Blessed Are We

“Blessed Are We”

Matt 5 beatitudes, word cloud

Matthew 5:1-12 – February 2, 2020

This Thursday afternoon, my husband and I are taking a short trip to St. Louis to see our daughter. Before we leave the house, we are going to print out some maps on our computer. Lots of journeys begin with a road map. There are signs to follow and road maps we can consult, just in case. We have landmarks we know along the way. I wonder, when you are on a journey, do you have a road map to follow?

In the previous Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 4, our Lord Jesus gives a summary statement of the message He wants to get across to everyone. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” That message is—in brief—a headline for the whole of the next three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount. These three chapters tell the world what God wants them to do, how to act, even what to say.

Today, Eileen read to us the first twelve verses of Matthew 5. These verses have a particular name: the Beatitudes. In these statements, our Lord Jesus tells us about His followers’ road through life. In other words, Jesus gives us a road map which will guide us to the kingdom of heaven. (In other parts of the Gospels, this is identified as the kingdom, or the reign, of God.)

This is great! Isn’t it? We have a road map to heaven! If we follow the signs and landmarks that Jesus describes for us here in the Beatitudes, we will make it to heaven, for sure! Won’t we? Or, will we? How easy is it to follow the signs and landmarks that Jesus tells us about?

Hold on just a minute. Following Jesus is more than just a pleasant walk in the park. Let’s take a look at who benefits from being selfish, who gets the lion’s share of attention, and how the faulty, selfish world wants people to act.

In case you and I haven’t noticed, there is a huge difference between what God wants and what the selfish, self-centered world wants. This is the first detour we are going to take from the road God means for all Christians to take.

Let’s look at a topsy-turvy, cynical, worldly view of the Beatitudes. In today’s faulty, selfish world, things are good for the rich, they can buy whatever they want. It’s good for the strong, they can take whatever they want. They will also make the team. Things are good for the winners, they get all the prizes. It’s good for the smart, and the smart-alecks. They get straight A’s, go to the best colleges, and get great jobs. It’s good for the beautiful. They will get their pictures in magazines, on social media, and get to be in movies. Things are good for the important people. They get to make all the plans and all the decisions. [1]

But, is that the way God wants people to live? Is that what Jesus tells us here, in the Beatitudes? Is that how God wants us to live? If you and I live in that selfish, self-centered kind of a way I just described, will we be traveling on the road to the kingdom of heaven?

We know the selfish, self-centered world rewards the powerful, the wealthy, the attractive, the ones who push others out of the way and trample the weak and poor and sick ones.

Now that we have figured out the topsy-turvy, twisted detour way of looking at the Beatitudes, let’s look at a second detour some might take when they consider the Beatitudes.

Sometimes, certain people think that only super-holy people can possibly follow God’s way to heaven. You know, only real saints of God. People like Mother Teresa, or St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Augustine, or Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The rest of us cannot possibly measure up to such a high standard. I am sorry, but you and I are only going through the motions. Some say we are much too weak and sinful to ever be able to follow God’s high and lofty recommendations in the Beatitudes.

Now, this detour around the Beatitudes is a bit closer to the true road map that God marks out for us, but still not quite on target. God wants all of us—each one of us—to have an opportunity to walk more closely with the Lord, and to follow God in each of our individual journeys through life in this selfish, self-centered world

But, wait! Does that mean that you and I need to follow each of these items on the road map of the Beatitudes, to the letter? We have already seen how selfish, self-centered people often live, disregarding all of God’s recommendations. How instead would Jesus want us to fit into His world and His kingdom?

Jesus says that in His kingdom, it’s good for those who know they do not know everything. They belong in God’s world. It’s good for those who are terribly sad. They will be comforted. It’s good for those who obey God. They will be in charge, according to God’s way. It’s good for those who don’t get justice now. Sooner or later, they WILL get it—God says so. It’s good for those who forgive and care about others. God forgives and cares about them. It’s good for those who are pure in heart. They will see God. It’s good for the peacemakers. They will be praised as God’s own children. It’s good for those who are hurt because they stand up for God’s ways. They will be called heroes and heroines. It’s even good for you and me when people come after us in anger because we follow Jesus. We will be rewarded by God in heaven. [2]

Some people will scoff. How do any of Jesus’s suggestions work properly? If I do any of that stuff, I’ll be laughed out of my workplace! People will taunt me and ignore me, or even worse. Well, I think that is just the point. Our Lord Jesus said these things might happen. In fact, Jesus tells His followers, point blank, that these kinds of things will undoubtably happen. And, Jesus also tells His followers which people are His precious ones, His dear sisters and brothers.

