Lent 5

If you’re a regular at Bible Study or Adult Education, you know that I have a tendency to rag on the Apostle Paul a bit.  Paul’s just not my favorite.  He writes sentences that go on and on and on, and he chooses to go on and on and on about seemingly trivial matters.  He’s grumpy, he’s arrogant, and like a mutated sea bass, he’s ill-tempered.  When I read Paul, the voice I hear in my head is Dana Carvey as the Church Lady, the uptight and smug host of Church Chat.  The Church Lady’s name, by the way, is Enid Strict; she and Paul would have gotten along.  “Well isn’t that special.”

Paul writes a lot about a word we don’t like any more: righteousness.  “Righteous, righteousness – it’s one of a whole nexus of related terms which have lost a great deal of their power in the contemporary world and have taken on unpleasant, unattractive connotations.  Words like virtue, upright, just, justify, moral.  And righteous, perhaps more than any, has become almost a term of reproach.  The word itself seems to frown deeply and wears a black frock coat.  It never smiles.  Straitlaced, holier than thou: that’s what it’s come to suggest, and we don’t feel comfortable with it.

“This is sad, because it’s a perfectly good word.  And sadder still, because this means that when we come across the term in Scripture – and that we do quite a lot – when we come across it, all those unpleasant overtones take over and obscure its meaning.  And there is to this word a rich and full meaning which ought not escape our notice.  Let’s look at it.

“In the first place, righteous/righteousness does indeed have the kind of moral/ethical tone with which we normally associate it.  The word does point to a type of behavior and implies conformity to a certain moral standard.  But second, and much more important, it is a term which refers to a relationship.  The Hebrew word, for instance, is used in a very specific sense, used not just to refer to behavior, but used in a context – in the context of covenant.  For example, a person or a group of people are righteous in the Old Testament sense, if they maintain the covenant which God has established with them.  The Jews were called by God, and by God they were called to be a righteous people, not because they were morally superior to any other people  –  which they certainly weren’t  –   but because God had established with them a special relationship, a covenant, an agreement.  To keep that covenant was to be righteous; to violate the relationship was to be unrighteous.  The word, then, refers primarily not to a code, not to a set of do’s and don’ts – but to a life, a living, active relatedness between persons and God.

“And so you see, righteousness is really a much broader and richer concept than we would imagine at first glance.  When it’s used to describe God, it never suggests the kind of stern disapproval some have come to associate with it.  Rather – and quite the opposite – it points to God’s action to be related to His people, His movement to be with humanity.  God establishes a covenant, and He is always righteous in that covenant.  A woman, a man, is righteous when he or she keeps that covenant and continues to be with God.”[1]

That’s what God is after – He’s after us, to be in relationship with us, and He’s provided the means for us to respond.

We’re turning a corner in this season of Lent.  We will soon be confronted with the Passion of Our Lord, His “struggles, his disappointments, the lies, the denials and the betrayals, His agony, His death.  And if we look closely enough, we will see clearly and overwhelmingly the righteousness of God.  In Christ, God related Himself to and became one with the sadness, pain, sin, the depths of human life, as well as its heights and its joys.  In Christ, the righteous God related Himself even to those things which are un-righteous.  He made them His own.  He knew their temptation, their pain; he experienced the power which they can exert over human life.

God did not have to do this for His own sake, but chose to do it for ours.  This is the good news of God in Christ Jesus, that because of His righteousness in the face of all that was thrown at Him, we too, if we follow Him, we too can be counted as righteous.  As in right relationship with God.  And that, my friends, really is special.

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Lent 4

“A man had two sons…”  Aside from sounding like the beginning of a limerick we wouldn’t be able to recite in church, it’s also probably the start of a better title for the parable we just heard, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  The Parable of the Two Sons just sums up the story better, and anyway, there’s more than one prodigal person in the parable.

So first, what does prodigal mean?  If you don’t know, don’t worry, I was last Monday years old before I bothered to look it up.  As an adjective, it means spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.  As a noun, it means a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.

