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Rooted Growing Branching

Jan 29, 2017

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SERVING AND SEEING WITH THE BEATITUDES

Jodie Hatlem, preaching

This month we have already heard a “reading” of the Beatitudes from this pulpit.
Ruthi Knight’s poem “A Blessing for the Streets,” read for Marg Nally’s installation,   brought Jesus’ Beatitude message of   what we might call “indiscriminate blessing” vividly into our contemporary and local context.
It reminded us that “we send and we are sent, outside these walls where so many walk, alone, together, on this holy/unholy ground.”
This phrase holy/unholy ground made me recall author Wendall Berry’s claim that there are not sacred and unsacred spaces, just sacred and desecrated spaces.
Every meter of ground your foot touches is sacred. It is just that not all of it has been treated with the sacredness that it demands. I think a similar rejection of dualism drives Ruthi’s reading of beatitudes.
In the beatitudes Jesus is not making an argument.   He is not even sacralizing the unsacred. Or blessing the unblessed. He is speaking the divine truth. He is naming the divine reality. To have one’s eyes open to God’s in-breaking kingdom is to confront the blinding sacredness of every person that we meet.
So in Christ’s beatitudes, through blessing, or calling, happy those that mourn, who are tired, who are hungry, Jesus declares that the great, all-consuming piece of data from heaven, the great indisputable, unalterable fact is that each human being is beloved, sacred, holy that ignoring this blessedness is as dangerous to your spiritual life as ignoring gravity is to your physical life.
So to follow Ruthi:
We acknowledge the sacredness in the
“one who dances in traffic
mothers scraping dollars
those who mourn, who pour one out for a fallen brother as tears mingle with                     memories shared.”
As we contemplate our lives of service I would implore us to serve out of the vision given in the beatitudes.
I believe that when we serve from that beatitudes we are reminded not that it is the church’s job to serve the poor.
No.
Instead we are reminded that if the poor are not amongst us then we are not truly and fully the church of God. Indeed, if we add Luke’s account of the Beatitudes we are reminded that so much of what we normally cast as blessing is really a kind of curse or a kind of Woe that had befallen us.
Woe to you who are rich who already have received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.

I confess that my natural response to the political tumult that exists in my home country is to respond with political arguments, satire, and sarcasm. And all that has its place, but as I think of a special role of a pastor and a pastoring people in this context, I keep returning to our call to bless and to be a blessing.
If we are to bless like Jesus does in the beatitudes, with all its visionary promise, then we need to speak with immovable candor to those that would typologize people into various categories:
Illegal, fool, idiot,
Mentally ill, homeless, undocumented, refugees, foreigner, redneck,loser.

And when confronted with all this naming, we need respond with the same kind of total lack of nuance that Johanna once gave to Doug’s Audubon catalog of every bird in North America. At around two years old she sat down, carefully turned each page, pointed to several pictures on each page and named them: bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, bird.
Beloved beloved beloved
Beloved beloved.
Beloved.

This is the message of the beatitudes.
We serve best when this truth dominates our vision.

I Corinthians 1:18-21, 26-31
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’

Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(NRSV)