Jesus turns our assumptions about God’s blessings upside down. (Listen.)
Have you ever noticed how few people at this church drive a Porsche? Or how little time and money most of them spend on fashion? Have you noticed how rarely they go on big fancy trips? Or how often they buy things second hand or fair trade? Do you understand the choices that many of them have made?
A couple of them trained as accountants. They could have followed the money and become incredibly rich: but they chose to care for children and other growing things, instead. A couple others are lawyers. They could have focussed on big corporate clients; or they could have become politically powerful; but they chose to serve poor and vulnerable people. Someone else was climbing the ranks at a huge multinational, but then he changed direction: he became a public school teacher. Another also worked for a big corporate firm in Sydney; she moved away from the money as well. And so the list goes on. In other words, most of the adults here have chosen to move away from some mainstream values and culture.
What do I mean by this? Well, wherever you go and wherever you look, you see stuff and hear stuff which assumes stuff like this:
Money is a reward for someone’s innate qualities and gifts: blessed are the rich.
Power is handed down by God, and those who have it can do and take what they like: blessed are the powerful.
Innocent people should never suffer, and those who suffer must have done something to cause their own suffering: blessed are the carefree.
Winning is a sign of talent and effort, and has nothing to do with inheritance or privilege or luck; blessed are the winners.
Smart people fool others and pay no taxes: blessed are the tricky.
There’s nothing better than being liked, even adored, by thousands: blessed are the popular.
And there are lots of people, perhaps friends, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, teachers, even preachers, who think this stuff, and who might even call themselves Christian. Our Prime Minister certainly seems to believe this, and he goes to a very big church.
But here at Sanctuary, we have some different ideas. Because we’ve noticed that people tend to make big money when other people suffer or the earth and the rivers are destroyed. We’ve also noticed that too much money and too much power can make you proud and mean, and you stop caring about anyone but yourself. You only have to look at media moguls, mining magnates, presidents and prime ministers to see the truth of this.
We’ve noticed that being happy-go-lucky can also mean not caring for other people; and that being a winner or being tricky often comes at other people’s expense.
As for people who are popular, especially on the internet: well, they are often very sad and lonely on the inside, the sort of people who are constantly seeking approval and are never authentic, never happy with themselves, and never satisfied.
So we don’t agree with what most people think about wealth, power or popularity: we don’t think these things are blessings or worth striving for. And so most of the adults here have moved away from these goals, and are aiming for other goals, instead.
It’s because they follow Jesus, who pretty much says, ‘Blessed are the losers.’ In heaven’s culture, he says, the poor are blessed; and those with no sense of entitlement are blessed. In other words, those who don’t really care about what they wear or how fancy their car is or how big their house is. They are not possessed by their possessions; they don’t keep looking at what other people have; they know how to share: and so their hearts are free.
Jesus also reckons these other people are blessed:
- people who grieve
- people who don’t push others around
- people who care about fairness, and work for it
- people who don’t have any tricks up their sleeve
- people who are ‘stoppers, not starters’ when fights begin
- people who are insulted because they stand up for others, or for what they believe in, or for living into the deep truth of their lives.
Jesus gives different reasons for each of these blessings, but they all add up to one thing: these people live by the culture of heaven. They already know great kindness and great joy, and they are channels for God’s love in this world.
So as you head into another year of learning, we ask that you work hard, try hard, and play fair in everything you do. And we also ask you to remember these things:
If you have to choose between looking good and loving, choose loving.
If you have to choose between joining the teasing crowd and standing up for the person being teased, if you can, choose to stand up for the person being teased.
If you have to choose between starting a fight and stopping it, choose stopping it.
If you have to choose between taking and sharing, choose sharing.
If you have to choose between being tricky and being truthful, choose being truthful.
And for you older students: As you think about your future, and investigate careers:
If you have to choose between power and status versus humble service, choose humble service.
If you have to choose between wealth and hyper-busyness versus simplicity, trust God to provide you with everything you need, and choose the path where you might encounter Jesus.
Power, wealth and popularity can seem very attractive. They’re what most people are striving for, but they really are dead ends. In the long run, as many of the adults here have noticed, they hollow people out. People who aim for power, wealth and popularity become proud, cruel, and lonely; and they are never satisfied.
So if you want a good life, remember: it’s not a competition. Instead, it’s about loving, and giving, and enjoying the abundance you already have. So we encourage you to make good choices, and to live into heaven’s culture. For then you will encounter the One who knows you deeply and loves you tenderly and keeps you humble and kind and free. And when you’ve got those things alongside your education, you’ll have everything you need; your life will overflow with joy. And that, more than anything, is what we want for you all: a life overflowing with joy. Amen. Ω
A reflection on Matthew 5:1-13 given to Sanctuary, 2 February 2020, in time for the Back-to-School Blessing © Alison Sampson, 2020. Photo credit: Akshar Dave on Unsplash.
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