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This Week's Sermon !

February 17, 2019 --

Jeremiah 17: 5-10
Psalm 1
Luke 6: 17-26

Seeing our Blessings!

I read a story once of a man who went to visit someone in a poor neighbourhood of a large city. When he returned to his car he noticed a boy just standing on the sidewalk and looking at his car with wide eyed amazement.

“Hi Buddy. How are you?” the man asked.

“Just fine, Mister. That sure is a nice car.”

“Oh you like my car? I do too. You know, my brother gave me this car.”

“Your brother just GAVE it to you. Like for free? It didn’t cost you nothing?”

“No, it didn’t cost me anything.”

“Boy, I sure wish - I could be a brother like that!”

When the boy first opened his mouth the man was certain that he knew what he would say next - that he wished he had a brother like that! What the boy actually said left him speechless.

After a moment or two he said, “Would you like a drive in my car?”

“I sure would minster. Can my brother come? We live on the next block.

“Sure. Yes. We can go and pick him up.”

They got in the car and when they arrived at the apartment building the boy got out of the car and ran inside. A few minutes later he came out almost carrying a younger boy who had some obvious physical disabilities.

They sat in the back seat and the man drove his car all over the city and showed the brothers with the older boy showing his brother the marvels of the city they had never seen but had only heard about. For that day, at least, he got to ‘be a brother like that!”

Many years ago I watched “The Doctor,” a movie about a heart surgeon who becomes a patient. As the movie begins we meet a man who “has it all”. He is rich, arrogant and accustomed to having people ask, “how high” when he tells them to jump. Then he is diagnosed with throat cancer. He has to take time off. He waits, in a waiting room for his treatments just like all of the other patients. He learns that his wants and needs and the cancer treatment regimen are two different things. When part of his treatment involves a time of not being allowed to speak you can see his obvious frustration as he writes what he wants to say on a small, hand-held, chalkboard. He finds out that having a fight with his wife is more challenging when he has to write everything on this small slate and cant even speak, let alone, raise his voice!

During the course of his treatment he befriends a young woman, a fellow cancer patient and she teaches him a great deal about the meaning of life and illness.

In the last scene of the movie he is back to work. On this day he is mentoring medical students, as usual, but something in him has changed. On the first day of class, each of the students is handed a paper which indicates a diagnosis of a serious illness. They are assigned a bed in this makeshift hospital ward, have to put on a hospital gown and go through every test that would be associated with that diagnosis. They complain loudly. The one person smiling is the nurse in charge of this project. This nurse knows that such a level of understanding will make these young students much better doctors.

I’m sure that every one of you has seen “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Probably many times. It’s on TV every Christmas, at least once. George Bailey is depressed and at the end of his rope. He feels he has let everyone down and his “building and loan” business is at the point of failure because of some “missing money”. When he wishes he had never been born, an angel seeking to earn his wings, gives him the gift of seeing the world as it might have been if he had never been born.

When he sees Bedford Falls as it would have been without him, he realizes how much difference he has made in the life of his small town. Finding a few flower petals in his pocket, given to him by his daughter earlier in the day, makes his realize just how blessed he is to be alive and where he is.

There was once a young girl who was sent off to a mid-week Church program with 2 ten cent pieces for the offering. When she came home her mom noticed that she had a bag of penny candy.

“Where did you get that, hon?”

“Well I used half the money you gave me before I left.”

“I gave you that for the church. I did not intend to have you buy candy”.

“I know, Mom, but the teacher taught us that God loves a cheerful giver. I decided I would be more cheerful if I gave just ten cents and not the twenty.”

Today’s Gospel passage is part of a passage we call, “Jesus Sermon on the Plain.” You may have noticed the two picttures that were on the screen when it was read. One seems to be a painting, the other a stained glass window. In some ways these verses are quite similar to ones from Jesus “Sermon on the Mount” as recounted by Matthew’s gospel.

Today’s verses speak about the life of blessing in a seemingly unconventional and counter-intuitive way. The signs of blessing, according to Jesus, seem to be the opposite o what most people, and our culture, would expect. We would expect that wealth, having enough to eat, good health and a good reputation are signs of sure blessing, but Jesus’ words call this into question. How can this be? On the surface, it makes no sense at all.

It is common, I think, for people to envy others, especially if the “other” has something one wants. The single envy the married or, at least, the “coupled” and the poor envy the rich. When I was young I envied those who were older, (at one point I envied those who had made it all the way to Grade 10. For wahtver reason, I thought those in that grade had “arrived”. The more older people I talk to the fewer I find who envy the young! Interesting! I believe that when you live in envy it is hard to feel blessed.

While this is a passage in which Jesus speaks in front ot crowds he is really talking to those who wish to be committed to his way. His way is not the way of “common wisdom” or “everybody believes and knows” but to the topsy turvy world of the gospel. It is the world of the first being last and the last being first.

This is also another one of those passages which speaks to those who know that “things are not always as they seem”. In case you can’t read the words under the picture I’ll read them for you. “The deer is not crossing the road; the road is crossing the forest.” How you look at it, does make a difference? Who belongs in the forest? The car or the deer?

I may look at a person or family and on the surface they seem to be happy and blessed but then I find out that the family is deeply troubled and unhappy - and they are trying desperately to hide it behind the facade of nice cars and clothes and vacations and wide smiles.

In popular culture one of the most valued kinds of people are those who are self-made. They grew up poor, worked hard, and now they are rich. This is not what is valued in this passage. The problem with this kind of value is that it fools people into thinking that you can be blessed through your own efforts. The gospel seeks to communicate the grace of God as that which is necessary to feel blessed. We cannot earn or amass what we need in order to be blessed solely through our own efforts. The blessed - whether they are rich or poor, must live by grace. When you are rich, its easier to fake it - when you are poor, you know that you have no one else on whom to rely but the Spirit.

I was talking with a friend yesterday and she defined blessing as “looking in the mirror and knowing things were ok”. It’s not about looking around your house and seeing nice stuff or black ink in your chequebook, it’s about how you truly feel within yourself when you don’t have to put on a show for anybody else.

This is not the pie in the sky opiate of the people so despised by Marx but a call to focus on what is important.

The call to live the life of blessing is also a call to live for others; to give of one’s self so that others might know blessing. This may involve, for example, sharing food so that the hungry may eat, but it may also involve other actions.

Have you seen the new $10 bank note? For the first time the note is vertical, not in the usual landscape format and it depicts Viola Desmond, a Nova Scotian who became famous for what she would not do! Incidentally, it was 9 years before American Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery Alabama, Desmond refused to move from a section in a New Glasgow movie theatre reserved for “whites” only. We need to remember the women like Viola Desmond, not only in Black History Month, but in all the months of the year.

The life of blessing is not had by depriving someone else of theirs but it can be found in being a blessing to others. It can be discovered that we all live by God’s grace. The life of blessing is not them about what we have but who we can be through grace.


1995- 2019 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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