Welcome to the Gray

Jesus continues his lesson to the disciples in this sermon on the mount. We first encountered the Beatitudes, the blessings of God. Then last week discussed how Jesus’ viewed himself as a fulfillment of the Jewish Law Code, Torah. Today we see a new rhetorical tactic. Jesus quotes the Judaic Law, then he offers a new interpretation. “You have heard it said that way...but I say to you this...” Let us hear now what Jesus has to say.

Matthew 5:21-37

"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 

"Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Holy One.' But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great Ruler. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Teach us to choose blessing
and life rather than death, O God,
so that we may walk blamelessly,
seeking you
through reconciliation with all of your children. Amen.
Men, how many of you have had your wife ask while looking in the mirror, “Does this dress make me look fat?” By the sound of the laughter I suspect that most of you have enough wisdom to answer regardless of what you really think, “Of course not, Honey! I don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re gorgeous.” Women, how many of us have asked our husbands questions with impossible answers? 
Or how about this one, your grandchild offers you a self portrait that looks more like someone threw-up finger paint. How do you respond? “Wow! What a fabulous artist you are. Thank you so much.”
So what about these little white lies? Are they wrong? One of the Ten Commandments is, “Thou shall not lie.” Yet all of us are guilty of this simple excursion away from God’s code of ethics. Is this wrong?
When Moses descended from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he carried on the tablets general dictates about behavior. Keeping Sabbath, Preserving Life, and Honoring God formed the crux of these new rules.
The Israelites were just freed from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh, and they needed practical guidance during their desert wanderings to the Promise Land. This law code was offered in a particular context for a specific people group. 
Fast forward a few hundred years and we arrive at our Gospel Lesson today. Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount, having just told his disciples that he is the fulfillment of the Law—not the end of it. Naturally, he begins to reinterpret the well-known commandments, explaining this idea of fulfillment.So he touches on a few hot topics: murder, sex, divorce, and swearing/taking oaths. 
You have heard it said, “Thou shall not murder. But I say to you, why would you ever allow your anger to get to that point in the first place?” How can sacrifices in the temple be authentic, if they are offered with hard hearts? How could the ancient Israelites testify to God’s goodness when their inner conflict trumps that of Rome’s? Jesus is drawing a familiar but antiquated law into his first-century context. Instead of the law generally stating “do not murder.” Jesus moves into the crux of the matter. Deal with your anger. Do not let arguments and grudges fester. Ask for and offer forgiveness. Then murder won’t be an issue.
Then he tackles adultery, lust and divorce. “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, betrayal is more than sex and secrets.” Again, we see him turning to something that every Jew on the hillside that day would have understood. It was not about jabbing out one’s eye or literally cutting off a hand because we might sin with it. Instead, Jesus redefines what it means to lust or express infidelity. Jesus radically brings concern of women into this conversation. We tend to lose this in our own contemporary context where women are clearly apart of the adultery and lust conversation. Further, “You’ve heard it said ‘“Whoever divorces his wife let him give her a certificate, but I say, don’t divorce unless there is infidelity.” In the first century men could divorce their wives without cause or reason. They received a certificate so that they were not wrongly murdered for adultery, but they lived the rest of their lives without care. Jesus was saying, “Stop leaving women by the roadside when they no longer suit your needs.” He did not want men to cast aside their “property” of wives without regard with their well-being.
