Luke 6:12-26 “Blessed”
The sermon title this morning is the same as what I see on so many cars and trucks around the island. Those little blessed trucks are just everywhere! On Wednesday morning I drove my wife out to the airport. We left Waimea at 5 in the morning, so the traffic into Lihue was just fine. The traffic coming back was a little too much for me. You see, I got stuck behind one of those “blessed” trucks. They were traveling 35 in the 50 zone. I was in that incredible line of some two hundred cars stretching the entire length of the Westside. All of us waiting for the blessed truck to go!
What does it mean to be blessed? Jesus states four times in our text for today that Christian believers can be blessed in their lives. What is that exactly?
The Greek word that we have here for “blessed” is μακαριος. A most literal translation of this word is “Happy.” There are a few Bibles today that will use the word “happy” rather than “blessed.” The Good News Bible, for instance, translates the Greek into the English with the word “happy.” That is Good News!
I think about being a “happy Christian” in today’s world. Sometimes being a Christian just is not fun. I do not know how happiness actually fits into things. Jesus said after all: “Take up your Cross and follow.” (Mt 16:24) That sounds kind of “unhappy” if you ask me.
Was Jesus a happy guy? Going back to our scripture for today, Jesus goes off to a mountain to pray all by himself the whole nightlong. He did not sleep. He did not have company other than God. He could have been down partying with all His disciples. Does that sound like a whole bunch of fun?
I was thinking that we really need to understand the term “happy” or “blessed” here. Are you happy that you came to worship this morning? Are you happy in general? The idea is that you have good feelings because some part of your life has been fulfilled. You sense goodness around you. It is like when God created all of Creation then looked back at the Creation and said “good, good.: You see, God was satisfied and in that WE were blessed!
I want us to take this to heart this morning that even in the worst of times, we can see God’s blessings. We can do this when we realize that our being happy does not depend on our being satisfied but rather in our recognizing that God’s plan for our lives is being satisfied. That is the essence of being blessed.
Again, consider that “blessed truck’ that I had to follow in all the way from Lihue going so slow: Two things: First I got to hear the end of a really inspiring sermon on the radio that had a bit of a metaphysical twist at the end. I might have missed the end of that message if I had traveled faster. Secondly, as we did finally make it into Waimea, the fire trucks pulled out right in front of the blessed truck and headed out to Kekaha. Lucky for them, all the traffic was behind, almost as if waiting for them to go off on their emergency. Okay, that “blessed truck” might have actually been a blessing! It might have even saved a life!
Let me give you another example: Two weeks ago, all the UCC clergy gathered in Kapaa at the First Hawaiian Church for 7 hours of what is called “Boundary Training.” It is basically an ethics course for ministers. It is a reminder for us not to steal money from the offering plate and the like. Well, that was fine, but the 7 hours of sitting on a hard wooden pew left most of us a bit indisposed. At the end of the meeting, someone called out, “Let us take a group picture because it is rare to have all the pastors in one place.”
Now, I have to give credit where credit is due: It was not I but another pastor who shared aloud: “Good thing we are wearing Covid masks because I do not think I could force a smile right now.” Okay, there is at least one blessing that comes from wearing a mask, and that is that the rest of the world does not have to see you grimace! A second blessing I pass on to you: I was thoroughly reminded of how hard it is to sit in a hard position for too long. So, I think I will keep the sermon to a reasonable amount of time for all of your sakes!
Yes, I think we can always find a blessing as Christians: I few months back I had my regularly scheduled colonoscopy—what a blessing it was to get a very fine egg salad sandwich in a brown paper bag upon leaving the hospital. Helen is away right now, visiting our daughter in Austin, so what a blessing that the housecat is being super friendly with me again!
In our text for this morning, we see that Jesus calls his disciples. He is standing among all those would-be followers of his Way, and he chooses just twelve to be not just disciples, but also apostles. We always talk about the 12 Disciples. Yet, we see that there were a whole bunch more than just twelve. The early church Father Hippolytus counted and named 70 in fact. So, these twelve were the ones who were not just called to be disciples but also blessed to be Apostles. They were called to satisfy God’s plan.
