Friday, January 31, 2020

Yes And, Blessed Are You: Jesus' Beatitudes as Divine Embrace and Inclusion

In my office hangs a frame with two images. The bottom is a picture I took on a morning run through the streets of Bethlehem. The image is of the large wall that snakes throughout the little town and imposes its will, fear, and system of apartheid upon the Palestinian people. The top is a postcard I purchased from the phantom graffiti artist Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. The artist, Manal Mahamid, painted a beautiful wreath surrounded by Arabic words. translated they read, “Not allowed to enter…mine fields…border guards…military zone.” The intent, in my mind, is to surround beauty with words of exclusion and isolation, oppression, and despair. 

The postcard is a commentary not only on the present Palestinian reality, but also the human condition throughout history and even still today. Beauty and blessing always feels surrounded by the ugliness of marginalization and segregation.

This Sunday’s lectionary gospel hinges on Jesus’ blessings, commonly referred to as beatitudes. The beatitudes, Latin for “blessing,” are the prologue to the Jesus message, prelude to the Messianic anthem, and inclusive roll call of all invited to adventure along this absurd parade route with the ultimate destination a world made new and right again.  While many have preached these words as though Jesus is seated hillside with a blueprint for achieving discipleship- be this, do that- the beatitudes are more descriptive than prescriptive. Every time I read these words, I am reminded just how upside-down Jesus’ blessings are. They are not linked to acquisition or elite status and certainly not dependent upon wealth or achievement.  Instead, Jesus’ anointings are proclamations of “yes" to those much more familiar with the exclusionary “no."  These sacred lyrics are reminders that God’s Spirit calls us still to have the eyes and ears of Christ, who sat hillside and proclaimed God’s improvisational embrace of whoever was in search of assurance that “Yes…and… you belong.”

The beatitudes were good news then. When remixed and improvised, they are good news still. 
Yes to you whose spirits are wearied and worn by the rat race culture, whose aspirations have been stunted by those who lack an imagination, and for you who have been let down by religious communities and leaders, leaving you with more questions than answers. Yes, And God’s dreams for the world include you;  
Yes to you who grieve the loss of loved ones or who feel sadness at your core, whose relationships are strained, and who live in communities where death and despair lurks around every corner. Yes, And God’s love, peace, and presence extends to you;  
Yes to you whose voices go unheard, who are cut off at border walls and fences, whose self-worth has crumbled, are differently abled, who battle anxiety and depression, and others whose identity does not fit social norms of either/or. Yes, And you are made in God’s beautiful image and welcomed members of God’s new world already here and yet-to-come;  
Yes to you with a hunger for activism and advocacy, who organize and mobilize for the end of hunger and poverty, homelessness and addiction, racism and all forms of injustice. Yes, And you will find hope and freedom in the good news that God is putting the world to rights;  
Yes to you who offer second-chances and forgiveness, even to your worst of enemies. Yes, And you will find freedom as you are unbound from the pain of the past and lean into the mercy of the God of new beginnings and fresh starts;  
Yes to you who cannot shake an unsettled spirit when you see another wounded or excluded, whose empathy for others runs so very deep that you find yourself wearied by compassion. Yes, And you have the eyes and ears and heart of God;   
Yes to you who practice peace in an age of violence, embody love in a world thirsty for vengeance, and extend grace in the face of retaliation. Yes, And you have indeed understood what it means to be called God’s witnesses in the world;  
Yes to you whose name has been run through the mud, reputation tossed to the wind, arrested for siding with the oppressed, and others who have been dismissed because your faith challenges the powers that be. Yes, And your labors are not in vain, rather carry God’s story forward.   
Yes, blessed are all of you whose dreams have been labeled foolish, who have been rejected, judged, condemned, ignored, stymied or barred opportunity because of your commitment to the way of Jesus. Yes, And you are not alone and will find joy in the resurrection parade of the Messiah and the movement of the gospel.
Last year, the Christian community lost a great writer, blogger, and faithful advocate, Rachel Held Evans. At her funeral, one of her closest friends, Lutheran Pastor and well-known speaker, Nadia Bolz-Weber, delivered this benediction in the midst of her grief- blessed are those who mourn. She said:
I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.
Yes. Jesus is God’s Beatitude. Jesus is the one who fully identified with all those whom he welcomed into the fold. And this Jesus calls those mis-marked as foolish by the world’s standards to the Table of welcome, a place where all are named blessed. This table is God’s great Yes And to you and the whole world. The only thing excluded from this family meal is exclusion. So may you receive this divine blessing, blessed are you who __________. May God’s Spirit fill in words of good news you need to hear. Then take a step farther and consider how the Spirit may call you to extend the same blessing to another in a world with far too many words and walls that other and isolate.