Sunday, September 30, 2018

How is Everyone Not Seeing The Truth of Who They Are, and How Can You See?

Do any of y’all remember the cartoon Mr. Magoo?   If you don’t, that opening theme I've given you a clip of here gives you a good idea.   Mr. Magoo, the cartoon’s only character cannot see anything.   But unlike everyone else, who can clearly and often terrifyingly see how blind Magoo is, he can’t see it at all.   And so, crazy things happen. 

But what if Mr. Magoo wasn’t only a cartoon.  What if Mr. Magoo, in some deeper way, pointed to how everyone is living their lives.   What if everyone was walking around like that, and yet no one was willing to admit it.   That wouldn’t be so funny.  That would be tragic.

And yet Jesus again and again said, people are like Mr. Magoo.  And their blindness results in broken relationships, in broken lives, in a broken world.   How is this true?  How are you like Magoo?   More crucially, if you are, how can you finally see?   In these words, Jesus points the way.  Let’s hear what Jesus has to say.

In these words, Jesus is telling you that at the core of every person the same big problem exists.  But here’s the twist.   Jesus warns you.  This problem as big as it is, isn’t really the problem.  Your problem is you can’t see the problem.   It’s not the problem that messes you up so much as your blindness to it.  Jesus says.  Only when you face the problem, will you discover the answer.

Now before, we get to the problem, we need to figure out why we can’t see it.  And a word that Jesus uses right at the center of this passage points you in the right direction.  Jesus calls the people to whom he is speaking hypocrites.   And do you know what this word literally means?  It means, actor, as in a play.  But Jesus knew.  What entertains on the stage devastates in life.

Just a few days ago, I was talking to someone about the whole Bill Cosby sentencing.  I shared how it shocked me that the loving dad of the Cosby Show had been doing these awful things.   And my friend said with a bit of an ironic smile. “I guess he was a good actor.”

Her painfully true comment gets to the heart of what Jesus is saying.   Human beings are wearing masks.   They are frauds. They are hiding who they really are.   And it’s not just the Bill Cosby’s doing the hiding.  Everyone is.

In the very beginning of the Bible, when God creates human beings, you find this curious sentence.  And the man and the woman were both naked and were not ashamed.   God isn’t telling you that Adam and Eve looked buff, had six pack abs, looking good, Adam!  No, God is saying that these two people had nothing to hide from each other, no reason to hide.   But when they fail to trust God and eat from that tree in the garden, what happens?  Nakedness ain’t so good.  So, they make clothes out of fig leaves.  Why?  They’re hiding from each other.   And then they run and hide from God.   And when God calls them out and asks what happened, Adam says, “The woman whom you gave me made me eat.”   Adam throws both God and Eve under the bus in one sentence.   Then Eve blames the snake.   But do you see what they’re doing.  They’re hiding.  That’s all that blaming is.  It’s hiding. 

It’s what Jesus means by talking about noticing the speck in your friend’s eye, when you can’t see the log in your own.  Jesus is exaggerating to make a very unexaggerated point.  Every person has this massive head injury so to speak, and they don’t see it.    But they sure see the speck in their friend’s eyes.   Jesus is pointing out a technique everyone uses to avoid facing up to how bad the problem is.   They blame.  They judge.  

If you’ve ever been married or in a serious relationship, you know what I’m talking about.  Don’t you find it easier to see your spouse or significant other’s issues than your own?  In fact, if they bring up something they don’t like about you, you can respond by saying.  Well, what about you?  You do this!   Even if you acknowledge your problem, you may not say it out loud, but inside haven’t you ever thought?   “Yeah, I’ve got that problem, but your problem. It’s a lot worse.  Or I wouldn’t even have this problem if you didn’t do this.”  Everyone finds a way to minimize, to avoid, to hide, to deny.  Everyone’s acting.  And Jesus is saying.  You don’t even realize it.  You are not just fooling others.  You are fooling yourself too.

But if we don’t realize it, why does Jesus get so upset?  If the heart of the problem is that we don’t see the problem, why does Jesus call us out?   It’s because Jesus knows.  You see it, and yet you don’t see it.

At the end of World War II, an American general, Walton Walker, came to the town of Ohrdruf, Germany.  He asked the citizens what they knew of the labor camp outside their town.  They said.  They knew nothing.  So, the General took them there to see it for themselves.   And after the visit, the Mayor of Ohrdruf and his wife went home and killed themselves.   