A disciple is simply a “student.” Jesus is the teacher, and anyone who is listening and taking in his teachings is a disciple. There is a whole denomination of Christians who in fact call themselves “Disciples of Christ.” There is no Disciples of Christ church on this island, but we are all in fact true disciples of Christ when we choose to follow His teachings.
Jesus also calls his 12 disciples “apostles.” Apostles are those who are sent out in the name of Jesus to expand the teachings. These twelve will not just be students who graduate at the end. They will be his apprentices who will take over the job of teaching when Jesus is gone.
To be sure, it does not end well for any of these twelve disciples. We know already that Judas committed suicide by hanging himself. Ten of the other disciples are summarily martyred for their faith in the end. Only John the beloved disciple escapes martyrdom, yet he is banished to the small island of Patmos where he will pen his Revelation.
So, when I sign up to be a disciple of Jesus, what exactly am I signing up for? In verse 20 on, we get Jesus’ answer to that question.
Look now at verse 20: “Jesus looked up at his disciples and said. . . .” If your individual Bible does not say that Jesus “looked up” to his disciples, then please note that that is exactly what it says in the Greek. “Jesus looked up.” Where was Jesus that he would look up to the disciples? Was he seated on the ground? That could well be. You see, in the old days students were not always told to “sit down.” The students had no chairs or desks anyway. Very often students would stand. The teacher, being the elder, would take a seat. Another reason I should not complain about sitting in a hard pew for 7 hours—in Jesus’ time I would have had to stand the whole time!
When I lived in Greece, the church on the island still had no seats. Everyone stood up. The Russian orthodox churches I attended in Russia also had no seats—except for the patriarchs! You see, it is a great blessing to have pews after all!
So, it would seem, that Jesus is indeed seated while his disciples are standing up around him so that Jesus must look up to his disciples. Every teacher must look up (idiomatically) to his or her students. Why?
This was not in the “Boundary Training” session, but I believe it is the basis of all ethics in the congregational church: The teacher, or pastor, looks up to the people of the church. He or she understands the role of being servant, just as Christ served the purpose of God with His disciples!
Jesus is looking up to His disciples—looking up to us still today—and he tells us what the discipleship will mean in terms of our lives. We know these lines as “beatitudes.” “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” Some of his disciples gave up their fishing boats. Others gave up their homes and livelihoods—such as being a tax collector as we just read about Matthew two weeks ago. Already they are experiencing poverty.
Jesus continues on about food: “blessed are the hungry. . . .” Remember that Jesus was up on the mountain praying all night. His disciples were waiting for him in that level area where they are now. Were they hungry? Had they eaten? Chances are that they were waiting for their teacher before eating whatever it is that they might have had on hand. Yet, they do not partake of a meal together. The disciples are still hungry.
I believe that discipleship might be best described as “hunger,” hunger for righteousness, hunger for grace, hunger for God, and hunger for meaning in life.
“Blessed are those who weep.” Discipleship is about weeping. Crying out against the world’s injustices, weeping for struggles of the faith, and weeping for those whom we love so dearly who are not yet of the faith.
“Blessed are those when people hate you. . . .” This last week I had a talk with our Russian hanai daughter Nelli about this. She complained that people now would instantly hate her because she is Russian. She said that she did not want others to know that she was Russian. And, I am German, so that is not much better, I told her. It is really a hard thing to be hated by others because you are who you are. And, we choose to follow Jesus. WE choose to love, and not to hate; and the world hates that!
All these blessings are followed with inverted “Woes.” It is like that rock song that goes “woe, woe, woe. . . “ This is also very much the sound made while speaking the Greek word here. “Ouai” in the Greek. The sound of spitting something out of the mouth!
Whatever we experience as Christians in this world, the sacrifices we make for our faith, will be nothing like woes we would otherwise experience if we had no faith at all.
Welcome to the true discipleship of Jesus. It is not always easy and not always fun. Your life will have meaning, however. And, you will be blessed. Amen.