(Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18, Psalm 149, Ephesians 1:11-23)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/KLc_XPiaJfo)
20Then [Jesus] looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the joke about the young man who asked an old rich man how he made his money. The old guy fingered his worsted wool vest and said, “Well, son, it was 1932. The depth of the Great Depression. I was down to my last nickel. I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for ten cents. The next morning, I invested those ten cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and sold them at 5:00 pm for 20 cents. I continued this system for a month, by the end of which I’d accumulated a fortune of $1.37.” “And that’s how you built an empire?” the boy asked. “Heavens, no!” the man replied. “Then my wife‘s father died and left us two million dollars.”
This morning we set about the task of celebrating the lives of loved ones who passed and went to be with our Lord in the last year. We remember all the shared conversations and gatherings, all those mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that made our loved ones so special to us. Memories upon memories fill our hearts and our minds and we take comfort in knowing that they rest eternally with our Lord. We rejoice in believing they have left us only momentarily, for we will meet up with them yet again one fine day. And for many of us, they left us with more than precious memories. They, like that rich man’s father-in-law, left us with some form of an inheritance.
Now inheritances have always seemed a little strange to me. In their most generous form, they are intended to better the lives of those that are left behind in this world. In their most selfish form, they are intended to hurt those left behind. All too often I’ve witnessed even the most generous inheritances cause more harm than good. My own family is an example of a family that was divided over inheritances. I have relatives that I’ve been estranged to for the last 20 years because of mishandled inheritances. Perhaps some of you have experienced similar divisions. Inheritances, though well-intentioned, have a nasty habit of destroying relationships rather than building them up. Perhaps because they aren’t earned, they can’t ever be fully appreciated. Perhaps because they lead to mishandled relationships and careless living. In either case, inheritances tend to create strange behavior and I’m a little suspicious of their benefits.
Nevertheless, I also think they can serve a very useful and important role in providing hope for the downhearted. A generous and selfless inheritance can be a source of great hope for those who have little to hope for in this world. Hope is a great gift! Indeed, one of the three great gifts of God: hope, faith, and love. Though not as great as love, at least in the opinion of the apostle, Paul, hope is a powerful force that can create equally powerful change in our world. We need hope to endure the trials of this world. We need hope to give us strength to keep getting up when the world pushes us down. We need hope to encourage us to change relationships and situations that hurt us. Without hope, we’d quickly succumb to despair and apathy. We’d have no drive to better our lives or the lives of those around us. Yes, hope is a vital gift from God that we must never take for granted. Inheritances, as potential sources of great hope, can be special gifts from God.
So why all this consideration of inheritances? Because we are called to live in hope as we remember our deceased loved ones. Whether through memories or physical items, each of us receives some type of an inheritance from our loved ones who leave us to be with our God. More importantly, they leave us with the gift of hope. And our readings assigned for this morning also serve to provide us with hope. In our first reading, we heard the prophet, Daniel, receive a dream about “the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea” and “the four great beasts [that] came up out of the sea.” In his dismay, he sought interpretation of his dream from one of the king’s attendants. The attendant explained the four beasts were four kings but the servants of God would inherit the world instead of the kings. This was hopeful news for the Daniel, a faithful servant of God.
Paul explains to the faithful people of Ephesus that “in Christ we have also obtained an inheritance…so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” Paul understood that through baptism we die and rise to new life in Christ. We die and rise to become children of God, inheritors of all of God’s kingdom. Thus is the sheer beauty of inheritances—children receive a portion of the kingdom simply for being children. We don’t have to earn God’s kingdom…it is freely given to us as we are His children! What a gift to receive God’s kingdom, free of charge! Paul prays that God “may give [us] a spirit of wisdom and revelation as [we] come to know him, so that, with the eyes of [our] hearts enlightened, [we] may know what is the hope to which he has called [us], what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” As children of God, we are entitled to riches of his glorious inheritance. What a gift of hope!
But aside from hope, what exactly have we inherited as children of God? A completely new and radical way of thinking as given to us by Jesus in our reading from Luke. Jesus gives us hope unlike any hope we’ve received before. He blesses those who are poor, those who are hungry, and those who are weeping. He blesses those who are hated or excluded or reviled or defamed. He teaches us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. We are to turn our cheeks and give our shirts, even give to those who beg from us. And Jesus gives us the greatest of rules, the so-called Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” And why does he bless the supposedly unblessable and teach us how to behave so radically? Well, to give us hope. More importantly, so that we might give hope to others. Jesus gives us radical hope…a hope unlike any hope.
Believe it or not, we need exactly this type of hope! We need a hope that defies reason. We need hope that defies justification. We need hope that defies such things as sin and death. God may welcome our loved ones into His kingdom but He also leaves us with hope…with radical hope. As we celebrate the varied inheritances they left behind, let us also rejoice in God’s gift of hope. Through Christ, God has left each of us an inheritance of hope and love and forgiveness and promise. Indeed, God has given us…a mighty inheritance.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.