Imagine with me for a minute that you have been presented with the following story of how a human life will play out. Consider it Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Minority Report. This life hasn’t been lived yet, but you have full editing powers!
Adam will be born in March. He will be declared ‘mostly blind’ by the time he is six, that will prevent him from being able to read well and see the colors of the world around him. He will struggle as a student, but due to his needs, he will meet another student who can see but can’t hear named Robert. The two will bond and grow together until it is discovered that Robert has terminal brain cancer, and he will pass away as they enter high school.
Continuing to struggle academically, Adam will go to a local college and work part-time to help pay the bills. Driving him from school to work one day, Adam’s dad will be hit by a drunk driver, and their car will plow into a family of four. Although it was not their fault, Adam and his family blame themselves for the loss of life, and Adam falls into a depression.
Eventually, Adam graduates and loves his new job, but the recession causes Adam to be laid off and his handicap keeps him from receiving many job offers. He finally files for bankruptcy, and lives month to month. There’s no retirement and as he grows older, he finds himself working harder than ever before.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt presented a case study similar to this to a group of participants and asked them to edit out what they would change about this as-of-yet-unlived life. One hundred percent of the respondents edited out the tragic moments, and the hardships. Author and theologian John Ortberg asked in response if they weren’t “wasting a crisis?”
Seems crazy, doesn’t it? That we might ‘waste’ a crisis, one that was avoidable?
The truth is that bad things do happen, and in our Scripture from Matthew today, we see Jesus laying out how we respond to the tragedies… not how we avoid them.
Hear them again through the Message’s translation:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
So what does it look like if we live through this blessing in the middle, the space between joy and pain, between sunshine and rain, between despair and achieved hope?
One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, there’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand.”
The mother said, “Oh? What is it?”
The little girl replied, “Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said God is so big that He could hold the world in His hand. Is that true?”
The mother replied, “Yes, that’s true, honey.”
“But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?”
Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was true.
With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, “If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?”
If we all lived the BEATTITUDES, GOD WOULD SHINE THROUGH.
These blessings in the middle are our “Be-Attitudes,” the way that Jesus told those who would listen what they are to be, what they should look like.
But too often we know what the Beattitudes look like because of what we or other people are not.
Adam Hamilton prepared a sermon on the Beatitudes and asked people for examples:
“My mom isn’t a follower of Christ and looks nothing like the beatitudes. Fortunate are poor in spirit? My mother knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. She has no hope beyond having more right now. Fortunate are the meek? My mother treats everything like a battle with winners and losers. She seeks to be a winner which looks nothing like the gentleness you spoke of in meekness. Fortunate are the merciful? My mother has a condescending personality and keeps score. She seeks revenge, not justice. She is poisoned by hate. It’s all about her. My mother is suffering in a spiritless hopeless world. She has no hope, only the cross of cynicism to bear. You get the picture. Her life is the opposite of the beatitudes. It is misery.”
Unfortunately, sometimes, the best definition of the Beatitudes is the anti-Beatitude.
People who are rich only in money. The people who never embracing the suffering of others. The brash and the pushy. The satisfied in real food and drink who don’t worry that others are hungry; the satisfied with “I know it all” who don’t hunger after more of what God offers. The merciless. The peacekeepers, or those who take what they want.
Sometimes, tragically, that’s the Church!
Years ago, I worked at a coffee shop near the University of Kentucky while I was in seminary. The shop was owned by some Christians who worked hard to make sure that all were welcome. The employees represented all points of view and backgrounds. The atmosphere was collegiate… and discussions flew fast and furious. But all of the employees hated to work on Sunday.
Why, you ask?
Because the post-church crowd left the worst tips.
You say, but that’s just one place in a college town…
A few months ago, I found myself on the receiving end of a sermon, from a waitress at Cracker Barrel. She told me, as I sat there with three other ministers, that as a divorced mother trying to make a living, she couldn’t stand to work… on Sundays… because the tips were so bad.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s just the serving types on Sundays who see church and want it to be different. I imagine many people reading this feel the same way.
But are we actually doing something about it? Have we bought into the American dream where we make enough to take care of ours, where we think once we’ve checked off the ‘been to church’ box that we’re done for the week, where we expect that when it comes to service that someone else will cover it?
Look at these Beatitudes again.
You’re blessed when you don’t know what tomorrow holds, when you count on God to provide and don’t worry about the rest.
You’re blessed when you’ve given everything for the kingdom of God, when your hands are empty so they can be filled with and by God himself.
You’re blessed when you’re so hungry that you can’t get enough of God. When worship isn’t enough, and Bible study isn’t enough, and praying over meals isn’t enough, but you want it all.
You’re blessed when you care so much for others that your care for yourself comes second, when your compassion for others’ suffering makes you incarnational in their experience.
You’re blessed when even your thoughts are turned over to God, when you care most about the things that matter to God.
You’re blessed when your care for others and for the things of the kingdom bring you trouble, because troubling others for God is part of being a disciple. When you catch flack for doing the right thing, you know you’re pursuing God and you’re in good company with Elijah, and Jeremiah, and Paul, and Peter, and James, and John…
When life gets tough, we tend to go looking for help. When we experience hardship, we recognize better that it’s about our relationship with God and not about us. We recognize that we can’t do it on our own. Sometimes, if we’re wise, we’ll see that hardship “produces perseverance, and that perseverance leads to maturity” (James 1:2-4).
A few weeks ago, we watched Meet the Robinsons, a Disney movie that I missed somewhere in my early 20s. It’s about an orphaned kid named Lewis who grows up wanting to invent time travel so he can find out who his mom really is. But through the course of the movie, he comes to recognize that he’s used his struggle to make himself better; he’s become a better person who will change the world because of his hardship. And he chooses not to meet his mother when he gets the opportunity.
The next day, I was skimming ESPN for good articles leading up to the Super Bowl and tripped across the story of Seattle Seahawks’ backup fullback Derrick Coleman who is deaf. Hearing went gradually from his ears, and there’s even the chapter of the story where he was beaten up on the playground, and his hearing aids thrown away, just because he was different. But Coleman did more pushups, he focused more, he drove himself to be a running back at UCLA and a Super Bowl member of the Seahawks. His deafness became an attribute when the crowd is going crazy and when the criticism is raining down- he embraced the difficulty of not being able to hear.
How’s that for an attitude change? Could you make it?
What would it look like if we were so much of the BE ATTITUDES that people couldn’t help but notice? If we were so like Jesus that when the world seems to fall apart or other people have given up hope, that we shine?
What happens if we were so full of love for others, even those who were alien and repulsive and troubling to us, that people marveled at our love capacity?
What would it look like if people wanted to work on Sunday lunch because that’s when the best tips came?
What would happen if we started to show people that church wasn’t a ‘defense of truth’ but a way of love?
Jesus’ Be Attitudes weren’t about dry theology and “thou shall nots…” They were ways that we could love others, and in the process, show them what God was like.
Be someone’s Jesus Attitude this week. I dare you.