Now if the mayor and his wife had known, then likely it wouldn’t have devastated them enough to commit suicide. They knew already.  And if they hadn’t known, then they would have been shocked but probably not suicidal.  But you see.  They didn’t know, and yet they knew.  The horror of that led them to end their lives.  

Inside, every human being knows, they have a problem.  You may not know exactly what it is, but you know something is not right.    Otherwise, why would you hide?  And everyone is hiding, even if they don’t know what from.

If you’re super religious, obey all the rules and judge those who don’t, you’re hiding.   And if you’re super anti-religious, and think religious people are idiots, you’re hiding.   If you avoid intimate relationships, you’re hiding.  If you jump super quickly into intimate relationships, you are hiding.   The list goes on.   So, what are you hiding from? 

You are hiding from the fact that this problem you have is one you can never solve.  It is beyond you.  But rather than admit that powerlessness, you find all sorts of way to avoid facing that.  You blame others.  You blame yourself.  You work too hard.  You get too wrapped up in your relationships.   You over-indulge in food or sex or drugs or whatever, anything to dull your mind.  The list goes on.
And what can’t you solve?  You cannot solve the painful reality that everything you do is always about you.   Even if you do something good for someone, what motivates you is how good it makes you feel.  And what is that feeling?  You feel good about yourself.  That’s why you hide, why you blame others, because if you’re really honest.  You know, deep down, you don’t feel all that good about yourself.   But here’s your delusion.  You think you can solve it.   I just need to try harder or do more or get more religious or get more power or wealth or whatever.  Then I will feel good about me.   But you can’t solve this.   And whatever you are using to shore up who you are, a storm will eventually come and bring your delusion down.  

But you don’t have to solve the problem.  In Jesus, God did it for you.  What did Jesus do with that beam going through your eye?   Jesus got nailed to it.  That’s what Jesus did.  In Jesus, God came, and God gave everything to set you free of your deluded self-obsession.  And how did God do it?   God did it by loving you, loving you at your worst, loving you even when you were killing God.  In that love, that love that led God even to death, God was showing you.  Don’t you get it?  Your value comes from me, from my love.  And nothing that you can do can earn the love.   But you don’t need to do anything.  You simply need to let go and let me love you, to let go and let me love you.    And when you let go and experience that love, God’s infinite, fierce, incredibly infinite love for you, it frees you.  And you can admit your faults, because you know, your faults don’t define you.  God’s love defines you, a love that went to death and beyond for you.   And in that love, you become free to see and be seen as you are, broken yet beloved, flawed yet accepted, someone whom by God’s grace and love is being made whole.          

Sunday, September 23, 2018

How Does Facebook Show You How Your Relationships Bind You and Not in a Good Way?

I gotta admit.   It shocked me a little when I heard it.  After all, the whole thing isn’t even fifteen years old.   But that’s all it’s taken.   Christianity took two thousand years to break the two billion barrier.  They did it in 14.   And now, they’re bigger.   Does anyone know what has more members than Christianity has followers, about 2.2 billion give or take?

Facebook does.  One out of every three people on earth now belong to Facebook.    I’m one of them.  I like it.   I still check in there a few minutes every day.   And even if you are one of the new cool folks who’ve grown beyond Facebook, do the whole Instagram thing, don’t worry.  Facebook owns that one too.

Now you might say, ok, whatever.  It’s Facebook.  You share stuff, look up old friends, things like that.   But Facebook can do much more than that.   About six years ago, Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg was talking to his fiancĂ©.   She was in med school at the time.   She shared how more folks needed to become organ donors.   So, Zuckerberg added a little nudge to Facebook.   If you indicated you were an organ donor, Facebook now notified all your friends.  On the first day that feature appeared, organ donor sign-ups increased by over 2,000 percent.

And Facebook had done something similar with voting a few years before that.  And with that little nudge, they boosted voter turnout by over 300,000 people.   And that very same year Zuckerberg did his organ donor experiment, his scientists did another one.   They took 700,000 of Facebook’s users and fed them happy or sad posts.   They wanted to figure out.  Could they change people’s emotions that way.   Do you know what they discovered?  They could.

