Saturday, January 28, 2023

We are blessed and a blessing, we are healed and are healers

I suppose it is all too obvious to say that the world—and the country and communities--we live in need healing. The Church, the gathering of God’s people, has always been a healing community. When we pray for healing, when we do this sacramentally, we lay on hands on people and anoint them with oil. We pray that they will know God’s healing power. We also pray that God will work healing in our hearts, our bodies and our spirits. There are many reasons that this is part and parcel of the Church’s basic ministry.

First, we do this because Jesus did. He touched people. He met people at the point of their deepest need, and he healed them.

Second, in the earliest Christian communities, a major sign of the Spirit’s presence after Jesus’ resurrection was that they were a healing community.

So, what is Christian Healing? Well, for one thing, healing is more than just fixing broken bodies or lifting up broken spirits—although it certainly includes that! Christ’s healing is for a broken world and that starts on the cross and is made known in the resurrection. That means that when we undertake any ministry of healing—laying on of hands, visiting the sick, ministering to the lonely, the jailed, the outcast, feeding the hungry, working for a just world—we are taking part in God’s reign, taking part in God breaking into our world, and witnessing to the Risen Christ. Healing shakes things up!

In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus describing the blessed ones of God. He describes who they are and what they do. And while there are many ways that God’s blessed ones live, there is no question that God’s blessing is revealed when we reach out to each other and heal.

Listen again to the core of Jesus’ teaching: the beatitudes.  Like Christian healing, the beatitudes are often distorted and misunderstood. Some preachers and writers who want to turn Jesus’ powerful teaching into something like “positive thinking” or self-help. Some try to convert Jesus’ healing into magic—you know, when you try to use the right ritual or phrases to control events or manipulate the world to your preferences. Some preachers will equate "blessing" with worldly wealth. There are some leaders and some preachers who attempt to use Jesus’ teaching to justify everything from the exclusion and expulsion of immigrants, to the  rejection and violence against gay, lesbian and transgender persons, or will use Jesus’ words to justify the persecution of people of other religions. Others want Christians to be silent and submissive and just meekly give into whatever is going on around us or whatever their leader says.

Needless to say, we live in a time, as much as any time in the church’s history, when it is essential that we listen again to the core of Jesus’ teaching.

So, let us begin again.

The beatitudes in Matthew come in three parts.

In the first part, Jesus proclaims blessing to four kinds of people who are suffering: (1) the poor who are without hope; (2) people who mourn; (3) people who are “meek.” The word that we hear as “meek” does not refer to the shy but rather to the downtrodden and oppressed. Finally, there are (4) the people who thirst after righteousness—because they are desperate for justice!

 Let’s be clear here—these are not qualities anyone wants to have. There is absolutely no virtue in being unintentionally poor. Healing though it might be, mourning is a state of broken heartedness that no one wants. No one wants to be downtrodden and disrespected (aka “meek”). People who experience any or all of these know that this is not what God intends for creation!

Notice that these first four beatitudes are beatitudes of reversal. People who are one way will receive a blessing that will take them to some place new. The poor and those without hope will belong to the kingdom. People who mourn will be comforted. People who are downtrodden will inherit the earth. Everyone who is poor, who mourns, who is downtrodden, and everyone who thirsts for righteousness will be satisfied!

How can this be? How can Jesus say that these permanent conditions of humanity will be reversed? This leads us to the next part of the beatitudes.

The next four blessings are directed to people who strive to live in the way God intends: they are the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers.

In Jewish tradition, the heart of the law is mercy. Mercy is much more than a legal thing—letting someone who is guilty go free—mercy is both the act and the life of compassion to those who are in trouble, who are poor, or who are in pain. Jesus says that people who live mercifully will also receive mercy.

Purity of heart is not just good behavior and clean living, it is a heart tuned to God and open to the working of the divine in the everyday. These are people who see God.

People who are peacemakers are people who work for justice—who work to see the poor treated fairly and who speak truth to power on behalf of those who have no voice. People who bring reconciliation to places of division will be called children of God.

What Jesus says in this second part of the beatitudes is that God blesses (and others are blessed by) people who live their lives in tune with God.

So how will the poor be welcomed into God’s reign? Because the merciful will show then in!

And how will the mourning be comforted? Because people tuned to God’s heart will comfort them!

And how will the downtrodden inherit the kingdom? Because people of peace will bring justice to God’s children!

But all this comes with a price: When people begin to live God’s reign, there will be trouble. And when people care for people with compassion and justice and with hearts open to God, there will be trouble. That's because we live in a world that wallows in injustice, that is energized by grievance and anger, that exploits poverty, and thrives on disrespect! And people—even ones who claim the name “Christian” who are steeped in these will fight back!  They will call us names (like “woke” or “snowflake” and all that), and they will get on their talk radio and cable news shows and rant about how unrealistic—and, oddly, talk about how mean—we are! They will pass laws to tell us what not to teach in schools so that they don’t feel bad about the ugly parts of our history! And that is why in Jesus’ final blessing in the second part is a word of hope mingled with a word of warning: people who do right will be persecuted—this is a part of living in God’s kingdom right now!

That's because the values of a life of blessing are contrary to the values of the culture.

When we take part in the ministry of Christian healing, it is not just about making our bodies better, we are not doing magic and we are not simply being “nice.” We are doing something much, much better: we are introducing and taking part in God’s reign of justice, hope, and peace. When we open ourselves to God’s healing, we place ourselves alongside people who are poor and without hope—we are people in need of mercy, and when we show mercy, we are extending to others what has been freely given to us by a loving God who loved us first!

Mercy happens when we embrace people who grieve and those who give comfort. When we take part in God’s mercy, we are lift up the downtrodden and the meek, offering both justice and a welcome into God’s reign. And when we do this in the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, and healing then we are demonstrating God’s mercy in our lives in real tangible ways.

All of us have things in our hearts of which we are not proud. All of us have things that grieve us. All of us, at some time, have struggled to have hope. And all of us, every one of us, are blessed.

We are blessed because God has given us people of blessing, and made us, in the cross and resurrection and through our faith and baptisms, into a people of blessing.

Whether you come forward for healing, or whether you stay and pray for those who do hear again Jesus’ words: Blessed are the poor and those without hope—the kingdom of heaven is here! Blessed are you who mourn—comfort is here! Blessed are you are worn down and trampled upon—you have a home, the earth is yours! All of you who thirst for God’s way—satisfaction is here!

God’s mercy comes through merciful people. Compassion comes through hearts tuned to God.

Justice arrives through people who seek peace. And no matter what happens or what is said about us, we are a people of mercy and hope and comfort and justice.  And so, wounded though we are, we are healers because we are being healed!

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Bulletin for Worship for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany January 29, 2023 at St. John's, Clearwater, Florida.

Scripture Lessons for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, January 29, 2023.

Here is a video of the Sermon at St. John's Clearwater, Florida on January 29, 2023.

Here is a video of the Liturgy at St. John's, Clearwater, Florida on January 29, 2023.

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