Sunday’s Sermon: In an Upside-Down World …

  • Today is February 2nd … do you know what that means? … Super Bowl 48, baby … wooooooo!! Literally THE most watched TV event every year!
    • More than 151 million people watch the Super Bowl[1]
    • Cost of this single event is astounding …
      • Halftime show = $4 million[2]
      • Combined team costs (salary/operating costs) = $323 million[3]
      • Cost to taxpayers of New York and New Jersey $17.7 million à security, mass transit, local promotions, etc.[4]
    • Now, I know that some of you couldn’t care less about the game … and that’s totally okay. Super Bowl parties aren’t just about football … there’s also the food! Who could forget about the food?![5]
      • 28 million pounds potato chips
      • 53.5 million pounds avocados
      • 1 billion chicken wings
      • 10 million  hours spent preparing all that food
      • Leads to 20% rise in antacid sales day after the game
    • Ahhh … the fun, the entertainment … the overindulgence. This one sporting event – this single 7-8 hr. block of time – is such an interesting illustration for what our culture hold up as paramount: power, prestige, excess. The bigger, the glitzier, the more expensive … the better.
    • And yet juxtaposed with that ideal, we have our Scripture readings this morning, readings that remind us that we as Christians are called to be reflections of God in a world in need… and often that means turning those treasure parts of our current culture – the power, the prestige, the excess – upside-down.
  • Notion of being counter-cultural = far from a new idea
    • Paul’s word to Christians in Rome: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and [complete].[6]
      • Lots of way to interpret this
      • My take: we participate in the world in which we live but are also called to effect change in that world at the same time, to be transformed but to also be transforming –> We haven’t been called to live in our own insulated Christian bubble. We’re called to be counter-cultural, not anti-cultural.
        • Working in and through the culture, not hiding from it
        • Change the way we deliver God’s message of love and forgiveness –> doesn’t change the message itself, doesn’t change the way God asks us to live
          • Let our love be God’s love
          • Let our compassion be God’s compassion
          • Let our mission be God’s mission
          • And let people know about it! Tell people why you wear a cross. Tell people why you already have plans on Sunday morning. Tell people why you’re going to help out at the homeless shelter or the food shelf. Better yet … show people! Bring them along!
    • This is what our psalm is all about this morning. It starts off with a question not so different from one we may find ourselves asking. – text: O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?[7] –> God, who can be with you? How do we get to that place with you?
      • Answer = rest of the psalm
        • Speaks of wholeness and sincerity – “walk blamelessly and do what is right”
        • Speaks of integrity – “do not slander … and do no evil to [your] friends”
        • Speaks of dealing honestly with people – “do not take a bribe against the innocent”
      • Totally upside-down from parts of the culture we live in today
        • Gridlock and backroom deals among politicians –> don’t exactly “walk blamelessly”
        • Countless celebrity gossip magazines, TV shows, and websites à don’t exactly avoid slander
        • Shady banking practices that led to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression –> certainly not dealing honestly with people
    • But like it or not, this is the culture we live in, and whether or not be like to admit it, culture exerts a strong pull on our lives. And so to counteract that pull, we turn to Scripture to help us reorient ourselves and to remind us what it means to reflect God for the culture around us. And so we turn to the Beatitudes … Jesus’ counter-cultural blessings.
  • Culture says: fight for yourself
    • E.g. – emphasis we put on winning
      • Pro sports – absurdly inflated salaries and doping scandals abound
      • Reality TV shows – outlasting, outsmarting, and out-deceiving, everyone else
      • Capitalist economy – those who do well are rewarded in massive quantities while others struggle on a daily basis
    • But in contrast to that “fight for yourself,” God calls us to a different way – Gospel text: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.[8] –> Jesus reminds us that there is blessing in peace.  
      • Doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be easy all the time … quite the opposite, in fact: Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely … when people do this, not if. At times like this, we …
        • Want to stand and fight … but God says, “Peace.”
        • Want to nurse a grudge … but God says, “Peace.”
        • Want to reciprocate out of fear and frustration … but God says, “Peace.”
      • Remember Jesus’ words to the disciples in the Gospel of John: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.[9] –> Culture may say, “Put up your dukes,” but God says, “Put down your sword.”
  • Similarly, culture says: strength is what matters/counts
    • See this in classic plotline in literature and Hollywood – protagonist overcomes weakness, finds inner strength, and finally prevails –> Think about it. Do we ever hear stories in which the protagonist ends in a place of weakness, deficiency, and subjugation? Not really.
      • Culture exalts individual, “pick myself up and dust myself off” strength
    • Again, God sees things differently – Jesus: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. … Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.[10] –> Jesus wants us to understand that there is blessing in dependence, in relying on other people.
      • Our faith is a relational faith – illustrated time and time again
        • Relational nature of God, God the … – Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit
        • Relational nature of Jesus’ ministry – all about meeting people where they were at, in the midst of whatever they were experiencing, good or bad
        • Relational nature of Scripture – God working in the hearts of many, written by many hands, all parts of Scripture involve relating to others, parts of Scripture speaking to other parts
      • See blessing of dependence in Heb. of the psalm, too – text: O Lord, who may abide in your tent –> “abide” = connotations of staying as a foreigner or sojourner … one who is dependent on the hospitality and generosity of strangers. While culture tells us that the greater value lies in having enough strength to shoulder our own burdens through anything and everything, it’s clear that God places value in those who can embrace their need – need for one another and need for God’s strength above all else.
        • Paul in 1 Cor: God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.[11]
  • Finally, culture says: everything should be fine all the time
    • See this in the way we greet people on the street –> So often, we spit out the phrase, “Hi, how are you?” like it’s all one word. We get it out quick, and we expect a quick response. “Fine, you?” How many times a day do you think we hear this question? How many times to we ask it? And in contrast, how many times do we get or give a real answer? “I’m dealing with a lot of stress today. I’m dealing with some personal struggles today. I’m feeling lost and lonely today.” This isn’t the face our culture expects us to present. Instead, we are constantly given the pretty face, the happy face, the I’ve-got-it-all-together face.
      • E.g. – advertisements = smile after airbrushed, bleached-white, perfectly glowing smile
    • Once again, thankfully!, God has a completely different vision for us – text: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. … Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.[12] –> There is brokenness all over these verses, and there is brokenness all over our lives. And instead of trying to gloss over it – minimizing our pain and trivializing our struggles – God acknowledges how tough it can be sometimes.
      • Acknowledges that sometimes our spirits feel defeated
      • Acknowledges that sometimes we have to grieve
      • Acknowledges that sometimes we crave justice in our lives more than food and water that physically sustain us
      • And God knows how important this acknowledgement is because God’s been there! – Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane: And going a little farther, [Jesus] threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” … Again, he went away from the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”[13] –> Jesus knew what he was facing. He knew about all of the horrible, painful things that awaited him. There’s no “stiff upper lip,” no “all’s well that ends well,” no “spoonful of sugar” to mask his overwhelmed spirit, his mourning, and the thirst for righteousness in his prayer.
  • Today, we are surrounded by mountains of empty and superfluous things that our culture lifts up as important. And yet we have declared ourselves Christians – followers of the same Jesus who was counter-cultural right from the beginning.
    • Eating with sinners
    • Touching lepers
    • Healing on the Sabbath
    • Calling his followers to live in such a way –> way of compassion and love
    • And today, God continues to call us to turn the culture upside-down – to be that presence for peace when the world calls for a fight; to show that grace in dependence when the world goads us to “stand alone on our own two feet”; to embrace our humanity in the face of the unattainable perfection that the world holds so dear … to be that reflection of God. Amen.
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