Monday, February 24, 2014

Epiphany 7A

Those of us who’ve been around the church long enough have probably forgotten the punch that this passage from the gospel packs. Some of these phrases have made their way into peoples’ everyday language.

“Turn the other cheek.”

“Go the extra mile.”

“Love your enemy.”

But if we take Jesus’ commands seriously, we might worry that we’d become a first class doormat.

If someone punches me in the face, I’d probably hit them right back and defend myself. I wouldn’t point to the other side of my face and say, “missed a spot.”

If someone hijacked my car, I wouldn’t drive them to the border.

If someone sues me, they better have a good lawyer because I’m going to protect what is mine.

And I have enemies for a reason. Loving them is not one of them. Especially since they don’t have my best interest in mind.

And then comes the command that puts all the others in their place:

“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

That’s were we REALLY run into trouble.  Perfection, especially for us Lutherans, is not a spiritual value. Perfection is a burden. Grace is a gift. Perfection is deadly. Faith brings life. Perfection is law. Forgiveness is gospel.

Another way of saying it is “Be HOLY, as your heavenly Father is holy.”

But that doesn’t really help us, does it? That doesn’t sound much better than “be perfect.” When we think of “holy people” we think of those who are super spiritual, who walk just a couple inches off of the ground, people who live a life of prayer, who exude serenity and peace, and who talk about God as easily as we talk about the hockey game. And most of us know we are not that person.

But, “holiness” in the bible doesn’t mean having spiritual super powers. It means being set apart. It means being different, unique, distinct. Special.

So, you could translate this passage as “Be unique, just as your heavenly Father is unique.” Or be set apart, separate, just as your heavenly Father is set apart and separate.”

But that’s easier said than done. Being separate forces us to make some hard decisions.

I think this passage shows how hard it is to be a Christian. It reveals just how difficult it is to be different, just as our heavenly Father is different. It’s tough to be separate, set apart, just as our heavenly Father is separate, and set apart.

But separate and set apart for what? And how can we be separate and set apart?

I think the answer lies hidden in the text. And the way Jesus encourages his followers to respond to evil.

It’s obvious. Of course, people aren’t going to offer the other side of their face to be smacked. Of course people aren’t going to give more than asked of them. Of course, people aren’t going to go the extra mile for someone who is oppressing them. Of course, people aren’t going to love their enemies.


But Jesus did. And that’s what he expected from his followers. He saw something in them that they didn’t see in themselves. And he gave his listeners tools to live set apart from others.

Back then, if someone hit you on the right cheek, they had to use the back of their hand, which was usually a punishment for slaves. But to hit you on your left, they’d have to use an open hand, which was considered low class behaviour, and some say, it was an act of claiming equality with the slave-master. To hit you on your left cheek with an open palm would lead to public embarrassment.

And people would usually have only two garments. If they gave their enemy both of them, you’d be naked. And your enemy would be shamed for requiring you to go without clothes since it was considered shameful to look at someone without clothes, and the person who made you go around that way would be tagged with the transgression, not the naked one.

And Roman soldiers were only allowed to require people to carry their packs for one mile. If someone carried the solider’s pack an extra mile, that person would embarrass the soldier and probably get him into trouble.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Jesus was giving his listeners tools for resisting those who were oppressing them. He was providing a different way of dealing with their enemies. He gave peaceful solutions to conflict. He was teaching them how to be set apart.

This was a sermon of resistance against abusive powers. Jesus wasn’t stripping people of their dignity by telling them to roll over against their oppressors. He was giving them BACK their dignity, by handing them the implements of freedom.

We’ve been seeing this passage lived out in Ukraine over the past month, how everyday Christians and Church leaders stood up to the government by opposing violent behaviour by shaming the military’s actions through peaceful means. 

And it looks like the protests have worked. The president has resigned and fled the country. The former prime minister has been let out of jail. And an election date has been set.

So this isn’t just some hippy-dippy, airy-fairy, idea that sounds good on paper, and preaches well in a sermon. 

But these tools have been used in real-world, flesh-and-blood, life-and death situations, and have brought freedom to oppressed people.

While Jesus doesn’t provide a solution to every oppressive encounter, he’s pretty clear about what it means to be different.

When the world lashes out in anger, you respond in love. When others demean you, you have creative solutions to maintain your dignity.

You will not let other peoples’ destructive behaviour turn you into your enemies. You will not become who THEY are.

Your behaviour will be different because you ARE different. You are God’s holy temple, whose foundation is God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

You are a people of mercy and love. You are a people of peace and justice. You are a people of forgiveness and freedom.

You are a people chosen to be set apart to be a light to the world. Your lives bear witness to the love God has for the everyone and everything.

You are a resurrection people whose eyes are fixed on God’s new horizon, where all sorrow, pain, and suffering is transformed into abundant life for all.

You are perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Or to perhaps the best translation is, you are COMPLETE, as your heavenly Father is COMPLETE. It’s because of what Jesus has done for you that you are complete, whole, special, perfect.

You may not know this about yourself. You may not see this in yourself. But you are tomorrow’s people because that’s who God has made you. God sees you as you are, and God sees you as you will become.

And in these baptismal waters, Heidi is being made perfect and complete. As she is joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, received into the life of the church, blessed with the Holy and Life-giving Spirit, God has declared her whole, unique, special, perfect, and complete. A lamp through which God shines. Water in a thirsty land. A temple where God dwells.

And like Heidi, YOU are God’s holy temple, where the Lord, the giver of Life lives. You shine with the light of God’s glory, where the spirit of the crucified and risen Jesus radiates love in a world so often devoid of hope.

YOU are perfect, special, holy, and complete. And you will BECOME perfect, special, holy, and complete. God has begun a good work in you. And won’t stop until that work is complete.

You may look at yourself and just see the flaws. The body you don’t like. Trapped in an uninspiring life. The anger that won’t go away. The failures that keeps following you. The time you feel you wasted. The obligations that are overwhelming.

But when God looks at you, God sees beauty, light, peace, and love. 

When God looks at you God sees joy, forgiveness, and life-overflowing.

When God looks at you God sees someone who is cherished, forgiven, and set free from the past.

When God looks at you God sees a glorious future. 

That is who you are. That is who you are becoming. That is who you will be.

You are all these things because that’s who Christ is. And you belong to Christ. And Christ belongs to God. 

May this be so among us. Amen.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Epiphany 7A

Murder, anger, adultery, divorce, lying. In a few small verses Jesus brings out the big guns, and isn’t afraid to use them.

The crowd knew their bibles, and they knew the commandments. And here, it looks like Jesus is ADDING to what they already observed. Jesus was piling additional obligations on people already struggling to get through their days.

The commandment says “Do not murder.” For most of us, that’s easy enough to obey. But Jesus turns up the volume on his listeners and says, Don’t just NOT murder. But don’t get angry either, especially with another believer. You can’t worship God if you’re angry with a brother or sister. Got it?

Don’t commit adultery. Okay. We get that. We’re supposed to have one partner for the whole of our married lives. And then Jesus dials up God’s demands. Don’t even LOOK at another person with lust. Avert your eyes. Or even better, tear them out. So, I guess going to the mall is out. Or the gym. Or watching TV. Or reading magazines. Or just about any 21st century human endeavor. That could be why Jesus suggests ripping out your eyes.

Jesus then lays out the proper procedure for divorce, as expressed in scripture, only to place greater demands on people trying to get out of their marriage. The only grounds for divorce, he says, is marital unfaithfulness. 

Irreconcilable differences? Irrelevant. Abuse or mental cruelty? Hardly deserves a mention. And if you divorce your partner and your partner remarries, you’re causing that person to commit adultery.

Don’t lie. Or in Ten Commandments parlance, don’t bear false witness. In other words, don’t tell stories about your neighbors. Don’t gossip. Don’t massage the truth about another person just to make them look bad. We get it. That’s what we learned in confirmation when we studied the commandments.

But then he cranks it up a notch. He says, don’t just NOT bear false witness, don’t even swear an oath. Just say “yes” or “no” if someone asks you a question. Anything more than that comes from that guy in the red pajamas brandishing a pitchfork.

Sorry, folks, these are the rules. Thanks for playing.

After reading this passage, I can only say with irony that “This is the good news of Jesus Christ” because I don’t find any gospel relief for my anxiously sinful soul. All I find is burden piled upon burden, rather than grace heaped upon grace.

I would guess the same is for you. Who HASN’T committed at least one of the sins that Jesus identifies? Who HASN’T perpetrated one of these crimes?

