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.

No comments: