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“More Beatitudes” by the Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Imagine, if you will, that you have been recruited for what feels like a truly impossible job: to create the realm of heaven here on earth.
Imagine, furthermore, that the job description reads something like this: First, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Second, third, fourth, fifth and on and on, ad infinitum: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Oh, and by the way: Everyone is your neighbor.
No sooner have you been hired to become who you were created to be than you are handed your first project: Recruit a small group of folks—say, twelve or so—who, though totally unqualified for the job, will learn from you and assist you in loving and kingdom building.
Then, just when you’re starting to remember everyone’s name, you fully give yourself over to the purpose of your existence: to embody and reveal and live out the unconditional love of a God who is more loving and merciful and extravagant than they can imagine. To share with God’s human creatures the power and hope and closeness of God.
And so you begin teaching the people you’ve been assigned to love. Begin getting to know them. Begin healing their diseases. Begin feeding them. Occasionally, you raise their dead. Create community. Address their fears. Encourage them to let God’s love-light shine in and through them. Encourage them when they fail. Encourage them to love their neighbors and their enemies, even when it feels impossible. Tell them their Creator has their back. Tell them again that they don’t need to worry. Really. Tell them again to keep going and trusting and loving. When they get lost, go find them. When they lose hope, remind them they are not alone. When they get tired, give them rest. Finally, keep on loving them, even when they take out on you their fears and anger and confusion and hopelessness.
Now, if you’re thinking I’m describing the singular call of Jesus of Nazareth, you are correct—but only in part. Because, while Jesus was charged with getting the whole Realm-of-God thing going, we—those of us who have answered the call to follow him, those of us who, two thousand years later, are still trying to be the church, still working at turning the world around by God’s love—we have very similar callings.
And, at the same time, we are also part of the Jesus project. We are very much like those poor, oppressed, struggling people of Jesus’ time: looking for some kind of deliverance, looking in all the wrong places for some kind of savior. Like them, we are sensitive to all the cultural messages that tell us we are not enough, that we will never be enough—unless, perhaps, we buy this or that thing, or consider ourselves better than some other group of people. Like them, we sometimes think that saving the world is all up to us and, moreover, that we can do it only by working through the established systems or working against them. Like the people of Jesus’ time, despite our best intentions we get worn down by the injustices of the world, we get tired of losing, and, sometimes we just feel like giving up. Like them, we sometimes forget that we are children of God, the apple of God’s eye, an important part of this amazing world that God so loves.
Which might be why, at least according to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus begins his heaven-on-earth project with words of love. Which might be why Jesus begins his love project with words of blessing.
The Beatitudes are not meant to be instructive. They are not goals to strive for. They are, instead, words of comfort and encouragement. They are words of affirmation. They are meant not to sugarcoat our suffering or to discount our discouragement, but to help us see the power in our powerlessness, the light in our darkness, the compassion born of our grief, the solidarity in our struggle, the holiness in our longings, and the blessedness in our very being. They are countercultural and counter-intuitive, and yet they are true.
The Beatitudes are less about striving to be a certain way than they are an invitation to recognize the grace in our present circumstances. They are less about settling for less than what is right and just than they are a revelation of the rewards of living in the Spirit of Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but right about now I could really use some comfort and encouragement. Right now I could really use some grace and some blessing.
We live in dispiriting times. We have just come through a week in which all the president’s men (and one woman) argued with straight faces that black is white and white is black—and that whatever the Constitution says about separation of powers and abuse of power doesn’t apply if a president believes he knows better. And as if that weren’t enough, a majority of senators voted against learning the truth of the situation.
To be clear: While I never expected the Republican-controlled Senate to remove President Trump from office, I never imagined the lengths to which some senators would go to justify his behavior. I never expected them to give him a green light to do whatever he wants to stay in power. Having spent many years reporting on the influence of money in politics, I had no illusions about political corruption; still, I thought even the most “bought” politicians respected the fundamental structures of our democracy. It is shattering to realize that is not true.
In times like these it can be hard to find the blessing in being on the losing end. It can be hard to find a reason, much less a blessing, in following the rules and doing the right thing. It can be really hard to believe the promises of prophets and scripture: That the mighty have been and will be cast down and the lowly lifted up. That the hungry have been, and will be, filled with good things and the rich sent away empty. It can be hard not to grow cynical and hardhearted. It can be hard to stick with the Jesus way, which is the way of love for all and trust in God. It can be tempting to try to play the power game as it has always been played, putting all our hopes and energies into this candidate or that plan rather than following Jesus on a completely different path to an entirely new realm.
We have heard Jesus’ blessings this morning, along with a modernized version of the Beatitudes. And still, we need more comfort. And still, we need affirmation and hope. And so I offer you these Impeachment-Season, Election-Year Beatitudes:
Blessed are those who grieve for the dream of democracy, for they will find comfort and encouragement in its ideals.
Blessed are those who seek and honor the truth, for even their pursuit of the truth will set them free from the opiate of disinformation.
Blessed are those who continue to hunger and thirst for justice, for their longings will deliver them unto the very heart of God.
Blessed are those who resist the temptation to hate the president and his supporters, for their humility will enable them to more fully love themselves.
Blessed are those who do not add fuel to the social-media fire, for they will stay grounded and they will know peace in the storm.
Blessed are those who keep their battered hearts open, for they will know God’s presence and find the company of other hopeful hearts.
Blessed are those who refuse to give up, for their persistence will be rewarded with companions in the struggle.
Blessed are you when you let yourself be blessed. Blessed are you when you allow yourself to be loved. Blessed are you when you embrace the power you have been given.
Rejoice and be glad, for you for you are being made new. Rejoice and be glad, for you are being delivered even now. Rejoice and be glad, for the kingdom of heaven is near.