Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources Officer asks a young engineer fresh out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “And what starting salary are you looking for?” The engineer replies, “In the region of $125,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.” The interviewer inquires, “Well, what would you say to a package of five weeks’ vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50% of salary, and a company car leased every two years, say, a red Corvette?” The engineer sits up straight and says, “Wow! Are you kidding?” The interviewer replies, “Yeah, but you started it.” A lot of people have a hard time seeing what God is giving. What we can’t see happening leads us to believe God can’t do. Staying ignorant of God’s goodness doesn’t help us come into our joy and God’s grace. We need to gain a broader band of vision to include more of what the Lord is accomplishing. This is what scripture says when Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus, saying, “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend…the breadth and the length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” Don’t resist God’s love by keeping your expectations small. The Lord’s gifts are very often beyond our first line of sight. Be willing to imagine bigger and different blessings than you have been prepared to do to this point. If you’ve ever traveled to another country, you know there can be big differences in language and food. Another big difference is the money. Put their money in your hand and it looks fake. But it isn’t. It’s real. The sooner you realize this the sooner you’ll stop acting like you’re playing with monopoly money, and go through a whole bunch. God doesn’t always give to us in our customary denomination, nor can the Lord. The Lord won’t limit blessings so they will fit into our shortcomings, ignorance, or misinformation. God is rewarding us but so often in ways we’re not willing to consider. It’s up to us to get our minds in synch with God’s. When we do then we can see what God is touching and transforming. Let the Lord walk through your life and inspire you with the multitude of
miracles that are being placed in your path. If you only see what you’ve seen so far, you will never see beyond it. This is what Jesus’ most famous sermon tells us. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is standing on a hillside overlooking the deep blue Sea of Galilee with a huge crowd of people now following him, when he delivers his famous Sermon on the Mount. This is no prosperity gospel preaching. There is no “You give your full tithe to the church and God will rain down blessings on you.” This is not about being compensated in U.S. Dollars. What we hear is the Christian life in action and the blessings God shares with the one who lives it. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. Blessed are those who are persecuted. Who needs problems if these are blessings? The truth is, even if we are used to hearing Christ’s Beatitudes there is still something shocking in them—at least if we’re really listening. After all, word “blessed” is a very positive adjective meaning “enjoying happiness,” “enjoying the bliss of heaven,” and “bringing pleasure or contentment.” And we think we know what makes us happy and blessed. We’ve seen it perhaps in others more than we have in our lives, but we know. For one, more will make us happy. Putting ourselves first will get us what we want. We think in competitive terms, thinking that if we can climb to the top of some heap, and almost any heap or hill will do, we will feel significant. If you were to rewrite the Beatitudes according to how things are normally seen to be, they would come out very differently from what Jesus taught was what made for a blessed person. They could go like this: Blessed are the rich, for they shall wield power. Blessed are the hardhearted, for they shall seldom mourn. Blessed are the assertive, for they shall rule the world. Blessed are the satisfied, for they can sleep late on Sundays. Blessed are the merciless, for they shall climb to the top. Blessed are the cunning, for they shall manipulate their way to success. Blessed are the belligerent, for they shall win. Blessed are the powerful, for they shall never be persecuted. Now someone may say that’s not always true. Correct, in more ways than one. And that’s Jesus’ point. Jesus had a dream. He dreamed of the way things might be. His dream however wasn’t like a mirage that describes something that really isn’t real, though this is how a lot of people view his Beatitudes. Nor is his dream a
mere wish for something that isn’t going to happen or will only happen on some far off day, and today isn’t that day so let’s not bother with them. Jesus’ dream takes place every day, already, as it always has. It has a dream-like quality in that it’s tougher to see, harder to discern, more difficult to follow, hazier to describe, and floats out of view and memory very quickly and easily. But God doesn’t have to play by our limited imagination, rules, or willingness. There are so many more blessings than meet the non-spiritual eye. They’re only available to those with eyes to see more and ears to hear more. Someone else restated the Beatitudes to give them perhaps a clearer message: Happy are those who feel their spiritual need for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are the gentle for the whole world belongs to them. Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right for they will be satisfied. Happy are those who show mercy for mercy will be shown to them. Happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort. Happy are the single-minded for they will see God. Happy are those who make peace for they will be known as children of God. Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the causes of goodness for the kingdom of God is theirs. Christ never thought of these solely as coming true on some final Armageddon day. He worked too hard to show God’s kingdom had come. Find the fullness of God’s blessings today. Accept more deeply your spiritual need. Be gentler toward others and yourself. Seek the truth and what is right. Be compassionate and extend mercy. May your sorrows deepen your walk with the Lord. Stay committed and faithful to God’s word. Trust in the power of peace to change people and situations Henri Nouwen, Roman Catholic priest and prolific writer on Christian spirituality, taught at such prestigious universities as Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. But there came a period in his life when he left such teaching and the visible importance it gave him to live at Daybreak community near Toronto, a community designed to care for mentally disabled persons. He said he immediately experienced something of an identity crisis there because he served persons who did not recognize his rather famous name nor knew or would read any of his many books.
