Blessed (God’s Point of View, part 4 of 8)

Sermon for Sunday, January 29, 2017 || Epiphany 4A || Matthew 5:1-12

I thought I hit record this week, but I didn’t, and with only one service because of St. Mark’s Annual Meeting, I failed to capture the audio for this sermon. Apologies.

Three weeks ago, we began an Epiphany sermon series in which we are imagining our way into God’s eyes and trying to see ourselves as God sees us. What is God’s point of view? What does God see, name, and celebrate about us? And how can we incorporate that divine point of view into how we interact with God’s creation?

We began with Belovedness. God sees and names us and each person we meet as God’s Beloved. Living in this reality means affirming in word and deed the dignity and value of all people. Next we talked about God befriending us. God calls us into mission alongside God, not as subjects or employees, but as partners, friends. And this friendship leads us to create strong relationships of our own. Love leads to friendship, which leads us out into the world, participating in God’s mission of healing and reconciliation. Here we claim our giftedness, not to make ourselves feel special, but to use our gifts to make others feel so. We claim our giftedness, which helps us be blessings in the world.

With this word – “blessing” – we return for a fourth time to God’s point of view. God sees, names, and celebrates us as blessed. There are two parts to blessing: sustenance and mission, and neither is particularly well understood. Continue reading “Blessed (God’s Point of View, part 4 of 8)”

I Didn’t Even Know I was Sick

I wrote the following about six and a half years ago, but I’ve never shared it on my blog. It was my first ever attempt at “Ignatian” writing, and it hooked me on that form of Biblical study/interpretation/prayer. I share it today because it is based on the Gospel reading from All Saints’ Day, a few days ago.

Imagine with me an entry from the journal of Caleb of Jerusalem, the eleventh day of the second month in the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius:

The pen shakes in my hand as I begin to write. The hairs on the back of my neck are still standing up. My heart is still pounding in my chest. I feel like I have just sprinted a race, but instead of being tired, I am refreshed, I am renewed, I am reborn. Today…Today, I was healed. I was healed by a man named Jesus from Nazareth. I was healed and I didn’t even know I was sick.

This is what happened. I was returning to Jerusalem from a business trip in Sepphoris. I just purchased a new quarry in that region, and I needed to finish up some paperwork and oversee operations for a few days. The foreman seemed capable enough, and I expected a return on my investment in the near future. My business is booming even though I only have one customer—the Romans buy my rock and stone like it’s going out of style. Sure, they take my goods at a reduced rate, but they buy so much that I still come out ahead.

But I’m getting off-track. I was returning to Jerusalem from Sepphoris, when my caravan got caught up in a huge crowd of people. I lashed out with my whip trying to clear a path, but to no avail. I stopped fighting the current of people and turned my camel. Looking east off the road, I saw a smaller group of people picking their way down the mountainside. Who are they to be so popular, I thought. My curiosity piqued, I began following the crowd into a sparse valley that wandered into the foothills of the mountain. One man seemed to be getting the most attention. The frontrunners of the crowd that I was now a part of reached him and began touching him. His companions grabbed the frontrunners by their tunics and pulled them off him. But more of the crowd pressed in. The man motioned to his companions to stop their futile attempt at crowd control. He moved through the crowd touching people one by one. The jostling and pushing stopped as if everyone in the crowd had taken and held a deep breath all at once.

Then, he began to speak. I was still too far away to catch his first words. I came closer and asked a boy what the man was talking about. “Blessings, sir, blessings for all!” came the answer in a loud whisper. I grinned, thinking about all my blessings—my booming business, the large breakfast I ate at my cliff-top apartments in Sepphoris, the respect I had earned among fellow businessmen in Jerusalem. I stopped counting, realizing the man had paused. The crowd leaned in, expecting more.

And he looked right at me. I felt my stomach turn. I tried to hold his gaze, but it was like standing too close to a fire. I looked away, sweating, breathing hard. I could feel his eyes still on me, searching me, scorching me. He spoke again: “But woe,” he said, “to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.” Woe to you who are full now. Woe to you when all speak well of you. Each phrase scalded me like oil that leaps from a frying pan. No, he can’t mean me, I thought. I follow the law, I lead a good life—and God has blessed me with an abundance of… But, in my mind—or in a place deeper than my mind—a small voice, barely audible, whispered, “He is talking to you.”

I slid off my camel and pressed the reigns into the hands of the boy I had spoken with earlier. In a haze, I took a weak-kneed step forward, then another and another. The man’s lips were still moving, yet I couldn’t hear him. But I knew what he was saying, as if his words bypassed my ears and penetrated my heart directly. He was talking about love and forgiveness, even for the most unlikely people. I continued my slow walk towards him, gently pushing through pockets of people. I noticed a welt on a woman’s arm and wondered if I had made the cut with my whip when I was fighting against the crowd on the road. I gagged, horror-struck at how I could have thoughtlessly lashed out at these people. The woman looked at me, concern written on her face, and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I steadied myself on her arm. The man finished speaking and the crowd let out its collective held breath. I took another step forward, and the woman continued to support me.

The man looked at me again, and again I felt the heat rise in my face. But this time, the heat was like entering a warm house on a bitterly cold night. I felt strength returning to my limbs. I took a final step, stumbled, and my knees came down in the sharp gravel. The man caught my arm and pulled me to my feet. The woman, his companions, and the great crowd hovered in the obscurity outside our connection. I felt like my entire world, my whole being, all my life was made for this one moment. “What do you seek?” he said.

I opened my lips, no sound came out, and I closed my mouth. My mind raced. “What do you seek,” he said again, “Don’t think, just answer.”

I opened my mouth again, and words spilled out. “I have all I’ve ever wanted, I thought I was blessed, but everything you said was a curse to me…Lord, please give me your blessing.”

I looked up into his eyes, and they smiled. His mouth spread into a grin and he laughed. “Good answer,” he said. “True, you are blessed by the standards of this world. But my kingdom is not of this world. Know that I love you even though I condemn your priorities. Know that I love you even though your life is one of misplaced devotion and unwitting idolatry. Know that I love you even though your full life contributes to the empty lives of others. And know that because I love you, you can change. You are healed, my child. Now, what are you going to do?

I opened my lips, no sound came out. “What are you going to do,” he said again, “Don’t think, just answer.”

“I will follow you, Lord. But,” I stammered, “I don’t know how.”

He let go of my arm and passed me back to the woman who had supported me on my walk to him. As he turned to greet the next person, he said, “You have your whole life to figure that out. But remember, my child, nothing in all creation can keep my love from you. I will be with you always.”

We began to walk away, and, even though we got farther away from Jesus, I still felt like he was standing right in front of me. Through streaming tears, I glanced at the woman’s arm. The welt was gone. Noticing that she was pregnant, I offered her my camel, which she gladly accepted. I thanked the boy for holding the reigns, and helped the woman up into the saddle. We began slowly walking down the road, each lost, I imagine, in the same thought.

As I close this journal entry, I think about what tomorrow brings. I am ecstatic and terrified at the same time. How will I change my life? The small voice returns, whispering, “Your life has already changed. You have been healed. You have been blessed. Now be that healing, be that blessing in the world.”