Gotten angry? Burnt your bridges with someone close to you? Killed a friendship? Then have the temerity to come to church without repairing the relationship? Then don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Have you ever put a poster of half-naked women on your wall? Visited some special websites? Have your pupils ever dilated over Hugh Jackman or the Old Spice guy? Ever felt a tingle over the server who brought you your lunch? Then, sorry, it’s to the back of the line for you.

Have you ever been divorced and re-married? Has your former spouse? How about your current spouse? This is a sin I’m consciously committing as I preach. Since Rebekah has remarried, I’m causing her to commit adultery, which didn’t really bother me until I realize that her new marriage also causes ME to sin. So, if you’re in the same boat as I am, I guess we’ll all go down together on the same sinking ship.

I think we can ignore the last one because it doesn’t really apply to church folks, does it? Good church people don’t ever gossip, do they? Christians let people’s behaviour speak for itself. We observe without comment, don’t we? BUT, on the off chance that you have shared a small story, or’ve been party to a tiny smidgen of gossip, then, sorry, you better stock up on aloe vera.

That’s certainly what it sounds like Jesus is saying. But if that’s true, heaven is going to be a pretty empty place.

And if THAT’S true then there must be something else happening in this passage. Jesus isn’t interested in an uninhabited heaven. His job is to fill heaven, not empty it. He was sent to gather people to God, to set them free, to show them God’s way of living, not to push them away from God and into eternal torment.

And here, Jesus is doing exactly what he was sent here to do. If you look closely, you’ll notice one thread running through this passage, even throughout the whole sermon on the mount. And, perhaps, through the entire bible.

Jesus isn’t worried about governing our moral behaviour. Jesus isn’t trying to make things harder for us. 

This passage is about creating strong, deep, life-giving relationships. The kind that God wants with us.

Jesus knows that most of us don’t murder, but we all kill important relationships. He says that reconciling with those from whom we’re estranged is just as important as how we worship. That’s why, in our liturgy, we share the peace before the offering. We say “peace” to those around us before we place put offering on the altar. The assumption is that we repair any broken relationship before we place our offering on the altar.

Some churches, especially in the Mennonite tradition, require more than a ritual gesture, but a real, true reconciliation between two estranged people before they’re allowed to give their offering.

Jesus set strict parameters around divorce to protect women. In the culture he was preaching to, men could divorce women on a whim, leaving them homeless and forced to beg on the street to provide for themselves and their children. And also, by saying that those who look lustfully at a women de-humanizes her. He was telling the men to treat women as fellow human beings, and not as objects of personal desire. He encouraged deeply human relationships, not utilitarian partnerships.

And he had a problem with oaths because it assumes peoples’ basic dishonesty. Let your “yes be yes” and your “no be no.” That turns the expectation on its head and assumes peoples’ basic honesty. If you are Jesus’ follower, of course you’re honest. That’s who you are because that’s who he is.

Having said all that, is it still impossible to live up to Jesus’ standards?


But I’m not sure that’s what Jesus wants from us. This isn’t a list of behaviours to obey as much as a description of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.

But you have to realize that the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t some distant place where we go when we die. The Kingdom of God isn’t some far flung ideal or a heavenly promise of a perfect afterlife. That’s not what Jesus means when he uses that phrase. That’s not what Jesus is talking about.

The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s gracious presence in the world. The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s vision of mercy, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace, let loose in our lives.

The Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus, and his reconciling work in us and in the world. We treat others with love and respect because that’s who Jesus is and what Jesus does. We seek peace among enemies because that’s what Jesus did in us and for us.

As baptized people of God, joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Kingdom of Heaven is who we are, and who we are becoming.

We still get angry. We still break off important relationships. We still are unfaithful and we still manipulate others for our own selfish ends. We still hurt one another.

But God does not. God is working within us so that the Kingdom that is alive in Jesus is also alive in us.

And so we pray “Thy Kingdom come ON EARTH as it IS in Heaven.” And it has. In Jesus.

The Kingdom of Heaven is mercy and forgiveness. 
The Kingdom of Heaven is freedom.  The Kingdom of Heaven is love for God and love for neighbour. The Kingdom of Heaven is repairing that which is broken and cannot be repaired on its own.

The kingdom of Heaven is living in God’s new tomorrow, resurrection day, eternal spring, an unending Easter, where the tomb lays empty, where everything that is dead is alive again. 

The Kingdom of Heaven means life overflowing in this world, and life everlasting in the next.

The Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of life, of love, of mercy, of peace, of forgiveness, and justice reigns in our lives, transforming us from the inside out into Christ’s likeness, so that we can share in his life-giving love, and  bear witness to the one who is making everything new.

The Kingdom of Heaven is drawing us in to live in the freedom that God wants for us and all God’s people, and indeed, the whole world, so that - together, with Christians of every time and every place - we can grow into the fulness of who God wants us to be.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Epiphany 5A

They were doing everything right. They knew what their religious obligations were and they followed those duties down to the last period. So what was the problem? They were doing everything that God wanted them to do, so why was God angry with them?

"Why do we fast, but you do not see, O God? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" they ask of heaven.

It wasn’t just that God was angry, it was that God was angry enough to ignore them. God’s smoldering wrath was something they could deal with. They were used to that.

But this silent treatment they were getting from God was new- and it was killing them. Especially when they hadn’t a clue what they were doing wrong. This silence from heaven stung their ears.

When God finally opens the divine mouth, God’s people were surprised by what they heard.

“Look, God says, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. You fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.”

It turns out that they were doing all the right religious things, but those right religious things were NOT spilling out into their daily lives.

They were fighting with each other. They were finding ways to weasel out of contracts with their workers. They were making enemies with their neighbours for no good reason. They were being petty, selfish, and just plain old mean.

They were toxic. They weren’t at all living up to their mandate as God’s people shining a God’s light to the nations, bearing witness to God’s love for the world, drawing all people to God. In fact they were doing the opposite. They were making God look really bad.

God may have been angry with them, and needed some alone time, but God returned, as God always does. And where God sees a problem, God provides a solution. And the solution that God provides pushes them into familiar, but uncomfortable, territory:

Is not this the fast that I choose [God asks]:

to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke of slavery,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke of oppression?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own family when they come knocking, looking for help?

God’s solution to the people’s problem was to remind them of who they are and what their job is as God’s chosen people: to show the world around them a different reality, God’s reality of justice, of compassion, of forgiveness, and of love.

And God knew what they were capable of even if they didn’t. God knew that they were more than their failings, and more than their lack of faithfulness. God knew that they were more than their mean pettiness. 

When God looked at them, God saw more than a faithless crowd of self-absorbed religious flakes and greedy children.

When God looked at these people, God saw a light. A divine light that God put there. God saw endless potential.

God didn’t just see what they were. God saw what they were to become. 

God saw that they were more than them sinning and God forgiving. God saw that they were forgiven for a purpose: to shine the light that God gave them to the world when it is covered in darkness.

And we can learn a lesson from our sisters and brothers from so many centuries ago. Because we tend to get caught in their trap.

As Christians, we tend to focus our faith on the sin/forgiveness transaction. We reduce our faith to us sinning and God forgiving. And we repeat that over and over and over again, as if that is the full content of our faith.

And yes, that is an important part of our Christian faith. But that’s not where our faith ends. Our Christian faith is SO much more than that. Receiving forgiveness of sins is just the beginning of our faith. It’s not the whole of our faith.

Reinforcing the sin-forgiveness transaction may keep folks like me in gainful employment, but it doesn’t help you grow into greater faithfulness. 

Being a mature Christian isn’t about managing our sin more effectively, but being a mature Christian means  being agents of grace, bearers or mercy, advocates of justice, workers of peace, as citizens of God’s Kingdom that has come to earth in Jesus.

God knows, that as mature believers, that sin and forgiveness is not the substance of our faith, but an entry way into deeper faith, and more active living of our faith.

And I think you know that. From what I’ve seen over these eighteen months that I’ve been here with you is that you know that faith is more than forgiveness of sins, faith means love for neighbour. 

I’ve seen you respond to need with great compassion and even greater sweat. I’ve seen it in the way you care for each other. I’ve seen it in the value you put in your life together. I’ve seen it in the care you give others, and in your commitment to Christ’s mission for the church.

So, maybe, for us, instead of the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness, some Sundays we could have a Brief Order of Kingdom Accomplishments.

Instead of always talking about where we have failed, we can share about those times we have succeeded!

Instead of always admitting our guilt, we can proclaim our successes.

Instead of pointing to our shortcomings, we can share our victories.

You can talk about where you have seen God working the world.
You can tell stories of what God is doing in your life.
You can share about how you have participated in God’s kingdom work.
You can talk about the forgiveness you gave and received.
You can talk about the justice you worked for.
You can talk about how you fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick. 
You can talk about how you were that caring ear, that comforting touch, or that encouraging word.

You can talk about how you fished for people by letting them know about a God who loves them.

You can share all of this, not to brag about how awesome you are. But because this is evidence of the kingdom of God at work in the world and in your life. 

This is YOUR story of where God is touching the world through YOU.
This is YOUR way of saying “Yes! God is with us!”
This is YOUR way of proclaiming the mighty deeds of God in YOUR life and in YOUR world.

You can share these stories to bear witness to the God who promised to make all things new, and is busy keeping those promises.

Jesus says, “YOU are the salt of the earth! YOU are the light of the world! Let YOUR light so shine before others that they may see YOUR good works and glorify your Father in heaven!”

That’s what this season of Epiphany is all about. Remembering that we shine a light into a world that is often dark. And knowing that God pushes us in that direction as light bearers, doing more than we ever thought possible.

I don’t know about you, but that’s what scares me about these passages for today. What scares me is that God thinks I can do more than I think I can do. God thinks I’m more gifted that I believe I really am.

God thinks that we, as God’s people, can be more faithful, more compassionate, and more loving, than we believe is likely. God thinks we are limited only by God’s power. And if you think about what that means, then the possibilities for our future are terrifyingly limitless. 

Our fear then isn’t what happens if we fail, we’re afraid of what might happen if we succeed! If our efforts backfire, then we can settle into a comfortable failure, but success thrusts us into unchartered terrain, finding our way into a future that looks very little like our past.

I once shared this quote from Marianne Williamson with a young adult group in Lethbridge, and it made quite the impact with many of them:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn't serve the world.

There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so

that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,

we unconsciously give others
 people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,

our presence automatically liberates others.

Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said that YOU are the light of the world. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said that YOU are the salt of the earth.

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he encouraged us to “Let our light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

God has shone a light through you that shines into the world. God has created you as a beacon to draw people to God. God has made you with unique skills and gifts to bring glory to God and service to others.

As we gather today in our Annual General Meeting, we have an opportunity to celebrate those moments where God has shown up, and to honour those times when OUR light has shone before others and have glorified our Father in heaven. And then look to the awesome future that God is moving us into.

Because behind us is a past we can remember with thanksgiving, and in front of us is even greater, grander, frontiers of possibility; opportunities that may challenge us, choices that may push us beyond what is comfortable, circumstances that may stretch our creativity and our resources, but God sees in us more than what we see in ourselves. God put us here - in this moment, and at this time - with all our challenges and frustrations, trusting that we’ll know what to do with it.

God sees that we - YOU - are the salt of the earth. God sees that we - YOU - are the light of the world.

So, then, let YOUR light so shine before others, that they may see YOUR good works, and give glory to God in heaven.

May this be so among us. Amen!

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Epiphany 4A

I was once asked to provide what they called an “Invocation” at a political event. So I chose for the

Later that evening, a politician came up to me and thanked me for reading the “softer” Beatitudes rather than the “harsh” Ten Commandments.

I held my tongue, but what I was thinking was, “Are you kidding me?! Were you even paying attention? There’s nothing SOFT about the beatitudes! The Ten Commandments are a mile easier to live by than these 12 verses!”

I guess somewhere along the line the beatitudes became domesticated. Pretty little religious words that offer comfort without challenge. Spiritual poetry to calm our anxious hearts.

It could be that how we understand the beatitudes depends on where we’re sitting when we hear them. And if they offer either comfort or challenge rests on what God is trying to do with us.

So, where are you on Jesus’ list? 

Are you the poor in spirit, struggling to find evidence of a loving God in a harsh world? If you are, then Jesus says that you are - somehow - blessed...

Are you in mourning? Grieving a loss that threatens to take over your life? Jesus promises comfort...some day.

Are you a peacemaker, a human shield between two warring parties, making sure that the conflict doesn’t escalate beyond the front doors so the neighbours don’t see what’s happening. If you are, then rejoice! You are a child of God! And you have the bloody nose and exasperated spirit to prove it!

Are you being persecuted? Bullied over what you believe? Then you should be delighted in your pain! Put your back into it! You must be awesomely faithful!

That’s where it got a little weird, and probably where Jesus lost the crowd if he hadn’t lost them already. Who wants to be blessed the way Jesus says to be blessed?