There is a kicker—a high point in this section of Jesus’s sermon. When you and I follow the road map Jesus shows to us, He calls us blessed. This is our Lord’s description of every single Christian. In each Beatitude, everyone who follows God is declared blessed.

Are you mourning for a loved one right now? Jesus said you are truly His sister, His brother. Are you poor, and especially poor in spirit? Jesus says you are really on the road to heaven. Are you meek and humble? Then, the world will be in your hands—in this world or the next. And what about those who work for peace in our neighborhoods, our cities, our country? What a wonderful thing to be called God’s children—God’s daughters and sons. And, God promises to abundantly bless us as we journey with Jesus.

This road map of blessing, this road map to the Christian life, shows us a God who delights to create, bless and redeem. May we always remember that we—all of us—have been abundantly blessed with the Beatitudes, for now, and for always.

 

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/01/year-fourth-sunday-after-epiphany.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 4, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Great Faithfulness, Indeed!

“Great Faithfulness, Indeed!”

Lam 3-23 faithfulness, clouds

Lamentations 3:19-26 – October 6, 2019

About twenty years ago, I attended a church with a pastor who preached very powerful sermons. This pastor would occasionally mention that he prayed his preaching “would comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That sounds very like the Bible book we read from this morning. The little book of Lamentations was written at a complicated time in the history of the nation of Israel, and the prophet who wrote it was conflicted at the time he wrote.

I wonder, can anyone here relate to being sad, troubled and conflicted, sometimes? Does anyone here have bad or sad or troubling things happening in their lives right now, either in their lives or the lives of their loved ones? I know many people do have all kinds of things raining down on their heads.

Perhaps it’s health concerns. At countless hospitals, chaplains or nurses or doctors can tell us about patients with very serious health concerns like heart attacks or strokes. Or, what about continuing health conditions like kidney disease, COPD, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease? I am certain that everyone here today knows at least one friend or family member who suffers from some difficulty, disease or condition like these.

Let’s look at some other concerns, like lack of finances. Loss of employment can certainly affect not only individuals, but whole families as well. What about floods or hurricanes? How many lives in the United States have been devastated by these horrible happenings, just in the past two or three months? The number is astronomical.

Add situations such as “your house has burned to the ground,” or “your family member is getting a divorce.” In these situations, what kinds of things would be going through your mind? What are the feelings of the people in these situations?  What are some of the things these conditions make you want to say to God? What are some of the questions you’d like to ask God about these situations?

That is exactly the problem our prophet and writer of Lamentations has. This little book is a series of laments, asking God about the serious situation the nation of Israel is in, asking—in a word—why? That is a question that so many people are asking!

We know the prophet Jeremiah, the probable author of this book, was no stranger to despair.  Consider how he opens in verse 1: “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people” (Lam. 1:1). His city—Jerusalem—has been ransacked by the Babylonian army and left for dead. It seemed God’s very purpose and people had been abandoned. [1]

As commentator Carolyn Brown tells us, many places in the Hebrew Scriptures have “people talking back to God.  These are deeply hurt, terribly sad, and totally angry people, and they are willing to tell God so.  We talk to children often about telling God the happy things, confessing our sins to God, and asking God for help.  But, we also need to give them permission, even encourage them to tell God when they are angry, when life seems unfair, when it looks to them as if God isn’t doing God’s job the way it should be done.” [2]

I would like to stop right here, and let us consider this particularly important task of allowing, of permitting children to grieve. We all need to grieve and mourn, from time to time. Grieving is an important thing to do. We as adults do, indeed, need to model for children our way of dealing with difficulties, problems, even catastrophes. Otherwise, many more people would pull their heads into their shells, like turtles, to escape from these serious difficulties.

