Going Deeper 2-3-20

The term blessed can be a bit tricky to define, and the Greek word markarios, translated as “blessed”, has a long history in which its definition has shifted in various ways.  That said, a very good translation—one which works quite well in the context of the Beatitudes, is the phrase “better off…”   Please listen to words and phrases from our Gospel reading using this translation : Then [Jesus] began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Better off are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…  those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake.”  By contrast Jesus also taught that the following are also “Better off-- the merciful…the pure in heart…” and the “peacemakers.”  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
There are profound and vitally important truths here, ones which many might judge as utter non-sense.  We are to understand that we are better off when life is difficult.  And we are to believe that we are better off when mercy, purity, and peace-making are at the core of our lives.
Now some of you may be thinking, “Hey, I thought this sermon was going to be another one in a series on Christian outreach.”  Well, you are right; and this is about outreach.  A fundamental part of our understanding about Christian outreach must be what we just sang: People need the Lord!  And as God’s children, we believe everyone does indeed need the Lord.  
Sadly, it seems that those who are better off according to our cultural standards—the popular, prosperous, and powerful—seldom seem to really acknowledge that need.  If they do say they need the Lord, it is often that they need to Lord to keep showering them with more and more power, popularity, and prosperity, or need God to make them feel as though they’re blessed simply because they deserve to be so because of how good they are and how hard they work.
At least it seems some think and feel that way.  And if someone truly has concluded they do not need the Lord, then it will be very difficult to convince them otherwise.  Difficult, but not impossible.  We will need God’s help.  As a matter of fact, we need God’s help if we are going to be successful and bringing anyone to Jesus.  Only God can create faith.
So let’s talk about ways we can try to serve as channels through whom God works.
Last week the emphasis was on the vital importance of modeling what a life lived with an understanding of our undeserved status as beloved children of God looks like.  It is marked with humility, graciousness, and generosity, with an understanding that we are not super-Christians who are superior to others but are merely beggars who are moved by love to tell other beggars where we have found bread… the Bread of Life.
It is vital to our outreach effectiveness that others see God at work in and through our lives.  When we are loving and serving the so-called “least of these,” others will see the authenticity of our faith and our love for God.  Remember, no one cares how much we know until they know how much we care.  That is why we are so much better off to be merciful, to have pure hearts, and to be peace-makers.  This makes it possible for God to work through us to draw others into His family… which is the most important task we have as disciples of Jesus.
So, the first steps are to love and have compassion, and then to demonstrate those qualities through our loving service of others.  As Jesus taught, we are to “let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.”
Now, what comes next?
It is very important for us to make a commitment to outreach, and to ask God to fill us with His Spirit so that we see the Great Commission to “Go and make disciples” as a calling for each and every one of us.  Yes, we have different gifts, talents and abilities.  And yes, we will not all do outreach in identical ways.  But if we intentionally seek to reach out, God will work through us.
I would urge each of us to pray that God would put someone on our heart that we might reach out to.  This could be someone very close, or someone we may not even have met yet.  But let’s pray that God would open our eyes and our hearts to perceive an individual or family who needs to be drawn closer to God and His family.
Again, each situation will be different.  If it involves someone we do not yet know well, we may need to spend some time getting to know them, developing a friendship, or simply serving and caring for them in some way.  We certainly will need to continue praying for them.  
In some situations, our outreach might simply lead to an invitation for them to come to church or to a gathering of some kind.  In other situations, we might need to look for opportunities to share what our relationship with God means to us, or to speak that love into difficult situations in their lives.  Again, this is at least one of the reasons why people are better off being poor in spirit, in mourning, or even persecuted.  Difficulties often break the soil to receive the seeds of grace and faith... which our the greatest needs we have!
With all of that being said, I do want to emphasize the importance of our being able to give voice to our faith and what it means to us.  Many people get nervous about this, and some look to books or workshops to help prepare them.  And those can be very helpful.  But the most important thing is to simply speak in our own ways and with our own voices.
Here is what I would encourage us all to do…
Spend some time thinking and praying about how to effectively express your faith, and to share what being a child of God means to you.  Some of us may have very powerful stories.  Others may be more simple and ordinary.  God can speak through both.  Let humility and grace saturate what you say.  Don’t pretend to have all the answers, or to be a finished product.  Just humbly speak grace as you share what it means to you to be loved by your Abba/Father.
Remembering all we’ve talked about over the past few weeks, and, more importantly, recalling what God has done in and through your life, create a testimony.  Just be yourself and share your heart. Write it down.  Share it with someone who could help you improve it.  And practice it.  Just prepare yourself for whatever opportunity God will put before you.
Most of all, continue to rely on the Holy Spirit.  Pray for opportunities to reach out to those who need the Lord, who need His gracious and healing presence.  Love, serve, listen, share.  
Remember, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, and you are part of the body of Christ, His Church.  Go, therefore, and make disciples.  That is our mission together.  Let me know how I can help.  And offer to be of help to one another.  All to the glory of God and for the healing of His world and of His children.  Zion… let your light shine! Amen.