Now, why am I sharing these Facebook facts?  I’m not sharing it to deliver an anti-Facebook sermon.  Heck, I’ll post this sermon to Facebook a few hours from now.  Facebook might have its issues.  But Facebook did not create this power to persuade.  Facebook only shows you how powerful it can be.  And that power can bind you in ways more powerfully than any Facebook tweak.  In fact, it may be binding you even now in ways of which you’re hardly aware.  So how do you become free of that power?  In these words, Jesus shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

In these words, Jesus is pointing to a power that binds people in ways they hardly notice.  But Jesus is doing more than that.   Jesus is pointing the way to your freedom.   How does that freedom come?   It comes when you realize that tree freedom comes not from trading, but from giving.  And that freedom will only happen when you realize what has already been given to you.

Jesus gives you all these idealistic commands.  Love your enemies.  Pray for those who curse you.  If someone takes your cloak, give your tunic too.  Give to everyone who asks.   But why does Jesus tell you these things?   What’s the point?     

Is he just giving you some unrealistic vision of life as he’d like it to be, but one that could never really exist?   Is that the point?   No.   In giving you these extreme but actually very possible commands, Jesus is trying to get you to see the way you are already leading your life, and how that way is wrecking you in ways you might hardly see.

What is this way?   As I thought about how to explain it, a clip from a TV show came to mind.   And it makes the point by what happens at the beginning of this dinner out with friends and then what happens at the end.   Watch it for yourself and see what happens.

Now, I don’t know if anyone has ever pulled the bathroom trick on you.  But do you see what’s going on?  Why is the Larry character so upset?  Why may you even sympathize with him a bit?   It’s because like him, you orient most, if not all of your relationships, around trading.   You take me out to dinner, then I’ll take you out to dinner.   You give me a compliment, and I’ll return it.   You do me a favor, then that means I owe you one.  Right?

But in Jesus’ examples, a positive return probably won’t happen, right?  Your enemy will likely not stop being your enemy if you do good to them.  And if you pray for someone cursing you, you can be pretty sure that they’re not going to return that favor.   And when you give to someone who has nothing to begin with, they’re not going to be able to return that favor anytime soon if ever.    Jesus is giving these commands to shock people in seeing how they’re already living. 

That’s why he goes on to ask.  What’s so great about loving those who love you?  Everybody does that, even the “sinners” do that.    And Jesus uses that word “sinners” with irony.   He knows.  The religious folks listening to him think they’re all that because of their generosity or good deeds.   But Jesus is saying.   You have the same trading mentality that you condemn in these sinners.   Even if you give to the poor, you’re doing it to gain a benefit.  You want to make yourself look good or to gain appreciation for your generosity or simply get on God’s good side.  But Jesus is saying when you do that, you are showing how bankrupt you are, how totally empty.

And that same emptiness gives those Facebook nudges their power.   Sure, some folks when they saw the notification that a friend was an organ donor genuinely got inspired to do that.    But lots more did it because well, organ donation suddenly seemed the cool or worthy thing to do.   They wanted to be part of that crowd.    And the same goes for voting.  In fact, I’m sure a few folks even clicked the I voted button even though they didn’t vote at all.  They simply didn’t want to look bad, to be that non-voting Facebook friend.  And what does it say that a few happy or sad social media posts can sway people’s emotions that powerfully?  

It says what Jesus was pointing to in these words.  When it comes to love, human beings have a deficit.   They hunger for more love than they can get.   And so, they can’t give their limited love to their enemies or those who curse them.   No, you’ve gotta keep your love limited only to those who you know can return it.   And if they don’t, if the return love supply dries up, that can be devastating.  

So, you’ve got to do things that keep the love supply coming, show you’re worthy of the love, even from those virtual friendships you find on Facebook.  But do you see what this means?  This love deficit binds you.   It leads you to hold back.  It gets you caught up in worrying about how others see you.  It makes you wonder if they believe you are worthy of love or affection.  You can’t be free to love your enemies or the poor like Jesus asks, because you simply don’t have enough love in you to be that reckless.

A few weeks ago, I was watching this show called SharkTank.  Has anyone ever seen it?  Basically, folks come with some fledging business and do a pitch to get one of five very rich people to invest.   In this episode, these two guys had come up with this idea to write a greeting on a potato and send it to people.  They called it a potato-parcel.  And they wanted a 100 grand from one of these folks to buy ten percent of their company.   And do you know what?  One of those rich sharks bit.   Kevin O’Leary gave them $50,000.00.   By the way, it turned out to be a decentinvestment.  Some folks really like shelling out ten bucks to send a potato through the mail. 

