Wee Kirk September 2, 2012
If you have come to church today hoping to get some relief from politics I’m going to disappoint you. I’m going to preach about politics – even though I’m pretty sick, as I suspect you are, of all the money spent on campaigning.
(By mid-August over half a billion dollars had been spent on TV and radio ads. And there are still weeks go. Think what half a billion dollars could do … feed 9.2 million malnourished children for 50 days … immunize 29 million children for life .. give clean water to 500 million children for life .. purchase 166 million ant-malaria mosquito nets .. for starters.)
Instead of these campaigns that seem to go on forever, I want us to think about another campaign that does keep on – the campaign of Jesus.
Are there politics of Jesus? And if so, what is Jesus’ platform?
Jesus announces his campaign
Look at how Jesus made his “official announcement.” Significantly he chooses not Jerusalem but his home town synagogue to make it. And he is announcing not his candidacy but his calling by his Father.
So this hometown boy goes to church, stands up to read, is handed the scroll, and unrolls it to these words he quotes from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
When he finishes reading he sits down, and with every eye fixed on him says,
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
With him the promised “year of Jubilee” has come near.
Imagine the reaction! People turning to each other and whispering,. “Can you believe it? Isn’t this Joseph’s son? The little kid working in his dad’s shop? Imagine – our home town boy. Where did he learn to speak like this?”
But Jesus isn’t out for applause, or votes. He’s out for people for God’s great kingdom. He knows what he has to say won’t be popular. In fact he quotes the famous saying: no prophet is accepted in his home town. “After all,” he says, “only a tiny handful listened to prophets like Elijah and Elisha … only a poor foreign widow, and the Syrian general Naman – who had leprosy.”
With that their fascination turns to anger. How dare he talk to them like that! And to approve of Gentiles! They get up, drive him out of town, even try to push him off a cliff, but he pushes through and goes on his way.
(If he’d had campaign advisers they would shake their heads. “He’ll never make it like this. He needs a new PR team.”)
The next phase in his campaign is to go to the people (to his Iowa, we might say). Everywhere he announces the kingdom has come, and heals people who were needy, sick in body, sick in mind, sick in soul. And crowds began to swell.
Then he makes a strange strategic move. He leaves the crowds behind and meets with his inner circle – followers who would buy into his vision and embody his values.
By the lake (the same one where some of our politicians recently went skinny dipping) he takes took his twelve very ordinary people aside, and teaches them what “happiness” is, and what “God bless” means.
Since we’re going to hear the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and “God bless America” lots over the weeks to come, let’s listen to what Jesus has to say about happiness, and blessing.
Listen to his words
Let’s listen to Jesus’ famous Beatitudes in a fresh way.
When he describes a “God-blessed” life it’s the Greek word “makarios.” “Makarios” means “happy” in a very special sense. The Greeks used to call Cyprus the “makarios island”, the “happy” island, because it was so lovely and fertile it provided everything they needed. The Cyprus people weren’t dependent on the outside world for support.
I had a very special friend, an English Methodist evangelist named Joe Blinco. When Joe had a malignant brain tumor I called and asked how he was. “Leighton,” he said, “I can’t say what I want, and think what I want, but God has put everything I need inside me.” Joe Blinco knew the kind of happiness Jesus described.
So Jesus says is “blessed” is a happiness doesn’t depend on “happenings” – the “happenstances” of our lives – but on the qualities of life that God puts inside us.
A responsive reading.
Now — let’s say together Jesus’ “blessings” in our familiar translation, and then I will respond with a paraphrased version:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
God bless those who feel their own failure and need, and put their whole trust in God.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God bless those whose hearts are broken for the world’s sufferings.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
God bless the poised, whose passions are under God’s control.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
God bless those who hunger for God’s will to be done.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God bless those who are prepared to take on other people’s troubles.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
God bless the clear at center, whose minds are directed toward God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
God bless the “circle-makers” who are making broken things whole.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
God bless those “put down”, who pay a price for their devotion to God and their Lord Jesus
Is America happy?
A “God-blessed people” will be a happy people says Jesus. But are we? Or is our “pursuit of happiness” self-defeating?
Soren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher said, “Most people pursue pleasure with such breathless haste they hurry past it.”
The Wall Street Journal’s annual poll reports that among the developed nations the U.S. is not #1 in happiness – at least in terms of our overall well-being. We stand about #11.
And here’s an interesting contrast: while we measure our “GNP” – our gross national product – the tiny nation of Bhutan in Asia is measuring themselves by their “GNH” – the gross national happiness of their people.
When we engage in the “pursuit of happiness” are we pursuing the wrong thing, in the wrong way?
Questions for the candidates
Here are some questions I’d like to ask the candidates for national office: since you affirm that you are a follower of Jesus Christ how do you seek to follow his way?
• Jesus said, “God bless those who feel their own failure and need.” We know leaders aren’t supposed to show weakness. But if you’re ever at the end of your rope where do you place most of your trust?
