Readings for the day (6th Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, February 17, 2019):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
So apparently we make enough purchases on Amazon throughout the year that they decided that we were deserving enough to receive their holiday toy catalog this past fall. As I was getting back in the car from picking up the mail, my boys instantly noticed the catalog and immediately began asking to see it. They didn’t even know what it was. All they saw were the toys on the cover and they assumed that the catalog had to have been for them.
As soon as we got into the house, they threw off their coats and shoes and ran into the living room with the catalog to begin oohing and awing over all of the nice shiny toys. With each page they turned, they pointed at almost every single toy (basically any toy that didn’t have the color pink on it, they pointed to). And as they pointed to a toy, I heard them say, “I want that, and that, and that, and that…” This continued on for a good 20-30 minutes as they diligently examined every page of that amazing Amazon toy catalog.
So why it is that children instinctively desire to possess whatever they view as cool and fun? Is it because they think that they are entitled to it? Is it because they think they deserve it? I don’t think so. For the vast majority of children, I don’t think their desire for these toys comes from a sense of entitlement. I think it is simply a longing for happiness. The young ones don’t have a concept of money or how much something actually costs. They see a colorful image on a page and begin dreaming and imagining how wonderful it would be to play with and enjoy that toy. If you think back to your own childhood, isn’t that what you did when the Sears or the JCPenny catalogs came in the mail? I didn’t look at the price tag. I just looked at the image and pictured playing with that toy, and how happy I would be playing with said toy.
As an adult we do the same thing; it just looks different. Because walking around and pointing at everything that we want that we think will make us happy and saying, “I want that, and that, and that.” Is not socially acceptable. But our ultimate goal is to be blessed or to at least consider ourselves to be blessed. In Jesus’ sermon, He looks at His disciples and gives them four ways of being blessed, and four ways of not being considered blessed according to God.
To be blessed though, according to God, is not the same type of blessing that the world wants us to think that a blessed person looks like. To be blessed, according to the world, means that we get to have all of the riches and all of the happiness that we want. To be blessed though, doesn’t mean that we are going to have everything that we want. Because if we view our blessedness through the lenses of needing to acquire so many riches and possessions, it becomes a never-ending cat and mouse chase. We think that if only we would have a little bit bigger house, then we will be happy. If we only get a little bit higher wage, then we’ll be happy. If we can just get away for a nice relaxing vacation (where there is no snow or cold), then we’ll be happy. When our happiness is rooted in the possessions and other stuff of this world, we will be striving to reach something that seems to always be just out of reach for us. And if we play this game long enough, eventually we just give up and give in. And that is when we figure that the “woes” that Jesus talks about, actually fit us better than the “blessings.” Because reaching a state of blessedness is simply unattainable. And by the world’s standards, none of us here are going to reach that ultimate state of blessedness.
But to be blessed actually isn’t all about being filled with riches and happiness. Being rich in this world does not equal happiness. Rather, to be blessed means that we are at peace with our current status. To be blessed means that we are satisfied with what we currently have. To be blessed means that we are unburdened by the world’s capitalist and consumerist tendencies. And maybe you already know this. Maybe you already know that you don’t need the biggest house, the fanciest clothes, the latest gadgets, in order to view yourself as blessed. But did you know that to be blessed doesn’t mean that there will be an absence of struggle in your life either? That just because God considers you blessed, doesn’t mean that instantly your life is going to be easy and that there will be no issues or problems coming your way. That you have one big force field surrounding you.
There is this movie that I enjoyed watching as a child called The Little Giants. It is about these children who are not good enough to make the elite peewee football team. The world would say that are not “blessed” with football skills. But they really want to play, so they form a team and prepare to play against the elite team. One of the “unskilled” players gets hurt in practice. The next day his mom allows him to come to practice again, but she wrapped him up completely in bubble wrap. Being blessed by God does not mean that we are going to get all of the riches we want, but it also doesn’t mean that we are going to walk around wearing bubble wrap to shield us from any danger. In fact, Jesus suggests that as we move towards God, that movement is going to create struggles for us. That because of our belief in Jesus and being associated with His name, struggles will arise for us. To be blessed, is to live aware that these struggles, on account of Jesus’ name, are only temporary. The struggles that we face will not last forever.
All of this boils down to where you locate your trust and your happiness. Do you put your trust in the things of this world? Do you put your trust in mere mortals, as Jeremiah says? Or do you put your trust in the Lord? Jeremiah tells the people that they put their trust first and foremost in God, and God alone. And it is out of that trust that stems happiness. Riches don’t create happiness, but trust does. Trust creates happiness.
Children create and invent and dream. Their dreams are not rooted in the financial realm. Their dreams are rooted in pure happiness. So when they see a toy in a catalog, their dream is not that the toy will create happiness for them. They trust that happiness comes from the activity itself – the creating, the inventing, the dream.
Jesus says that we are blessed not by the physical possessions or personal worth that we have. Rather, we are blessed and receive our true happiness from the Lord. That no matter how many struggles or obstacles we face from day to day or week to week, we can trust that our Lord is with us, now and forever. Amen.
© 2019 Anthony Christoffels. All Rights Reserved.