Micah 6: 1-8 Psalm 15 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 Matthew 5: 1-12
On 13th April, 2001, sat in a huge circus tent, I heard these words from Matthew’s gospel. I was broken and sad. My marriage had recently fallen apart; I had lost my home, all but a bag full of my belongings, and had been told I was no longer welcome in my church. My faith in marriage, and humanity, and God was pretty much nil, and I was finding my solace in the arms and beds of inappropriate people. I felt disgusting and cheap and full of shame. How I had found myself surrounded by 5000 Christians – who I thought were the worst and most judgemental people of all – was nothing short of a miracle, but there I was. And the preacher read these words…
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain.
He went on to say the crowds couldn’t help but follow Jesus – they were the outcasts and the sinners – they were the prostitutes and tax collectors and the poor and the sick. They were the ones nobody else wanted to be associated with and they couldn’t help but be drawn to Jesus AND, not only that; He was pleased to see them.
And in that tent, I felt like one of them. My church had told me I had to leave. I was disrespecting my body, through food and drink and sex, and I was cloaked in shame. And this man was telling me Jesus was pleased to see me…and, somewhere inside me, I knew he was right. And, like those people on that mountainside, I couldn’t help but follow him either.
And so began my second journey of faith, my following of Christ as an adult, with all my shit; hopelessly and helplessly in love with God, knowing I could never turn back now, not even if I wanted to.
Knowing Jesus to be the one who attracts the outcasts and those the world hates; knowing they are drawn to him and he is pleased to see him, pleased to see ME, has been the foundation of my faith and my call to ordination and my life as a priest and sold out Jesus-lover.
That sense was enough in itself, but here’s the thing – this crowd of people; outsiders and unwelcome everywhere else – when they follow Jesus, he is not only pleased to see them, he blesses them. Isn’t that just so Jesus?! These people, on the very edge of society, they’re the ones who get the blessing:
Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek and the hungry and the thirsty, blessed are the peacemakers and the persecuted and the pure. And blessed are the hated. Yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Several years ago, I read a wonderful sermon on this passage, given by one of my favourite preachers – Nadia Bolz-weber. (if you don’t know her, you should!). She said…
‘Maybe the Sermon on the Mount is all about Jesus’ lavish blessing of the people around him on that hillside, who his world—like ours—didn’t have much time for… Maybe Jesus was simply blessing the ones around him that day who didn’t otherwise receive blessing… I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?’
And then she goes on to write her own version of this passage, for the people around her that day. And she throws out blessings of her own, things like…
‘Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt.
Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are those who no one else notices. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers.
Blessed are foster kids and special-ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.
Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.’
And so she goes on…
And I wonder what blessings Jesus would throw out here today. Maybe it would be something like this…
‘Blessed are you, wherever you are on your faith journey; the atheist, agnostic, quaker, lapsed catholic, evangelical, seeker, conservative, liberal, Jesus-lover, God-doubter. I am pleased to see you…
Blessed are the phds and doctors, the MAs, BAs, OAs and those who trained at the university of life. Your mind is beautiful.
Blessed are the faithful, who have been here for decades, and keep on showing up,
Blessed are you who are grumpy and judgey and bored and wish you were somewhere else – none of that stops the kingdom of God being open for you
Blessed are those who don’t know when they will next eat. And blessed are you who will feed them.
Blessed are those who have children, don’t want children, can’t have children, and those who are children – you are made in the image of God.
And blessed are you, even while you are addicted to alcohol and drugs. You are blessed by God – yours is the kingdom. And you are welcome here. God sees you and loves you and is the light in the darkness you face.
Blessed are those who care about the plight of the widow and the orphan and the homeless and hungry and blessed are those who haven’t even thought about those who are worse off, for weeks, or ever.
Blessed are the refugees and asylum seekers; you who arrived by boat or land or air. Blessed are you who were welcomed in and those who are still locked up at the borders – the kingdom of God is yours, you are welcome and you don’t need a freaking visa. Citizenship is yours.
Blessed are you, even though you are sat there saying ‘but she can’t mean me because I’m…’ whatever. Yes, even you. Blessed are you.
And blessed are you as you sit in your secrecy, fearful of being found out. God sees you and knows you and hates your shame and says ‘blessed are you – I love you – you are enough’
Blessed are those the world loves, and those the world hates, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven sounds alright, doesn’t it? This place where everyone is welcome and blessed and accepted. But for people like me, who sat in that tent feeling like the world’s outcast, we need to do more. We need to be more.
We need to become the answer to the prayer that we pray every time we meet. We need to be the Kingdom here and now; your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, we pray. May we become that, so we don’t need to wait until we get to heaven, Amen.
Brilliant Gemma we are indeed blessed.
Sent from my iPhone