02-17-19 LOVE THE BLESSINGS; BUT THE WOES?

Luke 6:17-26

Even though we may love blessings, sometimes they can be hard to see, and sometimes we may be looking for them through the wrong lens. Christian songwriter and singer Laura Story has written a beautiful piece of music that you will hear later on. Called “Blessings,” listen to one of the questions she asks God in this prayer:
What if your blessings come through raindrops,
what if your healing comes through tears,
what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to
know you’re near?
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

What if? What if my contracting Diabetes was God’s mercy in disguise? What if there are blessings in your life that at first seem like woes? What if your glass is really half full, but you see it as half empty? Years ago I took a group from our church on a Holy Land trip with an extension to Rome. On those trips, the hotel rooms sometimes were not uniformly sized. As we were checking into one particular hotel, Mary Ann and I found our room. We opened the door and found a room uniquely decorated, with accents of the region we were in. We thought it was lovely. About 15 minutes later my phone rang. It was one of my passengers. “Our room is completely unacceptable,” he declared. “It is cramped, dark, and I want another room.” “Oh my goodness,” I said. “I am so sorry. We love our room. We’d be willing to trade with you. It’s room 215. Want to come over and look at it?” “Yes,” he said, “I’ll be right there.” Soon there was a knock on the door. In walked the man. As he examined our room, a sheepish look came over his face. “This is exactly the same room as ours.” he said. “I guess we’ll stay put.” Perspective is everything. The lens through which you see the world is everything. Perhaps you remember the Randa Haines film “The Doctor” starring William Hurt. Hurt plays a man who is a brilliant surgeon but is oblivious to the complaints of his patients. He displayed professional arrogance. Then he got sick. He had to have an operation there in his own hospital. He complained about his gown, the food, the treatment, and the nurses. But his experience changed him. More accurately, it gave him an empathetic lens through which he began to view his patients. He became more grateful and more caring. It’s an inspiring film. Likewise, I recently read the true testimony of Dr. Paul Kalanithi in his worldwide bestseller, When Breath Becomes Air. He was a neurosurgeon who held degrees in English literature, human biology, history, philosophy of science, and medicine from Stanford and Cambridge universities before graduating from the Yale School of Medicine. “At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.” [Back cover, Vintage 2016.] He ended up dying. But before he did, Dr. Kalanithi gained a new lens through which to look at life. He wrote: “God, I have read Job, and I don’t understand it, but if this is a test of faith, you now realize my faith if fairly weak, and probably leaving the spicy mustard off the pastrami sandwich would have also tested it? You didn’t have to go nuclear on me, you know.” [Kalanithi, p. 162] But this doctor turned his feelings of woe into a blessing. How? He wrote about them; he left a legacy for others to appreciate. Reading his story has enriched countless people.

I think Luke, the gospel writer, also had a lens through which he saw Jesus; and I believe Jesus had a lens too, and that Luke captured the way Jesus saw the downtrodden, the poor, and the outcast, perfectly. Go up to any of the displaced homeless men in our city and see how happy they are with their city government officials and with the police. See how suspicious they are of authority. Jesus is speaking to that crowd, I suspect, when Luke includes not only the blessings of physical wellness toward the poor, but also the warnings of woe toward those in power. Luke did not hear that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. No. Luke heard that Jesus said; “Blessed are you who are poor!” What a difference! He was speaking directly to the faces of poor people! And he was saying they will be blessed? Yep. God is going to turn this world on its ear through Jesus. Luke did not hear that Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Luke heard that Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are hungry now.” What a claim! Really hungry people may have scoffed, but again God has a plan for them If you are poor, you are a Kingdom person. If you are hungry, you are a Kingdom person! Luke told his readers in his first chapter that “since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the event that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you … so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. [Luke 1: 1-4]
Luke fills in the gaps in the gospels. He tells the stories of shepherds around the announcement of a child to be born. Shepherds were almost the last and the least in the world. He tells the story of baby Jesus having a feeding trough for his baby bed. What a detail to include! He tells stories that include women—the members of the human race almost ignored in the Bible. He tells the story of a Samaritan (who he called good) and a prodigal son who actually felt more blessed than his wealthy brother! Only Luke decided that these particular stories were important to tell about Jesus. Only Luke! And so when Luke talks about blessing in regarding physical issues, (and not just spiritual issues as Matthew does) I listen. When Luke says he heard that Jesus also describing woes—likely to those who were rich—he was not condemning them; he was holding a mirror up to them saying “Examine who you are; you can still make changes! You can be part of my Father’s plan of feeling blessed and offering blessings to others.”

In the world today most people don’t feel blessed by being dirt poor. But on the other hand, there are people of means who do not deserve the declaration of woes. They give to their churches, to their community, and to worthy charities. So we learn that Jesus—like preachers that come after him—sometimes preaches with hyperbole (exaggerated metaphors) and with dynamic comparisons to keep the attention of his listeners. Jesus had the job of waking up complacent people, and prophetic preachers through the ages have continued his tradition.

Blessings can hide in plain sight; but through the half-empty lens, people miss seeing them; they can’t see them because they believe the grass is greener on the other side of a fence. Look for the grass in your own yard! Look for the blessings in your own life! Imagine God actually being delighted with blessing you! I think God often blesses us with small things, but our eyes are closed to them. People who go on mission trips, or build Habitat houses, or feed people locally or deliver Meals on Wheels, find out there are plenty of people who are struggling with life. And then they come home and take account of what they have, and who they are, and they sometimes change their grumpiness to gratitude. The late Robert Schuller founder of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove California, once said: “The good news is … the bad news can be turned into good news … when you change your attitude!”
[ The Be Happy Attitudes, Word Books, Waco, TX, 1985, p. 61]

I’ve decided to close with a funny story instead of start with one. The Founding Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Portland Oregon, Dale Galloway, wrote:
Some people today think the whole world stinks. Once a cranky grandpa laid down to take a nap. To have a little fun, his grandson put some limburger cheese on his moustache …. [He] awoke with a snort and shouted “This room stinks!” On through the house he went shouting louder, “This whole house stinks!” He charged out to the porch and shouted, “The whole world stinks!” Galloway said: “The truth is, it was grandpa who stunk.” [The Awesome Power of Your Attitude, Scott Publishing, 1992, p. 1.]

Looking at situations in life as blessings—rather than looking for people to blame—can change your life. Blessed are you, and those around you, if you look at others through the eyes of Jesus.
Let us pray: God Almighty: Jesus found blessings in the strangest places: with the poor, the hungry, with those who weep, and those who defame or defile us! Help us to see blessings even in the corners of our lives as well, and in the world.
Jesus did it; perhaps we can too. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner February 17, 2019