So often the Jewish people in the New Testament get a bad reputation in light of situations like this. We tend to view their religion as rigid and uncompromising, as if it was a black-and-white approach to otherwise complex life scenarios. A harsh mix of dogmatic rules and inconvenient lifestyle practices. But I think we miss a really important part of Jesus with this mindset. On the contrary, Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law brings it back to life for his followers. Jesus keeps it relevant. He considers the cultural setting of his followers, and he helps them make sense of something ancient. In other words, Jesus reminds the disciples that the Law is about life. Torah was given to the Israelites for protection and connection with a life-giving God. 
Through the fulfillment of Jesus, the Jewish people were reminded of this truth. The Ten commandments are not meant to answer every question we have today in twenty-first century America. If we turn with legality to a law code that was composed for a specific people group thousands of years ago, we get into trouble with major misunderstandings. The same is true even if we rely on Jesus’ new interpretation in the first-century. 
You have heard it said, “Thou shall not lie.” But I say to you, “Men, choose life! Tell your wife that indeed, she is thin and beautiful. Grandparents give life to your grandkids! Praising those abstract portraits. Choose life! Choose it for yourself and your marriage and your family.” 
When Jesus shows us how he fulfills the law, he gives us permission to understand the work of God in our cultural and timeframe. So, it is not about Jesus teaching things that are wrong, nor does it mean we have to understand Jesus literally. Jesus welcomes us to the gray areas of life, and says, “Even here, you can experience abundant life under the reign of God.” Jesus gives us room to discover liberation in the limbo of everyday.
So as we get caught in situations where these is no clear right or wrong, consider what is best for preserving relationship with the people we serve and love. Instead of approaching conflict with uncompromising certainty, is it not gentler and more productive to consider the deeper causes of the conflict? We must ask, “What gives life?” If there is no guidebook for how to navigate a certain scenario we might ask of our options, “What gives life?” 
Let’s consider two situations in our culture today. Divorce is quite common. 50% of all marriages end in divorce, right? Does this mean that we are outside of the covenant of God’s law? Well, if we take Jesus literally, it does. But we are rejecting that interpretation, remember? Otherwise we would all be without our eye and hand and on our way to a burning hell for calling a friend foolish. However, if we follow Jesus’ example, we can discuss divorce with a modern perspective. 
We have under our belts the nineteenth amendment, the women’s liberation movement of the 1970’s, and continued breaks in the corporate glass ceiling. Women no longer need protection as a divorced person because they are no longer a piece of their husband’s property. Though divorce still has a negative connotation, it does not need to. Of course it is devastating and heartbreaking when relationships fail. And there are ongoing negative impacts of broken marriages that children must unfairly endure. On the other hand, when an abusive marriage further destroys the spouses, or when children are caught in ongoing verbal cross-fire between their parents the family does well to ask, “What gives life?” And if there is more abundance outside of the marriage, then perhaps divorce is the best option. Not the perfect one, but the most life-giving in that particular place at that particular time. Do you see how Jesus sets us free to respond to life in ways that enhance it rather than bind it up with rules? 
Where else do we need to confess that life is not a black-and-white representation of good or bad, right or wrong? In what areas of gray, can we experience growth and choose life while still serving the law of God? How about church? There is no right or wrong way to do and be church. How we act as church on Taylor Blvd. in South Louisville can and should be quite different than how surfing wine drinkers in Northern California might experience church. If Jesus were sitting here with us today, how might he expand the Ten Commandments even further to empower our church to choose life. How can Lynnhurst church offer life to her community? How do we express our faithfulness as a contemporary church? There are lots of ways...but perhaps that is another sermon for another time. I invite you to think on this more. 

