A Sermon Outline based on Matthew 5:1-12
Focus (What does the text say?): God and all of God's goodness is present with us in all of life, even our sufferings and failures.
Function (How does the text affect the listeners?): The foundation of the Christian life is learning to receive and be thankful for the love of God.
I. Introduction - There is pain in life.
A Time When I Felt Helpless
A few years ago, a man came to visit me who was going through a divorce and the loss of a job. He was feeling very lonely, and this loneliness awakened in him a desire to reach out to God. He wanted me to help him do this. And so we talked about prayer and Bible study, and he began doing these things. I encouraged him to get back into a regular habit of attending worship, which he did. I encouraged him to find ways he could serve others through the Church. But after a few weeks of this, he was still feeling distant from God.
How could I help him find faith? He knew the facts of faith. He knew God loved him. He was doing all the right things. But the profound loneliness remained. I reassured him that his divorce and loss of job were very weighty matters, and that feelings of abandonment and failure and anger were to be expected. I encouraged him to keep doing the daily tasks of faith and to keep looking for God's presence. He explored the possibilities of professional counseling. And still, the depression continued. God was there for him, we both believed. But he could not overcome his loneliness.
I felt very helpless. I could not make a great breakthrough happen in his life. He could not make it happen. It was a long and difficult time for him and, to this day, he does not feel a whole lot better.
As a pastor, I have been privileged to have many people share their lives with me, to share their life stories, to share times of great happiness, such as weddings and baptisms, and times of great sadness, such as divorces and death. It is easy to understand a loving God creating a world in which great joy is possible. But why sadness and pain? I do not know. But I do know that many people can and do live good lives even the presence of great difficulties.
A Time When I Have Been Part of Healing Love
We have a bereavement group which has been meeting at our Church each Tuesday afternoon for five years. People come to this group whose spouses have died, whose children have died, whose very closest loved ones have died. They feel the deepest pain I can imagine, and yet, this group, composed of other people in grief, does a wonderful job of helping people reawaken the possibility of joy in life.
And from listening to the counselor and social workers who have worked in this group, I have learned a profound spiritual truth. The loss of a loved one is not a wound that can be erased. Grief cannot be "gotten over". People who have suffered profound grief are permanently changed by their experience. But they can still live meaningful and joyful lives. The truth is, we humans cannot defeat the brokenness of this fallen creation. But, because of God's love, it need not defeat us, either. There is comfort for those who mourn. There can be satisfaction for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Jesus did not say that God would remove the effects of evil in this life. But God's blessing can overcome those effects. The very beginning of Jesus' teaching in Matthew is this strange message of good and bad news. The bad news is that we will suffer in this life. The good news is that God never abandons us.
Our Part in This Blessing
And notice the gradual shift that Jesus makes as he describes the blessings of God. The first blessings are for those who have be abused or oppressed. But slowly, he begins to describe a more active life. He talks of people who act with mercy, people who make peace, people who do the right thing even when it is difficult. Jesus seems to be saying that even as God is with those who suffer, so will God's people act on behalf of those who suffer.
One of the bits of wisdom our bereavement group often shares with newly bereaved people is that, as soon as they are able, it is helpful to find some way to reach out and help others. It is much easier to live with grief when our life is making a difference in someone else's life.
Commissioning of the Emmaus Lay Leadership Team
Today we are commissioning our leadership team for a Walk to Emmaus event. The Walk to Emmaus is a weekend designed for Christians in the Church to reinvigorate their faith. In a typical event, there will be forty or so adults along with a similar number of leaders and helpers. On these weekends, simply being in the company of other Christians, meditating on the various aspects of the Christian life, and living that life as faithfully as possible, there is typically an atmosphere of joy that builds up among the participants. We believe this is the blessing of God. It is always there, but we notice it more when we take time to consider God's love and give thanks for that love together.
(The Emmaus leadership strives very hard to avoid emotional manipulation. Their goal is to honestly examine and reinvision a genuine Christian life. They try to have fun in the process, but they deliberately avoid manipulation. However, emotions of joy and happiness do tend to grow, I believe, in response to the true joy of understanding God's love for us and all of the implications of that love.)
In a few minutes, we will pray for these leaders from our congregation that we are sending out like missionaries. They are on a mission to serve the Church. They are called to rely firmly in God's grace and help others trust in this grace with them. They are called to examine their own life of faith, with humility and honesty, to discover the ways in which they need to grow in order to serve others. But most of all, they are called to be witnesses to the ways in which God has acted in their lives. And this is the power behind the Emmaus movement, people simply telling the story of how God has been faithful in each person's life.
God and all of God's goodness is present with us in all of life, even our sufferings and failures. This presence of God is a result of God's grace. It is a gift. We cannot earn it. But we can become more deliberate in looking for it.
There are times when we may feel alone, like the young man I spoke of earlier. But our faith reminds us that we are not alone. In "earthly" terms, I do not know what the answer will be for him. But I do know there is an answer. Even when we feel helpless, we know we are not hopeless.In all times of life, God's blessings surround us.