A Word from the Lord I: "Fill Help In Hard Times: Hope"

In hard times, a word from the Lord will help. Hope, yes, Hope is God's word for hard times. How do we know? 'Straight from the lips of Jesus, says Matthew. Hope is wonderful, but not always easy. 'Comforting. But sometimes a stern challenge. As near to us as Jesus on the hillside. But as far away as our hearts are from his. Are your times hard, just now? Do you need a word from the Lord? If you do, hope is the word God has for you in Jesus Christ.

Let's talk about hard times. You're 15. Your parents don't get along with each other or you. School's a hassle. Your boyfriend just dumped you. Your girl's about to: for the 3rd time. Your 30ish.. Two kids. You wanna be at home with them, but can't. Or you are, and it wears on you. 'Haven't had an adult conversation in 2 months. Your partner can't stay awake, except for Monday Night Football, exhausted from work. (Somehow, he went from a hunk-on-wheels to a lump-in-the-bed in just seven years. Maybe this is why that's how long the average US marriage now lasts.) You been at work now 20+ years. 'Don't like the boss, the company, the job. But you're trapped by responsibilities and bills. What to do? What can you do? You're just 38 or 48. You have chronic, serious pain. It's not clear why, just clear it's not going away. You're weary, angry and scared. You're old enough your kids should've moved out, but they haven't, and you're parents should move in. But they can't or won't, or you'd rather die first. The doc says your cancer's back. The biggest romance in your household involves a bottle, or a vial of pills. You live alone. You feel alone. And it feels like you have nothing left to give and nothing new to live. And all this, before you turn on the news or turn to it, only to find out terror's on the march, there's warfare far away and two streets over from yours. They've screwed up the flu vaccine. And the two guys runnin' for the land's highest office, and their commercials, just make you wanna have the election over with, almost no matter who wins! Have you had enough yet? Are you ready to walk up the hill to hear Jesus. He's seated: with official word from heaven. Call it The Sermon on the Mount, like Augustine first did. But whatever you call it, call it Hope. 'Cause that's what it offers when times are hard.

We're going to spend a little time over the next 6 weeks with the most famous sermon in all the world. Jesus on the Mount. He's gonna comfort us, change us, challenge us. We'll be surprised, and blessed, if we can believe the Beatitudes, and of course, we can. So let's get into these opening lines from Jesus most majestic sermon and see what we can see. The Beatitudes. Three words of hope are here. Three hopes we can hold onto!

First, the world is wrong about a lot of stuff. Stuff that really matters. And Jesus will show us how, and why. And it'll help. There's hope for us yet. The world often expects the wrong behaviors and values. And it predicts, even demands, the wrong outcomes. Jesus' marvelous sermon begins with the beatitudes to overturn our expectations and upset the outcomes we foresee. Jesus invites us to trust, in order to triumph. Won't you consider accepting his invitation? Listen and watch. Such unexpected blessings. Why just for starters:
The poor (in spirit) get the Kingdom!
The mourners get comfort!
The meek get the earth!
The hungry and the thirsty (for righteousness) get their fill!
Oprah may give away cars, Phil's advice might be free, Dr. Laura may lecture on love and romance, but it's all pretty small potatoes compared to what Jesus has to say. Certainly the world doesn't offer much to the poor, in fact, in spirit, or otherwise. We are taught to believe at every turn that success is the blessing for those who are good (enough). 'That down on our luck is a weakness, probably in our soul. 'That if you're spiritually challenged, you likely don't deserve a blessing. Jesus says just the opposite. He says the Kingdom is, well, quite frankly, just made for you! (There are people in the sound of my voice in credit card jail. Bankruptcy. People so hurt in their souls they want more than anything the relief of believing, but just aren't there quite yet, and need a little push to know it's worth it to take the leap-of-faith and just trust God to-make-things-right. Well, today's your day; Jesus says so.) There are 2 large, 2 small planned communities pretty nearby. Columbia, Piney Orchard, Russett, Seven Oaks. None have either a cemetery or a funeral home. None set aside space for houses of worship. (Columbia started to, but stopped.) Don't tell me we bless the mourner. Too many here have known loss. What does the world tell you within just 24 weeks? "Get over it!" I don't think so. Neither does Jesus. Instead, he offers the deep comfort of one who weeps with us beside the grave (of Lazarus). And he promises from the cross that neither pain nor death has the last word. Donald Trump ain't lookin' for meek in the Board Room, your boss likely isn't either, but for Jesus it's different. Meek isn't simpering whimpering. In Bible-talk, it's knowing not to be angry at the wrong things (the stuff that slights you), and knowing when to be angry at the right things (injustice to others). It's being more than self-controlled; it's letting God be in control of your life. Be meek like this, says Jesus, and then you get all the best the earth has to give! (Are they teaching this at Arundel High, or at the Your House Academy?) Ten a minute, 600 an hour, every day die of hunger and thirst. Here's the one weapon of mass destruction beyond all politics or debate. Yet we largely turn away… from the street beggar, and the third world children. We don't see and don't look. Jesus suggests another path. And if we are starved for a relationship with him and will only ask, seek, knock, well, the door will be opened, and we will be filled. There's hope for us yet.

