August 13, 2017
Psalm 103:1-18, Matthew 5:1-12
I just read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B. Sheryl’s husband, Dave, died unexpectedly in his late 40’s. Option B tells about how she began living again. A few weeks after Dave’s death, Sheryl was preparing for a father-child activity. She cried to her friend Phil, “I want Dave.” Phil said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the [snot] out of Option B.” Her grief is raw and yet each day she chooses life in some way.
In a chapter called “Finding Strength Together”, she begins with a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr: “We are caught in an inescapable network for mutality, tied in a garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Do you hear those words as you see what is happening in Charlottesville, Virginia or North Korea, Venezuela, Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan or Nigeria? Hatred and violence, racism and famine are not what God intends. We are all in this together and we watch helplessly as violence and starvation escalate. What are we to do? We can begin where we are. We can extend blessing and peace to those in our city, in our neighborhood, in our church basement.
The Psalm you heard today blesses God for mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The second reading from Matthew is called the Beatitudes. Jesus names those who are called blessed by God. Listen to who they are not: they are not the super heroes. They are not the powerful. They are not the ones who have everything going for them. Instead, they are the vulnerable. They are the poor in spirit – the ones who have nothing to give. They are meek. They are merciful. They are peacemakers. They are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. They are persecuted. These are the ones called blessed.
Jesus is not saying that it is great to be vulnerable, but he is acknowledging that vulnerability is not the last word. In fact, there something powerful when we can find some blessing in our vulnerability and then pass it on to others. Steven Czifra started at the University of California, Berkeley at age thirty-eight. Growing up in an abusive household, he started smoking crack at age ten. He landed in prison where he fought with an inmate and spit on a guard. He was sent to solitary confinement for four years. After he was released from prison, he entered a twelve-step program and got his GED. He went to community college before Berkeley. Even though he earned his entrance to Berkeley, he felt out of place, until he met Danny Murillo. They discovered that they had both spent time in solitary confinement. Together they began to help others who had been incarcerated. Their time in deepest isolation made them come together as a community. (Option B, pp. 136-137)
Mother Emanuel is the name of the church in Charleston, South Carolina that endured the murder of nine beloved members in 2015. Relatives of the victims went to court to address Dylann Roof, the gunman who had murdered their loved ones. Nadine Collier’s mother was killed. She said to him, “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul…You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.” Instead of being consumed by hatred, the church members chose forgiveness, which allowed them to come together and stand against racism and violence. Four days after the shooting, the church doors opened for regular Sunday service. (pp. 136-137 Option B)
Blessing does not mean sweetness and light. In these texts, blessing is spoken of in the midst of suffering, disease, iniquity, and oppression. Sheryl’s book reminds me that life is option b. In fact, that is what we call faith. It is what we do when life does not go as planned or when we are thrown a curveball or when we are knocked to our knees by unforeseen circumstances. We must figure out how to be in the face of situations we did not choose. Even in those circumstances, we have the opportunity to be bearers of blessing to others. We can show mercy even when we don’t feel like it.
The Celtic way blesses the world. It does not wait for all to be well. It does not wait for things to be easy. We begin where we are and we pray that as we receive blessing, we pass it on no matter where we find ourselves. That is God at work in all things. That is God bringing healing where it is needed most.
And so we pray in the words of the ancient Celts:
“Bless, O Christ, my face,
Let my face bless everything;
Bless, O Christ, my eye,
Let my eye bless all it sees.”
- Carmina Gadelica, III, 267
One of my spiritual heroes has known vulnerability in the form of drug addiction. She fell in love with a Lutheran seminarian and later became ordained in the Lutheran Church. You have heard me quote Nadia Bolz-Weber numerous times. She names faith and life in the most honest, earthy way. She doesn’t shy away from pain and suffering. She sees blessing in the midst of it all. In a sermon called Some Modern Beatitudes, she imagined Jesus standing among us saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the agnostics.
Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.
Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.”
Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle- school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers and the night-shift street sweepers.
Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small.
The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners.
Blessed are the forgotten.
Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive.
Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms.
Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard — for they are those with whom Jesus chose to surround himself.
Blessed are those without documentation.
Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.
Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved and never does.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the burnt-out social workers and the over worked teachers and the pro-bono case takers.
Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak.
Blessed are they who delete hateful, homophobic comments off their friend’s Facebook page.
Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it. Blessed are the merciful for they totally get it.”
By Rev. Glenna Shepherd, based on a sermon by Nadia Bolz Weber. © worshipdesignstudio.com. Used by permission.