The younger son in the parable lives into that definition rather well.  He goes to his father, demands his share of the inheritance.  Now, under the rules of inheritance at the time, two sons would split their father’s estate — two thirds would go to the firstborn son, and one third would go to the younger son.  Most people, even bratty self-absorbed little brothers, would have the grace to wait until their father was dead to take a third of his money, but this guy apparently wants to party.  He squanders all his money on whatever “loose living” looked like in the first century, and hits rock bottom.  “He decides to go home and beg his father to take him back, not as a son, but as a hired hand.  But the father, who has been watching the horizon every day, sees his son still a long way off; he runs to the boy, falls on him and kisses him, puts the best robe on him, puts a ring on his finger, and calls the whole village to a huge feast to celebrate.  That’s the son we know.

But there were two sons — Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.”  (I have an older brother, and though we like to fight about it, he is the good son.  Bill is smart and nice and successful and talented; he’s the head verger at a cathedral; but he’s not a priest, so all of my parents Catholic friends think I’m the good son).  Now “notice where the older brother is when Jesus brings him into the story — he’s in the field, doing his job, doing what he’s supposed to.  But when it dawns on him what’s happening — his brother is home, and his father has thrown a huge party — his response is fury.  His father came out and invited him to the party, but he was indignant: “I slaved for you all these years . . . did everything right . . . but you never even gave me a goat.  Now this son of yours (can’t even say his name) comes crawling home, and you take him back like nothing ever happened.  I wouldn’t come in that party for anything in the world.””[1]

Can we blame the older brother for feeling that way?  His brother essentially stole a third of his father’s money and set it on fire, and somehow now he’s the good son?  What’s a guy have to do to get some attention around here?  “Son, you are always with me,” said the father, “and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

One of the gifts of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (I don’t believe I have the power to change the name) is that while there is an obvious interpretation – the father is God, the younger brother is people who have gone astray, and the older brother is people who haven’t and don’t realize how good they have it – we can still enter into any character we want and learn from them.

Many of us can relate to the father.  You live through seeing those closest to you screw up, sin against you, God, and themselves, and you have to decide how you’re going to react when they come crawling back.  If you’re the father in this scenario, do you do what he did?  Do you look constantly for that lost person to come back, so that you can greet them with open arms?

Some of us can relate to the younger brother.  Maybe you’re not a total screwup, but you’ve hit one great screwup right out of the park, and then you realize how much life was better back home.  Do you have the humility to repent and return?  Can you handle the fact that even you, the one who squandered everything, can still bring joy to those who love you?

And probably even more of us can relate to the older brother.  You’ve done at least most things right, to the point that no one is surprised anymore that you do most things right.  No one throws a party when you do the right thing, when you go to church every week, when all your accounts are in order.  You have everything, but somehow you take little joy in having everything.  Can you repent of your lack of joy?  Can you feel good when your little screwup brothers get all the attention?

“Notice Jesus doesn’t tell us what happens to the elder brother.  He leaves us with a cliffhanger.”[2]  Will he go to the party or not?  As much attention gets paid to the younger brother in this parable, I think Jesus leaves us with that cliffhanger because He knew that one day, lots and lots of older brothers would hear this parable and have to choose for themselves what they will do.

God Himself is in the midst of throwing an epic party; it’s going on right now and will go on forever, and so no matter who you relate to in this story, Jesus is holding the door to that party open for you.  If you ever doubt that, remember the story about a man who had two sons.

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Lent 3

Don’t you love it when you come to church, and you see your friends and people smile and wave, and it’s so peaceful?  The candles are lit and the sun is shining just so through the stained glass, the flowers signaling that spring is upon us.  You can almost feel the saints and the angels gathering with us in prayer, and remember that time Pilate killed all those people and mixed their blood in with the animal sacrifices?  Or that time that tower fell and killed all those people?

Ugh.  Just what you came here for, right?  Death and destruction on a Sunday morning (Saturday afternoon).

