Blessings and curses. St Chad’s Linwood-Aranui, Feb 17 2019
Jeremiah 17:5-10, Luke 6:17-26
Today we have heard two different sets of blessings and curses, not so much what to do and what not to do, rather, which way of living will make you flourish. They are similar in many ways, but there are different things we can glean from each.
Looking first at Jeremiah -this set is about how we approach the Lord. Do we trust in God, or not? Jeremiah makes it really clear that trusting in mere mortals is not the way that leads to blessing – ‘cursed are those’ he says. This is very strong language isn’t it? These days we don’t tend to use the word ‘Cursed’.
What can it mean for us? I think it refers to a life that is not flourishing, not going to achieve fullness and its potential. A plant that is cursed therefore might be one that has no water, no food, and it struggles to grow, knowing that going upwards towards the light is what it is created for, but not receiving the nourishment for it to do that. We are like that plant. We know that we can grow toward the light, that is, God’s light, following the example of Jesus Christ in our lives. But if we are not nourished spiritually we cannot fulfil our destiny. If we trust only in people we will be parched. We will never satisfy our thirst.
Have you ever thirsted for something? Maybe you have been really thirsty in the literal sense, with a parched mouth and your tongue feels like a piece of sandpaper. Waking up like that is awful isn’t it? It’s very dangerous to your health to be dehydrated. Have you thirsted for more of God in your spiritual walk? As the psalmist put it, ‘as a deer longs for cool water, so my soul longs for you, Lord’.
We are in the middle of a long dry summer – typical for Canterbury really. The gardens and lawns are struggling without water, and barely growing. I have been
a good girl and not watered my lawn, knowing that conserving water is a good thing. Also that the chlorine will be gone quicker! But the grass plants have not given up completely. They are very brown, but even with just a sprinkle of rain, or a splash from the hose, green shoots are trying to grow. Humans are like that grass plant – with even an inkling of trusting in God, we can start to show green, to show new growth.
Wouldn’t you rather be like the green tree in the second part of the text though? Would you like to be that tree planted by the stream, always green and flourishing? The tree doesn’t fear the heat. It is not anxious in drought, and it keeps bearing fruit. In our lives we too often find ourselves taking heat, or in the midst of drought. Trouble can come and afflict us. But if we are planted like the tree beside water, that is, if we trust in the Lord, we can withstand the drought and the heat, the trouble and the storm. We need not be anxious for our future, knowing that it is in God’s hands. We are even promised that when we trust in God we will not cease to bear fruit. We have heard what some of the fruit of the spirit is – love, joy, goodness, self-control, and others. Would you like to know that even in the midst of a stormy and difficult time you can still bear this fruit to bless those around you? Trusting in the Lord will nourish you in this way.
The last verse of the Jeremiah reading reminds us that the heart is perverse, and that God will examine it. The fruit of our doings will determine what the Lord will give to us. As you bear good fruit, God will give to you. Trust God by praying, by reading scripture, and letting it guide you.
When we look at the Gospel reading from Luke, we see a different take on blessings and curses. Jesus is reassuring the downtrodden that they will flourish. He shows such love and compassion for the poor, the hungry, those who weep.
Maybe he was talking about the literal poor, the underfed, and the grieving. But perhaps he was also talking about those who recognise their own poverty apart from God. Those who know that it is acknowledging our lack that is the first step to being filled. It’s a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous – admitting that there is a problem is the first step on the journey to recovery.
Jesus contrasts this image with the flipside – woe to the rich, the full, the laughing.
In our world there are many people who don’t know Jesus. Many people just get on with their life, not even aware of God, or that there is a church they can belong to and worship God with others. They don’t see their lack. They say, I’m a good person, I take casseroles to my sick neighbour, I don’t see why I need God or religion in my life. After all, Sunday morning is for sleeping in and eating brunch isn’t it? Well I know by the fact that you are here that you are not those people. But they do make up the majority of our society. They don’t feel the lack of God, only the lack of things. That is why the adds on TV all target lifestyle – buy these new glasses, make this new cocktail, invite your friends over in their new cars to enjoy your expensive outdoor furniture while you talk to them about all their stuff too.
This is the mission field for us.
But, ‘woe to you who are rich’, says Jesus. It is those who know they are hungry, who are lacking, who seek after God.
We used to have a boarder living with us, who had moved to NZ from Russia. He was raised in a communist, atheist society. And he made the comment that Christians are weak, always relying on something outside themselves. He saw this as a negative thing. But actually it is our strength to acknowledge our weakness, that apart from God we can do nothing, that we are weak, and that God is our strength.
After Jesus spoke about hunger and weeping, he contrasted a bad and a good reputation. ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, …on account of the Son of Man’. It seems odd doesn’t it, to be blessed when we are hated. Surely being hated and reviled, excluded and not believed, would be the most awful thing. But if it is on Jesus’ account that the world hates us, we can be reassured that we are blessed, because by trusting in God we are planted by that nourishing stream of living water, and that we will continue to bear fruit, no matter how severe the drought or how bad the trouble. In New Zealand the church is not particularly persecuted, and for that we are incredibly thankful. But apathy can persecute the church too, and this is where our challenge is here. This is our mission filed.
When we see the other side to Jesus’ comments on people hating us, we are cautioned about complacency. ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you’. If everyone is agreeing with you, you are not disturbing their conscience. It is a very human thing to seek the affirmation of people saying nice things about you, and maybe it is fine when good people speak well of you. The false prophets of old did that in order to save their skins, but the truly effective prophets were the ones who had an uncomfortable message that the people really did not like hearing. A prophet speaks the truth and doesn’t fear for their reputation. Jesus reassures us that if we live this way, our reward will be in heaven.
Are you looking forward to your rewards in heaven? Or are you more interested in a comfortable life here on earth? The Christian walk will not be comfortable, we will still be beset by trouble and strife, by life hitting us smack in the face, and when we fall down hitting us again, but we are reassured that if we remain planted, trusting in God, we will flourish and bear good fruit.