The sermon for Sunday, February 13, was preached by Valerie Cole Kelley, a member of St. Hilda St. Patrick who has served on the Bishop’s Committee, as senior warden, and is a retired educator.
How do you encounter the Divine in scripture?
We each bring our own experiences, language, culture, attitudes, mood, and temperaments with us whenever we read or listen to the Bible. And scripture brings to us worlds and languages and cultures we may not fully comprehend or relate to. Broaching this distance and yet still encountering God can sometimes be hard.
This Gospel from Luke, which harkens back to the Beatitudes in Matthew, is a good example of the challenges of scripture. We hear echoes of these words all around us – at weddings and funerals, on wall tapestries and in social media posts. Parodied in Monty Python’s the Life of Brian. On one hand, the message is obvious. People who are disadvantaged are blessed, and others? Well, watch out. But how does that play out in our everyday world? Life has taught me that such easy dualistic thinking doesn’t always work out so simply. There must be more. What is Jesus’ message to me in 2022?
James Finley, a clinical psychologist, former monk, and faculty person at the Center for Action and Contemplation, writes, “ The power of God’s words works as leaven in the heart, awakening us to a personal experience of the presence of God that Scripture reveals.”
Today, this text awakens in me God’s grace and hope for wholeness for all.
One thing we know is that in this famous gospel passage, Jesus isn’t just speaking to his disciples, but to a crowd of people who have come to see Jesus for a reason. They no doubt desire healing, but we presume they also want to learn something, and they want full, meaningful lives, just as we do today.
To me, there’s also a sense of fluidity in this scripture, of speaking to the past, present and the future.
Change is happening and has happened. Some people have it better now, but will they always?
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
What I’m struck by is the reality that many of us will weep, hunger, laugh, grieve, hate and be hated, and experience poverty or abundance during our lifetimes – and that some of these conditions may be transient. I in no way want to suggest that some of us aren’t significantly better off than others – because we all know that’s simply not true. But despite our present or future circumstances, whether we are laughing or mourning, hungry or full, to be human is to experience ups and downs. So we are all fully human, and as such, we are all fully children of God. Is that how we see ourselves and how we see others?
We all go around putting people in boxes that detract from their humanity. In much of our discourse, we tend to frame the poor as poor in all aspects of life – not complete human beings who care about their families and friends, who aspire to fulfilling lives and satisfying work. Many people who don’t have much money live in active, loving communities, and they may enjoy meaningful roles in life.
If you are relatively rich, do you think of yourself as somehow more hardworking and deserving than others? Do you blame “the homeless” for their lowly circumstances? What about that snarly teenager you met this week? – You never know – She might be hungry, while at the same time trying hard to graduate from high school and find a vocation, and she could have an enviably strong relationship with her church family.
Who do you revile? Picture someone you hate right now. Yes, that person is also a child of God – fully human, craving connection and aspiring to some kind of meaningful life. It may not be a life that we understand or desire, but that doesn’t make that person less human.
And is there anyone here who isn’t grieving some kind of loss right now? It’s easy to forget that the person going too slowly in the car in front of you may be mourning after a family member’s illness and death.
Most of us face challenges and problems, yet see ourselves as complete, feeling human beings, who aren’t necessarily defined by our bank accounts or popularity. Can we see that in others as well?
Some of us face worse hands in life than others. Absolutely. And this Gospel makes it clear that God sees that. But God sees us as God’s own children – whole human beings who happen to also need healing and learning, like the crowd listening to Jesus. We all have aspirations and dreams. Most of us need connection and community. And we crave God’s infinite grace.
In this passage, Jesus isn’t prescribing blessings and woe to some and not others; as much as acknowledging that all of us will find challenges, and all of us – no matter what our issues – are fully human.
This Gospel is a good reminder – that being comfortable in the moment doesn’t make you more worthy of God’s grace. But even more, we need to stop thinking of those who have less as being less.
So where do I experience the divine in this scripture today? It’s in the knowledge that grace is available to all, but that God’s blessings are especially there for those who are suffering, and who need God the most. The divine I see today aches for all God’s people, but knows that human society provides greater consolation to some than to others.
The prophet Jeremiah today says: I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
I don’t know about you, but my mind feels tested a lot lately. So I have to look with my heart – with humility – and be awakened through God’s grace in scripture.
God knows our wholeness despite our brokenness. Let’s notice it in each other too.