The Bible is an unsparing set of books.  It’s writers certainly spared none of people they wrote about the embarrassment of their foibles, nor did they cover up their sins.  What happened is what happened, and so we aren’t spared either when we hear those stories.

There’s not always a point to every biblical story, but today, at least, there’s a real lesson to be learned.

That point reminds me of the Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven.  In one memorable scene, a young gun slinger is literally shaking in shock and remorse after having shot a man dead for the first time.  In a weak attempt to justify himself, the young man turns to Eastwood and says, “Well, I reckon he had it coming.”  Eastwood turns to him and says, “We all got it coming, kid.”

We all got it coming, kid.  The Church reminds us again, for the fourth time in 19 days, that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We’re all going to die in some way or another, and so even if someone dies tragically, it doesn’t mean they were a worse person than you.

Jesus is telling us in His answer about Pilate and the Tower of Siloam that “finger pointing and spending our days coming up with graduated systems by which to rate evil and sinfulness in other people just won’t do.  Over against the shining holiness of Almighty God, we all of us need to repent (and repentance is not apparently graded on the curve).  One person does not need to present a mouse-size portion of repentance whereas another needs to generate an elephant-size portion: repentance is repentance is repentance.  It’s all the same, as is the divine solution and response.

“Apparently about the only mistake a person can make—aside from believing he or she is beyond the pale of needing repentance in the first place—is to seek ways to ratchet your own spiritual status higher by downwardly comparing yourself to people you deem worse off than yourself.  The gospel encourages us to compare ourselves to just one other person: Jesus.”[1]

But that sets the bar kinda high, and so it’s just easier to say, “Well, I’m better off than son of a gun Joey from down the street,” or “At least I’m not screwing up my life like Maude; she spends way too much time with those people.”

Trust me, I’m as guilty of doing this as anyone is, and I even know why I do it: if I’m spending my time judging others, placing them on my own made-up bracket of righteousness, then I’m not spending my time judging myself, rooting out the darkness in my soul.

So at this point you’re probably thinking “Golly, another light and uplifting Lenten sermon from Fr. Matt,” so I’ll get to the good news, to the gospel of this week’s Gospel.  The first bit of good news is that even if you commit some kind of terrible sin, God is not up in heaven figuring out new and exciting ways to kill you.  For so says the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  The second bit of good news (and this is the lesson of the fig tree) is that God gives us chance after chance after chance to turn things around.  Darkness can be overcome by light, evil can be turned to good, judgement turned to mercy.  We all got something coming, but by the grace of God, that something can be very, very good.

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Lent 2

Anyone ever heard of James Hannington?  I don’t blame you if you haven’t – he’s one of the lesser-known people on the Anglican calendar of Saints and Commemorations, but he is absolutely one of my favorites.

So “among the …nations of Africa, Uganda is the most predominantly Christian.  Mission work began there in the 1870’s with the favor of King Mutesa, who died in 1884.  However, his son and successor, King Mwanga, opposed all foreign presence, including the missions.

“James Hannington, born 1847, was sent out from England in 1884 by the Anglican Church as missionary Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa.  As he was travelling toward Uganda, he was apprehended by emissaries of King Mwanga.  He and his companions were brutally treated and, a week later, 29 October 1885, most of them were put to death.  Hannington’s last words were: “Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.””[1]

I don’t think any of us (and I hope none of us) will ever say anything as cool as “Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”  The courage, hope, and faith of that statement is astounding.

I’ve never been hunted by a governmental agency for any reason, much less for being a Christian.  I don’t have any idea what that is like; for that, I have to rely on my wife’s family, several members of which were hunted (and caught) by the Communist for being disruptive Christians.

Jesus was, of course, a hunted man, the big prey of His day.  That some Pharisees would come to Him and say “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you,” would not have phased Jesus.  I imagine His first reaction was “Tell me something I don’t know.”

But Luke says that Jesus told the Pharisees, “Go and tell that fox, `Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.  Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.”  That’s the eloquent way of saying, “Tell Herod he knows where to find me.”  Any time we think of Jesus as being a bit soft, we can read this passage again to be disabused of that notion.

