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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
February 13 2022
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Something that has been close to my heart for a long time is helping refugees. Whether it’s donating money to organizations, or getting items needed for an apartment, or even just raising awareness, my heart goes out to people who have been forced to leave their country of origin under dire circumstances. Because, very often, they have to leave literally at a moment’s notice with only the clothes on their back.
My own level of awareness about the global refugee situation was raised last August when people were fleeing Afghanistan and our congregation stepped up to help. And it was raised again last Tuesday, when I learned that Washington state is receiving another 500 refugees from Afghanistan this month.
And it also broke my heart to learn that, because the situation isn’t headline news anymore – so it isn’t getting the attention that it needs or deserves. And as I prayed for them, and the organizations who work with them, and thought about the turmoil that our country is in right now, the words in today’s gospel reading came to life for me.
Because what Jesus is saying here is that our lives as his followers come down to what we value vs what God values. In a perfect world, those values would be the same across the board. But we know that the world isn’t perfect.
As long as there have been human beings, we’ve associated prosperity or success with God’s blessing. The accumulation of wealth and power, individually or communally or nationally, is often proclaimed as evidence of living in a way that pleases God.
And even though that’s understandable, at best this way of understanding God is misguided because God doesn’t hand out rewards or punishments to chosen people. If God really worked that way, the wealthiest and most power-hungry people would be the ones that God most favors.
And if that were the case, God would be on the side of the people who build empires and oppress anyone that doesn’t go along with them. But we know that the histories recorded in the Bible tell us that God values the opposite.
In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, we are told exactly what God’s blessings look like. Jesus tells us that the ones whom God blesses are the people who are hungry, poor, sad, hated, and excluded.
But when society looks at those people, and very often they’re called “those people,” they are often blamed for their situations. Poverty is thought to be a failure to work hard enough, and hunger is said to be a failure to make smart choices, and weeping is considered a character flaw. And anyone who might be persecuted for their faith is lacking a fundamental level of sanity.
And instead of helping them, we avoid them. And we do our best to keep from becoming like them – usually by distancing ourselves somehow because we think whatever caused these things for them might be contagious. But when we do that, and when we lift up material wealth, full bellies, easy laughter, and the approval of people around us as the things we value, it’s as though we aren’t listening to Jesus.
And according to Jesus, that is what causes woe. And the woes that Jesus talks about aren’t curses, but rather choices that lead people away from the things that God values, and instead lead to despair and misery.
And when we remember that Jesus was speaking to his disciples when he said these things, it affects the way that we see ourselves as his followers and as a church. And it forces us to ask whether we, as a congregation, are choosing blessing or woe. Because the blessedness Jesus talks about comes when we’re in active service to our neighbors, and the relationship that results from building the realm of God.
As followers of Jesus, as a community that follows Jesus, we are blessed when we’re poor because we’ve used our financial resources in service to our neighbors. We’re blessed when we’re hungry because we’ve shared food with our neighbors.
We are blessed when we’re weeping because we are in merciful and compassionate relationship with our neighbors. We are blessed when we’re reviled for the sake of the gospel because we’ve sought to bring God’s love into the world above all else.
Even when doing these things is difficult, God blesses us because these are the things that God values.
On the other hand, if we’re rich it’s because we haven’t shared our resources to the fullest extent possible. If our stomachs and cupboards are full, it’s because we haven’t added enough seats at the table. If we’re laughing easily, it’s because we haven’t risked the depth of relationship with our neighbors.
And if we aren’t reviled or ridiculed for the sake of the gospel, then we’ve failed to help build the realm of God.
Jesus’ words here aren’t meant to beat us up for what we’ve done or not done. And they’re not meant to say, “Don’t take care of yourself.” They’re meant to remind us of the things that God values, because it’s on those things that God’s realm is built.
When we do our job as a congregation and work to build God’s realm, it doesn’t only mean taking action on something when it’s in the news, it means seeing it through to the end, even when the end is decades away. Like our involvement in helping to resolve the low-income housing crisis in our area, feeding hungry kids and their families, and making sure babies have diapers.
Valuing what God values means walking with people who are in crisis and figuring out how best to help them when they can’t afford things like housing, food, or health care. It means weeping with people who are on the outside and being in solidarity with them so that they know they aren’t alone or forgotten.
At its core, valuing what God values means loving people instead of blaming them when their social or economic status doesn’t measure up the way society says it should.
Making the choice to value the things that God values determines how we live our lives as individuals and as a congregation. And as people who follow Jesus, it’s the choice we’re called to make every day.
It isn’t always easy to do. At times, it will be inconvenient and cause us heartache, and it will even cause us to act in ways that might put us on the outside. But in choosing to value the things that God values, we will find that God blesses us beyond measure. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Basis for this sermon: https://rachaelkeefe.wordpress.com/2019/02/13/mistaken-blessings/
 Pat Bennet. The Spirituality of Conflict, commentary for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, 2019.