November 1, 2019- Dia de los Muertos- (The Day of the Dead) – Remembering and Forgiving- Lead Us to Jesus -1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

day of dead

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

Those of us who observe the church year may find the feast of All Saints to be one of the most difficult days to commemorate.  On this earth, death still has a very real sting.  The pain and longing of separation from those we love and those who have been big parts of our lives is a heavy burden to bear.

We also endure the pain of regret when loved ones go before us.  We may wonder if our loved one died in Christ.  Sometimes we carry grudges or unforgiveness toward those who hurt or wronged us before they died because we never had a chance to resolve the issues we had with that person when he or she was alive.  Sometimes our remembrance of a family member is tainted either by our regret that we were evil to them, or the pain we suffered due to their evil toward us.  The world is one big pack of sinners, after all.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We all desperately need the grace of God in our relationships with others.

We do not have to resolve the issues with someone in order to forgive them. They may never “forgive us back.”  We are called by Jesus to let go of our anger, resentment and unforgiveness toward others regardless of their response to us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.  There are situations in which reconciliation is impossible in this life- the death of the other party, or situations in which one’s health or life may be endangered through contact with the other party. Those who are living with physical or emotional abuse, or are enduring life with a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs may have to separate themselves from and completely cut off contact with that person for the sake of their own life and health. In Christ we can pass on the gift of forgiveness, but we are not compelled to keep enduring abuse.

God gives us the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, as Jesus has first forgiven us- even if there is no reconciliation, or even contact with the other party.

Jesus has sweet comfort for His own when we have to encounter earthly death, unforgiveness, disappointment and separation. He is walking with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

Many people read the above verses from the Gospel of Matthew and look at the Beatitudes as a “to do” list, things that we need to pull up our bootstraps and just do.  On one level, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but like the Ten Commandments teach us God’s Law, (that are also seen as a sort of “to do” list,) and show us our inability to keep them, Jesus teaches these blessings so that we may see how we are not the source of any of the blessings of the Beatitudes.

Only in Christ can we receive these attributes.

He is the one acting upon us so that we do see our own complete inadequacy and our desperate need for Him.

He is our comfort and our companion in our mourning.

He is the champion of the meek and lowly, as He came to serve, not to be served.

He is the Bread of Life who feeds us with the most sweet and holy bread of heaven- His very own Body and Blood.

He is the source of all mercy.

He is complete and total holiness and purity.

He grants us peace that is beyond all understanding.

He gives us the confidence to stand up for things that are right even when they are not  popular and may lead to our own personal harm.

He suffered the ultimate persecution and punishment (Isaiah 53:5) in our place, so that we would be blessed with salvation and life with Him forever.

The Beatitudes point us to our utter dependence on Jesus.

As we remember those who have gone before us, we thank God for those who passed along the faith to us, those who loved us, and those who we have confidence in Christ who we will see again.  We ask God for the gift of forgiveness toward those who have hurt us, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus first forgave us. We ask that Jesus brings us healing and peace for the injuries from relationships that cannot be reconciled, especially those relationships that we have had with those who have died.

We pray for the gifts of the Beatitudes because they are the attributes of Christ.

Today is remembered in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Part of that tradition involves honoring one’s ancestors.  Another part of it is acknowledging that death isn’t the end.  It is a celebration of remembrance and anticipation.

We will see those who departed in Christ again in the next world, in the new heaven and earth.

According to the message of Genesis 3  we are all dead- every person living will die.  In Christ we have His promise of eternal life.  The Day of the Dead is for those who went before us, the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews speaks of. (Hebrews 12:1-2)  We celebrate their lives.  We mourn their absence.  We think about what we may have done differently.  We pray for the grace to forgive where we need to forgive. But ultimately the lives of those witnesses serve to point us to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One Who is beside us and with us always, the One Who broke the curse of death so that we may live.

