Who Is a Winner in the Kingdom of God?
January 30, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Matthew 5: 1-12
when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples
came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying: 3“Blessed
are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled. 7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy. 8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God. 9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! The theme of our message this morning is “Who Is a Winner in the Kingdom of God?”
Well, my dear friends, those of you who know me well know I’m going to be taking a step out into an area right now in which I have no talent whatsoever, and that is the field of organized sports. There’s a big football game next week, right? The Super Bowl is next week. And I think that’s a fine thing, very entertaining. It’s almost become a national winter holiday of sorts – people get together, and that’s good.
But at the game itself, I do not understand all the things that they do and all the calls that are made. But I do know this: there are two teams; they have different color costumes; the players are usually large men, the size of refrigerators, charging at each other. They throw the ball, they catch, and they score points. And at the end of the game, one of the teams – highly competent, well-trained athletes – is the winner. And the other team – I almost hate to say the word – is the loser. Maybe I’ll just say the ‘L-word’.
It’s the way of the world, isn’t it? One team will have large men dancing, and Gatorade will be poured on them. And the other team may take some pictures of these also heroic, strong, well-trained men with their helmets off and their heads in their hands, asking “What did I do wrong?”
Who is a winner by the world’s standards? I guess it’s the team with the Gatorade. Who is a winner by the world’s standards? The strongest? The youngest? The toughest? The most powerful? The loudest? The prettiest? “There she is, Miss America, There she is, your ideal.” Really? One lovely woman emerging from the crowd to the great disappointment of all those other beautiful, talented people. It’s the way of the world, isn’t it?
My dear friends, I think that in this morning’s gospel Jesus has something different to say. Because even though competition seems to be the way of what Jesus calls ‘this world’, He offers us something different. Christians, children of God, there is more to life than what the world calls winners and losers. Let’s see what Jesus has to say in the Beatitudes, one of the most beautiful passages in all of scripture. Jesus, our Savior, our hero, our Lord, is talking. Let’s see what happens, who Jesus calls the winners in this world.
As I was reading and studying this passage, there was a phrase that just jumped off the page at me. You’re going to think this is strange, but this is the phrase, the very first phrase: “When Jesus saw the crowds.” That leapt off the page, because our Lord – our savior, our hero, our master, our friend – was looking at the people. He was looking at them with compassion, and what He said in His heart was, “How can I help them?” There is nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that has anything to do with self-aggrandizement. He doesn’t say, “You must follow me in this way.” Not here. It says, “I care about you.” He looked out at the crowd.
And who did He see in that crowd? He saw people that the world would not consider winners. He saw people whose spirits were broken, whose hearts were broken by something in life. He saw people who were mourning. And I’ll bet there are people here this day that can identify with that. He saw people who were humbled by tough experiences in the world, the meek. He saw people who just wished that others would do things fairly. He saw people who had sympathetic eyes and were merciful. He saw people who were simple, and He had something good to say about them. He saw people who wanted peace and not war. He saw people who already had the bite marks of what it meant to be a Christian and suffered criticism because of Him, and He saw wonderful things in them.
And to them all, in verse 12, He says, “Rejoice and be glad.” The Biblical scholar William Barclay suggests that the word ‘blessed’ is better translated ‘happy’, joyful inside. Though the world considers all these people something other than winners, Jesus says to them, “No, there’s more to you than that. You are loved by God.” And friend, if you love God, and you know that God loves you, you are a winner in the kingdom of God, because God has something special for you to do. That makes you a winner in the kingdom.
That L word is a terrible one, isn’t it? I heard a story about a boy who had a better idea. He was on a baseball team, and he went out to play against another team. When he got home, his mother said, “Honey, how did your team do?”
He said, “Mom, we came in second.”
By the world’s standards, people may not be winners. But by Jesus’s standards they are. By the world’s standards, maybe you have to be young and pretty to be a winner. But by Jesus’s standards, people whose hair is gray, whose faces aren’t smooth but have smile lines, people over the age of thirty, can be winners – in their compassion and their love, and each one can be the most precious person in the world to someone. They can be winners in the kingdom of God.
A person who has a huge voice that can cut through a symphony orchestra may be a winner by some standards, but a grandmother whose soft voice can sing a baby to sleep can be a winner in the kingdom of God.
A person may have seminary degrees and robes and be pastor of one church or another or of the biggest church in the land and may be helpful in some ways, but a winner in the Kingdom of God may be a Sunday School teacher with a class of two or three who says through the power of the Holy Spirit something absolutely extraordinary on a Sunday morning that touches the heart of a student and changes that student’s life forever. There is a winner in the kingdom of God.
Is a winner somebody who has never had a sorrow, somebody who has been so fortunate that he has never had tough grief to mourn? Jesus said a person who has had sorrows and griefs and has the stripes of grief all the way down to the wrist can be a winner in the kingdom of God, because the stripes of grief are the credentials to help others who walk through the tough valley.
A winner in the kingdom of God is not necessarily a world-famous violinist who can play absolutely everything. A winner in the kingdom of God may be someone, perhaps a child, who plays Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on the piano for a loving and grateful congregation.
Oh, my friend, the winner doesn’t have to be the fastest runner. The winner can be wheel-chair bound. The winner does not have to be the toughest or the strongest. The winners in the kingdom of God just need to know how loved they are by God, and that they are doing God’s work.
Those who strive to do the Lord’s work will not always succeed by the world’s standards. But winners in the kingdom do God’s work anyway. Mother Theresa hung a poem on a wall where she could see it everyday as she got ready for her work:
People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
…Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
…Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and make true enemies;
…Try to succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow;
…Be good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will get you nowhere; they make you vulnerable.
…Be honest and frank anyway.
People favor underdogs but they follow top dogs;
…Fight for the underdogs anyway.
What you spend your days building may be destroyed overnight;
…Do it anyway.
People really need help, but they may attack you if you help them;
…Try to help them anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and you may get kicked;
…Give the world the best you have anyway.
[Webmaster's Note: These "Paradoxical Commandments" have been attributed to many authors but were originally created (and copyrighted) by Dr. Kent M. Keith. For more information, go to: www.paradoxicalcommandments.com.]
For you see, my friends, to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
Winners in the kingdom of God, have you been wounded by life? Have you had cause to mourn? Do you have the bite marks of what happens when you stand up for your Christian faith?
Even if these things have happened to you, choose to rejoice, because Jesus said so. You, my dear, scarred, world-beaten friend, are a winner in the kingdom of God, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2005 Anthony J. Godlefski