Jeremiah 17:5-10 † Psalm 1 † 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 † Luke 6:17-26
As I was studying our texts for today, I found myself rooting around for a way to understand blessing as it is portrayed in Luke from Jesus: Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry now. Blessed are you who weep now. God is on your side.
But the more I tried to unpack this idea, the more I tried to understand how really this translates into blessing, the more stuck I got. How is it a blessing to be hungry now even if you’ll get something later? How is it blessing to weep now, simply for the promise of a laugh later? Sure, there are some ways to get at this, but they are problematic, too often approaching some twisted endorsement for suffering or persecution. And how is the promise of the Kingdom a blessing now for a poor one who has nothing and is in danger?
If I’m honest, I have to admit I don’t know the answer. I really don’t know how to understand this idea of blessing. I don’t understand how it is a blessing to be poor and to go without and to live on the edges of society. I don’t see it. I wish I did, but I don’t. Perhaps you do.
Given that, I’ve realized I’m not in a position to unpack this first part of the passage in Luke that is blunt and gritty and material and so much in contrast to the ethereal “blessed are the poor in spirit” that Jesus proclaims in Matthew.[i]
At least part of the problem, if not all, of course, is that I’m not poor. How should I expect to understand something I haven’t experienced—especially something as hard as this? And the fact is, most, if not all of us, by objective standards are not poor. If we measure ourselves and our wealth and well-being through the arc of history, this is abundantly clear. We have access to food and the basic resources needed for survival in far greater quantity and more reliably than previous generations and even more so than our pre-modern ancestors. And even if we measure ourselves in comparison to the world population as it is today, it is difficult to argue we are poor by any standard.
Isaiah 60:1-6 • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 • Ephesians 3:1-12 • Matthew 2:1-12
I’m currently reading two books side-by-side. I don’t say that to impress you. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I planned it. Mostly, I fell into it. If I were more honest, I’d tell you that I can’t bear to read the one alone, so it is, as much as anything, a matter of survival.
The one—the hard one, the devastating one—is a book by Chris Hedges called America: The Farewell Tour. Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, formerly a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. I’ve talked about him before and about at least two of his numerous previous books. One is called War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. The self-evident title reflected on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another, Losing Moses on the Freeway, was an examination of the ten commandments as they relate to American culture. I recommend them both.
In addition to his years in the Balkans, the Americas and the Middle East, Hedges’ writing is informed by his religious education as a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School—thus the reflection he did on the commandments.
Hedges is a devastating writer. He writes in excruciating detail about the state of things, creating a provocative and difficult-to-deny indictment on where we are currently—the decay of American democracy, and perhaps even civilization itself as the common good has been sacrificed at the altar of greed. “We cannot battle racism, bigotry, and hate crimes, often stoked by the ruling elites,” he contends, “without first battling for economic justice.”[I]
Isaiah 9:2-6 † Hebrews 1:1-3a, 5-12 † Luke 2:1-20
It is not a secret, this story. It’s no mystery either under these stars, in this realm, in this moment. The simple truth of this night is that steadfast love is what holds us. Steadfast love is what promises a future in even the most uncertain times. Steadfast love is what turns any crisis, any unstable and dangerous instant into possibility and promise and salvation.
This is not to say that suffering and death suddenly cease. It is not to say that tyrants have not and do not control more than they should. If anything, it anticipates that instability, suffering, and danger ramp up. This too, is surely obvious to any who care to pay attention to what happens to those who receive the shorthand designation “the least of these” in any given time.
Daniel 12:1-3 † Psalm 16 † Hebrews 10:11-25 † Mark 1:8
“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” says the 19th century poet Emily Dickinson.[i]
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all –
Hope is feather-light, the smallest and most vulnerable of things, yet it has such potential to evoke possibility against unimaginable odds.
Dickinson’s embodiment of hope seems a little jarring juxtaposed to the principalities and powers that show up in Daniel and Mark today. Such solidity and heft against such a fragile thing—teacher, “what large stones and what large buildings!”
You get the sense anything so insignificant would be crushed in an instant, would be powerless against such size and force. But Dickinson isn’t done. In fact, she ups the ante, throwing this feathered creature into the tempest.
Isaiah 53:4-12 † Psalm 91:9-16 † Hebrews 5:1-10 † Mark 10:35-45
“What is it we want when we can’t stop wanting?” asks Christian Wiman. Wiman, an American poet who was the editor of Poetry Magazine and now teaches at Yale, asks a question that might remind us of James’ and John’s request of Jesus: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you… Grant us to sit…at your right…and at your left in your glory.”[i]
“What is it we want when we can’t stop wanting?” In a way, Wiman answers his own question: “I say God,” he continues, “but…greed may be equally accurate, at least as long as God is an object of desire rather than its engine, end rather than means.”[ii]
Now, to be fair, it is making something of an assumption to suggest that these two followers of Jesus or the other disciples who react once they hear the other two got there first are motivated by greed, pure and simple. In these days, we have enough of this simplistic, binary thinking that reduce others to a simple idea, to an enemy, to one who is good or is evil.
