Sermon for Sunday, February 13, 2022 – “Blessed are the Desperate”

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany  – Rev. Amy Zalk Larson – Good  Shepherd Lutheran Church    Decorah, Iowa

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Author Philip Yancey tells a story about being invited to the White House to advise President Clinton. The invitation came when Yancey was deep into a study on our Gospel reading for today. He reports that he couldn’t get this text out of his mind as he prepared his remarks for Clinton.

He wondered how it should influence his advice to Clinton.

Yancey knew he didn’t want to say something like, well Mr. President, first I want to advise you to stop worrying so much about unemployment. Don’t you understand that those who are poor and hungry are the fortunate ones? The more poverty and hunger we have in the U.S., the more bless- ed we are. And don’t spend so much time worrying about health care; blessed are those who weep for they will be comforted. And really, stop worrying about hate crimes because people are bless- ed when others hate them. Yancey was pretty sure this type of advice was not what Jesus meant.

So, what does Jesus mean by the blessings and woes we just heard? What should we do with this reading, especially those of us who are comfortable and privileged? To be clear, Jesus is speaking about physical poverty, hunger, riches and fullness here. The Gospel of Matthew softens this a bit using beautiful phrases like: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But the Gospel of Luke says: “Blessed are you who are poor”- full stop; “Blessed are you who are hungry”- as in not knowing where the next meal will come from, how the kids will get fed kind of hungry.

So, is Jesus saying we are all supposed to become poor, hungry, weeping and hated so that we will be blessed? Should we who have more things wallow in guilt, romanticize the poor, do everything we can to avoid being happy? I don’t think so. Before Jesus spoke these words, he did everything he could to alleviate suffering. He fed the hungry and healed the sick and raised the dead. Jesus is all about healing, joy, freedom, abundance!

I think we miss the point if we hear these blessings and woes as instructions for life, advice about how to get on God’s good side. They aren’t telling us what we should do. Instead, Jesus’s words show us who God is and reveal our deep need for God. We see in these words God’s heart for people who are in need. They demonstrate what Catholic scholars have identified as “God’s preferen- tial option for the poor.” As one author puts it, “God’s blessing rests on those who have absolutely nothing to fall back on in this world. No credit line, no nest egg, no fan base, no immunity. If we want to know where God’s heart is, we must look to the world’s most reviled, wretched, shamed, and desperate people.”  Though the world may think that those who are poor and hungry are abandoned and God-forsaken, nothing could be further from the truth. God is so very close to those who are most in need. If we want to find God, we need look no further than the local food pantry.

These words of Jesus also help us to know our dependence on God. In them we discover an important truth. We are blessed when we are empty, vulnerable, in need, for then we know we need help and we are more open to the blessings that God so freely gives. We are blessed when we are desperate, for then we are ready to receive, then we are able to see what God’s blessings really are.

God’s blessings are not riches and success, not quick answers to all our prayers. God isn’t some talk show host in the sky saying, “You get a car, you get a car, you get a car.” Instead, God blesses us with what matters most. God gives fullness of joy no matter the circumstance, laughter that bubbles up from the dry, empty places, persistent hope, and love that will not let us go. God also gives us what we need to see and participate in God’s kingdom, God’s economy, God’s intention for creation. In God’s economy, there is enough for all. As we participate in it, we find we can receive without grasping and hoarding and let blessings flow through us to others. 

We are more ready to receive all these blessings when we are empty and hurting. That’s not to say when we’re desperate, we always turn to God, we don’t. Yet when everything’s coming up roses and things are going our way, it is easy to be smug and full of ourselves. And then there isn’t room for God’s fullness. We start to think we must really be special, that we clearly deserve everything good in our lives. We miss the truth that we are dependent on God for life, for each new day, for daily bread, for love, for grace upon grace. We start to look down on others rather than humbly standing with open hands in awe, in gratitude for all that God so freely pours upon us all.

When we live full of ourselves, we miss out on the life God wants us all to know – a life of abundance and joy. So, Jesus speaks words of blessing and woe again and again, in every season of our lives. When we are empty, Jesus brings words of comfort and good news: God is near, blessed are you, you are not alone. When we are full of ourselves, Jesus brings words of judgment – woe to you. Jesus convicts us of our sin and our need for God.  

And Jesus doesn’t stop with these words of blessing and woe. He also works God’s healing and abundance for all of us. Jesus calls us into relationship with those who are in need so that all people, rich and poor, can be healed. Jesus showers us with mercy and forgiveness so that our grasping hands will be opened to receive and to share. Jesus feeds us with a foretaste of the feast we’ll share in God’s kingdom.

We are all dependent upon God.

We each are given all that we need.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.