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.


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