Luke 6:17–26 The Blessings of Sacred Delight

She has every reason to be bitter. Though talented, she went unrecognized for years. Prestigious opera circles closed their ranks when she tried to enter. American critics ignored her compelling voice, She was repeatedly rejected for parts she easily qualified. It was only after she came to Europe and won acclaim that the American music paid any attention. Not only has her professional life been a battle, her personal life has been marked by challenge. Born in Brooklyn, of Russian Jewish descent, she is the mother of two handicapped children, one of whom is severely retarded. Years ago, in order to escape the hectic pace of New York, she purchased a home on Martha's Vineyard. Two days before she was due to move in, it burnt to the ground. Professional rejection. Personal setbacks. Perfect soil for the seeds of bitterness. A receptive field for the roots of resentment. But in her case, anger found no home.

Her friends don't call her bitter, they call her "Bubbles". Her name is Beverly Sills. Internationally acclaimed opera singer. Now retired director of the New York City Opera. How can a person handle such professional rejection and personal trauma and still be known as "Bubbles"? "I choose to be cheerful", she says, "Years ago I knew I had little or no choice about success, circumstances or even happiness; but I knew I could choose how to respond..."

No one in the entire world has ever had more reason to be miserable than Jesus, and yet no one was more joyful. Jesus embodied a stubborn joy. A joy that refused to bend in the wind of hard times. A joy that held its ground against pain. A joy whose roots extended deep into the bedrock of eternity. Perhaps that's where Beverly Sills learned it. That is certainly where we can learn it. What kind of joy is this? What is this cheerfulness that dares to wink at adversity?

What is the source of this peace that defies pain? It is a sacred delight, a sacred delight to be blessed by God. What is this sacred delight? It is the sacred delight of the day they accused Jesus of having too much fun, attending too many parties, spending too much time with the happy hour crowd. It is the sacred delight of the day's wage paid to workers who'd only been in the fields an hour... Its the joy of the father scrubbing the smell of pigs off his son's back... Its the joy of the widow throwing a party with food baked for her son's funeral wake. This sacred delight is the discovered pearl, a multiplied talent, a criminal scraping into heaven in his dying seconds, just in time for eternity. Its the sacred delight of Peter plunging into the cold water to get close to the one he had cursed a few days earlier. Sacred delight is good news coming through the back door of your heart. Its what you'd dreamed of but never expected. Its the too-good-to-be-true coming true. Its having the Lord God almighty, the king of the universe as your own father, personal organizer, lawyer, counselor, comforter, financial advisor, protector, biggest fan and best friend. Having God on your side, in your heart, out in front, and covering your back 24 hours a day. Sacred delight. There is no other word for it. Jesus summed it up in that one word, "Blessed", which in the original conveys "Oh the bliss.... Oh the Shangri-La" This blessedness is sacred because only God can grant it. Its a delight because it takes your breath away.

It is this sacred delight that Jesus promises in the blessings of the Sermon on the Mount. As we think then about this sacred delight, this state of blessedness, I want us briefly to consider from these verses, three things. The challenge of God's blessing; the channel of God's blessing; and thirdly, the cost of God's blessing.

1. The Challenge of God's Blessing 6:20-26
Looking at his disciples, he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

Familiarity with this passage blinds us to the radical, revolutionary nature of these bombshells from Jesus. They are unlike anything ever spoken whether by politician, philosopher or religious leader. The Parallels between Moses and Jesus is striking. Both delivered God's law from a mountain.

Both pronounced the basis for God's blessing and gave warnings of divine judgment. Through Moses, God laid out before His people two paths and a choice. Life and Death. It was as if he gave them the examination paper with all the answers and then said, spend the rest of your life answering the questions. In a most remarkable way Jesus is offering that same choice here. Follow me, says Jesus, and you will be blessed. Reject me and you will be cursed, for there is no other way back to God, no other way to heaven, no other way to forgiveness and new life. The sacred joy, the blessing which Jesus promises to those who follow him is not to be confused with happiness. This is not a gimmick to give you goose pimples nor a positive mental attitude to be psyched up once a year at Word Alive. No. In these verses Jesus pronounces the blessings and curses which fall on all mankind depending on whether we accept or reject God's rule in our lives.

There is nothing subtle about Jesus announcements. This is no casual shift of attitude or mindset. This is nothing less than a total demolition job of the values of a godless world, and the rebuilding of our whole way of life on His foundation instead.
Life was difficult for the people of Jesus day and there was not much hope their circumstances would be improved.

Like people today, many of them thought that happiness came from having great possessions, or holding an exalted position, or enjoying the pleasures and popularity that money can buy. Imagine how surprised they were when they heard Jesus describe happiness in terms just the opposite of what they expected! The challenge of the Beatitudes is that what they needed most was not a change in circumstances but a change in their relationship to God and in their outlook on life.

Jesus was not teaching that poverty, hunger, persecution, and tears were blessings in themselves. If that were true, He would never have done all He did to alleviate the sufferings of others. Rather, Jesus was describing the inner attitudes we must have if we are to experience the blessedness of the Christian life. We should certainly do what we can to help others in practical ways (James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:16-18), but we must remember that no amount of "things" can substitute for a personal relationship with God.
Jesus administers electric shock treatment to that kind of 'me' centred cozy religious pietism so popular today.

""But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets."

The four "woes" all share a common truth: you take what you want from life and you pay for it. If you want immediate wealth, fullness, laughter, and popularity, you can get it; but there is a price to pay: that is all you will get. Jesus did not say that these things were wrong. He said that being satisfied with them is its own judgment. To Jesus the terrible thing about having a foreshortened view of life that places its security in materialism is not that you are doomed to a life of bitter disappointment, but that you are not. Not that you do not achieve what you want in life, but that you will achieve it, but that's all. Jesus is saying,

"If you set your heart on these things, if you spend all your energy to obtain these things which the world values so highly, you will get them.... but that's all you'll ever get. You've had it..... But if on the other hand you set your heart and mind and will to be loyal to God you will indeed run into all kinds of trouble, because people will mistake you for me. But when that day comes, smile and be glad because most of your reward is still to come, and it will never ever come to an end."

Jesus promised his followers three things. That they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble. G.K. Chesterton, whose principles constantly got him into trouble, once said, "I like getting into hot water. It keeps you clean..."

Jesus blessing, his good news is for the poor, the hungry, the despised, the hated, the insulted and rejected. And his promise was that this sacred delight would more than compensate for any momentary light afflictions. A heavenly joy, a sacred delight. Jesus stands the world on its head and shows how shallow self-sufficiency really is, how short lived is this comfortableness that wants the created without the Creator.

Let me give you just one example from recent history. Who would you say was the most powerful person in the 20th Century? Joseph Stalin would certainly have been a contender for the title. The most ruthless dictator of the largest empire in the world. Feared by more people than any other. His sole finger on the world's largest and least stable weapons arsenal. He had access to riches beyond belief, absolute power. The total allegiance of the puppet governments of the Soviet Union, most of Eastern Europe, half of Africa and the Middle East were in his pocket. The red army, KGB and secret police spread their tentacles over the entire globe and were at his beck and call. An absolute dictator with total press censorship and Siberian death camps for anyone who stepped out of line. He even murdered members of his own family. So was he happy? Was he secure? Did he find peace? If raw power, if brute force could give peace and security in this life, then Stalin of all people should have found it. It may surprise you to know that Stalin was afraid to go to sleep at night. He had seven different bed rooms. Each could be locked as tightly as a safe. In order to foil a would be assassin, he slept in a different one each night. Five chauffeur driven limousines transported him where ever he went, each with curtains closed so no one would know which contained Stalin. So deep-seated his apprehensions that he employed a servant whose sole task was to monitor and protect his tea bags. Exterior supports like materialism and popular acclaim may temporarily sustain, but only inward character creates the kind of courage to face the world when you are in a minority of one. It was those inward convictions that Jesus displayed, and those same inward convictions Jesus has built into his disciples through the beatitudes. Remember what we have here is not a list of proverbs or a collection of quaint sayings, but rather the manifesto of the Kingdom of God. The step-by-step description of how God transforms his enemies into his children and puts the world, His world at our feet as we learn submission to His majesty. The challenge of God's blessing leads us to become channels of God's blessing.

