Hope in our Suffering

Luke 6:17, 20-26

If we’ve been coming to church for a long time or are familiar with the Scriptures, we’ve probably become accustomed to interpret these Beatitudes to be like the Ten Commandments of the New Testament; that Jesus is saying if you do these things, you’ll grow and be blessed. We often use the Beatitudes at funerals as a way to help demonstrate how the deceased exhibited these traits – humble, peacemaker etc…


But there is another dimension to the Sermon on the Mount (or on the plain as it is described here in Luke’s version) that is often overlooked. If we envision the scene, Jesus is looking out at this crowd filled with suffering people, ones who were rejected and cast out by society. And he declared them blessed. He wasn’t telling them to do or be certain things. Rather, he was saying that despite their suffering, the Kingdom of Heaven had come and was available to them right in that moment.


Many of us who have come here today are suffering in some fashion. Some may have lost a loved one or have experienced serious illness. Some may have lost a job or have been downsized at work. Jesus’ pronouncement to all of us who are suffering is that we are blessed.


Suffering is the number one way that the enemy tries to convince us to doubt God. The enemy knows that if he can cause us to doubt God and his goodness because of our suffering, then he’s won. When we are afflicted and beaten down its natural to question if God is really there.


But suffering, being on the losing end of the deal, is a necessary part of life.  The all-time best illustration of this may have come in the movie Bruce Almighty.  If you saw that movie, you might remember that Jim Carrey becomes God for a day. He begins to get all of God’s incoming prayer requests, in the millions, first by memo, then by post-it notes, then he decrees that should come by email. And so the emails pour in faster than he can field them. As a solution to his being overwhelmed with requests, eventually he discovers the “yes to all” button on his computer. He hits it and....bam! Everyone who prayed for anything gets what they want!


What happens?  Well, it wasn’t good. Chaos ensues. The first thing is, everyone wins the lottery, but the problem is, because thousands of people all win the lottery, the winnings are split, and everyone wins, like.... $20, and riots breakout in the streets!


The moral of the story is, hardship and losing is necessary for life to have meaning. When have we ever read a good story without a villain or without a challenge, or without a struggle or trial?  Though we know hardship/losing is necessary, we still hate going through it. We hate suffering!


The very fact that we hate suffering is actually one of the absolute proofs of God. God hates suffering too and he wants to overcome it through us. And this is how Jesus starts the Sermon on the Mount. The people who came to him were overcome with incredible sadness and without hope.


These people presumed that if this miracle worker Jesus could somehow transform them to be like the Roman elite, who had all the power, and prestige and glory, or the Pharisees, who were the perceived holy ones who followed the law perfectly, they too could become blessed. These people thought that a flourishing life means having the comfort of health and money. But Jesus begins this sermon by disagreeing with them.


Jesus says to them that “I have come in the midst of your anguished cries to God to bring hope, and life, and real joy.” He is not saying to them, “Blessed are you when you are poor.” He is saying “blessed are you in spite of your being poor.” He’s not saying “blessed are you because you mourn”. He’s saying, “Blessed are you in spite of the fact that you are mourning. Why?  Because the kingdom of God has come.


Simon and Garfunkel maybe had the best interpretation of the Beatitudes, when in their song, they said, “blessed are the sat upon, the spat upon and the ratted on.” That’s actually much closer to what Jesus was getting at. He was talking to those who were deathly sick, that were starving, that had no hope, and were told they were going to die. He was telling them that they are blessed right where they are.


These truths are the same today as they were in Jesus’ day.  If we were to get really honest self-evaluations from people, about who are the most blessed today, we would likely see responses that tie health and wealth very closely to the extent to which they feel blessed.


Of course we all want for each other, health, wealth and comfort. It’s not a bad thing to have the money to live comfortably. But Jesus is telling us that those things have nothing to do with the thriving, fulfilling life-giving kingdom of God, which is available to everyone.


All of us suffer. All of us have pain. All of us have guilt in our life. All of us are constantly going through change. All of us suffer loneliness. And Jesus comes on to the scene today, to say to you and to say to me, that there is hope for all of us and that hope is in him, in Jesus.


In each of us, there is a deep hole down inside us that can only be filled by God. If that hole remains unfilled, we deceive ourselves in thinking that we can somehow fill it with the material things of this world.

Jesus teaches us that filling that empty spot, that void, that hole, with his love leads to the greatest, most fulfilling, most joy-filled life ever.  Even if we are suffering, sick, broken and lost everything, we can trust him.  As the first reading tells us, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.”

There’s probably no better evangelization tool at our disposal than to exhibit that trust to others. The greatest of all human accomplishments is to get through incredible suffering for the glory of God. Can there be anything more inspiring than to see others who, despite tragedy or affliction, who seemingly have all the reason in the world to despair, to quit or to give up on God, hold true to his word, and endure? How many times have we witnessed such cases around this parish over the years?

I was talking to someone this week who has a friend from her church who had recently lost everything she had in a house fire. When people asked this woman “How this could happen to you, of all people, such a faith-filled person?” She responded quite simply, “Why not me?”  Could there be a better illustration of how to live the Beatitudes and the first reading? Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord, whose hope (and strength) is the Lord.”

You may have heard this story: Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his of time flat on his back. The men talked daily for hours on end.


Every afternoon, when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by the description of the activity of the world outside.


As the man by the window described it, the window overlooked a park with a beautiful lake. Ducks and swans played on the water. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine this picturesque scene.


Days, weeks and months passed. One morning, the day-nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep.  She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.


As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.


Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window besides the bed. He came to realize that the window faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate to describe all these wonderful things outside this window, when they weren’t there.


The nurse responded that the deceased man was in fact blind and could not even see the wall.  She said, ‘Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.’


We’re all going through something: pain, disappointments, injustice, strained relationships and general anxiety. What Jesus is telling us today is that he is sharing in our suffering. But also in that suffering, we can trust him, and find the strength to not just endure, but to flourish. And that strength that we exhibit can be an inspiration to others.


And so we pray, Lord, thank you for all of our blessings.  We thank you for the worldly blessings that you have bestowed upon us, but we thank you especially today for the assurance that you give us that despite our setbacks, you are always with us, and we can trust you. We pray that no one here, or anyone we know of who isn’t with us at church, will be swayed by the evil one’s invitation to abandon you.


By the power of your Holy Spirit, instill in us the conviction that whether it’s good times or bad times, whether we feel lucky or cursed, whether money comes at us or is taken from us, whether our health improves or deteriorates - that no matter life’s circumstances, your power and your life in us would give us such a full and rich joy that no one, or no circumstance, can shake us and nothing can break us.  We ask this through your Son who guides us and saves us every day!




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