Expecting a Blessing

Sermon for 8/28/22                               Pastor Teddie McConnell
          When do you expect a blessing? When you think you deserve it because of your success, social status or talents? When you have been a blessing to others? At the resurrection?
Phillip Yancey said that Jesus must have been a whole lot happier-looking and more outwardly joyful than he is usually portrayed by actors in the movies. People truly enjoyed his company. He was such a popular dinner guest that when his enemies wanted to say something bad about him, they accused him of being a glutton and a winebibber. I’m sure he laughed often because God has an amazing sense of humor. Look at the ostrich. Look at kangaroos. Look at us! Laughter is a gift from God, and I’m sure Jesus did plenty of it. He loved and enjoyed the company of people.
A highly prominent Pharisee invited Jesus to a wedding feast. He may have invited him because Jesus was a popular new rabbi, drawing crowds and attention. But it’s more likely that the Pharisees were setting a trap for Jesus. On his way into the party, he immediately encountered a man with dropsy, which we call severe edema. It makes breathing difficult and causes one’s arms and legs to swell up. Would a man in that much pain have attended a party unless he was manipulated into coming, maybe paid to be there? And the Pharisees watched Jesus closely to see what this rabbi with a reputation as a healer would do on the Sabbath, when it was against the rules to heal someone who wasn’t in immediate danger of dying. The Pharisees liked to enforce the rules because it fed their egos, their need for power. It wasn’t about pleasing or honoring God so much as making them feel more self-important.
When Jesus made a polite suggestion that he make the man well, they were silent in a way that was disapproving yet dared him to do it anyway.
Jesus wasn’t afraid to put his hosts on the spot, however. He wasn’t a people-pleaser, but a God-pleaser.
He healed the man and sent him away, then talked to the guests about manners.
At Palestinian weddings, the men lay on couches with the center couch being the host’s place of honor, and the most prestigious people on the couches closest to him, an inner circle if you will. If someone more distinguished arrived late, the host would ask someone of lower rank to move to a less important location to make room.
Jesus said the humble way to approach where to sit at a party was to settle far from the host. To sit down next to the host suggests that you’re the most important guest there and proud of it. You’re also putting your host in the awkward position of having to ask you to move away if someone more important shows up. The first becomes last, shamed and humiliated. The request to move down is a disgrace and embarrasses your host, while having the host ask you to move closer is an honor. Jesus’ wise observation must have stung, because the guests were thinking about their own prestige and position, not whether the host would feel embarrassed by their rudeness, and the host was thinking about the rich and important guests who would owe him a return invitation.
Of course, Jesus wasn’t just talking about parties, but how you live your life, whether you have an exaggerated sense of your own importance or a humble and considerate character. As children of God, we are always guests at God’s table, invited to enjoy blessings from the Creator of all good things. As guests, it’s better to be humble than to assume one’s own position or importance. Jesus said to go to the farthest seat away, giving your host the opportunity to lift you up as a friend rather than disgrace you as presumptuous. You can trust God to lift you up.
 Then Jesus said that inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to your party is more blessed than inviting your friends, because although they can’t repay you now, God will reward you at the resurrection of the righteous. I’m sure the host hadn’t even considered inviting anyone like that to the party, because it wouldn’t have been to his advantage. Jesus turned the conventional wisdom on its head by asserting that the more you bless others, especially the ones who need it most, the more God will bless you in turn, maybe not today, but some day.
Most people aren’t good at waiting for blessings. Sooner is better, especially in our current culture of instant gratification. Our egos also like to hear other people’s praise for our good works, acknowledgement that we’re good people doing things right. It can even feel like a contest, with whoever gives the most being the winner. But like Jesus, we need to be God-pleasers, not people-pleasers.
Emily M. Townes said, “God offers an invitation in our lives to receive a genuine blessing when we learn that it is crassly unfaithful to store up spiritual brownie points, to note our goodness and then make it worse by ostentatious displays of that goodness.”
Jesus doesn’t want us to feed our egos by showing off our giving. He said in Matthew 6:2-4,  “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” In other words, stop trying to feed your ego and just feed the poor.
Here’s another Bible quote on this topic. In Galatians 2:19-21, (from the Message translation) Paul said this, “I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
You can’t fool God into thinking your motives are pure when they’re about expecting something in return. Secret giving takes a special kind of humility. Keeping our egos out of the way is only possible by staying in touch with the Holy Spirit, which gives us self-control. The awesome reward for our giving is knowing that it pleases God.
Jesus talked at the party about how extending invitations out of pure hospitality to those who cannot repay you can bring God’s blessings. Do we try to live our lives to bless others, leaving our own blessings up to God?  That would be my ideal. Some days I do better than others, but thank God, every day can be a fresh start.
Let’s look at our Hebrews passage. It’s almost a laundry list of wisdom, perhaps written over the course of several days before being sent on in the letter. Among other things, the writer tells the Hebrews to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have unknowingly entertained angels. Isn’t that a charming image? While people in need of a meal don’t always look or smell good, God sees them as precious children in need of help. Blessing them will come back to you in wonderful ways.
If we look at several of these verses from Hebrews together, they form an amazing picture. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Put together, they speak of God’s complete reliability, which frees us to act like Christ, even when the consequences of such actions may threaten us. Luke doesn’t tell us how the party ended, but the Pharisees could have arrested Jesus for healing on the Sabbath or they could have kicked him out for making a scene. As followers of Christ, we can take the chances that come with loving others unconditionally, doing good and sharing what we have, because we can count on God to take care of our own needs and protect us from evil.
          The writer of Hebrews links being content with what we have to the idea that God will never leave or forsake us. Insecurity about money is quite common, even in this wealthy country where much of society has more than we need. Worried about not having enough, people want more and more, then they want to protect it. It’s easy to believe that if your earned it by your own hard work that you have the “God-given” right to keep it all. But God is the one who gave us the abilities we use to gain our material success in the first place. And if we remember to hold onto the hand of Christ, then we can more easily open our other hand to share the blessings God has given us.
Expecting a blessing is not the same as taking it for granted. The key to recognizing our blessings is to offer God praise for them continually, thanking God in all circumstances for God’s love, for whatever we are given that is sacred, for what is good, for what is memorable, what is honorable and worthy of praise, for our families and our friends, for this precious and gorgeous planet spinning under us, our homes, clothing and food, and the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. The important stuff. Those are the blessings we can expect in this life because God cares for us as precious children. All the other blessings we receive blow into our lives like confetti from God’s generous hands. Let’s throw a party with them for the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
And all God’s people said, Amen.

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