached in Matthew, chapters 5, 6 and 7? Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount—leading off with the Beatitudes—is summarized in about one third of the space, right here. In Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.

Both sermons contain much of the same information, except sometimes in different phrases and from a slightly differing point of view. Matthew was one of Jesus’s disciples, he was Jewish, and an eye witness. Dr. Luke was a Greek, he was writing his Gospel some years later, and relied on the testimony of a number of first-person accounts. Just so you can see these two sermons side by side.

Instead of diving into the sermon right away, I want us to look at the people who were hearing it. Dr. Luke is quite particular in his wording: he wants us to know that people from all over are listening, from down south in Judea and Jerusalem (good, God-fearing Jews), as well as people from the coast in the north, from the cities Tyre and Sidon. This second group of people was more mixed, some Jews, but secular, pagan Gentiles as well.

Luke mentioned the disciples, specifically. These were the twelve disciples, recently hand-chosen by Jesus. Moreover, “there are the larger crowds of disciples who are followers of Jesus, who have responded to His ministry, but who have not received a special call from Jesus.”[1] Quite a diverse group, indeed. And, Jesus preached to them all.

Have you ever been in a crowd of all different kinds of people? At a ball game, or, in a crowd at a concert, perhaps. I’ve been there, and I have felt the camaraderie, the fellowship and general good nature of certain kinds of crowds.

Reading again from Luke 6: “Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of His disciples was there and a great number of people who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured.”

Expectant? I suspect that is exactly how this crowd was feeling. Even before Jesus can start preaching, people surged around Him. Listen, again from Luke: “and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

People not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted a word of comfort or encouragement from Jesus. And, people wanted to be healed by Jesus most of all! Did you notice that Jesus did not just heal people from their physical problems, but also their spiritual and psychological difficulties, too? Such miracle-working activity must have brought people many miles to see the Rabbi Jesus.

As the Rev. Ernest Lyght mentions, “Perhaps there are some similarities between the crowd on the plain and the crowds that come to our churches. When you look out into your congregation, whom do you see? What are their needs? Who are the people who come to our churches? Do they reflect the neighborhoods around the church? Surely, they are folks who want to hear a Word from the Lord, and they want to be healed. They come with certain expectations.”[2]

Which leads to the next question: what are your expectations for the worship service, this morning? Were you expecting a warm, familiar service, with nice, familiar hymns, and a warm, comforting sermon? Or, were you surprised and even taken aback when we heard the testimony about a lovely ten-year-old boy with autism who wrote that wonderful poem for his English assignment? (I had tears in my eyes when I first finished reading that poem. God bless that boy, and God bless that teacher, too.)

Does Jesus challenge you – challenge me – in our daily walk with Him, or are you just looking for a nice, easy, quiet stroll with Jesus? What are your expectations?

Let’s look at some of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes: “’Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.’”

Whoa, wait a minute, Jesus! I thought You were warm and cuddly, like a teddy bear. At least, that’s what I heard. From Sunday school, or somewhere. Where did Jesus come up with all this about hungering, and weeping, with people hating me, excluding me, insulting me, even rejecting me. What gives, Jesus? What happened to that warm, fuzzy Christianity I thought I knew?

Christianity is not a religion, being a Christian is a relationship. It’s a series of relationships. Jesus and me, vertically. Sure! But, it’s Jesus and all of us too. Plus, it’s the horizontal relationship between you, and me, and you, and you—and all of us, with each other. That is what Jesus came to offer all of us. A radical change in relationships between God and humanity. And, in how we all relate to each other. No matter who.

Have you told anyone about this radical, out-of-this-world friendship between you and God? Have you been changed in how you relate to everyone you meet?

Bishop Lyght is now retired from the United Methodist Church. The UMC has for its advertising catch phrase “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” Great images! Wonderful things to strive for, too. We can take that phrase to heart, and ask ourselves: do we have open hearts? Are our hearts open to everyone who may walk in to our church? Do we have open minds? Are our minds open and accepting of everyone, no matter what ethnicity, mental challenge, sexual orientation, or other kind of differences they might have?

Finally, do we have open doors? Who are the people who do not come to our church, on this corner? Do we truly welcome all people? In our church? On the street or at work or at line in the grocery store? In our neighborhoods?

What are your expectations? Check with Jesus, and see who He would welcome.

 

(Many thanks to the Rev. Ernest Lyght and http://www.umcdiscipleship.org for ideas and assistance for this series on discipleship.)

[1] http://www.crivoice.org/lectionary/YearC/Cepiphany6nt.html

Lectionary Commentary and Preaching Paths (Epiphany C6), by Dennis Bratcher, at The Christian Resource Institute.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/season-after-epiphany-2019-part-2-worship-planning-series/february-17-sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c/sixth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-2019-year-c-preaching-notes