The fact is, Jesus was already on the road to His death, and He knew it.  Not that King Herod wasn’t a legitimate threat: he had killed John the Baptist already.  Death was on the menu, but perhaps the worse scenario was Herod wanting to control Jesus, to have a wonder-worker on a leash.  Either way, it is difficult for us, at least, to determine if those Pharisees came to Jesus with a legit warning or if they were trying to entrap or get rid of Him.  Jesus, for His part, didn’t seem to care – He was heading toward Jerusalem, toward the death of His choosing, whether Herod liked it or not.

Last week, as we slid into Lent, I said that Lent, when done correctly, was not for the faint of heart.  I might have been selling this whole thing a bit short: Christianity, when done correctly, is not for the faint of heart.  It takes courage to follow a God who told kings to take their best shot, who cleared crooks out of the Temple, and who willingly walked to His own death.  It takes courage to follow Him in making the righteous decisions that set us at odds with the world.  And it takes courage to offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice, for God to use as He wills.

Thankfully, what we get in return for our courage is more courage.  As St. Paul wrote, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power and love, of self-discipline,” the kind of courage that can only come from the Lord.  Even when we lose courage, Isaiah reminds us that God said not to fear, “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

We all, if we’re doing this Christianity thing right, will have a King Herod or a King Mwanga in our lives, someone with power, real or perceived, who poses some manner of threat to us.  How you will respond is up to you, but I can promise that when that time comes, you will not be alone: take courage, the Lord will be at your right hand.

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Epiphany Last

This is one of those Sundays when preachers talk about mountaintop experiences.  I don’t know about you, but to me, mountaintop experiences sound awful.  To begin with, first you have to walk up a mountain.  There’s that old saying that Mount Everest is littered with highly motivated people; Mount Sinai, made famous by Moses and Mount Hermon, made famous by the Transfiguration of Jesus, are less likely to kill you.  They are mere hills, really.

“For the last several weeks, during this season following the Epiphany, we have journeyed alongside those who first came to the realization that Jesus might actually be the Messiah for whom they had waited.

“They watched as heaven opened and heard a voice proclaiming, “This is my Son,” standing on the banks of the Jordan River.  They tasted the water that had become “good wine” at a wedding in Cana. They listened as he taught in the synagogue and heard him profess that in him, that day, the scripture had been fulfilled.  They watched—or possibly even participated in—the angry crowd which drove him out of the synagogue but could not destroy him. T hey pressed in on him to hear him teach.  They obeyed him when he told them, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  They witnessed signs and believed.  They heard him and felt hope as he declared, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  They wrestled as he taught them to love their enemies and to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“Some were amazed, others became angry, multitudes found hope, and a handful left everything and followed him.  But all were forever changed.  How could they not be?  How could we not be?

“Our interactions with others, not only with God, change us because proximity changes our perspective in an irreversible way.  There is no reliable process to unknow what we have seen, experienced, or participated in.  This is perhaps why the old adage is that “ignorance is bliss,” because sometimes we don’t want to be changed.  We so often want to forget the challenging things that we have learned and return to a time when we were comfortably blissful in our unknowing.  As (Solomon) wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:18, “In much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.”

“Through our experiences, we gain knowledge, and knowledge stubbornly refuses to let us remain the same.  If this is true—that we are changed by our everyday interactions with others—how could we not be changed when we come into contact with God, the Holy One whose greatness we have been called to proclaim?  Who can see God and remain the same?  Who can see God and not be forever changed?”[1]

I can’t read the first lesson from Exodus and not think of Mel Brooks coming down the mountain as Moses in the History of the World Part 1: “The Lord Jehovah has given unto you these 15…10 commandments…”  Moses’ mountaintop experience gave us the Law, but it also changed the way he looked – his face glowed, both naturally and spiritually, enough that he had to cover up for a while.

But the Last Sunday after the Epiphany – perhaps it would be better called the Last Sunday before Lent – is always about another mountaintop experience – the Transfiguration of Christ.  Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up Mount Hermon to pray.  They had already given up their lives for Jesus, they had left everything.  They had seen the miracles we talked about before, but this was something else.  They saw Jesus in His true glory, flanked by Moses and Elijah, and they heard the very voice of God.

