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Blessing the World

The Rev. Joseph Winston

February 11, 2007

Sermon

Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1
Children often have unrealistic dreams about life.
Many girls want to have a perfect wedding. If we listened into a typical con-
versation that described their proposed plans, it might sound like this. “I cannot
wait for my wedding. My prince will come, sweep me off my feet, and carry me
to the doors of the church. Once we are inside, all the beauty will astound you.
The bridesmaid’s dresses will have yards and yards of gleaming white chiffon. My
dress will be covered by thousands of little pearls and my train will stretch out for
yards. Going before us will be two darling children and they will be throwing red
rose petals on the ground. As we walk up the aisle, people will say to themselves
that we are the most perfect couple in the whole wide world. After the marriage,
1
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians
1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3

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I’ll have two children, a huge house, a great fast car, and a perfect life.”
Boys are not any better. They too daydream. A discussion among young boys
about their ideal life might sound like this. “When I grow up, I want to be a
firefighter. I’ll live in the firehouse and take care of our Dalmatian. I’ll never have
to do housework or homework again. Every breakfast will have my favorite foods
because I’ll be the chief and everyone will have to do what I say. After eating, I’ll
watch the others clean up the engine and I’ll make sure the hoses are ready for the
next big that we will put out. When cats are stuck in trees, I’ll hop in the ladder
truck and drive it right up to the tree. Then, I’ll climb up the ladder, rescue the cat,
and be the hero. My parents will be so jealous because everyone will love me and
no one will like them. No one will be the boss of me. When I’m driving the fire
engine, I’ll listen to my radio station and no one can make me change the channel.
I’ll stay up all night and watch whatever I want on TV.”
Sooner or later, most of us come to the realization that such a world does not
exist. There is no such thing as a perfect spouse or job. While we have many teach-
ers who try to impart this wisdom to us, perhaps the most important instructors
are our parents because they try to form our opinions. “Now Sally, you know that
every marriage has its share of ups and downs. Your father and I sometimes dis-
agree.” Or maybe, “George even firefighters have to do things that they don’t like
to do. When I’m at work, sometimes I have to stay later than I like so that I can
finish what I need to do.”
Even though most of us have completely learned the lesson that the world does
not follow our preset expectations, a few of us still believe otherwise. We are the

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ones who think that Christians should live and act like we want. We want to define
Christianity by our whims.
The heart of today’s Gospel Lesson is that Jesus expects His followers to live
the same life that He does. Christ’s message is simple. Jesus loves every one of us
and He requires that we do the same. Our love for the people of the world is the
entire message of the Sermon on the Plane.
The format of Christ’s lecture to His disciples on the Christian way of life
follows the ancient tradition of affirming what is in agreement with God’s teach-
ings and literally cursing the items that stand between God and us. Jesus begins
His master class by telling His students, the large group of disciples that came
down with Him from the mountain, that God opposes every inhuman condition
that enslaves people. He tells us:

• Blessed are the poor for God will be with them.

• Blessed are the hungry because they will be fed.

• Blessed are the keening since they will rejoice.

• Blessed are those Christians who are hated, excluded, reviled, and cursed
for you are being treated like God’s messengers.

When we hear the word “poor,” our first thought is about those people who
do not have enough money to live. This is one common definition of poverty and
it applies to about one in sixth people that live in this county. A more precise
statement on the poor incorporates those people whom, for whatever reason, are

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oppressed by the economy. A current example of this practice includes those indi-
viduals found in payday loan shops who must borrow money at repressively high
interest rates. These loans penalize the poor because they cannot obtain normal
lines of credit. This industry, which is clearly wrong in God’s eyes, only exists
because we let it. Another pressing example can be found in the health insurance
industry. If, God forbid, you work as a day laborer or as a contractor and get
sick, it will be almost impossible to obtain insurance in the future that covers this
illness. All future care for this disease must come out of your pocket. In many
cases, this causes people to make the impossible decision of choosing between
food on the table or medicine to help the symptoms. We let this atrocity happen
every day in our large super centers that refuse to provide insurance to all of their
workers. Wal-Mart, one of the most profitable industries in the world, falls into
this category. These are the most obvious example of impoverishment but real
poverty goes much deeper. The closed superfund cleanup sites in our area have
made our children poor by robbing them of clean water, air, and land. Our SAT
scores, which have fallen yet again in Texas, show how little we value our invest-
ment in our children and their education. If we do not help our children learn, we
then condemn many of them to lives of poverty.
God’s response to the problem of the poor among us is very simple. We, like
the Jews, have been called to take care of the widow, the orphan, and the immi-
grant. This is how God blesses the poor.
At one level, hunger means not having enough daily calories. While precise
statistics are not kept on the number of people that go to bed at night without