Writes Nouwen, “This experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to recognize my true identity. These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self … the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things … and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.” Henri didn’t see this coming. He thought God’s blessings had been his ability to communicate in books and speeches. This had been important to him. But clearly God had other compensation in store for Henri. Be inspired to strike out for a new country. Pack up your faith and let it lead you. God doesn’t let us go alone. Even when we feel as though we’re alone or when we’ve lost much or paid a great price to follow the Lord, God compensates with something else. This is what the Beatitudes tell us. This compensation occurs all around us. When darkness comes, the stars appear. In a darkened time, there is compensation when gleams of hope lighten the sky. The bee fertilizes the flower it robs of its nectar. For the loss of its nectar, the flower is compensated by being fertilized. Without the bee’s invasion, the flower would remain sterile. On the other side, the bee is compensated for the function she serves. We know Christ is right. We experience divine compensation in our personal lives. I had a couple come to me several years ago to be married. Nice looking couple in their late twenties, early thirties. They were both sure they didn’t want to have children, ever. Not only were they married here but after he found out he had cancer, they changed their mind. I’ve baptized two of their children, with whom they are well pleased. I’ve talked to them about their former thinking. They can’t believe they thought that way. The single person who says she never wants to have children because she likes being free is compensated when she becomes a parent with the love of her child making up greatly for any loss of the former life. When a person playing sports can no longer do so, they get a sense of deep satisfaction they didn’t think would occur from becoming a coach and passing on what they know. It’s not true that those who can’t, teach. Those who could before, teach now.
A neighbor of ours pulled out onto the street outside of our development not seeing a car coming and was hit in her driver door. She was badly injured, taking more than a year and a half before her strong limp was reduced to something hardly noticeable. Now, she’s a different person. She wasn’t unfriendly before but now she waves to everyone, smiling and waving at us whenever she takes her walks by our house or whenever we walk and see her. Someone in an accident or sick with cancer receives compensation by experiencing a renewed appreciation and gratitude for every moment in life. Even the child who suffers a tonsillectomy receives the reward of being able to eat ice cream for the next day or two. God compensates us all the time. It’s up to us to value what the Lord gives. We may be poor in spirit, but God will give us the wealth of a kingdom. We may be meek or gentle but we’re compensated with peace. We may thirst and hunger for righteousness and not find much but so much better is it to seek the kingdom than it is to give up hope and become cynical. We may show mercy and be called foolish but mercy begets mercy and rewards with protection those who share it. Let your heart be for goodness alone for you will be satisfied. Be willing to suffer and sacrifice for what’s right and true and you will receive great reward. Don’t resist God’s love by keeping your expectations small. The Lord’s gifts are beyond our first thoughts. Be willing to imagine bigger blessings and, most importantly, different and better blessings, the stuff of Jesus’ dream. Can the church say Amen?
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