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Beatitudes Retold

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Today’s sermon comes with a disclaimer: I am not a playwright. Yet this reflection, sermon, story, is a play with 3 acts. It is a different kind of narrative filled with ordinary people, Holy in-breaking, and a new world view. The stage sets range from creation’s courtroom to an outdoor classroom, to the world into which we are living.

The plot was introduced in the Bible passages we read last week. It was a storyline full of Holy Disruptions. Leading up to Jesus’ words this morning’s “Blessed are…” we heard this from Matthew 4:24-25:

“Word (of Jesus) got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan” (Matt. 4:24-25, The Message).

This is where today’s story begins. In a time when momentum was building. John the baptizer had been arrested. Jesus was preaching, teaching and healing—disrupting lives. Lives of people who had been cast aside by society. This was a movement not only of people who were Jewish, but also people who were “other”—other ethnicities, people with other physical, mental, and/or cognitive abilities—these were the lives that Jesus changed drastically. Lives of despair—transformed.

Blessed are…

This is God’s vision for all. Jesus’ radical idea. Love people. Be in right relationship with yourself, your neighbor, your God. This concept of “being in right relationship” brings us to this week’s Bible passages.

Act 1 – Micah, chapter 6

The setting is a courtroom scene. Imagine any courtroom that you have experienced, in life, on television, in movies.

This first act takes place through the words of the prophet Micah. What I find beautiful is that the sitting jurors and judges are the very mountains and hills around us… the entire earth. They are there to listen and witness. For you see, God has a problem with God’s people. It’s a controversy. There is tension in the air. This is BIG. Global.

Exhibit A—My stole. My stole is a visual retelling of Micah 6:8. I wear this stole more often than any the others, because our “ordinary time” in the life of the church is the majority of our lived experience together. We are in the liturgical “season” of green. In the Christian calendar, the color green represents Ordinary Time. The day-to-day routine parts of our lives. Our getting up, and going to bed. Our working, paying bills, building relationships, hanging out and watching TV, eating and texting (and yes, in today’s world eating and texting often occur at the same time). Ordinary time means dealing with physical and mental health concerns. It is just getting through a day. These are… as the soap opera says… the days of our lives.

And as our days go, we learn through words, and images, and song. This stole tells us, visually, how we are to be in right relationship with God. I picked up this stole because Micah 6:8 is the Bible verse I hear people in this faith community refer to most often. The verse is woven onto the back of the stole. The front retells God’s charge to Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly.

In the original Hebrew, Rolf Jacobson, Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary notes, “Justice and kindness, mishpat and chesed (hesed, loving kindness)… are polarities. They are not the same. They are opposites of each other… Justice is about the right ordering of society. Mercy… or chesed… is about love. And those two things are always in competition with each other in God’s heart. Justice requires that God punish the wicked. Mercy requires that God forgive the wicked. Walk humbly… means intentionally walk with the (God) in daily life.”[1]

Walking with God in daily life. As the mountains, and hills, and earth watch us each day, is that what they see us doing? Walking with God? Are we in right relationship… with God? With earth? With each other? Ourselves?

Act 2 – Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount)

The action shifts to a classroom scene. Jesus. A mountain. Crowds. A movement. A teaching. Sure, in the life of the church we often refer to this reading in Matthew 5 as the Sermon on the Mount, but the words in scripture say, “Jesus began to teach them…” And in this teaching, Jesus spoke “blessed are…” These two words, blessed are… flipped over the story people expected.

What about us? What do we expect? How do we think things should be? Are our expectations in line with being in right relationship with God? In our “American way,” we would say that if you work hard, you will be successful. That people can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” We expect things in life to be fair. We’ll “get ahead” if we only try hard enough. We will be financially successful. Life will go smoothly. In the United States, this is sometimes referred to the Prosperity Gospel in the life of the church. Yet just as we settle into this cultural norm, Jesus shows up and overturns our expectations. He flips over what we expect with two simple words: blessed are…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, are meek. Blessed are the people who seek righteousness, are merciful, peacemakers.

This idea of “blessed are” brings us to…

Act 3 – Our call to action

This is a scene which ongoing. This is the scene YOU need to write, I need to write, with our lives. We are in the process of writing this script together. Are you ready to write that sermon? Well guess what? Right NOW you ALL just became screenwriters!

This is the setting: In December, one of the special worship services held at Memorial UCC was the Longest Night service. We looked at ourselves, our world, through the lens of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Christine Valters Paintner writes, “The Beatitudes are not about our big, radiant self, but about the tender, quiet self, or the self that has been shut out for some reason.”[2] That night, during our time of prayer, people were encouraged to write their own blessing. A Beatitude for 2020. I would like to share those with you now. This is You. This is us. This is what we are writing. We who are God’s beloved.

These are the Holy Blessings taught, shared, and true, in times past… and now:

  • Blessed are the service workers who are struggling to make ends meet. They will in turn be served and given life abundantly.
  • Blessed are the asylum seekers. To them an extravagant welcome and safety will be provided.
  • Blessed are you who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender, queer, you are made in the image of God.
  • Blessed are our children. The future is theirs, and God pours out God’s love and grace upon them.
  • Blessed are the youth who bravely speak out for peace and justice. They will be… and are… leaders.
  • Blessed are people who stand amidst the storm. God reaches out and offers shelter.
  • Blessed are you who sit with anxiety. Know that you are enough even when you feel you aren’t.
  • Blessed are you who suffer with depression, those who are lonely, and those who mourn. Know that you are God’s beloved.
  • Blessed are you with physical challenges, mental health concerns, sensory differences, cognitive and memory differences. Your body, your spirit, your heart, brings joy to God.
  • Blessed are you who are the supporters, the huggers, and the criers. God listens and is compassionate.
  • Blessed are you as you grieve the loss of a loved one. Relationships and love are part of who we are as humans formed in God’s image. Love grows… and changes… and continues eternally.
  • Blessed are you who do random acts of kindness. Your actions transform the world.
  • Blessed are you who practice forgiveness. You shift the negative narratives in this time of division and anger, and teach that all people are worthy of love.
  • Blessed are those who teach with compassionate hearts. They make life richer and fill the world with gratefulness.

Against this backdrop, God speaks again. God reminds.

God says, “O my people, remember…”

Remember a time when you were vulnerable.

When you were enslaved.

When your destruction by Empire loomed.

When you needed to be rescued.

Remember in that time I, God, brought you home. Back into right relationship with me, the Holy, the Creator, the Disruptor, the Transformer.

Come home once again, beloved.

Be in right relationship.

Come home.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12 offered February 2, 2020.

[1] Jacobson, Rev. Dr. Rolf Jacobson, “Fourth Sunday After Epiphany.” Sermon Brainwave, #705. January 16, 2020.

[2] Paintner, Christine Valters. The Artists Rule: a Twelve-Week Journey: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2011. 87.