Sermon: November 6, 2022

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"May God Be With You”

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

We recently completed a short-term study that I like to call “Methodism 101.” The purpose of the course is to help us understand what it means to be called Methodist and in the past, I’ve had people tell me that they grew up in the United Methodist Church but still learned something new.

During one of our sessions, I shared that John Wesley preached not less than 15 sermons a week—many times more. He was known to preach 3 sermons a day and travel 40 miles on horseback to do so. So, if we take his 54 years of service and multiply it by 15, we get 42,400 sermons, besides other exhortations he might have given. I think I figured I’d have to live to be over 400 years-old to meet Mr. Wesley’s sermon total.

Our text this morning is a portion of one of Jesus’ most famous sermons. You know, we really have no idea how many sermons Jesus preached. Our Bible gives us a kind of Readers Digest condensed form of His short three-year ministry. We do know that when He preached in His hometown the folks were, at first, impressed with His great knowledge. But when He stepped on some toes, they wanted to throw Him off the cliff. In John’s Gospel we find these words, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them was written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

These verses in our text this morning are called the “Beatitudes,” from the Latin word meaning “blessing.” Some refer to this sermon by Jesus as His “Sermon on the Plain,” while the same “Beatitudes” are shared by Matthew in what many consider to be the more famous, “Sermon on the Mount.”

They describe what it means to be a follower of Jesus—give His standards of conduct—and contrast kingdom values with worldly values. They show what Jesus’ followers can expect from the world and what God will provide for them. In addition, they contrast fake piety with true humility. They also show how Old Testament expectations are fulfilled in God’s kingdom.

Jesus spoke to the poor, the nobodies—and blessed them. They were accustomed to being cursed, ignored, or blamed—as we see in our world today. Don’t know about any of you but there have been times in my life like I belonged to this crowd. Maybe that’s why I still struggle with an inferiority complex. But with Jesus, we all belong! How awesome is Jesus?

He isn’t issuing commandments, much less doling out advice for a chipper life. He blesses, He embraces, loves, knows, recognizes, and gives hope to the hopeless, to the people nobody else wants—and then He brings down a “Woe” on the big dogs, those who think they’re somebody, and especially the self-righteous.

Jesus doesn’t bless the good-looking, the successful, and the well-connected just as He doesn’t say “woe” to the immigrant, the unemployed, the lonely or the homeless.

Jesus ends this portion of His Sermon on the Plain with what has become what we think of as the “Golden Rule.” “Do to others as you would have them do to you.

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount Jesus is recorded as saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Maybe this speaks to us a little better on this All Saints Sunday. Yes, we mourn, indeed—but we grieve as those who have hope. “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

In 1998 Fred Rogers turned 70. You know who I’m talking about, right? At that time in his life and career he had already won 3 Daytime Emmy awards and now he went onstage to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award. In front of all the soap-opera stars and talk-show hosts, writers and directors, pundits and producers, Fred made his familiar small bow, smiled, and said, “Oh, it’s a beautiful night in the neighborhood.” When the applause died down, he said, “So many people have helped me come to this night. Some of you are here. Some are far away. And some are even in heaven.”

Then, as he always did, Mr. Rogers put himself in the background and his audience in the foreground. He said, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life—10 seconds of silence.”

Then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said softly, “I’ll watch the time.” At first there was a small whop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized he wasn’t kidding. He actually expected them to do what he asked…and so they did.

1 second, 2 seconds, 3 seconds…and now the jaws clenched, and the chest heaved, and the mascara ran, and tears fell on the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier.

At the end of ten seconds Mister Rogers looked up from his watch and said, “Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. May God be with you.”

So, for the next ten seconds. I want you to think about someone that helped you become the person you are. It might be a person that one of our candles represent here on our altar. It might be someone else. Someone here—someone far away—or even someone in heaven. Don’t look at your watches—I’ll do that—10 seconds.

Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. May God be with you.

Thanks be to God!

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