Right from the beginning, before I go any further, I’m going to ask yall to do something. Take the red Book of Common Prayer in front of you in the pew and turn to page 855. Just turn to page 855, bookmark it with your bulletin, or set it to the side…just keep it marked or open to page 855. We’ll get to that in just a minute, but for now…we’re going to continue with our last Sunday in our Beatitudes Series. If you’ve been able to be here or listen-in the past couple of Sundays, we hope you’ve found it encouraging, challenging, and helpful.
Last fall Ericka and I bought a used 2012 Jayco Pop-Up Camper. We had saved up for a while and we’ve loved taking it out with the kids. What I have to say about traveling and camping with a Pop-Up is it’s about 90% fun. Which, in my opinion, is still a pretty good percentage. It’s 90% because there is 10% not-so-fun. It’s a little bit of work, you need to organize, maximize functionality of space, be prepared for weather in all forms (thankfully I married a natural organizer)…and of course, there is the “dad moment.” The moment where this dad, during setting-up, or adjusting to some unforeseen variable, loses his temper. So, more times than not, there’s this moment on pretty much every trip where I’m standing in front of my kids saying something like, “Look kids. I’m really sorry about the way I just acted. And I know we tell you not to use those words and you just heard a lot of them come out of my mouth. So, I ask your forgiveness. I love you.” And you know what…they do. They forgive me…and in this beautiful, non-judgmental, grace-filled kind of way. You know there’s something about the way children can forgive…they’re somehow able to do it in a way us grown-ups struggle to do. Maybe that’s one of the things G.K. Chesterton was thinking about when he wrote about God’s constant creativity and generativity and referred to it as God’s eternal appetite of infancy and says, “For we have sinned and grown old and our God is younger than we.”
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
When we’re talking about mercy, we’re talking about forgiveness. That’s how mercy is embodied in our lives, right? And remember who Jesus is talking to here…he’s not talking to the people in positions of power – those who can only imagine mercy as some act of clemency they leniently bestow from their position on high. No, he’s talking to normal, every-day people. Now, we hear that phrase, I think there’s a tendency to assume a “tick for tack” kind of exchange. “I give mercy, so God will be merciful with me” kind of thinking…but that’s not it. As Rowan Willams says, “God is love all the way down.” So, there’s no withholding going-on in the life of God. What Jesus is teaching here is pointing to a deep reality. That it is in the actual giving of mercy that we receive mercy in our own lives. Said another way, when you and I choose forgiveness, something happens in us, in our lives…and that is freedom.
We can hang onto unforgiveness and have friends, we can hang onto unforgiveness and have a great job, we can be unforgiving and find moments of happiness and pleasure, we can be unforgiving and have all that and more…but we will never.be.free.
The French monastic and spiritual director, Jacque Phillipe expresses rather viscerally what it looks like to forgive when he writes, “We must burn all the invoices.”
We love to hang onto those invoices, because we are convinced people owe us a debt, we expect people to pay-up because that’s what we deserve. And let’s face it – sometimes we’re expecting this from people who are unhealthy, who are hurtful, who are toxic because of their own woundedness – and we know they’re never gonna be able to pay-up the way we think they should…so we hang onto those invoices…and yet it’s us who goes bankrupt. Blessed are you who burn the invoices…
This next one, I’m especially mindful of those of you who grew up Evangelical in the 80’s and 90’s. Okay? Do yall remember “Purity Rings”? How about the “Purity Talks” at camp? Q&A time was especially interesting. “Is it okay that I kiss my girlfriend?” “I don’t know Josh…are you going to marry her one day?” “Uhhhh…I don’t know, we’re 15.” If you’re a cradle Episcopalian and have no idea what I’m talking about…count yourself lucky…Blessed are you who had a normal adolescence, for you are in less therapy.
But the way Jesus is teaching on purity here…it’s not that. For many of us, when we hear that word (pure or purity) our default mode is to start thinking about a morality-centered project. But it’s actually about the essence of a thing…not the consistency of our moral behaviors so much as the condition of our hearts. I love how Cynthia Bourgeault interprets this verse, “Blessed are those whose hearts are not divided, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.” It’s about our attention…we live surrounded by distraction, but a pure heart has a kind of attention toward God. The poet Mary Oliver in her essay Upstream closes with this sentence.
Attention is the beginning of devotion. Because what we bring our attention to influences the way we see everything else. Danish philosopher Sorjen Kierkegaard wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” And the one thing, for him, that could be willed and not compromised was “the Good.” To seek “the Good” in all things through all circumstances. “What’s the essence the law?” the scribe once asked Jesus – just another way, another culture’s asking “What is the Good?” “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” Have a heart that does that…have a heart that seeks “the Good” and we will see God…at work in our lives, in the lives of others, in our community, in creation…in all things, through all circumstances.
There’s someone here I’d like to embarrass a bit. Jack Dison is a member of St. Andrew’s. Jack is a friend, he’s a good man…if you don’t know Jack and his wife Pat – you need to know them, you’ll be glad you did. Jack is retired now, but in his career, he was a professor of sociology. But, more than that, Jack did some remarkable work. You see, Jack went into the prison systems of California and over time developed relationships with both inmates convicted of violent crimes and the families of the victims of those crimes. Not only that…he developed a model of reconciliation in which those very people would sit in the same room with one another – family of a victim looking into the eyes of the one who harmed them in ways most of us will never know…and they slowly walked through a process of reconciliation. Jack will be the first to tell you it was long, difficult, and arduous work…but they did it. It happened.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” that’s what he’s talking about. In a word, reconcilers. Blessed are you who are working for reconciliation…to restore, to re-connect, helping those estranged to draw close…and this can happen in all kinds of ways, big and small – however or wherever the possibility is there. Be reconcilers! Okay…now, pick up that red Book of Common Prayer that you marked at page 855. And see where it says in bold letters THE MINISTRY? Now, look at that second question…What is the ministry of the laity? (That’s everyone in here, by the way) Okay…let’s read it together…The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world… Alright! Let’s stop there. To carry on Christ’s work of what? Reconciliation All of us. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. Blessed are you who reconcile, who make peace in such ways, because when we do…we’re called sons and daughters of God, which is just another way of saying we look like Christ at work in this world.
And here we’ve arrived at the last Beatitude, which rather plainly states…If we try to be this person, bring this teaching into the center of our lives…persecution happens. Of course, this is a refence to the kind of persecution the Early Church was enduring…but even more than that it reveals that Jesus was not some pie-in-the-sky Utopian hippy, looking like Cat Stevens, telling people to hop on the peace train and everything was going to be alright. No…Jesus faced the world and the risks of his ministry and teaching head-on. He’s saying Blessed are you….if you live with humility, compassion, gentleness and courage, forgiveness, seeking the Good in all things – in all people, if you make your life about reconciliation – Blessed are you…but guess what, it’s not going to be easy, you’ll be misunderstood, you’ll be mocked, you’ll be mistreated, you’ll struggle, sometimes it’s going to break your heart…AND you’ll be free, you’ll know true joy, real peace, an abiding sense of God’s love, and you’ll see something happen…the kingdom of God transforming the world around – step by step by step.
Step by step is all we can ever do anyway.
There’s a saying in the recovery community, “It’s about spiritual progress, not perfection.”
Blessed are we…who are imperfect, failing, flawed, and fainthearted…
Blessed are we…who know this about ourselves, and others yet we keep going…
Blessed because God does not leave but leads us…
…into and through this new - work, school, and calendar season upon us
and all the seasons after.