But here’s the big difference between Kevin O’Leary and me.   He could afford to lose 50 grand, if it didn’t pan out.  He’d still be crazy rich.   But not me.   For me 50,000.00 is a lot of money.

And Jesus is saying that when it comes to love, everyone finds themselves like that with a very limited balance, a love deficit even.   So, you can’t give your love to just anybody, and certainly not an enemy.  You don’t have that much love to go around.   In fact, you’re out there hunting for love yourself.  It’s why Facebook can persuade you like that.  They promise a little dose of the love you’re craving. 

But Jesus is telling you here.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  You don’t have to have a love deficit.  When it comes to love, you have access to wealth beyond your wildest dreams. 

After all, Jesus points out, that God is showering the good and the evil with kindness all the time.   God doesn’t hold back.   Why?  God doesn’t need to.   God has unending stores of love to give away.  God doesn’t even need any return on the investment.   God simply loves to love.  And God never gets tired of doing it.   What I say every week is stunningly true.   God does love you no matter what.

And Jesus didn’t simply tell you that.  Jesus showed you that.  For when people killed and cursed him on that cross.  What did he do?  He prayed for them.  He even asked God to forgive them.  Through that horrible agony, he turned again and again to face them with love.   In fact, Jesus came to that cross because you, like all of humanity had become lost, had lost touch with the love.   And so, Jesus came to open the way for you to have that love again.  And in Jesus, God offered up everything to make that possible.

And when you know that love, the infinity of the love God has for you, it frees you.   As you let that love fill you, it frees you to love others, even the most unlovable as never before.   And you find as you give your love, God pours more love in, so much your life can’t even contain it.  It runs out of your lap.   Do you want that sort of love, that abundance of love?   Then simply realize you already have it.   All you need to do is open your hand.        

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What is the One Way Religion and the Way of Jesus Radically Differ?

Do you know who really bugs me?   
Religious people bug me.   
I could tell you why, 
but a guy named Jefferson Bethke 
said it pretty well.   And his words have 
over 33 million views on You Tube.......  

So, I’m going to 
                      let him 
                               tell you. 

Have you heard this idea that Bethke lays out, Jesus not religion?   You don’t have to go too far to prove it.   Just look at Jesus.   When it came to people who were really messing up, even traitors to his country, Jesus welcomed them.  But no one bugged him more than religious people, not bad religious people, but even really good ones.   What was Jesus’ problem?  In these words, Jesus points the way.  Let’s hear what Jesus has to say. 

You don’t have to go far in the stories of Jesus to find conflicts Jesus has with religious people.  They happened all the time.  They got so bad that religious people even worked with non-religious to kill him.   But what was the problem?  When you listen to words like we just heard, religious folks should have loved that stuff.   Some did.  But most didn’t.  You see. Jesus was bringing a revolution, but not a revolution that changed things on the outside.   Jesus brought a revolution that changed things on the inside, in how people think.   And that revolution, religious people did not get.   In fact, lots still don’t.

In Bethke’s performance, did you catch it?  This guy thought he got the whole Jesus thing.   He thought he was a Christian.  He hung out with Christians. He attended a Christian church.  He did the whole Christian deal.   But even then, he still didn’t get it.   What didn’t he get?

In the words you just heard, and actually in this whole thing, called the sermon on the mount, Jesus is making a contrast.   But Jesus isn’t making a contrast between people doing good things and people doing bad things.    Jesus is making a contrast between two types of people who are both doing good things.  They both pray.  They both do good deeds.  They both try to live by the Ten Commandments. They both connect to a religious community.  On the outside they look the same. But inside something radically different is going on.  

It’s why at the very end of the sermon, Jesus gives these three images of this contrast.   Jesus talks about two path, two trees, two houses.   He says one of these paths leads to life, and the other to death.  One of these trees will feed you, and the other will make you sick.   And one of these houses can withstand anything, but the other house will collapse when the storm hits.  But do you see what each image has in common?    On the outside all these things look much the same.   In fact, with the path, Jesus even tells you that the wrong path appears to be the most attractive, to be the best.
In this sermon, Jesus isn’t so much giving you direction on how to live a good life.   Jesus is painting a contrast between two ways of being good, one that will give you life, and one that will destroy you.   