And yet—and yet—amid all of this sorrow, suffering and despair, the prophet writes of how blessed he finds the present difficult situation.

What a contrast! What a puzzle! How can this be? Great question!

Commentator Steve Godfrey goes further, “From the depths of his despair Jeremiah turns to something he has come to know well, the loyal love of God.  The Hebrew word used here, hesed, is a constant theme throughout the Old Testament.  It is sometimes translated ‘steadfast love’ or ‘faithful lovingkindness.’”  [3]

What a marvelous thing to have faith in! After so many awful descriptions of horrible things during the past poems of distress, the prophet gives us a ringing endorsement of faith in God’s steadfast loving-kindness in chapter 3 of Lamentations.

Commentator Steve Godfrey has more than the usual difficulty with sad or disturbing things. He has low-grade depression, and he would like for us to know about his occasional mental condition. “As someone who has managed low-grade depression for 31 years of his adult life these are words that encourage profoundly. They don’t minimize or avoid the issue….

“These words don’t mean that Christians should never get depressed.  The Prophet Jeremiah got depressed and I’ll put his character up against depression deniers any day of the week!  The beauty of the gospel is that it embraces both anguish and hope.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh; low-grade depression is mine.  By God’s grace I manage it through diet, exercise, medication, and counseling.  It’s something I inherited through genetics, and that’s okay.” [4]

Praise God for such a constructive attitude. I doubt very much whether I would be able to maintain such a positive attitude and expression. Knowing that God is there with me, through it all, is so helpful to me when I am going through difficult, even traumatic times. I can share a testimony of God’s presence, of God’s chesed, “steadfast love” or “faithful lovingkindness,” with those who are also having difficulties in life.

But, let us shift our focus from our reading today to why we gather this morning.

We celebrate World Communion Sunday today. This sacrament has been celebrated in good times and in bad, during war and during peace, during times of turbulence and trial as well as times of great joy. Communion has also celebrated by many different people groups in many, many different places throughout the globe. Whether we call it the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist or Communion makes little difference. The unity between various, diverse ministers leading and coordinating observances of this meal our Lord Jesus commanded us to observe is a wonderful glimpse of what this world can be.

Whether we are glad, mad or sad, whether we have only a little or have a lot of goods in this world, whether we are in good health or not-so-good, our Lord Jesus bids us join together in this meal, to be unified and one body, celebrating our diversity. He welcomes each of us to His table, no matter what.

Praise God, what a welcome! Our Lord bids us, come! Thank You, Lord Jesus.

[1] https://churchintheworld.com/2013/09/30/navigating-depression-2/

“Navigating Depression,” Steve Godfrey, Church in the World, 2013.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2010/09/year-c-27th-sunday-of-ordinary.html

Worshiping with Children, Ordinary 27C (World Communion Sunday), Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2010.

[3] https://churchintheworld.com/2013/09/30/navigating-depression-2/

“Navigating Depression,” Steve Godfrey, Church in the World, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant Holy, words

Luke 1:39-45, 56 (1:45) – December 9, 2018

The meanings of names are a fascinating subject. The particular meanings of certain names are more well-known. Just think of Peter—Greek for “rock” and Irene—Greek for “peace.” Three names from Hebrew, Rachel (“lamb”), David (“beloved”) and Daniel (“God is my judge”). Then, there is my own name, Elizabeth, which comes from the Greek and means “God is my oath” or “God’s promise.”

My parents did not have any particular person on either side of the family who they were thinking of, or who they wanted to name me after. They just liked that name. I have always really liked my name, too.

I don’t know whether you have ever thought about the meaning of your name. Did your parents name you after a beloved aunt or uncle? Or perhaps a dear grandparent or godparent? Or did they just happen to like your name when you were born?

There is another Elizabeth in the New Testament. Our Gospel reading from Luke 1 talks about her. She was the mother of John the Baptist. She was the older cousin of Mary, living some distance away in the hill country of Judea.

In the verses just before this reading, we meet Mary, a teenaged girl who is visited by the angel Gabriel. Of course, the angel informs Mary that she will become the mother of the Messiah; Mary is to name the baby Jesus, Yeshua, or Joshua, which is Hebrew for “he saves.” As the angel says, “He will save His people from their sins.”

