My dear Friends in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ who humbled himself to come among us to set us free from sin in the power of the the Holy Spirit. On June 22 of 2002, I was ordained a priest but my assignment didn’t begin until July 9. That probably doesn’t seem like a huge amount of time and, to be honest, there’s a part of me who would love to have three weeks to myself nowadays but I was incredibly excited just to get started. I can remember being filled with nervous energy during those weeks before I got started. I did a lot of things around my parent’s house that week and packed and repacked all my stuff in an effort to get rid of all the stuff that I didn’t want or need. When I arrived, my pastor told me that I would be having a wedding very shortly after I got there, I believe it was the following Friday. I remember meeting with the couple and asking them why they chose the readings they did and receiving the message that they weren’t really sure why they chose them. They just kind of liked them. One of the readings they chose was the gospel for today, what we call the Beatitudes. I have to admit that I was really hoping that they would have a great reason for choosing this reading, like they were involved in Habitat for humanity or that they were going on the Peace Corps after their wedding. But, nope, they just liked the reading.
This reading is one of those readings that I feel like we hear quite often but we don’t always live by it. It’s definitely another reading that most fundamentalists don’t take literally. These Beatitudes, these series of statements about what life is like in heaven, challenge each of us here. Each of these eight statements turns what the world holds as important completely on its head. Being poor in spirit, being meek, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, being merciful, being clean of heart, being peacemakers, being persecuted…all of these things aren’t on most people’s bucket lists. Let’s face it. They challenge us. We may be tempted to say that Jesus is speaking spiritually, especially for the more challenging ones. Jesus doesn’t really expect us to be peacemakers in our community or expect us to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness. He expects us to do this in our prayer. But, I would contend that Jesus is really meaning that, as the church, we should be thankful when we are poor of heart, when we are meek, when we are peacemakers, when people are persecuting us, etc. One of the things that I love most about the church is that, despite all the anger and hatred that is flung at us, most people continue to do the good work of God and don’t get wrapped up in an angry exchange. I think of Mother Teresa wiping the wounds of the leper in the political turmoil of India and Pope John Paul II visiting the man who shot him in order to offer forgiveness. It’s exactly what Paul was talking about in the second reading today when he said, “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.” The world may think that we are worthless, spineless, gutless and weak but God sees in us one who has done great things for him.
On the Saturday after I got to my first assignment, I looked out at that married couple and told them that I think this is a good message for a wedding. Marriage, likewise, turns the values of this world on its head and demands a kind of humble service. The world tells you to be most concerned about what makes you happy, what is good for you. Marriage challenges you to look out for the good of others; spouse and children, before you look out for your own comfort. It challenges you to be poor in spirit, humble, meek, and persecuted. Yet, if you live your marriage covenant well, you will find that it is truly a blessing and a reward unto itself. Truly the reign of God is yours.