If you look into the sermon, you’ll see.  Jesus never says something like.   This is what bad people do, and this is what good people do.   He doesn’t say.  Here’s the difference between people who pray and people who don’t.   No, Jesus says this instead.   Lots of people pray like this.  But I tell you to pray like that.   Or he’ll say. Lots of people give to the poor like this.  But I tell you to give to the poor like this.     Lots of people obey the ten commandments like this.  But I tell you to obey them like that.  Do you see what Jesus is telling you?  Jesus is saying.  Two ways exist in the world to live a good, upright life.   But one of those ways will poison you.    One will fall apart in tough times.   One will lead towards your destruction. 

Look at how Jesus puts it in the words we read.  Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, and whoever performs and teaches it will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.   Sure you’d like to be in the great group.  But here’s the good news, whether least or great, you’re still in.  But hold on, then Jesus says this.  For I tell you that, unless your uprightness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, the most religious of Jesus’ day, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Did Jesus just contradict himself?   No, Jesus is saying.  What I’m bringing you surpasses, goes beyond religion.   My gospel, my good news goes deeper than the religious stuff that the Scribes and Pharisees teach.   Now, how does it go beyond?   How does it go deeper?

Jesus points to that in the words we just read.  Jesus talks about two types of folks who have a light.  They just do different things with it.  One puts it under a basket.  The other puts it up on a lampstand.   In other words, both are doing good deeds, but in one case the good deeds get obscured.  And in the other, it shines out for all to appreciate. And that’s the first way you see the difference in these two ways, how they relate to the world around them.  People who get Jesus’ message will be, as the preacher Tim Keller puts it, attracted to, and attractive to, people who don’t believe what they do or live how they live. In other words, they bring their light out into the world.   And people, even people who disagree with them, are glad they do.

But religious people get repelled by those same folks.  They separate themselves from them.    In other words, they keep their light under this basket.  And the folks these religious folks don’t like are happy they do.  They don’t want their light.   These religious folks repel them right back.
The salt image points to the same idea.  What does salt do?   It makes things more flavorful, more tasty.   But if I put salt on some fish, I don’t say.   Boy, that was good salt.  No, I say.  Gosh that fish tasted wonderful.   People who get Jesus’ message don’t necessarily call attention to themselves.   But when people encounter them, they typically feel better after the encounter than before.   On the other hand, when folks encounter religious people, they often feel worse.  They feel judged, evaluated, looked down upon.  What’s the difference? 

Jesus tells a little story warning about someone who notices a speck in their friend’s eye, while ignoring the plank in their own.  But those who get Jesus’ way do the opposite of hid example. They always evaluate the flaws in the lives of others as specks and see their own as planks.  Now, why do they do that?  They don’t do it because they’re feeling terrible about themselves or have a horrible self-image.   They are doing it because they understand at a deeper level what the real problem is.  It’s the problem that Jesus is getting to when he talks about that your uprightness going beyond that of Scribes and Pharisees.   When Jesus said that, he must have shocked everyone.   That’s why he takes most of the rest of the sermon on the mount to clarify what he means. 

Jesus basically goes through the ten commandments to explain the difference.  With each one, he points to the same issue.  He says.  Religious folks focus on outward compliance, not doing the bad thing.  But I want to focus on something deeper.  I want to focus on what’s going on in your heart.  When your heart is right, the outward stuff takes care of itself. 

Let’s take how Jesus talks about murder.   Religious people will tell you as long you’re not killing people, you’re good.   But Jesus says.   If you despise folks or disregard them or belittle them, then you’ve killed them, at least in your heart.  And he does this same thing with all sorts of issues, adultery and lust, telling the truth, vengeance and forgiveness.  In each one, he drills down past whatever you are doing on the outside, to what is really happening inside.  And in doing this, Jesus is simply saying this.  I don’t want you to change on the outside.   I want to see you changed on the inside.  I want to see your inner life transformed.    Jesus wants that to happen, because Jesus realizes the truth.

At the heart, when religion drives your life, it drives you with the same two things that drive people who are doing bad things.    It drives you with fear and with pride.  What do I mean?  Let’s say you have someone who lies.   Why do they lie?   Maybe they lie because they’re scared they’ll lose a deal or a relationship, something they value.   Or maybe they lie because they don’t want to look bad or because they enjoy pulling a fast one, showing they’re the smart one, in other words, pride. 
And why does a religious person not lie?   Well, they don’t lie because maybe they’re afraid God will get them or others will find out.   Or maybe you don’t lie, because you say to yourself.  I’m not like those folks who lie.  I’m better than that.  I tell the truth.  But in both cases, the same stuff drives both people – fear and pride.    