Now Jesus also offers a better life and better outcomes, now and forever. These marvelous promises come to us by way of changed values, changed faith, changed lives, changed trust. Make no mistake. A day on the hillside with Jesus is not just a walk in the park. Jesus insists that a happy life stems from a holy life. Watch and listen again. Blessed are the merciful, and mercy will be their reward. Hmm. Let me get this straight. In a world that says, "Get even," Jesus says get inside the heart and the life of one another. Especially those who've wronged you, or who are suffering wrong. This is no simple wave of pity. It's consciously deciding, for God's sake, to get inside the other person. To feel as they feel, to see the wrong as they see it. What would that look like? A lot like Jesus in the Garden, deciding to shoulder the cross for the rest of us. That's the mercy seat on earth. It's a tall order. It'll change all our lives, should we try. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Wouldn't you like that? Do you know what it asks of us? To be clean. I don't mean soapsuds clean. Or deodorant clean. Jesus doesn't mean these either. I mean without mixed motives. Jesus says there's hope for us, if we'll just get out of our own way, not look for an angle all the time, a way to get ahead, or what we want, all the while looking like we're serving others or our God. The deal is really, truly, to want only what God wants, only what those we love and those we meet really need. It's how we follow Jesus. It's how we get to see God. Oh, and guess who God snarfs up in his arms like a father (or mother), home from the work of the day, and just can't wait for a hug and a squeeze and a kiss from the kids. The most intimate of joys by the most holy of hugs! That blessing goes… to the peacemakers! Those who bring God's children together. Shalom, peace, is the highest good of God on earth, the rabbis taught Jesus. Peacemakers at home. In the church. In the community. Among the nations. Now this is more than just being peace-lovers. Peacemakers resolve conflict, not by giving in to evil, but by turning it to good. Forgiveness is involved. Tolerance, not for what is ungodly, but for what is just different between us. Peacemaking is seeing in every face and people, someone for whom Christ died, and loving them as much like Christ as we are able.

Take heart. Adversity might have the first word, but not the last. Jesus us offers us holy times over hard times. He changes our expectations. What a relief to know it's really not all about us when things aren't going our way. He changes our perspective. Today's pain looks different when we know God promises pain will not have the last word in our life or our eternity. He redeems our loneliness by being always near at hand. He reveals to us a different kind of life than the world has to offer. A holy life. A life that gives us the best chance for happiness, in this life. No wonder some folks call the Beatitudes the BE-attitudes. When you consider the outcomes of this kind of living, how can we help but want to sing with the angels, "Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number, when the Saints go marchin' in!"

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