In St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians, he writes, “for our sake God made him,” that is Jesus, “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We call what God is doing here through Jesus “the happy exchange.” That is to say, God exchanges the goodness of Jesus for our sinfulness. That’s a very, very basic way of putting it, but it’s the matter in a nutshell. When we push this happy exchange, when we push it and push it and push it—to test just how far we can push it—we can see that whatever is true for Jesus is true for us, and whatever is true for us, is true for Jesus.
For our sake, God made Jesus to be sin that we might become his righteousness. For our sake, God made Jesus to become a human being like us, that we might become one with him in his divinity in God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. For our sake, God made Jesus to die our death, that we might live his life. For our sake, God raised him in his human body to heaven, so that to might be raised to heaven not only in our spirit, but in our earthly bodies like him. In all ways, what God does in Jesus is done for us.
And so as we go into the sermon today, I challenge you to think what it means that God sends Jesus into the world as a blessing for us. Jesus is a blessing…What does that mean for us? What does it mean that God has blessed us? What is our blessing good for? Who is good for? Consider that as we go forward today…
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Some of you may know that I like to cook.
I don’t so much like to cook for myself, but I do like to cook for other people.
For me, eating together is a social thing, a kind of entertainment. Of course, I don’t always eat with other people, but when I can eat with other people, it’s so much more enjoyable. I’ll even call up my sister on the phone or friends when I’m at home alone and it’s time to eat—just so I have someone to talk to when I’m eating. It’s not quite as good as having someone there with me when I’m eating, but it’s better than eating alone.
I like to say that I learned to cook from the world’s best cook—Grandma. I spent countless hours in the kitchen helping Grandma cook and over the years, and I’ve learned her recipes. The thing about Grandma’s recipes is that they’re not really written down. And if they are written down, you don’t really get out the recipe card and follow it. You just know the recipe and you eyeball it. I like to say I’m a “dump-and-pour” cook. That’s how Grandma taught me. You dump a little of this in. Taste it. Then you pour a little of this in. Taste it. You squirt in this til it looks about right. You eyeball it. Sometimes you have to keep dumping and pouring and eyeballing and tasting until it’s right, but in the end, you know when it’s right and you go with it.
As is inevitably the case, the student sometimes thinks they can improve upon the master’s time-honored and time-tested approach. When we got Dish Network when I was in high school, I discovered Food Network. And I started to get ideas. I was going to make Grandma’s recipes better. Of course, I didn’t. It wasn’t Grandma’s dish anymore after I “improved” it based off what I saw on Food Network. So I went back to doing it the way Grandma had taught me—because let’s face it…you can’t make Grandma’s recipes better. But watching Food Network did open me up to wanting to try different things that Grandma hadn’t taught me how to cook. And naturally, being a dump-and-pour cook, I didn’t bother to get the recipes for things I wanted to try. I just eyeballed it. Needless to say, if it wasn’t something that I’d made before, having learned from Grandma how to eyeball it, my first few attempts at cooking new things almost inevitably met with, shall we say, less than savory results. A few of you have been victim to my attempts at making potatoes au gratin from scratch without a recipe and know that I refused to use a recipe. You were good sports through that…even as things didn’t turn out quite as expected!
But after I admitted defeat and consulted a recipe, the end result was delish. Of course, that’s because I consulted the recipe and followed the directions of someone who knew what they were doing. You can’t always rely on yourself and sometimes you just have to admit someone else knows better than you do—even if you’re pretty good already at something. That’s true for me and cooking, even if I did learn to cook from the world’s best cook.
I don’t have to tell you that we live in a world full of unhappy people. People are constantly striving, constantly seeking, constantly racing after the next best thing that will complete their happiness. Bookstores are full of guides for how to find fulfilment and happiness in life. Be it money, relationships, inner peace, whatever. People are looking for those things, looking for something that will bless their lives with contentment. TV is full of commercials selling the same thing. And ads online too. And yet that constant striving is itself a source of anxiety, imperfection, and unhappiness. Even when we somehow manage to attain whatever it is that we think will make us happy, there’s something else out there that we think we need. If we just get there…or get it…we’ll be happy.
The sad reality is that nothing is ever going to satisfy our happiness when we approach it that way. That approach by its very nature is a devil’s wheel that keeps on turning, turning, turning. As long as that wheel is turning, we keep traveling along the roadway to hell’s sorrow and emptiness. The only way to get off that lonely road is to jam a spoke in the wheel that’s carrying us along. We must follow a different way…
Today’s gospel text is well known and beloved by many, many people. It’s Jesus’ list of “blesseds” and, in Luke’s account, his list of “woes.” We call this text the Beatitudes. Matthew also has a Beatitudes account similar to this, during his Sermon on the Mount, but there we don’t have the woes that Jesus pronounces today. In Luke’s account, this sermon doesn’t happen on a mountain, either. It happens on a plain, “a level place” we’re told. The difference here is important from a theological perspective. In Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Mosaic law handed down on Sinai—the law that was the to be a blessing to the Hebrew people. He fulfills that law and pronounces and the listeners blessed, but in a new way.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is the bringer of justice, of God’s righteousness—the one who levels the field between those who oppress and who are oppressed, who brings the mighty down and lifts up the lowly, who feeds the hungry and tells enemies to pray for one another those who hate each other to love one another. Luke’s message of the good news is that God is turning the world’s way upside down and all around so that God’s peace, God’s shalom—the very goodness of creation itself—comes to fulfillment.
That’s a great leveling…and so this sermon is one of blessing for those who don’t experience the abundant life God intends for all people, but at the same time, this is a sermon of woe for those who can’t understand their own role in the backward way of the world. It’s not so much that Jesus is damning folks who are rich, or who laugh, or who have enough to eat. It’s that he’s telling them, “You can’t fully appreciate what the kingdom of God is about because you haven’t fully experienced what it is to rely on someone else for your basic needs.” God loves the rich and the poor alike. But God will bring rich and poor together in a way that passes our understanding—to bring about the peace of the kingdom that hasn’t been since the time we communed with God, one another, and all creation in perfect harmony.
The Beatitudes are more than simply statements, however. They’re a recipe—a recipe for the peace of God that surpasses our understanding. A recipe for that peace in our lives even now. It’s fascinating that they’re called the “beatitudes.” It’s like they’re made up of two words—“be” and “attitudes.” Jesus here is giving a list of attitudes to shape and model our lives on to find inner peace, to find true happiness, real contentment—to experience the blessings of God. Jesus tells us to be merciful to people, to be kind when they’re hurting. Jesus tells to be humble when disagreements arise. Jesus tells us to have think the best of each other’s intentions. Jesus tells us to strive to do right in our dealings. Jesus also said that when we’re sad, God comforts us and in the same way, we are to comfort those around us who find themselves in the same vicious cycle of discontent, anxiety, and unhappiness, that they might know God’s comfort through us.
But most of all, Jesus tells us to have an attitude of gratitude—that our live be lived in thanksgiving for all that God has done for us. For these beatitudes, these blessings, proceed first from the heart of God, from heaven itself—love that wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of relationship with us. That is our blessing—the blessing of God’s love that fills all things, love made real for us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That love is what turns the world around, and allows us to hear these words spoken to us today as a recipe for a blessed life, a life marked by an attitude of gratitude for God’s unwavering, unrelented love for us.
And it’s that love that fills us with blessing, a love that allows us to call ourselves blessed. And it’s this love that moves us, that so loved, we might love others as we have been loved. And so, let this be our recipe for the peaceful, fulfilled, good life God has given us. Let this be our attitude—blessed to be a blessing.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.