The angel Gabriel gave Mary some important information about her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, as well. Apparently, Elizabeth and her husband the priest Zechariah had tried to have a baby for years, but could not. Finally, when Elizabeth had just about given up hope, she found she was indeed pregnant. This was called a miracle by everyone. Imagine—Elizabeth pregnant at an advanced age. God certainly works miracles, mighty acts and acts beyond the explanation of human eyes and ears.

What about Elizabeth, and about her younger cousin Mary? They are both women. Females, usually discounted and considered second-class by the cultures of their day. What do we find that is different about Elizabeth and Mary?

”All four gospels support the equality of women, but Luke is the one who is most obvious about it.  The male in the story, Zechariah, had been visited by an angel, but he did not trust [the angel’s word] (1:20) and was made mute.  His wife Elizabeth, however, who was an older woman, turns out to be the heroine of the family and she, in stark contrast to her mute husband, speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit (1:41).” [1]

Elizabeth greets her young cousin, and says “God has blessed you more than any other woman! He has also blessed the child you will have. 43 Why should the mother of my Lord come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, my baby became happy and moved within me. 45 The Lord has blessed you because you believed that God will keep his promise.”

We could list several facts. Elizabeth spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit. She announced that Mary was richly blessed, as was Mary’s baby, Jesus. She also stated that John, the baby inside of her, had responded to the nearness of the very young infant Jesus. Finally, Elizabeth praises Mary for believing in God’s promise. And, we can be sure that God does keep God’s promises.

When I was in grade school, I was fascinated by the meanings of names. It was at around this time that I happened to start attending a Lutheran church in Chicago, brought there by my older sisters. They attended sometimes because of several friends from high school in the church youth group. They stopped attending when they left for college, but I kept going to that church.

I was a voracious reader. I would read just about anything, and as I mentioned, one of the books my parents had on their shelf had many lists of names and their meanings. I would pore over that book, and I sincerely wondered about my name. “God is my oath,” or “God’s promise.” It was at about this time that I started learning a great deal about the Bible and theology, and about the various promises of God. Especially the promises fulfilled at Christmas, in the birth of the Messiah.

What an earthshaking event, the birth of that Infant Holy. What a marvelous miracle, lifted up by Elizabeth in our Scripture reading today.

Here we have two strong women. Two women who know their own minds, and two women who are not going to be put in the background. These are two women—one younger, one older—who have been chosen by God to do great things. Not only to be the mothers of John and Jesus, but also to have the responsibility of raising them.

What stands out even more is that Mary has unshakeable faith in God’s promises. Can you imagine? I do not have complete faith and trust in God. A pretty good faith, but not one hundred percent, not doubt-free.

Rev. Bryan Findlayson has an intriguing comparison. He talks about seeing faith in Jesus as if it is a good bet. “If we are wrong, we lose nothing, but if we are right, we gain everything. Jesus is certainly a good bet, but the bet is not faith.” [2]

Mary’s faith is faith in God’s promises. She took God at God’s word. Sticking to God’s promises, firmly resting on them, this is what the Bible means by faith. Isn’t that what we lift up in these weeks of Advent? We have faith in God’s promises, and we rely on the Bible’s words, both in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament.

Tonight is the anniversary of the first showing of the “Peanuts Christmas Carol” in 1965. We can watch this Christmas television special and laugh as we watch the Peanuts characters. We can also take the Christmas message to heart, as read by Linus, when Charlie Brown wanted to know what Christmas was truly all about.

God deeply wants to send abundant peace into the world. The birth of the Prince of Peace helps us to welcome Jesus for ourselves. He may have many different names, like Jesus, Joshua—”He saves,” Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God—but our Lord Jesus is the one and only Savior. As we prepare to celebrate “God with us,” Emmanuel, we also can lift our voices to praise the Prince of Peace.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2012/12/lectionary-blogging-luke-1-39-55.html

Lectionary Blogging, Luke 1:39-56, John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2012

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/advent4cg.html

“Mary Visits Elizabeth,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!