05 Nov Upside Down Blessings
One Predictable Change
As of this morning, we set our clocks back correctly and gained an hour of sleep. As I say this aloud, I hope it occurs to you, as it does to me, that at least one predictable thing happened in 2020—we have changed into daylight savings time correctly today.
We’ll chalk this up as one normal occurrence in this most abnormal year. Everything is upside down with this pandemic. On top of that, we throw in political division, felt especially this week and next, deep economic challenges, racial unrest, and wildfires and hurricanes. I don’t know about you, but I’m finding that the jokes about 2020 being the worst year ever—they are starting to not feel quite so funny to me anymore.
There are particular times when this most difficult year hits me hard. I’m guessing you have had your hard times too. This weekend is one of those times for me. That’s probably because one year ago, on this weekend, my Mom celebrated a milestone birthday.
“Hi Mom” – I know you’re watching – thank you!
A year ago, we adult children, spouses and a few grandkids came together with her and Dad to celebrate with hugs, presents and cake. There wasn’t a need for masks, social distancing, and excessive hand-washing. And while everybody enjoyed some outside time at their lake home, we spent far more time inside hanging out all together.
Also, a year ago on this very weekend, we held a historic celebration as this congregation of Good Shepherd Church. We merged all of our five Sunday worship services into one giant worship service at the Verona High School Performing Arts Center. Hundreds of us gathered in person to worship, sing, commune and celebrate with the theme “Beyond”. We looked hopefully ahead to all the new joyous possibilities that our congregation might have in store – as we pledged to pay down our mortgage.
Then after that weekend was over, we all moved on into our Monday routines: Going to work at our offices or businesses, dropping the kids off to school, getting them to their sports activities, going out with our own friends, and running all our usual errands.
That normal routine of life is a normal we don’t know anymore. We’ve not known it for quite some time. Everything now seems upside down. It’s all messed up. And your guess is as good as mine about what’s next.
Oh, I’ve adapted to this way we need to live right now, but I miss the way things were. I miss the old routines and comfortable ways. Even when those old ways carried their own stresses, at least they were predictable.
To a people whose lives were also stressful but predictable, Jesus preached what sounded like upside-down blessings as he began his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). Nine blessings, which we know as The Beatitudes, start that sermon. Instead of speaking blessings to those that the world would celebrate and honor, the people whose lives were predictable because of wealth or good fortune, Jesus says—that blessings of God are given to those whom the world does not recognize.
In the words of one Christian writer, “Jesus begins by centering those who suffer, those who remain faithful in the face of hardship, those who focus themselves on compassion and care for others, on justice and righteousness, on making true peace for a better world for all. These are not the groups of people our world tends to favor or exalt.” (“Living by the Word”, Layton Williams, Christian Century, Oct. 21, 2020, p.22)
To these people, these un-noticed, these people who are even harmed by the effects of a troubled world, Jesus promises that regardless how this world treats them, God and God’s kingdom will ultimately lift up and care for these faithful ones. No matter the harm they experience because the world is unfaithful, God will be faithful to them.
My heart has been especially pulled to hear Jesus’ 2nd line of the beatitudes recently. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
In these past 2 weeks, I’ve spent hours on the phone with several people in our church family who are dealing with the sorrow of having a recently ill parent become a resident in a nursing home. They are now unable to visit their ill parent in person. To be cut off from not being able to hold a hand, or replace a loved-ones hearing aid batteries themselves, or whisper “I love you” directly in their ear, or have in-person conversations with the staff member who is offering good care but who also now needs to be the representative for a family member…. what a heart break!
To make visits only through a window or on the screen of an electronic device – it’s not the same as being there in person, in a frightening and stressful time for an elderly parent whom you love. To listen to these adult children as they agonize that they cannot be there in person, that’s who I think of when I consider those who mourn.
Also, in that circle of mourners, I’d include the family who is planning a private, in-person Memorial Service for their loved one this next weekend.
They’ve waited all these months, hoping COVID-19 would lessen its grip on us all. They had hoped we could have a public memorial service at church in honor of the daughter and sister they’ve lost. While it will be good to move ahead and celebrate her life and faith, it seems sad that we’ll be doing so wearing masks, limiting attendance to just family and not singing the hymns of faith ourselves that once supported this woman in her lifetime. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Different Point of View
It’s an upside-down time. But perhaps this upside-down time right now—can help us see things from a different vantage point. To see the people God sees more clearly. Perhaps we can see more clearly, those that the world does not see. Perhaps we can see that we ourselves are also not lost to God. In our pain and in our difficulty, Jesus calls us “blessed”.
We are only blessed because we are claimed as children of God. That’s the truth, love and hope from God that never changes. God always hears the cries of His children and blesses us by promising to never abandon us, no matter what. Through all things, God’s claim on us as children of God is always our hope and strength.
Our New Testament reading today from 1st John (1 John 3:1-3) reminds those of us in faith of this blessing.
John writes: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
We are blessed by a God who remains in a never-ending relationship with us. “No pandemic, no worldly upheaval can change that fact…. Our hope is rooted in the knowledge of whose we are.” (“Unmoored”, Layton Williams, Sunday’s Comin’ from The Christian Century, 10/26/20)
In this same week when I’ve been feeling a bit lower about these difficult times we’re in, I received a most happy email. A man who grew up at our church, was digitalizing some childhood pictures. He sent me two pictures from his baptism—that took place 30 years ago!
In the pictures, there he is as a baby. And there are his parents and big sister, 30 years younger. And there’s me as a new, young pastor. Along with the pictures, out of the blue, he thanked me for still being a pastor here at our church. These pictures made me smile to consider how special it was of him to thank me and think of me. But even more, my heart soared to think and thank God, that God is still holding this 30 year-old man in his baptismal promises as a child of God!
My heart soars even higher as I think of God holding each of us in God’s baptismal promise. Each and every one of us is a child of God. In remembering that promise, I hope you hear today, as I do, God saying to each of us, “Blessed are you”.
Blessed Are You
Blessed are you, even when you mourn, even when you strive for what is just and right, even if you are meek or pure in heart or poor in spirit. Blessed are you even when people speak out against you or persecute you.
Blessed are you, says our God—because God says, “I love you now and will love you through all things. I always will love you on into eternity. This world may be upside down, but I’ve got you”, says the Lord. “Not only you, but all who, in faith, live alongside of you and bear my blessing. And for now, that’s enough, isn’t it?” says the Lord.
As we look to not only care for ourselves but one another, may we all keep in mind those whom God notices and blesses.
Thanks be to God. Amen.