• Jesus said, “God bless those whose hearts are broken for the suffering.” Sixteen million American children live in poverty – one quarter of all homeless children in Florida. What priority will you place on acting for them?
• Jesus said, “God bless the meek, the poised, whose passions are under God’s control.” With all the meanness in our public discourse, how can we turn anger into compassion. How do you maintain poise when unfairly attacked?
• Jesus said, “God bless those who hunger for God’s will to be done.” With so much you have to do, how do you find time to pay attention to your own soul? Where do you find spiritual nourishment?
• Jesus said, “God bless the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” How do we best show mercy to those who need it? Wounded veterans? College grads (or older workers) who can’t find a job? Children of immigrants?
• Jesus said, “God bless the clear at center, whose minds are directed toward God.” If you could ask God for one thing that’s at the center of your heart, over the next four years, what would that be?
• Jesus said, “God bless the peacemakers, who show people how to cooperate rather than fight.” We know the commander-in-chief is responsible to keep our country safe. How else would you lead us as a country to be peace-makers? How could this affect budget priorities?
• Jesus said, “God bless those who pay a price for their faith.” Congressman Frank Wolf has a bill asking for a special envoy to advocate for persecuted religious minorities including Christians and moderate Muslims in the Middle East. Would you make such an appointment?
• Finally, Jesus said to his followers, “Make your first care God’s kingdom.” When you have faced a conflict between your faith, and your public or party, how have you reconciled this paradox?
Living by Jesus’ platform
I can’t imagine any political leader or party making Jesus’ platform their own.
And even if they want to, what a challenge to translate these “blessings” into public policy.
I do pray those who follow Jesus will let his words challenge them to think deeply, pray fervently, and act as boldly as they can in making costly decisions.
The Jesus who said these things wasn’t in a dream world. He lived in a dangerous and difficult world under Roman occupation. He didn’t choose the political options of his day … to take up arms like the Zealots … make compromises with the powers that be like the Sadducees … live in a rigid self-righteousness like the Pharisees .. or withdraw completely from society like the Essenes.
Instead he chose some very ordinary working men and women to live out his kingdom vision. Not the pundits, the big money people, the power-brokers, the chattering class. But ordinary people of whom it was said, “They were uneducated and ordinary” but “they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
His kingdom was to give people re-ordered lives – so they would flesh out what he taught, as he lived in them through his Spirit.
What about me – and about you?
• Am I poor enough to know I need the riches of God’s grace?
• Is my heart ever broken with what breaks the heart of God?
• Are my passions under God’s control, or has the meanness infected me?
• Do I hunger for God’s will to be done?
• Do I come to church because I’m good, or because I need mercy?
• Am I clear at center, pure in heart, directed toward God?
• Have I found my piece of the kingdom to make broken things whole?
• Have I had to pay any price for living and speaking for Jesus?
If Jesus puts his Spirit in us – and lives his life through us – then we will be salt of the earth, a city set on a hill, a light on a candlestick.
Like Libby and Tom Little.
A God-blessed couple
Jeanie and I had lunch with Libby Little recently after she spoke at a graduation. She is a small woman, quiet but powerful as she spoke. Her husband Tom spent was the son of a very successful opthamologist in upstate New York, and also became an eye doctor planning to take over his father’s practice. Then God called him to ministry and he went to seminary.
While there Tom was deeply influenced by J. Christy Wilson, a Presbyterian minister who spent many years as pastor of the only Christian church in Kabul. So after graduation he and Libby went on a short-term medical mission to Afghanistan that lasted thirty years.
Two summers ago Libby was in the US visiting family and got a call from Tom on his satellite phone. He was on the way to hold an eye clinic in a remote area and was stopped at a flooded river until it was safe to cross. He said he’d call back. He didn’t.
The next day Libby heard that Tom and nine of the ten in his team had been massacred. It is still not known who were the perpetrators.
But Libby told of the influence Tom had had. In the middle of one night there was a knock at their door in Kabul. Tom and a surgeon from John Hopkins had fallen into bed worn out from hours of work. Libby went to the door and found three men she did not know who demanded to see Tom and the other doctor. She said they were asleep and to come in the morning. They insisted they had to see them right then. Libby was suspicious and asked why.
They replied, “We are also doctors. We have watched your husband and the other surgeon. And we want to see them because we want to become Christians because of what we have seen in them.”
Libby wants to go back to Afghanistan, because she and Tom love the people. Through her loss her deepest desire is still to be a “God blessed person.”
Libby and Tom Little, through their lives, and his death, speak to us of what it means to live a God-blessed and truly “happy” life, to live and act by Jesus’ platform.
They tell us what it means when we, ten thousand miles from Afghanistan, pray for to be a God-blessed people.
May God bless us all.
May God bless me .. and you.
May God bless the people of this church.
May God bless the people of America, and Afghanistan.
May God bless the peoples of the world.
Not because we deserve it.
But because we need it.
And because God is so full of grace.
Note: The paraphrases of the Beatitudes are not original, and come from several sources. The credit, of course, goes to Jesus alone!