They were astounded and confused, of course, as any of us would be.  As they came down that mountain after that experience, surely they realized that they couldn’t un-see what they had seen: Jesus not changed but revealed.  And they couldn’t undo what had been done: themselves changed forever, having seen the glory of God.

We see the glory of God all over the place, if we know where to look, or maybe if we know what we’re looking at.  We see the beauty of creation and the beauty of this place.  We see the hungry fed, the anxious relieved, and the penitent forgiven.  We see the lonely visited, the sick healed, and mourning turn to joy.  This is our mountaintop, if we will accept it.  We see Jesus as He is, if we have eyes to see.  Once you see it, you can’t un-see it.  What have you seen, and how has it changed you?

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Sexagesima

In May of 1778, the French writer Voltaire was nearing death, and he knew it.  Ever the critic of Christianity, or maybe more of the Roman Catholic Church, nevertheless, he welcomed a priest into his quarters while on his deathbed.  The priest, just trying to do his job (boy, I know what this is like), was trying to prepare Voltaire’s soul for death, and he asked him to renounce Satan, to which Voltaire replied,  “Now, now, my good man, this is no time to be making enemies.”

 

“But I say to you that hear,” Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Here’s another instance of Jesus being annoyingly God.  “But it’s so fun to hate our enemies, Jesus,” we’d like to respond, and do respond, since that’s what most of us do.

 

Love your enemies.  “Many people suppose that no one except a saint could fulfill this command.  Other people think that this command is only an encouragement to connive with evil, because if you love your enemy instead of clobbering him, you enable him to continue his wrongdoing.

 

“But consider what love is.  As Aquinas explains it, it consists in two desires: (1) a desire for the good for the beloved person, and (2) a desire for union with that person.

 

“So a person Paula loves her enemy Jerome only if she desires the good for Jerome and union with Jerome.  Now notice that what the good is for Jerome will depend on Jerome.  Desiring Jerome’s good requires Paula’s foregoing punishment for him if that would be for his good—or insisting on punishment for him if that would be for his good.  What is best for Jerome is whatever it takes to bring him to a morally good condition in mind and will; and that might include Paula’s calling the police to arrest him.

 

“For this same reason, Paula’s desire for union with Jerome need not include a desire for companionship with him.  If Jerome is entirely unrepentant, then Paula’s desire for union with him should not involve a willingness to be in his company.  In that worst case, Paula’s desire for union with Jerome can appropriately come to no more than the desire that Jerome will repent and reform, so that companionship becomes a possibility for them.

 

“To love your enemy then is not to enable him to continue to do morally wrong acts against you or anybody else either.  If you want what is good for your enemy, you will want for him what you want for yourself: to be a person who has love for the Lord and obedience to him.  And if you want union with your enemy, you won’t want him to go to hell because he has hurt you.  You will be glad if in love and obedience to the Lord, he finds his way to heaven too.”[1]

 

 

That’s loving your enemies.  Possible, right?  Oh, and by the way, if someone steals from you, let them have whatever they stole.  Lend people money without expecting it back.  Turn the other cheek.  Never play judge, jury, and executioner.

 

Come on, Jesus!  This Christianity thing keeps getting harder.  And more expensive.  Perhaps we should just slowly separate from our enemies, so we don’t have to worry about all that, right?

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer disagrees.  Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident who the Nazis killed in the Flossenburg concentration camp.  He knew better than most what it was like to live amongst enemies.  Bonhoeffer wrote: “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.  At the end all his disciples deserted him.  On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.  For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission, his work.  ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies.  And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people.  O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ!”

 

Great.  Doesn’t sound like fun.  But it does sound like real life, which means that Jesus is here not offering an escape from the real world (He never does), but rather a response to it.  We will have enemies, we will at times be our own worst enemy, but if we respond with love, with grace, with wanting the best for all and unity with all, the measure we give will be the measure we get back.  Difficult?  Yes.  Awesome?  Also yes.