Theologians struggle with the beatitudes. They wonder what they could possibly mean. Lutherans have traditionally interpreted this passage, and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount through through what we call “The Impossible Ideal.” In other words, Jesus sets a standard so high that no one can possibly live up to it. And since we can’t be as perfect as Jesus demands that we be, we don’t even try, and we cling to the cross for forgiveness of our failure.

Others interpret this passage as promises that will be fulfilled at the end of time, or when we arrive in heaven. That God’s perfect world will be established - some day. Not today. So don’t bother looking for it in this life, they say, just keep your eyes fixed on the next one.

And still others say that this passage gives us our moral marching orders, that, while Jesus sets a standard that may be impossible to attain, we still have to try because that’s how God wants us to live, and how God wants the world to look. It’s up to us, they say, to implement God’s kingdom vision.

I find none of these interpretations satisfying. I don’t think Jesus is just giving his listeners a sneak peek into God’s promised future, nor do I think Jesus is setting us up to fail, and I certainly don’t think that the world’s salvation depends on how morally obedient and missionally effective we are.

I think this passage is about Jesus, and who he is. “Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, blessed are you who mourn, blessed are you who are meek, blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, the peacemaker, the pure in heart, the persecuted.”

That sounds like Jesus’ job description to me.

So, he’s not just talking just about them, he’s talking about himself, and who they will become because of him. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise. In Jesus, the kingdom of God has arrived. In Jesus, God’s healing is not something to hope for in the future, but a present reality living among them.

The beatitudes are Jesus’ way of reminding the world that God is in the healing business, that God is more interested in your wounds than in your wins.

God is drawn to your scars more than your successes.

God cares more about your failures than your victories, that God is enthralled by human frailty.

The point of the gospel is to be good news in our bad news lives. And that good news means that God goes deep down inside where we might not want God to go.

We don’t always want to be confronted with our grief, because it’s easier to put on a brave face then to collapse in front of others. 

We don’t always want to go face-to-face with our spiritual poverty, because we admire those whose with what we see as heroic faith, those who see God in every flower and each sunset, those who don’t seem to be burdened by difficult questions, those for whom the God-talk comes easily, and we don’t want to admit that most of the time, God feels so far away that we are worried that there might be something wrong with us. 

We don’t always want to show our weakness and vulnerability because the world punishes meekness and rewards strength.

But Jesus says, blessed are you when you are hurt. Blessed are you when you are weak. Blessed are you when you are questioning. Blessed are you when you are suffering.

That’s because Jesus knows that it’s in our frailty that God’s best work is done. It’s into our poverty that God’s riches are poured.

It’s from what the world throws away that God creates something beautiful. It’s what others toss on the ground that God collects as treasure.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;” Paul reminds us in our second reading, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” 

I don’t know why that is, but God is attracted to weakness. That could be why Jesus called weakness a blessing.

Our weakness could be a blessing because that’s when we realize that we need others and we need God. It’s when life hits us hard that God can seem important again, it’s in our hardest moments that we’re more open to the intrusion of the divine in our lives.

I’ve noticed that it’s in our hardship that we connect most deeply with others. It’s in our shared broken humanity, knowing that we are not alone in our suffering, that we receive a blessing. It’s from the cross that we receive resurrection.

Your most powerful work rises out of your pain. God looks down into the deepest, darkest, parts of your life, the history that you’d rather keep hidden, the moments that you’re ashamed of, the heartache nestled deep within, the regret that keeps gnawing at you, the loss that is always with you, and God says, “Yes. This is someone I can work with. This is someone who knows what life is like. This is someone who came back from the battle and lived to tell about it.”

It’s in your weakness that you can best reach out to others. It’s out of your aching past that you can minister to those who need a healing touch. It’s from your darkness that God’s light shines.

So, blessed are you...

Wherever you are on Jesus’ list, you are blessed, because God is at work IN you. 

Wherever you are on Jesus’ list, you are blessed because God is at work THROUGH you.

So, blessed are you...

And blessed are we - all of us - because God is at work, singing a new song into our lives. God’s light is shining, lighting up the darkness within us. God is speaking a word of healing so the whole world may receive God’s blessing.

May this be so among us. Amen.

bible reading the passage we just heard from Matthew’s gospel, popularly known as “The Beatitudes.” I wanted to offer the crowd a different vision than what usually passes for political discourse.