So, what changes your heart?  What breaks you free of this fear and pride.  Jesus points to it when he talks about letting your light shine.   What will people do when that happens?  They will give glory, Jesus says, to your father in heaven.   And in that simple word for God, Jesus is pointing to the truth that changes everything.   What changes your heart?  It’s when you know who you really are, when you know you really are God’s child.   It’s when you know how infinitely God values you, how deeply he loves you.  After all, why do religious people do what they do?   They do it to get value, to feel valued, worthy.  But those who get Jesus’ way, why do they do good?  They know.  They know how already valued, how worthy they are.  They get it.  God isn’t their boss.  God is their daddy, their mommy.  When you screw up with your boss, your boss might fire you.  But when you screw up with your parents, they won’t like it, but fire you?  No way.  If anything, their love for you grows more intense.

And when you look at God in Jesus, you see how intense God’s love for you is.  God loved you so much that when you got lost, God did everything to find you.  In Jesus, God even gave up everything, even God’s life to bring you home.    And when you know that, how deeply God loves you, how intensely, how infinitely, that changes your heart.   It changes you as nothing else can, including religion. It changes you inside and out.      

Sunday, September 9, 2018

How Fulfillment Only Comes When You Think in Upside Down Ways, When you Live the Opposite Life

I admit it.  I still get nostalgic.  I miss those days when Kramer crashed through the door.    
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, 
then you didn’t watch as much Seinfeld as I did.  If you’re a fan, 
you likely have your favorite episodes.  

One of mine is this one. 

Now that makes for a funny moment, but what if it’s true?  What if you and I are living in a world like that.  What if almost all the messages the world gives you about life are wrong.  What if instead you need to be doing the opposite?   What if only doing the opposite will bring you the life God created you to have? 

In the words, you are about to hear, Jesus points the way.  Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say. 

Do you find the words we just read familiar?   Almost certainly they are.  Jesus’ words here and in Matthew have become some of the most famous words in history.  But what do they mean?   Basically, Jesus is telling you this.  Much of what the world tells you will bring you happiness won’t.  Instead, only the opposite of that will bring you the happiness you seek.

And Jesus intends these words to be as shocking as they sound.  Jesus has come to completely overturn conventional wisdom.   Jesus has come to generate a revolution, but not one that overturns some power figure.  Jesus has come to do something more significant than that.  Jesus has come to overturn the way you think.  

You can tell that Jesus brings a revolution by where he delivers these messages. In both versions, Jesus deliver this message around mountains.  In Matthew, he’s on one.  In Luke, he’s coming off one. The fact that Jesus chooses those settings tells you everything about how radical he intends his message to be.

After all, where do revolutions begin?   Years ago, I worked in El Salvador with some Christians, who had been veterans of the Civil War there.  They had fought with the revolutionaries.  But they became disillusioned with the violence and turned towards other ways to help the poor.   One day, I was talking with one of those Christians with whom we worked, Misael, about the war.  He pointed in the distance to the mountain, Guazapa.  He said.  That’s where I used to fight.  It made sense.  That’s where revolutions start, in the mountains.  Why?  Those places are harder for the powers to get to and easier for the rebels to defend.  And what was true in El Salvador, was equally true where Jesus lived too.  So, when Jesus gives this message in the mountains, he is announcing the beginning of his own revolution, a revolution in the way you think.    

And he begins that revolution by telling you what will actually bring you bliss.  That’s the best way to translate that word, blessed.   Jesus is saying how blissful are the poor for yours is the kingdom of God.  But how can that even be possible?   But think about it.  The United States has become the wealthiest nation in history.   But are Americans all that blissful?

But still how does poverty bring you bliss?   Well, when Jesus talks about poverty here, he’s going deeper than material poverty.   He is talking about a poverty everyone has, rich and poor.   Every human being has the same problem, Jesus is saying.  Deep within, they are poor.  They have an emptiness that nothing can fill.  

Now, wealth does a better job of covering that emptiness up.   It anesthetizes you with all sorts of distractions.  That’s what Jesus means when he says.  Alas you who are rich, for you have your comfort.  If you have the comfort of wealth, it can hide from you what you desperately need.    But when you are poor or hungry or grieving, that inner emptiness is easier to find.  You have less to distract you from it.