[1] Eleanor Stump: http://liturgy.slu.edu/7OrdC022419/reflections_stump.html

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Septuagesima

So many of life’s learning environments are disorienting, purposefully so.  Some are more blatant about it: in the two seconds I thought about it, I came up with most sports and music programs, seminary, and most of all, military basic training.  All break you down to build you back up into the person you can be.

 

In a way, Jesus did this all the time.  (As a side note, worship, which is an environment in which you can learn but not technically a learning environment, can be disorienting, but not purposefully; worship is purposefully re-orienting – it orients us God-ward).  Anyway, Jesus didn’t set out to disorient anyone, as far as I can tell, but as it happens when He or anyone tells us the truth, the truth as God gives it to us, we, the finite and sinful, are easily thrown off course.

 

Take today’s Gospel from Luke.  It’s a short sermon from Jesus, the Sermon on the Plain, which sounds very much like the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew, because either they’re same sermon remembered slightly differently, or Jesus had to give it twice so it would sink in.

 

Jesus’ words don’t immediately make sense.  “Blessed are you poor; Blessed are you that hunger now; Blessed are you that weep now; Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man; But woe to you that are rich; Woe to you that are full now; Woe to you that laugh now; Woe to you, when all men speak well of you.”  Seems like the opposite of our reality, because unfortunately, it often is.

 

So a couple things to think about.  First, we need to note that while Jesus surrounded by a crowd – in fact He was once again almost overwhelmed by the people who were coming to Him to be healed of various illnesses – He did not give this sermon to the crowds, but to the Disciples, in the presence of the crowds.  Jesus knew that His words would likely sow confusion amongst the people, the people who had not yet spent time with Him, had not yet decided to follow Him as Lord and Savior.  As Reginald Fuller once put it, this sermon presupposes grace; the grace of God that allows the listener to understand the reality Jesus is presenting.  “Only insofar as persons are “in Christ” will they reproduce this kind of life in their own lives.”[1]

 

Second, and remarkably, “there is no contingency plan.  There are no urgings or exhortations to behave in certain ways so as to earn these blessings and avoid the curses.  In fact, there is no call to action at all. Rather, Jesus is just pronouncing the facts.  He is painting for us a picture of what the Kingdom of God is.  He is not making suggestions about how to be happy or giving warnings on how to keep from being miserable.  Jesus is making defining statements of the way life is inside and outside the reign of God.  It is a reversal of fortunes for the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, the full and the empty.”[2]  This is not a roadmap for a good life, but a statement about life.

 

So how is it possible that the poor, the hungry, the mournful, and the excluded are the ones who are blessed?  Why is it that the rich, the well-fed, the mirthful, and the well-regarded are the subjects of misery?

 

Well, because the well-fed, well-regarded rich have a tendency, at least, to rely on nothing and no one except themselves.  Great wealth can, at least, cut you off from other people.  You buy a big house, you need a big fence.  Remember that when Robert Frost wrote “good fences make good neighbors”, he was being sarcastic.  Those fences can be spiritual as well – one can forget that we all, in fact all things, rely on God for our very existence.

 

The poor, the hungry, the mournful, and the excluded rarely have to worry about forgetting all that.  They have to worry about everything else, of course, but they know that they have nothing in and of themselves to entitle them to a right relationship with God, which is why they so often have a right relationship with God.

 

So do the rich, the well-fed, the mirthful, and the well-regarded have to reverse their fortunes?  No.  They – let’s just admit that we are they – we just have to be aware that we can become disoriented by a world which tells us to rely on ourselves, on our possessions, and our power.  That allows us to be poor in spirit, hungry for righteousness, mournful for a broken world, set apart for good works, reoriented by the grace of God.

[1] Reginald H. Fuller: http://liturgy.slu.edu/6OrdC021719/theword_indepth.html

[2] The Rev. Sarah Jackson Shelton: http://day1.org/1029-blessing_or_curse

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