Good morning, Christ Church!
Yes, the Daily Devotionals have been suspended as we turn our attention to the challenges of re-opening the buildings and grounds and resuming our usual patterns of mission and ministry. This will not be easy. The situation remains very much day-to-day and I, for one, would not be surprised if we experience some “two steps forward, one step back” as we return to normal practices. In other words, we must continue to hold Rick+, the Staff, the Vestry, the Search Committee, and one another in our daily prayers, remembering that patience will always be a virtue!
Nonetheless, with Rick’s permission, I have offered to continue with a Weekly Reflection to be posted on Monday mornings. Obviously, the format will be different, as we will not be making use of the Daily Office. Instead, I propose to focus on chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew’s Gospel. These chapters are often referred to as “the Sermon on the Mount,” although I prefer something more along the lines of “the Discourse on Discipleship.” I hope to hold our current circumstances (the world, the nation, our community, Christ Church, ourselves) in creative tension with Jesus’ teachings found here as we prayerfully consider what discipleship looks like in the year 2020. Let’s see if this works!
Faithfully in Christ,
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 5:1-3)
Janie and I continue to work on our skills when it comes to the art of “binge watching.” We are currently tuned into another comedy series, an acknowledgment of God’s great gift of laughter and how important humor is in staying grounded in these difficult times. I am not sure that the title of the show is appropriate for a church publication! Let’s just say that the title is comprised of two words. The first word begins with the letter, “S.” The second is the word, “Creek.” I think you’ve got it.
The story is about a once wealthy family that has now lost it all. They have been reduced to living in a motel located in a small town that goes by the name of the show’s title. When we first meet them, the main characters are deeply flawed, some might even say insufferable. But as time goes on, they begin to change. It’s not because they start reading “self-help” books. It’s not because they decide to enforce a “Rose Family Code of Conduct.” Something about their circumstances quietly begins to work on them, and in their relationships we begin to see glimmers of love, of forgiveness, of forbearance, of patience, of peace, of hope, and of understanding. We are not viewing perfection, mind you, not by any stretch of the imagination. But the grace is there. It is perceptible. And it is a beautiful thing to see.
This section of Matthew’s Gospel begins with what we know as the Beatitudes (5:1-11). Sometimes, we interpret these verses as a Christian Code of Conduct. If we work at discipleship long enough and hard enough, then we, too, will become poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and so on.
But I do not think that is what Jesus is saying or what he is teaching. His message, as always, is about grace and not works righteousness. The Beatitudes are not about a state of activity. They are, instead, about a state of being. The Greek word translated into English as “blessed” might be better understood as “happy,” not in the sense of feelings, but as the condition of one’s life. Furthermore, Jesus is using the word in the present tense. It is not about what will be. It is about what already is.
In other words, striving to become a peacemaker is not what brings us blessedness. It is about growing closer to God, entering ever more deeply into that state of trust and happiness, that will allow peacemaking to become a natural condition in our lives.
Jesus begins his teaching here by drawing his disciples together. He wants them to understand that, in regards to everything he is about to say, it is always, first and foremost, about being in an ever-closer relationship with him. He is saying, “If you desire true happiness in your lives, then abide with me. As you abide with me, you will know the kingdom of God, you will inherit the earth, you will be filled, you will see God, and you will be called children of God.”
I know that, in the present turmoil that seems to be overwhelming us right now, I am often tempted to run around and do more work in regards to peacemaking and thirsting for righteousness. Please don’t misunderstand me. That work is crucial. But we are always at risk of losing the forest for the trees. If we really want to make a difference in the world today, it as always begins with the condition of our relationship with Jesus, who is Christ, the Son of God. As we seek to abide with him more and more, the blessings described in the Beatitudes, and the resulting conditions, will be ever more fully revealed to us, and through us to the world.