20 Feb Jesus Blesses Us
Blessed are Those
I started tutoring at an elementary school in Verona this year. And it has been such a good experience- getting to spend time with some great kids and to see firsthand the hard work of teachers and school staff- they work hard day in and day out to care for our children. I know that it is about more than just teaching math, reading and social studies. They are teaching our kids about much more than that. One day when I was there, the 5th graders were just getting back from lunch and one boy had obviously had a rough recess. I couldn’t help but overhear that he had just been rejected by someone who he thought was his friend- and it hurt him to the core. The students were instructed to get their things and go back into their classroom, but this boy, he just couldn’t he was in tears over his broken friendship. And his teacher patiently listened to the whole story, then she got down on the floor and sat down next to him while he cried. She didn’t tell him to stop crying- she gave him time and space to feel sad and just cry. And talked to him about options to talk with his friend when he was ready. When I hear the words, blessed are those who weep- moments like this one are what I think of.
The beatitudes in the book of Luke give us a lot to chew on. The God who reverses what we think and expect is at it again. This time with a message about blessings and woes. Some scholars have argued that a literal translation of this section would actually say, instead of blessed- how honorable and instead of woe- how shameful. How honorable are the poor, the crying and the hungry. How shameful are the rich, the laughing, and the well fed. In the honor/shame society that Jesus lived in- his words would have been shocking. Even as we hear it today, all our expectations about who is honorable and who is shameful are turned around. If we have a choice, it is pretty obvious we would want to be blessed, honored. But according to this list, we would have to be some other things we aren’t as comfortable with. When we hear the beatitudes we start putting ourselves into the list- So which one are we- the blessed or the woeful? The honored or the shamed? What might it mean if we are both?
How Life Is
The setting of this sermon of Jesus is interesting. In Luke, there is no sermon on the mount- instead he comes down from the mountain and finds level ground. Jesus is preaching from the plain, a level playing field. Here he is not separating out people above or below, but creating an equal space for all. The disciples were there and with them a crowd came from all over. They had heard that Jesus had the power to heal- and on that level ground he does just that. It says before he starts preaching, he heals them all. So when he does starts speaking, all are equally well, all are equally in awe of this powerful man. He isn’t separating people out, judging them. The blessings and woes don’t describe what we should strive for in our lives, this is not a contest over who is the worst off. Instead they tell us how life is. We weep, we hunger, we are poor and we have moments of the opposite. We won’t always be one or the other- we move back and forth between the two realities. And Jesus invites us to see where we are blessed and where we are not.
I served as a pastor at a member’s funeral this week, Al Wegner. He was 92 and a faithful guy who had a knack for telling it to people straight, and had a great sense of humor. We honored Al in our time together- there were tears and there was laughter. There were stories shared from his family and his beautiful watercolor paintings were displayed. Pictures and memories from his life. And there was a lot of reminders of the goodness Al leaves behind- not because he (or any of us for that matter) are perfect- but because he used his gifts from God to bless others. And when we were saying good bye and tears were flowing, we were also celebrating the resurrection promise we all share as children of God. In the service that day, sadness and laughter were all mixed up together- reminders of a life of blessings and some woes, but most of all a life of faith. Grief and mourning can be mixed up with relief and hope and trust in eternal life with God.
Right there with us
In this time in the world when division seems evident everywhere, here is Jesus breaking down all divisions. Are we filled with blessings or woes? Jesus says, both. Are we honored or shamed? Jesus says, both. Are we being comforted in these words or discomforted? Jesus says, both. And we can look at one another and know the same is true for each and every one of us. When our loved ones, when our neighbors are weeping, poor or hungry- we can help them know that they are blessed. When we start thinking about what we deserve instead of what gifts we have, we are at risk of losing sight on God- we need this reminder about who is really in control. Jesus is inviting us to see, where we are experiencing darkness and need the light of Christ and where we can be the light for others. Because we are the one Body of Christ- we need all the members of the Body and if our hand is hurting, we pay attention and try to help. If we are the hurting hand, we ask for help and turn to God and trust in other members of the Body of Christ. Jesus’ words remind us to see the one who is crying and sit down on the floor next to them and comfort them while they cry. And if we are the one down there on the floor, our hope is knowing that Jesus is down there on the floor with us— and in community, others will join us down there too.
No one wants to hear the woes- we would rather be the blessed. But the woes remind us to keep looking for opportunities to show compassion. And this world could definitely use more compassion, couldn’t it?
A Level Playing Field
One of the gifts of our Lutheran theology is our belief in each one of us being both saint and sinner. Blessed and woeful, honored and shameful. We come together to worship God. We make mistakes, we fail, but that isn’t the end for us- we believe in hope, we believe in grace. And so we begin each worship with a time of confession and forgiveness- equal ground, a level playing field, where we all hear again about God’s compassionate response to us in Jesus Christ.
Beloved and blessed children of God, may we notice our woes and confess our sins, may we notice where we have much and share it. May we see those moments when we don’t feel blessed at all and know that Jesus Christ turned the whole thing upside down- so when we feel most alone, we are promised we are being held in God’s arms and when the tears flow, we are promised that God is wiping each tear away. Our blessings and woes are all mixed up together and God is with us through it all. Thanks be to God.