Friday, January 28, 2011

4 Epiphany

Readings are here

The last few weeks we have been hearing about Jesus beginning his public ministry - calling the disciples. Now he is gaining more attention and crowds are gathering wherever he goes. Today he begins to move beyond the healing ministry that has attracted the crowds and preach the message that will startle the world around him and call for a new way of looking at life. Looking at life the way God sees it.

In the days of Jesus blessed meant to those the Romans and Greeks "the gods" - the ones who lived beyond the normal cares of humanity. Or it could mean to many - those who had died and were finished with the trials of living. Or it most likely meant the elite-- those with great success, wealth, large families, land, business. We know this meaning from our daily news-- someone survives a wreck where everyone else is injured or klled - they say "I was blessed," or someone recovers from a life threatening illness and people say - "she was blessed," or someone wins the lottery - the news proclaims "showers of blessings!"

NOT blessed meant shame, being without any resources, loss of status, without hope, and overwhelmed by the world and its pain.

For Jesus to state in his first big public statement that it is these who had been seen as without blessing to be the blessed ones is shocking, foolish as Paul would call the world's view of this belief. How can this be - it goes against everything "people know."

What Jesus knows is that blessing is who we ARE not something we attain. Created in the image of God - just being here on this earth is enough. Many do not grow up with this belief about themselves. They never feel worthy enough -- always feel like they cannot earn enough, be enough, measure up because this is the message they hear at home and in the world. What message did you hear? I was lucky - my grandmother always delighted in being - just being born was enough to have her favor. It is something each child needs to hear. We know from studies that if a child has one person in his or her life who treats him with respect and listens and spends time her - it can change the course of a life. It does not have to be a relative - it can be a teacher - a person who sees the child in a store. Anyone.

Bishop Tutu - the great hero of South Africa says that for him it was a priest. He grew up thinking he was less than human because he was black in South Africa - he could never really do much because of all the barriers. He was about 10 years old living in the townships. One day a white man, an Anglican (Episcopal) priest walked by his home while his mother was out sweeping the steps. The little boy, Desmond, was watching out the window when he saw the priest tip his hat to his mother. It changed his life - seeing his mother treated as a full human being worthy of respect. He suddenly realized that he was not second class human but as good as anyone. Blessed as Jesus says in our reading.

That priest suffered and was persecuted for his belief in the dignity of every human being. Nelson Mandela suffered for that belief, Desmond Tutu suffered. Often the world does not want people to know they are blessed. It wants to keep people "in their place" --- the message of Jesus is "don't believe it" -- believe that you are created in the image of God - you are born blessed - you cannot lose the blessing not matter what happens nor what you do. It is grace and it is always there - always waiting for you to notice and accept it. We are called to know this as Christians - to tell each other when we forget - to tell others who may not know this message. But Jesus says it may cost you your place in the society of some -- but this is not Junior High where if you offend the 'in' crowd and you are cast out. This is the way to life abundant. A way of living without fear of who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down. It is a banquet with seats for everyone - Jesus offers himself as the way to find you place at the table.

When Paul talks about the foolishness of the cross - he is talking about following the One who could have done a miracle or could have brought the armies of angels to his rescue but chose to die as we die, God born as a helpless baby, who hangs helpless on the cross to show us that the rules of this world about who is blessed have no power. Claiming our blessedness - means we let go of fear - fear of death, fear of the stranger, fear of failure - because that is not real - it is not our doom - it is only something to pass through - it will not really kill the essentials of who we are.

The message of the cross is not becoming a doormat - it is about choosing to believe in our selves and the power of our choices even in extreme danger. When we poor in spirit - dispossessed and abandoned - we are still blessed. When we are mourning - grieving the state of the world or ourselves - we are still blessed. We do not seek these things to BE blessed we are blessed regardless of these things. The events are not blessings but we walk through them knowing that we are beloved of God and God knows what it is like to be poor and grieving.

The prophet Micah tells of God almost taking the people by the shoulders and shaking them - listen God says - I don't want all this ritual outward sign of your worthiness - you are already worthy -- live into it -- do what is good - this is what I require:

Do justice - see that all the peoples of the world can live in health and wholeness; Love kindness-- treat each person as you would be treated; and walk humbly with God - walk in the paths of God, see the world through God's eyes, choose LIFE.

Here is how it looks in the news today - from Egypt:
From Twitter
Sana Saleem
While Muslim Protestors prayed today, Christian Egyptians formed human chains to protect them. Solidarity,strength and co-existence and a few weeks ago when churches were attacked - Muslims neighbors surrounded churches during worship.

This is choosing to live into what it means to accept that we are blessed.