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enough food, we can make some educated guesses on the number of hungry in
Liberty County. Most non-profit and government agencies place the number of
people who cannot afford healthy meals in the state of Texas as one in six. We
can see some of these underfed children at our public schools where they receive
breakfasts and lunches. Other undernourished families come to food banks or el-
ders without enough to eat have food brought to them by “meals on wheels.” At
another level, Christ’s concern for the hungry goes beyond our normal attitude
that some people do not have enough to eat. These are the people that desire jus-
tice, truth, and freedom. Even though our country was founded on these basic
ideals, it seems to be impossible to find justice, truth, and freedom anymore. Af-
ter the public spectacle of the OJ Simpson trail, it seems to many that justice can
be purchased on the market just like any other commodity. Absolute truth has
also disappeared from the scene. More than two-thirds of adults born between
1960 and 1970 believe that “absolute truth does not exist.”2 With this loss of ab-
solutes, people are now searching for experiences that make them feel satisfied.
Among other things, freedom means the ability to do what you want without fear
of repercussions. These basic rights have been eroded. Many workplaces prohibit
the workers from showing any signs of Christianity.
God’s answer to hunger is deceptively simple. We are to feed everyone. This
is how God blesses the hungry.
For many people, weeping seems to be a normal part of life. People are hurt,
children are injured, and even parents die. We have grown so used to these daily
2
?, .

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sights in our lives that we do not even attempt to count the number of people who
cry out about the injustice of this world. All of these voices join together as one
and call out to God, “How long?” How long must we be bruised? How long must
we be hurt? How long must we suffer?
God has come to save us from weeping. We are to comfort the morning and tell
them that Christ has saved us from the pointless pain that permeates our existence.
This is how God blesses the sad.
Martin Luther writes that one of the ways that we can identify the true church
here on earth is to look for the persecuted people who are teaching the Good News
and receiving the true Sacraments. All around us, Christians are being persecuted.
Some of these actions may be obvious. In most Muslim countries, it is illegal for
any Christian to witness to a Muslim. This is enforced. The penalty for converting
from Islam to Christianity is death. Others examples might be harder to see. The
entertainment industry both on the TV and at the movies does a very good job of
showing Christians as being either complete buffoons who are out of touch with
reality or as right wing militants who kill anyone who disagrees with them.
Jesus came to protect us from victimization. We no longer have to fear death
because God has given us eternal life. We are to tell others about this amazing
God. This is how God blesses the persecuted.
The Sermon on the Plane clearly tells us that we are to live like God. Unfor-
tunately, this is message that most Christians do not want to hear. Following the
four blessings, Jesus invokes oaths on the conditions that keep us away from God.
He says:

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• Cursed are the rich because they have received their happiness.

• Cursed are the full since they have eaten food that never completely satis-
fied.

• Cursed are the happy who refuse to see the reality that surrounds you.

• Cursed are the well-respected members of the community because you have
rejected the critical Word.

In and of itself, being rich is not a problem. Abraham was unbelievably rich
and even with all his fortunes he known as the father of Israel. The problem with
money is our use. Jesus curses anyone who pays attention to their wealth while
ignoring the poor outside their door. Jesus curses anyone who loves assets more
than people.
Eating and drinking good food and drink is not the issue. Jesus provided the
best wine possible at the wedding at Cana. The stumbling block is our appetite.
Jesus curses anyone who feeds their stomach when others are hungry. Jesus curses
anyone who loves their body more than their neighbors.
God wants each of us to be happy. Therefore, the oath that Jesus issues against
laughing cannot mean that Jesus wants depressed Christians. Instead, Jesus is
warning us about turning a blind eye to all the people who are suffering. Jesus
curses anyone who laughs while the neighbor is in pain. Jesus curses anyone who
entertains while others are crying.
God’s plan is that we all live together in community. This is not the issue that
Jesus addresses here. The difficulty is when we refuse to speak the difficult Word

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into the situation that confronts us. Jesus curses any leader who values peace more
than truth. Jesus curses any one who will not say, “That is wrong.”
No one can stand in the face of the four woes. We all have forgotten the poor,
the hungry, the sad, and the persecuted. Jesus curses every one of us.
All of us stand condemned because over each of us, Jesus has spoken a curse
that means total, complete, and certain death. Our only hope is for grace. Our only
chance is for a pardon.
But who can grant us such a gift? Who can speak the Word that wipes our
damnation?
Jesus.
Only God’s Son can take away God’s curse. He comes here today and tells
you, “You are forgiven.” Christ’s compassion for us and our wretched condition
is why He came to earth. The curse that was spoken over each of us by Jesus has
been removed by a blessing from Jesus. He says to you:

• Come to Me and you will no longer be poor since I give you the richness of
a real life.

• Come to Me and you will no longer be hungry because I give you the food
that you long for.

• Come to Me and you will no longer weep. In My kingdom, injustice and


pain do not exist.

• Come to Me and you will be accepted. I love you.

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Our salvation from the curse that was pronounced over us is just a portion of
His deep affection for humans. He looks forward to that day when each of us loves
our fellow human.
Despite all of the risks, some of us have followed our dream. Early on Septem-
ber 11, 2001, firefighters from all over New York raced to the twin towers. Three
hundred and forty three of these men and women never returned home at the end
of the day. They gave their lives so that other would have a fighting chance to live.
The kingdom of God is not some fantasy that never will occur. Jesus is here
today among us and He is expecting us to work together with Him to bring the
kingdom to reality.
“The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and
minds through Christ Jesus.”3

3
Philippians 4:7.