6th Sunday after Epiphany, February 20, 2019, Year C 

Lord, You are so present with us this day and all days; help us to increase our trust in you. AMEN 

Our Gospel reading today is one of the most beloved set of verses in the New Testament. As I was reading it over and over again, I kept thinking “something is wrong here. These aren’t the Beatitudes I know. What happened to them? The ones I know are longer. Well, in case you were thinking the same, you would be right. There are two sets of beatitudes in the New Testament. The first one has eight beatitudes, is found in Matthew and is part of the sermon on the Mount. The second set found in Luke, has four beatitudes, from the sermon on the plain and is our Gospel reading this morning.

You are used to me quoting from The Message translation and I’m going to do it again. You’ve heard the first beatitude from Luke as read this morning: “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the Kingdom of God.” Now listen to the Message contemporary translation of the same verse: “You are blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding.” This first beatitude in the Lucan version, the one read this morning, offers itself up for a couple of different meanings. One meaning is literal, you are poor and God is a gift to us to sustain us through our poverty. Or we can think about it another way which is sometimes the only time we can find God’s kingdom, is when we have lost everything. 

​One of the most famous stories behind a hymn is the story of the hymn we sang as a part of our service this morning: “It is well with my soul.” I know some of you know this story. Horatio Gates Spafford, a well-known Chicago lawyer had suffered significant losses from the great Chicago fire in 1871 and around the same time he lost his only son to scarlet fever. Because he was working very hard to restore the City of Chicago, he was unable to accompany his wife and four daughters to Europe. The boat the wife and children were traveling struck an iron boat November 22,1873 and all the daughters perished. Only his wife survived.  While he was traveling to Europe to be with his wife, they passed over the site where the Ville du Havre sank and Spafford realized that no matter what happens (or how poor he became) as long as he trusted God it was well with his soul. The words of this hymn testify to Spafford’s great faith and his capacity to trust God no matter what was going on. Even though we just sang these words I would like to read them again.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

 

Mr. Spafford could have said: “God how dare you punish me when I have been your faithful servant for many years.” After all he was a faithful Presbyterian, an elder in his church, and well known for his work in his church. There are inklings of the story of Job in this story of Mr. Spafford. But like others in his position and even some of us in this congregation including me have experienced a great tragedy and it forced us into a close relationship with God and as it says in the NRSV: “blessed are you for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Jeremiah tells us that:

“Cursed is the strong one
    who depends on mere humans,
Who thinks he can make it on muscle alone
    and sets God aside as dead weight.
He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie,
    out of touch with the good earth.
He lives rootless and aimless
    in a land where nothing grows.

7-8 “But blessed is the man who trusts me, God,
    the woman who sticks with God.
They’re like trees replanted in Eden,
    putting down roots near the rivers—
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
    never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
    bearing fresh fruit every season.

 

And some of us today are facing challenges that we can conquer with God’s help. Maybe, like me you are still mourning the loss of a loved one, or maybe you are facing major surgery or an uncertain treatment for a serious health problem. We have a choice. We can try to face this alone, big and brave, I don’t know about you but when I am facing a major problem, I don’t feel big and brave. But the more I lean on God, the more I trust his care of me, the safer I feel.

All of our lives are in God’s hands, we can not trust him and live in fear or we can trust him and live in peace. It’s a choice we all have to make and even several times. Choose to live in peace, it’s the better choice.

I love you and I’m so glad we are on this journey together. We can hold each other up in prayer and love each other through the hard times.

AMEN

The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents