Test Alert
Test Alert

Chaplain's Blog

10 May 2017

Speaking of Death

Jesus said to his disciples, "Don't be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father's house. I wouldn't tell you this, unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together. You know the way to where I am going." Thomas said, "Lord, we don't even know where you are going! How can we know the way?" "I am the way, the truth, and the life!" Jesus answered. "Without me, no one can go to the Father. If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him."

(John 14:1-8)

Over the years I have had the privilege of leading the funeral services of some amazing people. At each of those funeral services, I have tried to speak honestly and openly about the loved one who died. Most ministers and pastors do this because we try to give an authentic description of the life of the person who has died. Sometimes, the deceased person lived a glorious life, and so the description is equally glorious. Other times, the life of the one who died was not so glorious. Sometime it was a life filled with disobedience, or disappointment, or violence, or hatred. Despite this, we ministers wax on about how wonderful the person was. One woman walked up to a friend of mine following her husband’s funeral and said “Thank you, for conducting my husband’s funeral, but who were you talking about in the sermon today?”

Why do we do that? Why do we ministers sugar-coat the truth in times such as that? For myself it is partly because I don’t want to offend loved ones in times of grief. For other ministers I am sure they are trying to convince everyone in attendance (even God, if he is listening to the funeral sermon) that this person was good enough to get into heaven.

Popular theology tells us that we have 60, 70 or 80 years to sufficiently impress God with our goodness, and if we do it right, we will earn a ticket to heaven. We know that this is nonsense, because no one can be ‘that’ good. Yet, some people approach the later years of their lives with a peace and a confidence that is puzzling. How do they do that? How are they able to be fearless in the face of the end of their lives?

I would suggest to you that for Christians the answer lies in the gospel text that is our chapel reading this week. This passage comes at a time when Jesus has begun making the turn toward Jerusalem, where he knows that a cross was waiting for him there. For three years, he had been traveling with his disciples and the way was not easy, the challenges had been many, and they had come to love each other. Now is the time for Jesus to tell them he was leaving soon.

“Don’t worry when I tell you this” Jesus said, “but I am going away soon.” Immediately the disciples become worried. “What do you mean, you’re going away? Where are you going? How long will you be gone? What are we going to do without you Jesus? Who will lead us, who will teach us, how will we survive without you?” All they heard were Jesus’ words “I’m going away.” What they didn’t seem to hear was Jesus saying “I am going away to prepare a place for you, and after I have prepared a place for you, I will come back and take you there.”

The disciples did not get it. The disciples often didn’t get it. When the conversation resumes a bit later in the chapter, it was Philip who says to Jesus “Well, at least show us the Father and we’ll be okay.” Jesus is astonished. “Philip, have I been with you all this time, and you still don’t understand? If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” Philip just stood there, scratching his head.

Jesus was giving his friends a glimpse of the future. He was explaining to them that he was leaving so that he could prepare a place for them in heaven. “There are many rooms in my Father's house.” Yet the disciples didn’t get it. All they could think of was the past three years with Jesus. “It doesn’t get any better than that!” they thought to themselves. “These were the glory years, these were the best times. Now there is nothing left to get excited about.” They didn’t understand that Heaven was what Jesus was preparing, and they just didn’t understand.

Sometimes, we don’t either. We scoff at the world’s idioms, and yet we think there is a ring of truth in them. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. Go for glory, because you only get one go. Those who die with the most toys wins. For myself, these ditties don’t cut it. There must be something more. In this 14th chapter of John, Jesus tells us that there ‘is’ something more. “In my father’s house there are rooms, many ‘mansions’ in other translations, and I am going to prepare one for each of you. When your time is up, it is really just beginning, because I am going to come and get you and take you to the Kingdom.”

The thing that Christians know is that Jesus puts our names there on our baptism day. Jesus doesn’t wait until we’ve proven ourselves. He writes our names in heaven and they can never be erased, no matter how this life turns out.

These verses in John’s gospel are not about death, they are about life. They are not verses about the past, they are about the future. Like the disciples, we can get stuck on the “here and now” and we can’t imagine the “there and later.” The popular world constantly feeds the lie that if we can’t be good enough to earn heaven, then be bad enough to enjoy earth. For Christians this is nonsense, because they know of the resurrection, of the future that Jesus gained for the world when it is received as a gift.

Rev Ben Webb
Chaplain
BTheo, AssocDipMechEng, GradDipEd
Email:
bwebb@thelakes.qld.edu.au

26 April 2017

Red Status Lights

That same day two of Jesus' disciples were going to the village of Emmaus, which was about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem. As they were talking and thinking about what had happened, Jesus came near and started walking along beside them. But they did not know who he was. Jesus asked them, "What were you talking about as you walked along?" The two of them stood there looking sad and gloomy. Then the one named Cleopas asked Jesus, "Are you the only person from Jerusalem who didn't know what was happening there these last few days?" "What do you mean?" Jesus asked. They answered: Those things that happened to Jesus from Nazareth. By what he did and said he showed that he was a powerful prophet, who pleased God and all the people. (Luke 24:13-19)

“The Walk to Emmaus” is one of the most familiar and beautiful stories in the New Testament. What starts as a stroll with a stranger ends with a miracle affirming the resurrection of Jesus. The passage can take us in so many spiritually rich and rewarding directions. Having just commemorated ANZAC day, one theme from the passage is that of grief. If you have ever experienced a deep sense of loss then you will know something of the disciples feeling as they left Jerusalem for Emmaus. Jesus death must have completely crushed the disciple’s faith, hopes and dreams.

On that road to Emmaus, despair, defeat, dejection must have weighed them down. The last thing they expected to see was the risen Jesus, and the passage says they didn’t see him.

The fact that Jesus went unrecognised is a very significant lesson that has provided solace through the centuries. It tells us that Jesus is journeying with us today, even when we don’t recognise him. It tells us that if we don’t look for him, we won’t see him. At the breaking of the bread, Jesus suddenly called an end to the disciples’ self-pity and he woke them to hope. He revealed himself as the risen conqueror of sin and death.

The story illustrates both the divine power and the loving nature of Jesus. In this gospel passage, the risen Saviour does not intrude. He doesn’t come cartwheeling down the road and knock the disciples off their feet. He modestly joins them in conversation. They set the pace on the road they have chosen. He listens to their grief. He wants to know what is important to them. He obviously cares. He did then. He does now. He wants to hear from us today. Bring him our troubles. Give voice to our fears and frustration. What matters to us, matters to Jesus. No issue, no concern is off limits. In Christ we may not always get the answer we want, but we always get the answer we need.

The passage highlights that the risen Christ is with us always. All through the day, in every one we meet we can see Jesus if we look. Too often, Jesus goes unrecognised ignored in our self-absorption. That’s not God’s intention for us. We are called to live in the risen Christ. Continually, not spasmodically, actively, not abstractly. A bit like the active status lights on all our devices. Glowing red lights telling tells us that the device is on. It’s active. It’s engaged. It’s ready to receive. It would be great if our souls came with a little red light that tells us when it’s on, when we’re ready to receive.

To see Jesus, to recognise him in our presence, we need to be engaged. It’s not a painful or even a particularly difficult task yet it does take practice. It takes a daily, conscious effort to connect with Christ and to stay connected throughout the day, looking for opportunities to share his love. For Christians the equivalent of the red status light is prayer. Part of it is spoken, most of it is lived. Welcome in your day with Jesus. Give him your concerns and anxieties. Share your joy with him. Ask him to help work out your resentments and to forgive your lapses. Unlike even the most advanced electronic devices, the more we are turned on to Jesus, the more we are spiritually recharged and the brighter our light shines.

When we look for him, to see him, to recognise him, even welcome him, we will see the world in a different light. For many Christians this perspective defines their lives. They are built reflexively into their day. For others they are unfamiliar, awkward, uncomfortable. But for all of us, there is one simple constant: Jesus is in our midst. True to the Father and true to the promise he has made to us, we need only look for him. We need only engage. He is in our midst in love, in peace, in power. Only a prayer away.

No Christian can make it far without the guiding, loving presence of Jesus. The one who appeared on the road to Emmaus. Wherever each of our life’s roads may lead, through twists and turns, potholes and detours, Jesus is willing to be our guide. Guide us home, Lord. Walk with us. Show us the way. Alleluia. Jesus is risen.

Rev Ben Webb
Chaplain
BTheo, AssocDipMechEng, GradDipEd
Email:
bwebb@thelakes.qld.edu.au

15 March 2017

What is the ‘It’ in your life?

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

Our chapel reading for this week prompts me to ask you, dear reader, two questions. Firstly, what does the word ‘it’ refer to? In other words, when Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you,” what might you expect to receive? Secondly, what is the ‘it’ in your life? In other words, if you were to ask God for something, what would it be?

My assumption is that this verse is misunderstood and misused because it sounds like we can have whatever our heart desires, all we have to do is ask.

There are two problems with this way of thinking. Firstly, it tantalises our materialistic conditioning and then plays on the fantasy that, if we had unlimited resources, we could have anything we wanted. In having ‘it’ we’d be happy.

“Ask, and it will be given you.” If this sounds to you like winning Gold Lotto, then you are in for disappointment. Thinking of Jesus’ words as a blank cheque brings out the worst in us and leads us to think of life in terms of material wealth and of God as Santa. That’s the first problem. The second is that it leads to a truckload of disappointment.

We’ve all asked for things that we didn’t get. Whether it’s asking Santa for a trip to Hawaii for Christmas; or asking the boss for a promotion or a raise; or applying for a dream job, we all know what it’s like, not to get what we asked for and be disappointed. The older we get we realise that that’s just life. As long as ‘it’ has to do with other people, you can deal with it, they’re only human.

Yet when God lets you down, that is a different matter, especially after you have been led to believe that you can ask for anything and expect to receive it. When you ask God for something important, and you ask sincerely, believing that God will come through, and he doesn’t, well, that’s a bitter disappointment to get over. But, Lord, you promised!

This falls into the category of unanswered prayer. You ask God for something and, either God doesn’t hear you or God chooses not to give you what you asked for. A third possibility is, “Not now,” which, for the moment, is the same as, “No.”

Unanswered prayer is one of those ambiguities of faith that’s hard to explain, especially in light of our bible reading. It even gets worse when you pair it with what Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel of John. He said,

Stay joined to me and let my teachings become part of you. Then you can pray for whatever you want, and your prayer will be answered. (John 15:7)

So, we prayerfully ask for all sorts of things. For example, we pray for rain, green lights, travel safety and so on. If only it were that simple, perhaps we wouldn’t be terribly concerned if our prayer weren’t answered, but it’s not. Prayer is serious business, especially when it comes to praying for those matters near and dear to our hearts. For example, praying for the safety of our troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Praying for the health and well-being of our loved ones. Praying for the future of our country. What are we to think when our prayers are not answered. We all have stories of unanswered prayer. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of explanations for unanswered prayer. Even Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane went unanswered.

Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt down on the ground and prayed, "Father, if it is possible, don't let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want." (Mark 14:36)

So, given all we know about the reality of unanswered prayer, how can we take Jesus at his word when he says to us, “Ask, and it will be given you.”? I believe the answer lies in the pronoun, it. That ‘it’ does not refer to whatever you might ask for, instead, it goes back to the previous passage where Jesus said,

But more than anything else, put God's Kingdom first and do what God wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. (Matthew 6:33)

In this way, the passage then reads:

“Ask, and it (the kingdom) will be given you.
Seek, and you will find
(the kingdom).
Knock, and it (the door of the kingdom) will be opened for you.”

So, what is the kingdom of God? First, let me tell you what it’s not. The kingdom of God is not a panacea of human desire. It’s not a recreation of the Garden of Eden, where all you have to do is pick the fruit of your choice and eat to your heart’s content.

The kingdom is being at one with God will’s and the whole of God’s creation; for when you seek to be at one with God and the whole of God’s creation, you’re able to experience life in all its abundance, even in the face of sickness, death and prayers that seem to go unheard.

In the Kingdom of God, at least on this side of heaven loved ones die. Not only older people, but babies and children and young adults in the prime of life. Tragedies strike, accidents happen, storms wreak havoc on innocent victims and people get hurt. Businesses fold, friends move away, life is just as uncertain and, at times, as disappointing as ever.

The difference between living in the world and seeking after the Kingdom of God is this. No matter what, God will be with you and will help you overcome every adversity. As Paul told the Romans,

“…there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)

Seeking after the kingdom of God also means you have the strength of a whole community of support. You’re part of a great family of faith that stands with you when the chips are down. This is the nature of the church and the nature of our Christian community here at TLC. In Paul’s words,

“If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is praised, all the other parts share its happiness. (1 Corinthians 12:26)

When life gets tough and you need strength, help, and support, a church family can be there for you. I don’t believe Jesus ever intended for us to think that, if we believe in him, we can call the shots and order life to our own specifications. I do believe he invites us to seek after God’s kingdom on earth, and all we have to do is ask, seek and knock.

So… what is the ‘it’ in your life? When Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you.” What’s the ‘it’. What do you most hope God will give you or do for you?

If it’s money, power, prestige, popularity, privileges or perks, even if it’s the promise of good health and a long life, you’re likely to be in for a bitter disappointment.

As long as the ‘it’ in your life has to do with the things of this world, you’ll fall short. It’ll never be enough. Only as you seek to live in harmony with God and the whole of God’s creation will you be truly happy, for this is the promise. When you’re willing to seek after God’s kingdom above all else, God will give you all you need for a full and abundant life. So, go ahead: Ask, and it will be given unto you …

Rev Ben Webb
Chaplain
BTheo, AssocDipMechEng, GradDipEd
Email: bwebb@thelakes.qld.edu.au


1 March 2017

Matthew 17:1-9 – Listen to Jesus

Let’s talk about ears.

An elephant’s ears are very large and are used to help keep the elephant cool.

A rabbit’s ears are long. Some rabbit’s ears stand up straight and others flop over.

Owls have short pointed ears.

Dogs have ears that allow them to hear things we can’t hear. Can you describe your dog’s ears?

Bats have interesting ears. Bats make high pitched sounds that they bounce off objects and then catch the sound waves in their ears. They are then able to form a picture in their mind of what is in front of them. You could say that a bat uses its ears to help it see.

A cricket’s ears are located on its front legs, just below its knees.

Can you think of other interesting examples of ears?

Our human ears are wonderful. Sound waves enter our ears and cause tiny bones and hairs in our ears to move, sending a signal to our brain that lets us hear many types of sound.

Why are we talking about ears? In the Bible there is a story in which God asks us to use our ears and listen. The story describes Jesus going up a high mountain with Peter, James and John. While they were there the face of Jesus “shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the light” (17:2).

“… a bright cloud overshadowed them” and “a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him'” (17:5).

On this occasion, God spoke from heaven and asked one thing: “Listen to him.” God is asking us to listen to the words of Jesus. Those words are recorded in the Bible and are there for us to read and hear. We can learn how to make our lives and the lives of others better by listening to the advice and lessons we find there. Let’s use our wonderful ears and listen.

Our bible reading today is being read from Matthew chapter 17 verses 1 to 9. It is called 'The true glory of Jesus'.

Six days later Jesus took his friends Peter and the brothers James and John with him. They went up on a very high mountain where they could be alone. There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

All at once the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

While Peter was still speaking, the shadow of a bright cloud passed over them. From the cloud a voice said, "This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!"

When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid that they fell flat on the ground. Jesus came over and touched them. He said, "Get up and don't be afraid!" When they opened their eyes, they saw only Jesus.

On their way down from the mountain, Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he had been raised from death.

This is the word of the Lord

Thanks be to God.

Rev Ben Webb
Chaplain
Email:
bwebb@thelakes.qld.edu.au


15 February 2017

He Hit me First!

Jesus was teaching his disciples and said “You have heard people say, Love your neighbours and hate your enemies." I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who is nasty to you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. God makes the sunrise on both good and bad people. God sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even sneaky people love their friends. If you are nice only your friends, what's so great about that? Don't the nasty do that also? You must always act like your Father in heaven. Matthew 5; 42-48

It’s a story that is repeated on every Primary school playground. Two children get into it during morning tea; “he did this, so I did that” and it goes pear shaped from there. When they get back to the classroom, Jill trips Jack. After lunch, Jack breaks Jill’s pencil on purpose. When nobody is looking, Jill writes on Jack’s work, and later, Jack steals Jill’s folder. After school, Jack and his friends face Jill and her friends, and they call each other names. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody else gets hurt more badly. Then there is no telling when or if these conflicts will ever end.

We have all experienced this sort of escalating pettiness and we readily admit that it is silly. I would suggest that we can remove the names “Jack” and “Jill” and insert the words “husband” and “wife” and the story is much the same. We could insert the names of two rival high schools, or two rival companies, or Labour and Liberal, or Israel and Palestine. Conflict at any level is conflict. If not preventable, most conflict is at least resolvable, but not until one side refuses to retaliate and instead decides to reconcile.

To do that, one side must stop the retaliation. To end the warring, one side must be willing to say “no more! That’s enough!” It is a risk. Billy might take another punch. A spouse might hurl another insult. Nations might lob another bomb…and then another…and then another.

This passage from Matthew is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The sermon is full of phrases that comfort and encourage us; The Beatitudes, for example, The Lord’s Prayer, and Christ’s invitation to seek, knock and ask. Jesus’ words also contain some harsh commands, some seemingly impossible expectations. “Don’t hate your enemies, love them” he said. “Don’t judge people,” “Your anger is just as serious as murder.”

Jesus must have known that what he said would contradict the ethics of the day. This is true of the words that are before us today.

“You have heard people say, Love your neighbours and hate your enemies." I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who is nasty to you. Matt 5:44.

Jesus’ words are radical. In the Old Testament, the law of the land was equal retaliation. If someone took your cow, you could rightfully take his lamb. If your fence was broken by your adversary, you didn’t ask them to repair it, you simply broke their fence. If a neighbour’s child threw a rock and took out your child’s tooth, you were obligated to knock the other kid’s tooth out. That was the legal system. That was defined justice.

When Jesus said these words, it must have stunned his hearers. “What do you mean, Jesus? Are we just supposed to take it? Just let people hit us, and boss us, and steal from us?” The radical implication of Jesus’ words is “yes.” It is just as radical today. Seldom do we see anyone turn the other cheek in a competitive, conflicted world of ours. Online, we go at it ‘tit for tat’, trolling each other in petty conflict. When marriages end, the feuding spouses will stop at nothing so they can feel vindicated and victorious in divorce courts.

Do we like it like this? Do we relish being in conflict with neighbours, our spouse, or nations or adversaries? Do we enjoy the arguing and fighting? I expect we would say, no, we don’t really like it. Then why do we do it? Why do we continue to fight and attack and insult and avenge? “Because he hit me first. Because she started it. Because it’s their fault.”

When we look at the fractured condition of our world, we should not be stunned by Jesus’ words of non-violence, we should be amazed that he warned us and we never listened. If just once, someone would stand up and say “Enough! No more fighting!” perhaps then the cycle would end, and peace would evolve. Yet we don’t; because no nation, no neighbour, no politician, no Jack or Jill has the courage to say “no more.”

Until now. Until you and I do so. If we return to our same patterns of revenge and retribution and retaliation, then we have intentionally chosen to ignore the words of Jesus. If we insist on our pound of flesh, if we demand an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we have announced to the world that Christians can pick and choose what words of Jesus we want to follow.

Pastor Gordon MacDonald has said this: “The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church. You don’t need to be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”

Imagine how the world would be if just the Christians stopped fighting. Think for a minute what our neighbourhoods would look like, or our churches, or our families, or our political arenas, if the followers of Christ turned the other cheek whenever possible. What if two billion Christians believed in Jesus’ call to love, kindness, and grace, and began to live their lives that way? The world will be changed.

It does not start with 2 billion. It starts with one. When you go to Ikea, maybe you’ll let someone have that prime parking space, even though you got there first. When your neighbour’s dog does its business on your lawn, you do not pick it up and throw it over the fence; you just pick it up. When your employer tells you that you are no longer needed, you swallow hard and say “Thank you for the privilege of working here.” When their Jill punches your Jack, don’t call your lawyer. You call Jill’s dad and say, “Let’s take the kids to a Roar game so we can have them become friends, not enemies.”

If we belong to the God of Grace, we must become people of grace. There is no other way. Someday, somewhere, someone will be explaining how it is that your neighbourhood lives at peace, and they will point to you and say, “She started it.” Be a person of grace today!

Rev Ben Webb
Chaplain
Email:
bwebb@thelakes.qld.edu.au


1 February 2017

"I'll be happy when...."

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the side of a mountain and sat down. Jesus' disciples gathered around him, and he taught them: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven! God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort! God blesses those people who are humble. The earth will belong to them! God blesses those people who want to obey him more than to eat or drink. They will be given what they want! God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy! God blesses those people whose hearts are pure. They will see him! God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children! God blesses those people who are treated badly for doing right. They belong to the kingdom of heaven. God will bless you when people insult you, mistreat you, and tell all kinds of evil lies about you because of me. Be happy and excited! You will have a great reward in heaven. People did these same things to the prophets who lived long ago. (The Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:1-12)

"I’ll be happy when…” There must be a million possible endings for that sentence. I will be happy when I grow up and move away from home. I will be happy when Easter holidays come and I do not have to go to school. I will be happy when I fall in love. I will be happy when I can buy a new car. I will be happy when I am promoted. I will be happy when I retire. When will you be happy? What will it take? What are the chances that it is going to happen? How long will it be?

Jesus has some wisdom on the subject. What he has to say seems exactly backwards, upside down. Jesus says, "God blesses those people who depend only on him". The first thing that we need to notice is that Jesus changes the vocabulary. He does not talk about happiness, although some translations of the Bible use the word "happy" instead of the word "blessed."

I think "blessed" is a better word here, because of the ways that we use the word "happy." Happiness is taking time off for a holiday, getting promoted, getting a new car, watching the Broncos thump Melbourne. Jesus has something different in mind, something that goes deeper and that seems strange when we read it. Jesus says:

  • "God blesses those people who depend only on him."
  • "Blessed are those who mourn...."
  • "Blessed are the gentle, the meek..."
  • "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness...."

Those are not the rules as we know them. The rules as we know them are:

  • Blessed are the rich, because they can buy what they want.
  • Blessed are the strong, because they can take what they want.
  • Blessed are winners, because it is no fun to lose.
  • Blessed are those who eat at the best restaurants, because they will be filled.

Jesus says, "God blesses those people who depend only on him." He goes even further, giving us a total of nine beatitudes in Matthews gospel. I can't do justice to all nine in the time that I have, so I'll treat just this first beatitude, "God blesses those people who depend only on him." The Greek word that is translated as "depend" is ptochos (p-toe-CHOS). Ptochos means abject poverty. True poverty is a cruel thing. It breaks people. Poor people suffer. Confronted daily with their own helplessness, the poor know the difference that even a small act of mercy can make. The poor watch eagerly for a gesture or a glance that might promise help. The poor long for a bit of kindness. The poor crave a bit of dignity.

Standing before God, the poor who depend on God are like that. They bring nothing in their hands that God needs, and nothing in their hearts that compels God to accept them.

  • People who depend only on God in poverty, hope that God will provide.
  • They come to God in their brokenness--hoping that God will mend them.
  • Those who depend on God come to God in their sin--hoping to be forgiven.
  • Those who depend on God come to God in their grief--hoping to be comforted.
  • Those who depend on God come to God in their illness--hoping to be healed.
  • They don't come bargaining with God, because they have nothing to offer.
  • It is their humility that makes them fertile soil to receive God's blessings.

Jesus says, "God blesses those people who depend only on him." Blessed are those who come to God on their knees. That isn't our preferred mode of travel, on our knees. We prefer to stand on our feet, to be in control. We like to pay for what we get. We like not to be in anyone's debt. We like to pay pass instantly. We like to dictate terms. But Jesus says, ": God blesses those people who depend only on him."

We fight hard not to be poor in spirit. We try to get the best grades we can, so we can get the best job that we can. We work as hard as we can, and do the best that we can. We try desperately to be in control of our lives. But Jesus says, "God blesses those people who depend only on him." Our best efforts leave us exhausted. How many of us know what it means to be exhausted at the end of the week. Jesus says, "God blesses those people who depend only on him." We're exhausted, in part, because we don’t depend on God. We're proud, so desperate to be in control, so desperate to do it our way. We spend so much energy on trivial things. We work long hours, to buy things we don't need, to impress people we don't like. Why do we do it?

Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest and author, once met Mother Teresa in Rome. The first thing he noticed about her was her constant focus on Jesus. People were asking questions, and she was answering in a way that reflected her total focus on Jesus. Her answers sounded, at first blush, simplistic and naive. However, Nouwen sensed not only her own personal strength, but also the subtle power of her answers.

When Nouwen finally had an opportunity to speak with Mother Teresa, he told her of his problems. He spoke of his struggles. He asked her advice. She answered simply, "If you spend one hour a day in contemplative prayer and never do anything which you know is wrong, you'll be all right." Nouwen says, "With these words she answered none, as well as all, of my problems. It was now up to me to be willing to move to the place where that answer could be heard."

Jesus says, "God blesses those people who depend only on him." The meaning of this first beatitude, and of all nine beatitudes, is that God blesses us when we come to him with empty hands, bowing before the throne of grace, ready to receive whatever blessing that God chooses to give us, ready to follow in whatever path God chooses to lead us.

The promise is this. "God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!" Notice that Jesus doesn't say, "theirs WILL BE the kingdom of heaven." He says, "they belong to the kingdom of heaven. "We don't have to wait for the kingdom. We can enter it now. Jesus doesn't issue an order to depend on God but, instead, gives a blessing. He promises that, when our need is greatest, when we need to depend on God, there we will find God, and there we will find blessing. "God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!"

Rev Ben Webb
College Chaplain
Email: bwebb@thelakes.qld.edu.au