Still both rich or poor can miss the boat on what Jesus is saying.  The martyred Salvadoran bishop, Oscar Romero put it well.   The person who feels the emptiness of hunger for God is the opposite of the self-sufficient person.  In this sense, rich means the proud, rich means even the poor who have no property, but who think they need nothing, not even God.  This is the wealth, Romero, says, that is abominable in God’s eyes.

So, what is this empty self-sufficiency that Jesus is pointing to?   It’s a self-sufficiency that denies your lack, that denies how self-obsessed you are; how it captures you, fills you with insecurities and fear.    And if you don’t think you have that problem, let me ask you one question. 

When you find yourself in a group picture, where do you first look?   You look at yourself, right? And why do you do that?   You’re pondering questions like these.  How do I look?   Do I look better or worse than the other folks?  Do I have a goofy smile?   And behind all those questions, lies what? - anxiety about your acceptability, about your attractiveness, anxiety about you.  And we’re just talking a group picture.   Even that, points you to the problem. 

Jesus is saying until you acknowledge your need, your emptiness, your hunger for love and acceptance, you will never have the bliss God intended you to have.   But when you do, it opens to you the entire Kingdom of God.  It opens to you a bounty of abundance that goes beyond anything you could imagine. 

And as you begin to taste the abundance, you’ll want more.  You’ll hunger for it. And as you hunger, God will fill you up.   God will fill you up with a sense of security, with peace, with well-being that as it grows, nothing, not even death will be able to shake.

Now on the other hand, you can fill yourself up with all sorts of other junk, stuff that will distract you from your real need.   Yet, at some point, you’ll come to a painful realization.  All that stuff isn’t really filling you.   It’s only covering up the emptiness, the emptiness that has always been there, but that you have always denied.   That’s why Jesus says.  Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.  
Still when that bounty of God’s love and acceptance comes, grief comes along too.  What brings the grief?   It comes with facing up to that emptiness.  As God fills you, it becomes more and more clear, how far you still need to go, how often you still get caught up in anxiety or self-justification or self-righteousness.  It’s why saints never think they’re saints.  They know. The deeper they go with God, the more they see how much God still needs to change them.  And it does bring them grief.  Yet that very grief opens the way to joy.  That very grief opens the way to the very transformation you and I need.  Another word for this grief is the word repentance.  That is the sort of grieving Jesus is talking about.  And what does repentance mean?  It means a change of mind, in the way you think.   Your realization of your poverty leads you to a grief.  And this grief opens you to a transformation of your mind, of your very thinking, that brings you a joy that cannot be shaken by anything.

Now as this thinking revolutionizes your life, it will freak people out.   To quote the writer Flannery O’Connor.   She said. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.   After all, you’ll be running against the current of the times, even the current of how many religious people think.  Jesus got killed for preaching this revolution.  And the religious and the non-religious even teamed up to do the job.     

Now, in our culture, Christianity still has some cachet.  And our nation has enshrined religious freedom as no other.  So you won’t encounter the resistance that hits many Christians around the world.   But as you live more and more in this way, you will encounter people who will find it hard to get you, who won’t understand.   And if you’ve got this, really got this, then this resistance won’t freak you out nor will it make you feel superior.  After all, it’s not like you’re any better or worse than anyone else.   You’re simply a beggar that has found the bread.   And you have no need to feel superior to anyone anyway.  You already know other people’s opinions don’t determine your value.  God does that. 

But if you haven’t gotten that, then people’s opinions will matter.  They will lead you to even be false to yourself to win their approval, just as Jesus warns about those false prophets.   

Now how can you know that this upside-down way of Jesus works?   You can know because Jesus didn’t simply speak the words, he lived them.  He came as someone literally poor.  And as he died, he emptied himself even to death.   He cried out in hunger.  He experienced utter grief and abandonment even by his closest friends.   Even his own religious leaders, excluded, reviled and defamed him.   Yet, in that revolutionary act, Jesus overturned the old order forever.  And since his death, the world has never been the same.   In fact, his death, even overturned death.  That’s how powerful this way is.  It frees you from everything, even from death itself. 

And as you follow in his way, as you acknowledge your poverty and hunger, as you face up to your grief and regret, Jesus will open the way for you.   He will open the way to his kingdom, to his bliss.   Jesus will fill you.  He will fill you with laughter and with joy.   And as Jesus does, by his love, he will enable you to become everything God has created you to be, both now and forever.