 

March 11, 2019- The Beatitudes, For Us- Matthew 5:1-12

holy spirit2

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (children) of God.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

The Beatitudes are difficult in the way that the Ten Commandments are difficult. They are beautiful. They are good. And there is no way that any of us can live by them perfectly.

We teach our children to be independent almost from day one. Independence and autonomy are ingrained into Western culture, but in God’s economy, we are blessed by our trust and dependence upon Him.

We can’t even believe in God and trust Jesus on our own. Faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we come to a place where we have no tangible reason to believe- when we are abandoned, ill or destitute, Jesus sustains us with the reality that He is with us, and that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ resurrection we have hope that death is not the end. We will be reunited with the vast cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and all tears will be washed away, when Jesus returns to remake heaven and earth.

When we are at the end of our strength and powerless, we are reminded that powers and principalities and governments are temporary, and that corruption in governance will eventually be overturned.

In the new heaven and earth there will be no more evil. We will have incorruptible bodies free from the curse of sin.  We will no longer endure injustice, unfairness, and mistreatment.  There will be no illness, violence, or suffering.

As Jesus has forgiven us, so we are able to be forgiven and to forgive others. We will no longer have to carry the burden of past injuries and grudges- nor will those things be held against us where others have failed to forgive us.

The veil will be removed from our eyes, so that we can love God with a purity that is not marred by our fear or desire for self-preservation.

In Christ we will have peace, not as the world gives but as only He can give. As the apostle Paul encourages us: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Even as Christians are persecuted and ridiculed for our faith more and more, we are in good company. No one can take away the promise and the hope that we have in Christ.  It’s not always easy or popular to do the right things (and we are by no means perfect at this) but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are blessed to stand and we are given the courage and the confidence to stand.

As we examine the Beatitudes, it is not a “to do” list for us, but a “God does through” us list. We are not the engine behind our transformation, and we cannot make ourselves holy through our own efforts.  It is only by the grace of God that He gives us the faith to believe and trust Him.  Christ alone redeems and transforms us.

This is good news.

June 19, 2017 -Matthew 5:1-12 -The Beautiful Attitudes

jesus compassion

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes, or the “Beautiful Attitudes.” In the Bible paraphrase, The Message, we get more of a “rubber to the road” explanation of what Jesus was teaching here:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.  Matthew 5:1-12 (MSG)

There is an old expression that, “your altitude is determined by your attitude.”  In many ways this is very true.  If we spend years of our lives being angry or resentful over what we may not have had, we lose sight of the blessings we have been given.  If we spend years of our lives hoarding everything for ourselves when we could have been giving to and serving others, what blessings have we inadvertently passed over?   How can we expect God to give freely to us when we come to Him and others with clenched fists and closed hearts rather than having a soft heart, open hands, and extended arms? How can we fly if we are afraid to leave the house?

Jesus’ brand of meekness is not being a recluse or a milquetoast or a wimp. Jesus’ meekness is one of strength- the strength of knowing that our power is in God.  There is power in holding His beautiful attitudes of giving, of mercy, of patience in adversity and suffering, rather than shutting down, closing off, or seeking power in controlling others or controlling things.

C.S Lewis, who most of us know as the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was also a man who struggled with organized religion, but came to faith in Jesus late in life. He wrote two wonderful books on Christian faith.  One is Mere Christianity, which is sort of a non-churchy introduction to a relationship with Jesus.  The other is The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictional tale of a devil’s apprentice charged with attempting to keep a person from becoming a Christian.

Lewis spoke of the point in which we realize, “it’s Christ or nothing,” when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s the point when we realize we don’t control the world, and we finally get it that God is in charge.  God named and claimed us in our baptism- and He has always had a purpose for us even if we never really understand what that purpose is.  The adventure is in taking the challenge to go along with God and discover His purpose for us for us day by day.

It does take a hero to live up to God’s beautiful attitudes. Apart from God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are absolutely not capable of doing that.  Yet we need to keep our minds and hearts fixed upon the heart of God and on His beautiful attitudes.  Sometimes attitude can be everything!