Living in the Spirit: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: MATTHEW 5:1-11
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
One of the ways we are blessed is by having moments where we remember people even if we do not know them. Many people are going to light candles in today as a way to remember their loved ones. And even though we don’t know them all, we can remember too because they are saints who have lived before us and been a part of being God’s love in the world. These 11 candles I have here are for the people who died last week in a synagogue, a place where Jewish people worship. It is very sad and even though we do not know them, we want to remember their names today as a way for us to honor their lives and as a way to remember that we believe God is with them and us even when sad and difficult things happen. (Read names as candles are lit. Children repeated the names on their own.)
Those killed were Daniel Stein, Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger,
I am reading Anne Lamott’s book-Almost everything and one of her chapters begins with this: Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a little while. Including you.
This is a truth on so many levels–unplugging from technology yes. But there is also unplugging from thoughts or emotions that hold you back. Unplugging from responsibilities and mandates in your life, even briefly. Unplugging from your own expectations of yourself or those that others have from you. Unplugging from the messages of the world or that voices that try to turn us this way or that way until we are not sure which way makes sense any longer. Unplugging to allow your soul to rest, your mind to breathe, and your thoughts to slow down.
This unplugging is something we hope you can do in worship each week and today, All Saints, we take a bit of extra care to dwell on this time of pause and reflection. A pause to remember those we love who no longer walk with us or text us or call us or snuggle up on the couch next to us. And a pause to remember those new lives among us, those baptisms that help us remember the water that was washed over those who have died and that water that has washed over our own heads as well. As we read names and light candles we also pause to remember who we are and whose we are as we dwell in this space between life and death, between sinner and saint, between grief and hope.
Last week we celebrated the reformation–a day most often seen as the pinnacle day of the birthday of the Lutheran church in particular. And that’s true. And then today we come to All Saints day, where we get to the heart of it all because on this day we pause to remember the core of our theology- that God comes into the depths of struggle and reality and grief and pain and death and God stays there for awhile to hold our hands through it and then helps us remember there is more and death does not have the final say even when it looks or feels that way.
In our world today we stand as witnesses to a massacre at Tree of Life synagogue, to a marches for the rights of all human beings, to a line of immigrants moving north to escape violence and persecution to the interning of ashes for a boy killed for being gay Matthew Shepard’s in the National Cathedral. We also are witness to our own losses and pain, the reality of deep sadness and struggle. We witness these heartbreaks, these lives lost and lives seeking life in a world where we keep allowing death to come too early, death to infringe on how we love our neighbor here and now, death to have more power than resurrection.
We also, who are assembled in faith, stand as witness to life. To how to live in the promise of God here and now, how to not dismiss the certainty of death and also witness to the power and promise of the resurrection here and now not just in eternal life to come. As Professor Karoline Lewis declares, We stand as witness to believing that loving our neighbors is not for the sake of eternal life but always because it is a means by which death is overcome here and now.
This is a day filled with truth that can be difficult to stand as witness to–that we live in a constant state of ‘in betweenness’. In Between the certainty of death and the certainty of the promise of life. In Between hearing the words of Jesus declaring blessings and the knowledge of living in a world where none of those things are lifted up as blessings. Which then makes it really easy for us to hear the words of Jesus as instructive, as mandate. Want to be blessed? Then have a pure heart, thirst for justice, mourn, and be meek. But these words are actually not written in an instructive form. As Jesus begins his sermon on the mount, he looks out at the people gathered around him and he simple describes them. He sees real lives with real broken hearts, real struggles, real persecution and says you.. You are blessed and loved by God. You, you are a gift and a blessing to this world. You I bless and send to be those that live in this “inbetween. “
It is not these words of blessing in which we need to unplug from. It is the words of death and destruction that creep and crawl their way into our lives each and every day that we need to release and come back to the truth of the blessing of the in between. Yes we are called to thirst for righteousness and justice, yes we are called to seek out a pure heart and to see those that mourn or who are meek or who face grief and death in any form as who and whose they truly are: Blessed as God’s child.
This blessing from Jesus is the truth of who we are and that is why it is imperative that we unplug from words of hate and fear and destruction. That we unplug from messages that paint people as an ‘other’. And as we unplug from those words, we are promised that the Holy Spirit never unplugs from us and continues to infuse us with the knowledge of hope and the promise of life in the inbetween. And so we can hear the words of Jesus as describing and pronouncing blessing on us and on our world today. Blessed are you who come with grieving hearts. Blessed are you who come with deep joy. Blessed are you who walk in sickness of body or mind. Blessed are you who are barely holding on. Blessed are you who miss someone today and always. Blessed are you see the outcast as saint. Blessed are you who stand as witness to the truth, standing in the gap of life and death. Blessed are you as witnesses to the gospel news that God is here–in the middle, in the gaps and holes and in the midst of life. Rejoice then and be glad in the promise that you are loved sinner, made a saint, and the promise of life is here for you now.