Sermons on Blessed
Over twenty years ago, in a parenting book I’ve long since given away, I remember reading an account of the Transfiguration story and strongly identifying with Peter. I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Peter because I completely understand why he responded the way he did, a reluctant character in this scene that goes from comical to monumental in just a few words. Taken high up this mountain by Jesus, with only James and John for companions, the physical…
Living within the tension of what we believe the Kingdom of God is all about and the harsh reality of our world can be very difficult. We, like the many who marched alongside Jesus on the descent into Jerusalem, imagine a better world, one where love rules, where truth prevails, where people are respected, where voices of the innocent are heard, where the vulnerable are protected, where reconciliation is the only option, where God’s dream of love becomes real.
I’m wondering, if you were to imagine the cairn, this mound of rocks or pebbles, which indicate the way deeper into God for you, as a metaphor for your spiritual activities, for that through which you order your life to reach God, what would you put together to form the mound? What would you pile together? Where would you gather the rocks from? How would you arrange the stones so there was balance in your spiritual life? Perhaps your stones would be your prayer life, times of meditation, scripture study, listening to or playing music, listening to the giggles of your grandchildren, moments of silence during church, or walks in the woods. What are the pieces you need to gather, so the “cairn” of your soul can keep you pointed to the place of God? Jacob found the knowledge of God to be the gateway or portal into God’s dwelling. How do you come upon the knowledge of God that brings you into God’s dwelling? We learned in our story today that it was God’s initiative that led Jacob into this knowledge of God. We can trust that God is taking the initiative with us, in this moment as well.
Laughter can mask all sorts of hard emotions: shame or embarrassment, and also injury. Maybe the words of the visitor stung her deep inside, broke her heart once again, his words awakening in her the passionate yearning she had for her own baby, and it seemed like the visitor’s words were mocking her, for she was 90 years old and knew that she could no longer bear children. How often do we hear God’s call and almost wish we didn’t, for once awakened, we know we must respond, and sometimes that just doesn’t seem possible? We almost wish the yearning had not been placed in our heart, when we don’t think we can give It birth.
I used to think that when we feel the absence of life as it had been, or when the world we know comes tumbling down, or when we were enveloped by a cloud of disorientation or disbelief, God then showed up and responded by ushering us into a new life, by meeting us in that place of deconstruction, of chaos and disorder, in order to reconstruct or re-order our lives into something more whole and true. I still do believe God meets us in the place of letting go of what we knew before, but I have come to understand that God is also the force that pulls at the seam of the reality we have constructed in order to keep us on that ever-moving path of renewed life, which is one way to witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
It is noteworthy that Jesus does not come back looking as he did before death. Mary didn’t recognize him until he called her name. Coming back to what we were before is called resuscitation, or being restored to a previous state. That’s not what Jesus was or is about. Jesus is about that continual process of being made anew. This means not changing for the sake of change alone, not changing only to circle around and return to a previous state, but to continually allow to die that which is not of God within us. A spiritual death that leads to spiritual resurrection. For Peter that might have been the shame, or guilt, or anger at himself, which is so easy to hold onto. Peter needed that to die in order to see the new path Jesus was placing him on, of meeting him again, and being filled with a renewed sense of purpose. He wasn’t ready to see or embrace this when he ran into the tomb, but the story didn’t end there.
Many of us can look upon the time Matthew describes as analogous to our current time. We too may be anxious and wondering what it means to be Christian and what the future of Christianity may hold. Daily, we hear extreme voices on what it means to be Christian on both ends of the polarized political system we find ourselves in. This is why we must listen very carefully to Jesus’ words in our gospel today, so we may return to the common ground that Christian identity and vocation is all about.
The final and most perceptive set of eyes would have looked into the souls of those gathered, seen the spiritual place each resided in their relationship to God and to the world, and discerned the spiritual truth of each person present. Jesus would have looked within their souls and in many would have found poverty of spirit, a hungering for a better life, a restless heart bound up in an unjust system. This is the spiritual truth Jesus addresses when he shares what we call the Beatitudes, his statements about God’s blessedness meeting our deepest need.
There is a magnetism that draws the disciples to Jesus, even, and perhaps especially, when he goes off by himself to a certain place to pray. Their eyes are riveted upon his folded hands and bent knees, impatient for a sign that something is happening that they could become a part of; their ears strain to catch a word or two of what their master may be imploring of their God, desiring a few words that may unlock this special relationship Jesus seems to have with his Father; they yearn to draw closer, to lay their hands upon his shoulders, in a desire to soak up just a bit of the holy power Jesus seems to be experiencing when he closes his eyes deep in prayer. They want what Jesus has. Perhaps they think that if they have what Jesus has when he prays, they too will find a sense of peace in the midst of troubled times, they too will find the courage to confront the evil or mistaken ways of the world before them, they too will find a place of compassion within their hearts as Jesus does for the endless stream of people needing to be healed; and perhaps they too will find the strength to bear the responsibility for the other peoples’ needs, as Jesus so intuitively does. That’s what Jesus seems to get each time he goes off to a certain place to pray. They want that too.
I invite you to imagine in your mind’s eye that we are all together, just like we are this morning, and we find ourselves facing a wide stream in front of us that runs clear and swift and sparkling. At first it looks like it might be easy to wade in and cross the stream, but once we’re in it, it sweeps us off our feet by its sheer flowing power.
Perhaps Matthew’s message to us is that we need to climb that mountain a bit more often to be closer to God, or we need to bend the knee of our heart a bit more often to listen more deeply to the truth and wisdom of God, or we need to make the choice toward love more completely, to see each other as God sees us. For failing to live into the beatitudes is not a matter of moral inadequacy, but rather a lack of trust in God. A trust that God’s message of peace and love and joy for all is indeed still valid and meant for us, all of us.