I love the old musical “The Music Man” and one of my most favorite scenes in when that old con man Harold Hill begins to spring his trap on the good folks of River City by pointing out they have a pool hall in their little town, and we all know that that spells “Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Pool!” You see, Harold needs the townsfolk to be worried about their young men and their leisure time so he can sell them imaginary band instruments, uniforms and fake music lessons! So the old con man stirs up the people’s natural fears about “what might happen.”
We humans live in a world where troubles come to us. Sometimes those troubles are fast and furious. Sometimes troubles just trickle into our lives with the soul depressing regularity that threatens to sap our strength and our resolve. Other times our troubles seem to come out of left field and catch us by surprise. But troubles do come to all of us. So, if something like difficult circumstances and troubling times are guaranteed to show up in our lives, why are we so often surprised when these difficult times arrive? And, here’s a more difficult question, why aren’t we ready for them?
Jesus makes an amazing statement in Matthew 26:11. He says “For the poor you always have with you…” Before you think the Lord is saying that this is OK, let me quickly add this statement comes when the Lord is rebuking some of His disciples for being upset about the woman who anointed His feet with costly ointment. They made the excuse that this was a waste and the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor. The Lord corrects their shallow thinking that mere money was going to solve poverty and He reminded them that, until the Final Judgement, we humans were going to have difficult times, but we wouldn’t be able to pass through these times if we only focused on our troubles and ignored Him!
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning: At that time, Jesus stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all. And he lifted up his eyes on His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” Luke 6:17-23
Here the Lord reveals that actually people going through these troubles are “blessed!” What? Yes, blessed. People who are poor. People who are hungry. People who are weeping. People who are hated. All these folks are blessed and they should rejoice! Really? Rejoice in being poor, hungry, weeping, and hated? No, not rejoicing for these troubles, but rejoicing in a reality beyond the moment. You see, troubles in our lives offer us a singular opportunity to see the poverty of any created thing to either destroy us or solve our problems. Difficult times offer us an invitation to grasp that there will be a time when these difficulties will be nothing but a distant, and irrelevant, memory. The troubles in our lives are flimsy and temporary UNLESS we foolishly reduce our own lives to temporary and flimsy. And that, dearest, is a lie! We are created in God’s image to be made into His likeness and we will not suffer these temporary troubles forever.
This is the power of the Lord’s words to these people and to us today. He calls them blessed because their temporary troubles invite them to a greater joy and to a hope that these troubles do not define them or reduce their worth or their purpose in the eyes of God. They are not being “punished.” They are not “forgotten.” And they are not “abandoned.” God knows them and He will vindicate all their sufferings and fill every suffering with eternal joy! That doesn’t mean we seek out suffering, but it does mean we refuse to allow suffering and troubles to make us less than we are! And all of that hinges on our willingness to “see” eternally and avoid the temptation to fall into the “tunnel vision” of pain and fear.
Today, are you facing troubles and difficult times? Are you afraid and wondering what to do? Today the Lord invites you to embrace the counter-intuitive reality of the truth that you are “blessed” during these difficult times with the invitation to see these troubles as temporary and unable to destroy you. Of course you could choose to allow them to destroy you, but only if you ignore the “blessings” laying at your feet in the middle of these troubles. Go to the Church and stand in the middle of that “eternal” place and watch as your troubles find their proper perspective. Embrace the invitation to be Orthodox on Purpose.
P.S. This Sunday at 8 PM Eastern we will have a NEW Faith Encouraged LIVE program. This Sunday we are going to talk about Authority and the nature of Authority in the priesthood. What is at the heart of the Orthodox Christian understanding and use of authority in the Church? I think you may be surprised at the answer to this question! That’s this Sunday on AncientFaith.com.