Neither is Wiman thinking of this scripture in Mark. He’s reflecting on something more basic—about survival, and particularly our survival beyond ourselves.
1 Kings 19:4-8 † Psalm 34:1-8 † Ephesians 4:25-5:2 † John 6:35, 41-51
No-one gets to move through this life Scot-free. No, not even the Scots. We are a charmed people it’s true, but even we, must at some point, reckon with what ours to face, ours to do.
Did you know that scot in “scot-free” refers to a tax? No, I didn’t either, until I looked it up – bless you: credible sources on the internet! Here in this country we sometimes associate scot-free with the important story of Dred Scott. An 19th century American held as a slave in Virginia who first sued for his freedom in 1847 and after ten years of appeals finally ended up in the Supreme Court, but was denied the right to a trial in a federal court because of his status as a slave. His case influenced Lincoln’s nomination and of course, our country’s history.
2 Kings 4:42-44 † Psalm 145:10-18 † Ephesians 3:14-21 † John 6:1-21
In the fall of 2014 IHNFA, the Honduran Childcare services were restructured by a Honduran government that was under pressure from UNICEF and in a season of reform. It had been an open secret for some time that the majority of the IHNFA budget was enriching administrators and bureaucrats rather than serving the vulnerable and abandoned children it was charged to protect.
Many services were cut, including the government-run children’s homes and some of its foster programs. This created its own challenges in a country of 8.5 million people in which 138,000 are already without a home and more than 1 million are housing insecure.
Lamentations 3:22-33 † Psalm 30 † 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 † Mark 5:21-43
There is a difference, I think, between interruption and distraction. Distraction is what happens more frequently these days when I walk into a room and forget why I’m there, and then proceed to wander around asking myself and anyone around me what I might have been doing. If they weren’t so kind, you could probably get some stories from Pat and Carolynn in the office.
I do wonder, though, if there is a reason besides my obvious physical and mental decline that I am so distracted. Certainly, we’ve been hearing for some time now from the media about our president and the suspicion that many of his more distressing and offensive tweets are intended and timed, at least in part, as distraction from more fundamental and substantial policy changes. I suspect that is true, as is the codependence of a media on reader eye-balls that causes them to report incessantly on the very thing they are so suspicious of.
Distraction, and despair, is also what I’ve experienced over these past few weeks as I’ve found myself heartbroken and feeling powerless by the ongoing saga of our zero-tolerance immigration policy, by the plight of little girls and boys in places we are not permitted to see. I suspect you may share that sense with me.
Distraction is different from interruption. Interruption is what happens in this story within a story in Mark. Interruption is what happens when a dignified synagogue leader in need goes through all the right protocols and takes all the right steps to ask for help for his sick daughter only to be intercepted by the inappropriate touch of a desperate woman who seems to have abandoned her manners, but not before her society abandoned her.
Ezekiel 17:22-24 † Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 † 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 † Mark 4:26-34
The news program 60 Minutes recently aired a feature on the French photographer who calls himself JR.[i] You may not have heard of him, but I’ll bet you’ve seen his work.
Here’s a photograph that popped up in September on the US-Mexico border—a 64-foot tall picture of a Mexican child named Kikito who lives just on the other side of the fence.
Because of its location on the Mexican side, US border patrol agents can’t do anything about it. So Kakito can show off his beautiful smile and his playful curiosity, display his humanity for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, calling into question how our choices impact others, how we see one another, how our policies bless or curse other families.
JR has borders in mind a lot in his art—and the crossing of them. His passion flows out of his sense that we are deeply connected, that we share much in common—our hungers and humor and hope.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16† Psalm 22:23-31 † Romans 4:13-25 † Mark 8:31-38
Christy Ma began her newspaper article about a day filled with extraordinary events like this: “Valentine’s Day was a day of love, passion and friendships.” The first line flowed easily, but it took a few more days to get the rest together for the student newspaper the Eagle Eye. She and her co-author Nikhita Nookala drew guidance and reinforcement from each other and from the encouragement of an adviser to get it put together.[i]
Christy and Nikhita, you see, are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and they were writing stories about one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history—a shooting they had experienced. They were covering the shooting and the candlelight vigil that followed, even as they were living it firsthand.
St. Andrew Sermons