Delivered to the United Church of Jaffrey
October 9th , 2016
Consider the power of this small word:
IF you drink this brand of beer, you’ll have a good time.
IF you cook dinner, I will do the dishes.
IF you pay 45 dollars, you can fill your car with gasoline.
IF you watch these commercials, you can enjoy your favorite T.V. show
IF you use this coupon, you’ll get 10 percent off the purchase price.
IF you study hard, you’ll get a good grade.
IF you use this deodorant, all the girls will find you irresistible.
IF you work hard, you might get a raise.
IF you stop and think about it, the word IF is pretty important.
The relationship between the word IF and the word THEN is the basic relationship that makes American society work.
IF you don’t believe me, imagine, for a moment, what would happen if, one day, everyone decided to ignore the great IF/THEN.
IF we saw a red light, but didn’t stop? What then?
IF we filled our grocery carts, but didn’t check out? What then?
IF we waited at the bus stop, but the bus didn’t stop? What then?
IF we went to work, but we didn’t get paid? What then?
IF the ambulance came, but didn’t take us to the hospital? What then?
Our economy functions because we all agree to conform to the logic of IF/THEN. IF (there it is again) IF, indeed, the great IF/THEN relationship didn’t work, I think its fair to say that the whole fabric of modern life would collapse around our feet, and we would be left standing in the middle of the parking lot with a cart full of groceries, but no way to get home, cause our car keys wouldn’t work, and the bus drivers wouldn’t stop.
What’s the deal? IF/THEN is the deal! Or no, actually, IF/THEN is the deal that we don’t need to make. These are the deals that are already made. They are the pre-made deals of our lives. The bus stop sign means that the bus will stop there – no need to negotiate with the bus driver. You don’t have to tell the ambulance driver to take you to the hospital – that’s his job. When you fill your grocery cart, you check out at the register. That’s what you do.
It all works pretty well doesn’t it?
But wait. There’s a problem.
Not everyone down at the Hannaford’s has the same amount of food in their grocery carts.
Why is that person walking on the shoulder of the road?
Why doesn’t he take the bus?
What’s that guy doing sleeping under the overpass?
And what about the uninsured folks who are afraid to call an ambulance? How do they get to the hospital?
As it turns out, the great IF/THEN works better for some people then it does for others.
Because our society gives more value to some people then others.
Basically, it comes down to this:
IF you have money, THEN you have access to goods and services.
And IF you have MORE money, THEN you have access to MORE goods and services.
IF you are rich, THEN you have more value – people treat you with more respect. The red carpet gets rolled out. Doors get opened.
This is the most basic fact of modern culture. Its so basic, we forget its there. Wealth is not only about how much money you happen to have, it’s also about how much other people value you.
So we buy lottery tickets.
We ask for a raise.
We get certified.
We read about the habits of highly effective people.
We make a business plan.
We get a second job.
We do all of these things not only because we want to be rich. We do all these things because we want to be valued. In our modern life, a person’s value is measured by how much money he or she has. So if we want people to think we are great, we strive to get more money – more value.
Well, well – this all very well, but… IF I want to make a point this morning, then I better get to it, right?
My point, of course, has to do with this morning’s scripture reading. Now this morning’s scripture reading is not just any scripture reading! I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that today’s scripture reading from the gospel of Matthew may be the most well known collection of verses in the entire Bible. These eight verses are at the very heart of the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact, today’s verses are so important to our religious tradition, that they have their own name. These verses are called “the beatitudes.”
But that’s not my point. Here it is:
I want you to notice something particular about these, most famous, teachings of Jesus. Listen again:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Did you notice anything about these teachings?
Or rather, did you notice anything that was missing from these teachings?
There are no IF’s!
Jesus does not say:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, and IF they do the dishes, then theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus does not say:
‘Blessed are the meek, and IF they do well in school, then they will inherit the earth.
One of the most important things about Jesus’ most important teachings is this: Jesus is not making a deal with us.
Jesus does not make our value dependent on anything!
We don’t have to give Jesus anything so that he will give us his blessing.
It’s not a transaction!
We don’t have to be rich to be of value to Jesus.
We don’t have to prove ourselves worthy of his blessing.
He gives his blessing freely.
Now look – I’m not saying that IF/THEN is a bad thing. I think that we should all obey red traffic signals.
But there is one place that IF/THEN is a problem.
There is one thing about human life – perhaps the most important thing about human life—that should be not depend on IF/THEN.
And that thing is LOVE.
Think about it.
IF your husband suddenly went from making $100 an hour to making $10 dollars an hour, it would be hard, but would you stop loving him?
IF your daughter came home with D’s on her report card instead of A’s, it might be a bit of a shock, but would you stop loving her?
IF your mom bought you the wrong Christmas present, you might be disappointed, but would you stop loving her?
The answer to all these questions is NO.
Because love is not a transaction. Its not a deal we make with another person. At least that is not what it ought to be. When love becomes dependent on IF/THEN – when love depends on having a certain hairdo, or making a certain amount of money, or driving a certain kind of car – its not the real thing.
Love – real love, as Jesus taught us, is made of blessings that steer clear of IF/THEN.
Love – real love – the love that I have for my children – has nothing to do with their grades, or how long they practice the violin. I love my daughter because she is my daughter. I love my sons because they are my sons, and I love my wife, because she is my wife. None of them have to earn that love. No IF’s. My love knows no IF’s. That, thank God, is how love works.
And that, brothers and sisters in Christ, is how God loves us. God’s love is not something we have to earn. God’s love is given to us for free, because we are God’s children.
God’s love knows no IF’s.
And that, thank heavens, is how God’s love works.