2. The Channels of God's Blessing 6:27-38
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

2.1 This Blessing Exudes Compassion
Money is a great servant but a lousy god. So if you want to be blessed and have treasure in heaven you need to send it on ahead. The only proper attitude to wealth is an open handed generosity that channels God's material resources to achieve eternal returns. That is why Gospel ministry will always be our first priority, closely followed by compassion ministry. Read verse 6:27 "Love..." "Do good..." "Forgive..."

These verbs describe the Divine character. As we allow God the indwell our nature and energize our behaviour so these qualities become ours. "Be merciful just as your father is merciful..." . Notice that this blessing also overcomes conflict.

2.2 This Blessing Overcomes Conflict
Jesus does not command us to love our friends but our enemies..... God has a plan for saving this world. There is a solution to the Northern Ireland troubles, an answer for the Bosnian peace talks, hope for the Palestinian/Israeli stalemate. There could be peace in the Basque region, in Somalia, the Pakistan-India border region of Kashmir, in Tibet, the Sudan and all the other less well known disputes around the world. They all have one thing in common. People who can't live together, who won't forgive and forget. And the answer is contained here in these verses. To love your enemies, to bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. Why? because this is the only was to absorb our pain and transform our evil. How do we love our enemies?

By seeing the father's image in the face of the enemy....... (Lucado p.116) When you think about it, that's what God has done for us. The church is simply a family of former enemies. Someone once said, to return evil for good is demonic, to return good for good is merely human, but to return good for evil is divine. And that's God's specialty. This blessing exudes compassion, it overcomes conflict.

2.3 This Blessing Reproduces Blessing
God is not interested in blessing us for our own sake. We are blessed as we become channels for his blessing to others whose need is greater. As we saw last week, our witness as salt, in deed and word, is like fertilizer, it stimulates and proliferates life. "Give and it shall be given unto you...."

We receive as we give, we experience forgiveness as we forgive. The channel of God's blessing initiates compassion, overcomes conflict, and reproduces blessing. We've seen the challenge of God's blessing and the channel of God's blessing. Finally lets look at the cost of God's Blessing.

3. The Cost of God's Blessing 6:22, 36
"Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.... Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

The cost of this blessing was ultimately born by Jesus Christ. Only Jesus could promise this blessing because only he could bestow it. Only he could bestow it because only he could break down the wall of sin and rebellion that separates a holy God from a fallen world. The Easter story explains what it cost Jesus to bestow this blessing, what Jesus has done for us to release this blessing. So let me close with a story that brings home what Jesus did for you and me. Story of mother and child from Armenian earthquake....... (Lucado "The Applause of Heaven" p.91)

The challenge of God's blessing, the channels of God's blessing, the cost of God's blessing. The blessing of God is pure sacred joy and delight. Because it's God's joy what can cloud it? What can quench it? What can kill it? Is God ever in a bad mood because of the lousy weather? Does God get ruffled over long queues or traffic jams? Does God ever refuse to rotate the earth because his feelings are hurt? No. His is a joy which consequences cannot quench. His is a peace that circumstances cannot steal. There is a sacred blessedness, a foretaste of heaven. A holy joy, a sacred delight. A state of blessedness. And it is within our reach today. Lets pray.

With grateful thanks to Max Lucado and John Stott for many of the ideas used in this sermon.