Ultimately, we have a choice. Just as the Deuteronomy Lesson we heard today also indicates. We can choose life or death. We can choose to cling tightly to an ancient law code–either Moses’ or Jesus’ —that ultimately will result in death for us contemporary followers. Or we can choose life. We can find ways to imagine God’s law in the context of our community. We can continue enlarging the reign and love of God for all people. It might get murky at times, and it does not erase the pain or trauma of no clear solution. But in the end, the Law and love of God always gives life. Lynnhurst, let us together choose life! 

Salt | Light | Law

Message Version.
Matthew 5:13-20
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
17-18 “Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.
19-20 “Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.
What does godliness taste like? That’s what I thought while I was mulling through this passage this week. I had a delicious lunch with some friends at a Cuban restaurant.  Does God taste like fried plantains? I also cooked this really delicious vegan meal a few nights ago with beautifully green broccoli, fluffy couscous, and roasted squash. Does God taste like fresh vegetables and wholesome grains? “Let me tell you why you are here,” Matthew says, “To be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.”
Another way to think about it, we are hear to bring out the God-colors in the world. To be  light. All the time we say and sing that Jesus is the light of the world. But here it says that we are the light of the world. Do you reflect the colors of God? I don’t know about you, but in this bleak white winter blanket that is freezing our ground, I miss the summer and spring and fall God-colors. But that is outside. and our food. what about in here? in us?
What does God taste like and look like--in us as individuals created in God’s image, but also as a people committed to following God’s law? Tastiness and light. What do we make of this?  
Then we have this whole third section that points us to Judaic Law, the Torah. The Torah is the first five books of the Bible, say them with me if you can: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. If you did it in order you get extra points. Jesus makes clear here, He is not interested in starting a new religion. 
Jesus is Jewish. Matthew, the author of this book, is an incredibly devout Jew. Neither Matthew or his understanding of Jesus lead them to a new Law. Jesus was not to destroy Torah. He loved it. It was his history. His identity. His understanding of God and how he related to God. And yet, he knew that all Jews were waiting on something, or someone, the Messiah, to set them free. 
So here Jesus is. The embodiment of everything that a devout Jew holds near, telling people that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In other words, anyone can be salty or well lit. 
Do you realize that Jesus was not trying to start a new religion. It it unfortunate that everything Jewish in our Bibles is on the left “The Old Testament,” and everything Christian is on the right, “The New Testament”.
 We approach it as Jewish vs. Jesus. Or Jewish then Jesus. But Matthew and Jesus saw it differently. Jesus was the fulfillment of Torah. 
He wanted to complete Torah, not replace it. He was here to lead the most righteous, devout group of people Palestine had ever seen. They were going to transform the world. 
This is important for us today. As we sit here in a church on Taylor Blvd. on the Southside of Louisville, Kentucky in the United States two thousand years after the fact. It is important for two reasons. First, we are the Gentiles that were eventually included in this new religion. As the Jesus movement grew and as Jewish disciples, especially Peter and Paul and Barnabas, as they debated about whether or not the new converts needed to follow Torah, they eventually found ways to include those outside the Jewish faith. So, it is a gift that we are said to be salty and lighted too. 
Do you consider yourselves as well lit as Jesus? Paul tells us that our bodies are temples. Jesus says later that God is the vine and we are the branches...entangled together in profound ways. These are tangible images that point to mystical concepts. I’ll talk more about this in a minute.
But I said understanding that JEsus was not trying to start a new religion is important for two reasons. When Jesus fulfills the Torah, the Judaic Law, I believe he says, “individual piety is no longer enough. Now that I am here and helping you to see God more closely, it is time that your beliefs inform your actions.” Ethics are as important as doctrine. To be salty, to shine on a hill is to live like God would live. To help others taste godliness and see God-colors, the people who know this taste and light must live in ways that perpetuate it.
This is probably not the first time you are going to hear me talk about this. Yesterday I attended an all-day retreat at the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center. I am in a class with several others who want to learn the discipline of meditation. As we experimented with the early stages of trying to tame the mind through stillness and quiet, our teacher, a long-time meditator and Catholic priest, said something that made my inner light shine. 
In an effort to encourage our novice attempts to still the mind, he affirmed that it is natural for the mind to wander. “Focus on your breathing,” he says. Let the thoughts come and then just as quickly let them go and refocus on your breath. “The goal of meditation is not to be a good meditator. The goal is to be a good person.” As we practiced turning our attention inward, to the center of the body, the abdomen rising and falling with each breath, we ended each session with the sound of the gong three times. The first time is to recenter one’s self and remember our breath in case the mind had wandered. The second gong tells you to focus on just one relationship. One person to whom you wish peace and wholeness or forgiveness or warmth. One person who needs compassion or joy. Then as the third gong reverberates you slowly open your eyes, ending the session.  
Meditation is not about stillness and quiet for the sake of stillness and quiet. It is about tapping in to the light of God that burns within each us. When we train ourselves to recognize it and make room for it, we are able to live like Jesus was teaching in this sermon. Jesus is saying, “Being salty is not just about preserving good things like Torah. Shining bright is not just about light. It’s about being a good person and sharing those gifts with others. This is the fulfillment of God’s law.” 
When the taste and colors of God shine from our being, our actions and thoughts align more fully with God’s compassion for the world. Jesus is completing the Law each time we let our light shine. Jesus embodies this saltiness and light as he teaches about the Law. 
And because this light is in each of us, the Law continues to find completeness when we stop living for ourselves and start offering compassion. Compassion is certainly a color of God. 
Let’s think for a moment ways that we can be salty and light-bearing. Like our Godspell song sang this morning, “The tallest candlestick ain’t much good without a wick.” How might we live as people whose wicks are burning brightly? 
Well, first, we need to be aware of where the light of God needs to shine. Of where there are people groups who do not know anything about the salty characteristics of God’s flavor. In the headlines this week there has been the Keystone Pipeline XL debate along with stories about the poor villages surrounding Sochi, Russia. Victims of the 50 Billion dollar expansion as construction waste is dumped on their land in the middle of the night.
The ways we destruct the earth, are ways for how we destruct ourselves, depleting our salt levels and placing bushels over our lights. The toxic chemicals we dump into our rivers and atmosphere, we eventually ingest back into our own bodies. They are chemicals that breed cancer, promote infertility, and murk our lungs so that chronic conditions like asthma are said to be normal. 
When we are looking for the taste and light of God, is this all there is to find? Also in the news this week we see people trying to help others shine. You see, we must advocate for salt and light in places that are bland and dark. I see people like Nicholas Kristof working to do this. He is a journalist devoted to the education and liberation of women across the globe. He published Dylan Farrow’s letter about the sexual abuse she sustained from her adopted father, Woody Allen. The allegations are rampant about how Farrow’s famous mother Mia Farrow convinced her of this untruth and planted lies in her young mind about what she remembers as a seven-year-old girl. To the opposite, Allen has put forth his own statement of innocence. Regardless of who or what we believe, the fact remains that worldwide millions of women are subjected to rape and domestic violence and other forms of abuse because they live in patriarchal societies. And when the abuse is reported, words like “allegation” precede any statement about what happened. alleged abuse. alleged rape. alleged affair. Women are subjected and demonized because they are not understood as light-bearing children of God. It is alleged.
Not so with Jesus. Jesus invites us with this message about salt and light and law to join his mission. We are to protect those caught in systems where God’s light does not shine. And what happens when we do this? What happens when we allow people into our homes who need a place to sleep and two months turns in to two years? What happens when we go out of our way to be sustainable during fellowship hour? What happens when we send care packages to a US platoon? What happens when we lobby state and federal legislators for bills that protect the marginalized people in our country? What happens when we rally on behalf of those whose wicks have been cut off? 
When we wake-up to our own light, our own connectedness to God and God’s Law, we do not need to hold so tightly to our grudges. We are able to let go of hurts. Our own temptations fade as we realize more fully that the kingdom of heaven is inside each of us. Our pride dismantles and grace abounds as he realize the light burns fuller when we uncover the light in others. 
Those of us who freely recognize our light, are able to help others trapped under systemic bushels of tyranny. This is experiencing the totality of God’s Law. 
Jesus knew this, and he wanted his followers to understand it. It is why he said he is here to fulfill or complete the Law. He showed everyone exactly how to live from the light within rather than the ego that thinks only of self and pleasure. The passage ends with the statement that unless we do far better than the Pharisees, we won’t know the first thing about living in the kingdom of heaven. This is not to put down his religious elders. In fact, the Pharisees upheld every letter of the Law. 
They tithed, they were circumcised, they kept kosher, and they obeyed all orders about cleanliness, ritual, and other literal expressions of God’s protection. With this statement, Jesus does not condemn the Pharisees. Instead, he broadens the parameters of God’s Law. To be more righteous than those who are already the most righteous means tapping in to the liberation inside. 
It means waking up to the trauma and destruction happening in our world and responding in ways that show light. Jesus challenges us to accept that God’s light is not relegated to the pious elite. 
The Law, in light of Jesus, means that everyone can taste God’s love because everyone shines with God’s colors. We do not need to relegate our differences to the left or right side of holy books as much as we do not need to manage the differences in our beliefs from one church to another. Under the complete Law of God we are able to celebrate that we are all citizens together in the eclectic, expansive, but oh so near, kingdom of heaven. 

Lynnhurst, taste and see that God is real. The kingdom of heaven shines from the core of your being. Jesus said so, himself, “See, the kingdom of heaven is near.” So effectuate change that others must know what Godliness tastes like and just how brightly God shines. So let your light shine. Amen.

You're So Lucky

We arrive at a new stop on our lectionary journey today, and we will stay here for the remainder of Epiphany. The baptized Jesus now has a band of followers—men and women who have left their fishing nets and cooking duties to follow this new prophet they call Rabbi. 

Like any good teacher, the master begins to share information with the students. Unlike our professors today who stand behind a lectern and rely on a microphone and effective audio visual presentations, Jesus assumes a place of honor by seating himself on a mountaintop. Then he begins teaching a new way of life. Our lesson today is Matthew’s first recorded words of Jesus’ ministry. This is where it all begins:

Hear now a reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Listen. Listen for the Word of God.

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.
Bless the reading of this word, O God. That in its hearing we might know you more fully and discover the mysteries of life. Amen.
The mountain that held Jesus and his followers wasn’t really a mountain. It’s a hill today, called the Mount of the Beatitudes, named for this teaching. It’s a beautiful coastal place overlooking the Sea of Galilee (abt. 64 sq. ft), which is just a bit smaller than Lake Cumberland (abt. 100 sq. ft). The point is that we should imagine something a bit more quaint. Someplace, not huge, but comfortable with lots of locals. More than this, it is a spot where the Roman officials would have also been milling about, hearing these radical words. You see, Jesus’ first sermon put the political authorities on edge. 
In this Sermon on the Mount, we see Jesus map out his vision for life. It is a vision that contradicts Rome’s ideas of luxury. Jesus preaches humility and acceptance, no matter who you are or where you come from or how you earn money. You know when the contralto soprano screams out the highest pitch note she can muster from deep within her core...and then the mirror shatters? Jesus shatters the predominant culture with this sermon. But unlike the broken mirror, Jesus reveals a much clearer picture, reflecting a better world. 
I have a younger brother by about two years. Our elementary school mainstreamed children with disabilities. This means we were learning our multiplication tables alongside peers with learning disabilities and helping our down syndrome friends with the skills of reading. My brother loved this aspect of his education. A young couple in our church, during this same time, excitedly announced their pregnancy, and the church journeyed with them through the nine months. 
It was not until their healthy daughter was born that they learned that she was down syndrome. When my nine-year-old brother learned of this surprise, he spontaneously shouted, “Oh my gosh! She’s so lucky!” He meant the mother. The mother is so lucky! When our mom probed him about this exclamation, he said with such innocence, “Because they are the nicest people in my school.”
We might chuckle at this tale as I remember my parents and their friends smiling then, appreciating my brother’s naivete while knowing more fully the complexities of life with a disabled child. The adults understood how this young mother’s original ideas of parenthood may have been shattered. (Though, this woman is one of the most loving, outstanding mothers I know.) On the other hand, I imagine Jesus smiling and shouting just as triumphantly as an innocent nine-year-old, a little boy who is in touch enough with the outcast friends around him to know that they are the nicest people in the school. 
Now let us widen our lens. Many of us listened to our President deliver his State of the Union address this past week. I always struggle with this particular speech, no matter the president. One administration simply cannot accomplish all that is laid out for our union. It is overwhelming. One commentator in the NY Times explained why the White House must take such an all-inclusive approach to this speech. If Barack Obama were to focus on just one issue and explain how he and Congress plan to tackle this issue to the point of success, the country would wake up the next morning, ready to deal with that issue. This is not good, according to the commentator because, instead, it is better for the American people to wake up the next morning thinking, “Wow, the President has a lot of good ideas.” And, theoretically, this is what the State of the Union does. 
I wonder what the disciples woke up thinking the morning after Jesus’ State of the Union address. Did they think, “Jesus had a lot of good ideas?” Or did they think, “This guy is going to get us killed if he keeps saying these things in public?” Or were they confused thinking, “This sermon is not in line with Judaic Law?” What would we think after hearing this message on blessing? What would the US Congress think? What would the UN think? What would international diplomats think if the President of the United States, who stands behind the podium in his custom fit navy blue suit and perfectly cinched silk necktie quoted Jesus: “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the merciful.” This surely wouldn’t make for very effective foreign policy. ...Or would it? 
Does this put into perspective how Jesus shattered everyone’s ideals about what makes life blessed? Jesus says we do not need to worry about climbing to the top of the food chain anymore. Jesus does not care if we are the statistician instead of the starting point guard. Jesus blesses those whom society casts aside. Jesus does not side with those in power. Jesus picks the person who is always picked last. Jesus comforts the woman caught in adultery and sets free the prisoners. The Beatitudes allow us to disregard everything that makes for racism, sexism, and fear in order to work against those powers of evil.
The Beatitudes say we have the promise that one day soon all of our pains will make sense. This is what we do when we are in the midst of struggle. We find ways to make sense out of the trauma and tragedy. We want an explanation. So Jesus explains, “Blessed are you because you get to know God in ways that are so much deeper than those without need.” Let me say that again. 
If you are a victim or marginalized or forgotten, Jesus blesses you. Then the church advocates for you to be released from that victimization, marginalization, or neglect. You receive the blessing from Jesus because in your greatest moment of need, you have a connection to God that others who are not victimized, marginalized, or forgotten will never understand. This is why you are lucky. The Beatitudes challenged us to accept the outsider as the insider. And this is the power of church! Church embodies this blessing and transforms it into freedom when she is taking Jesus seriously. 
The Beatitudes allow us to tell ourselves it will be okay. By shattering the ideal, Jesus is saying, “that’s not what makes life worth living.” It allows the young mother with an unexpected surprise to navigate life with new expectations for her child. It allows American citizens to hope in something beyond a superpower nation. And it allows third-world refugees to hope in salvation from a living hell. After all, Jesus told us last week, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” 
Congress and their partisan politics will not have the last word— the kingdom of heaven is near. Unjust economic policies that cut-out the middle class will not have the last word—the kingdom of heaven is near. More than the media telling us what we need to buy, more than all of the ways we devalue ourselves because we are not sexy enough, Jesus says, “You are so lucky!” You are lucky because you know a God who knows your name, who loves you, who welcomes you with open arms into a kingdom of new life. The kingdom of heaven. 

Friends, we are all so lucky, even when, especially when life says we are unlucky. This is why we continue in our work together, bringing the kingdom of heaven to this earth, now, in the way that Jesus taught us. That others might understand this shattered blessing. Blessed are all of you.  Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great! Amen.