“Congratulations, You’re a Winner!”
“Congratulations, You’re a Winner!”
When was the last time you won a prize, drawing, raffle, something like that? I do not win at such things often. Almost never. When I was a kid back in WI, our church had a picnic every year and there were always door prizes, and such. When I was 10, my ticket was drawn for a brand new West Bend Company chicken fryer. I was so proud! I ran up and got the box, and gave it to my mom and said, “I won this for you!” Now, you may not know this about my family but my father worked for the West Bend Company for over thirty years, and as an executive there whenever R and D came up with something new, they sent one home with each of the executives to give to their wives to try out. So while I was happy to have won this big fry pan for my mom…she already had two of them and she gave this new one away.
And that is pretty much the only thing I have ever won. I get mail, e-mail, texts and phone calls all the time that say “You are a winner.” You know what I am talking about: you look at the envelope and it says somewhere on it “Congratulations! You are already a winner!” Uh-huh. And then you open it up and you read the fine print, and what they are doing is actually selling magazines or something. Or the phone call that says you have won a trip to the Bahamas, the trip is free but the handling charge is $1500.00.
Winning isn’t that easy. Just ask the folks that are playing in that big football game tonight, a game so big a Cowboy years back correctly pointed out that they play it every year. We wish winning was as easy as getting junk mail. But when we read the Gospel for today, Jesus tells us that while God is not into contests, we have already been given the prizes. God has given us the jackpot of His love and forgiveness, and it didn’t even cost us first class postage. We are going to elaborate on this today as Jesus tells us, “Congratulations, You’re a Winner!”
The readings for this Sunday remind us that all the good things in this life are gifts from God. It is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. By His grace we are saved, it is His gift, not our doing.
The Gospel, which is the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is called the Beatitudes, which state that we saints are given certain blessings. These beatitudes have always been a dilemma to those who have attempted to translate them from the Koine Greek to English. The Greek word “makarios” has been translated into blessed, happy, lucky, and fortunate. But no one of these words is absolutely the best translation. Whoever has done the translating, the idea is that the gift, the reward is never understood to be deserved or earned, but always given. Given like a prize.
I would like to suggest another translation here this morning, one that lends yet another shade of meaning. Let’s try “congratulations to.” Translating it this way tells us that there is a special relationship between us and God and that that relationship was initiated by God. Let’s go back to the Sermon and the Beatitudes and try it this way:
“Congratulations to the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Congratulations to those who mourn for they will be comforted.
Congratulations to those who are humble for they will inherit the earth.
Congratulations to those who seek God’s will, for they will be filled.”
I like the way that emphasizes the situation. These first four beatitudes focus on God’s ability to complete us. They focus on how God can fill the emptiness of our lives. Jesus having died and rose again for us means that needs are met and lives filled when we have this faith, this relationship with God. The “poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” and those who continue to search for “righteousness” can find these desires filled only by God, not by the world. Congratulations! Because God has seen our needs and He has filled them and fulfilled them. He has done for us what we cannot do ourselves.
The next three verses remind us of the virtues of God’s people. The next statements give us the marks of the disciples. We can retranslate these as follows:
“Congratulations to those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Congratulations to the pure in heart (the purposeful), for they will see God.
Congratulations to the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”
These sorts of things are found in God’s people–a desire to care for and care about one another, a desire to serve rather than be served. It is God’s will that all people be saved and that He has created and made us His Church to serve this purpose. We are to have the desire to build up rather than tear down, the willingness to cover up one another’s sins rather than expose them. In Luther’s words, we are to “put the best construction on everything,” to be peace–loving and peace–promoting.
Finally, at the end of our text here, congratulations when you are attacked or under fire from those who do not share our faith. You’re in good company because that’s what happened to so many before us, but congratulations, indeed, for the prize is yours. Heaven is your reward. You and I can each say with St. Paul as he wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to those who have longed for his appearing.” (2Tim. 4:7-8)
In this Epiphany season, we bask in the glow of the knowledge of God’s desire that all people come to Him. That’s why He sent Jesus here to die and rise in our place. Despite earthly difficulty and disappointments faced by all the faithful, by all the saints throughout all generations, the reward that Jesus earned, is ours. And we can be congratulated. We are reminded that we are people of God, that God has made us who and what we are, and that the prize is ours. No junk mail. No bogus claims. No small print. We have been entered in the greatest sweepstakes of all, and it did not cost us a thing. It cost Jesus His blood, shed on the cross and His rising again. But He did that for us. He has given us the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life and everything that is good and right in our lives. We did not earn it. We did not deserve it. But we still have it, a gift from our Father, who art in heaven. Remember this when you are watching the BIG game tonight: Congratulations, you ARE a winner!