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Sermon for February 13, 2022, Epiphany 6, Year C (The Rev. Columba Salamony)

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I speak to you in the name of God: Our Mother, our Brother, and our Friend. Amen.

We hear the Beatitudes often, right? Blessed are the poor, the sorrowful, the hungry… the persecuted, the meek, the merciful, the cheese-makers. These short declarations paint a rather lovely, sentimental scene of what the heavenly realm looks like. Jesus describes it to be a place where all are fed, all are comforted, and all are welcome. This sounds like something we all want, I would think... Well, what more is there to say?

The Beatitudes listed in Luke’s Gospel contain some reminders to those in more privileged positions of power: woe to you who are rich, who are full, who are laughing, who are respected! WOE. This doesn’t feel very nice for those of who might be in these categories, I guess.

This passage takes place in a situation where there is a great crowd of people searching for Jesus so that they might be healed of whatever ails them. We can envision hands reaching out to touch him as if he were some rockstar or celebrity. He turns to his followers and gives this litany of blessings and woes.

I sense that Jesus is asking them (and us) to be contrary to the ways of the world, to go against the grain, to interrupt the status quo. Throughout scripture, we encounter the many disenfranchised people living in Jesus’ world—the lepers cast out from society, orphans and widows, women, the poor, the disabled, the foreigner—people living at the margins of society because there isn’t a place for them in the halls of power and empire. In scripture, there are the rich, too, who are often targets of Jesus’ teachings: the Pharisees, the tax-collector, the Roman Empire. The rich are those who take comfort in themselves and their resources, those who give their scraps to the dogs. The rich are concerned with how they look in the eyes of others, how much they contribute to the Temple and its treasury, how untattered their silken robes are. Jesus might have easily befriended those whose wealth would enable great things in his ministry, and yet we more often see Jesus dining with sinners, teaching women, touching the unclean, and wandering the countryside among the poor laborers. Think about this with me…

Two weeks ago, we heard the story of Jesus’s return to his hometown, where he read from the scroll of Isaiah: “I have home to proclaim the good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed” (Lk. 4:18-19, paraphrased). Now he stands before a crowd, promising blessings to these same people, to the outcasts, the forgotten, and the lonely. And the people, seeing he was filled with the power of God, believed he was there to fight against kingdom and empire, the largest forces of oppression, suffering, and poverty.

Again and again, Jesus promises to the suffering that they are invited to God’s banquet; that there is a place that the hungry will be fed, the injured healed, and the poor will want for nothing. Remember, “The last will be first and the first shall be last.” It is a complete reversal of everything that we might expect from a leader.

The thing is that poverty, hunger, and disease are preventable conditions, especially in a society that has enough. If it weren’t for economic systems that benefit the rich, government structures that unjustly prioritize the powerful, healthcare systems that privilege those who can navigate their bureaucracy, or military force and armaments that could destroy the planet with the push of a button, we might be able to have a better vision of what the realm of God might look like. When you listen to voices from the underside of power, from the belly of society, you learn a lot about the suffering that drives our materialistic and consumeristic society, economy, and world.

The first native-born saint of Central America and El Salvador, Oscar Romero, has written: “There is a criterion for knowing whether God is close to us or far away: all those who worry about the hungry, the naked, the poor, the disappeared, the tortured, the imprisoned—about any suffering human being—are close to God.”[1]

Like Jesus, Romero reminds us that the call to a life of discipleship requires us to hear the cry of the suffering, the oppressed, and the friendless. This means we must not stay locked away behind our iron gates of power, privilege, and empire. We are called to bear witness to the movement of our broken, hurting world toward God’s realm. Jesus asks us not to hoard our wealth, but to share it with those who need it most: to feed and clothe and aid the disadvantaged. And not just our financial or material wealth, but also our time, our talents, and our friendship.

Being children of God, we must always look for those who society pushes way. We must stand with the reviled, the criminal, and the expendable, because they, too, are God’s children, part of God’s beloved community, inheritors of God’s love and grace! We can’t just look away and hope someone else will take care of them.

At the very least, maybe we will learn something from them. These are people who sometimes have nothing BUT God; what can they help us learn about our faith? What can we come to understand about the human condition? What can their experience of suffering teach us about our experience of privilege?

Over the course of this week, I wonder if you might join me in writing your own “Beatitudes” for our modern world. What would they read? What would you bless? What woes do you face?

As inspiration, I want to share words written by a beloved friend of mine, the Rev Kirsten Freeman, Rector of Holy Name, Cumbernauld, and Saint Paul and Saint John, Monklands, and Diocesan Makar (or “Poet”) of the United Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway in the Scottish Episcopal Church. She has adapted the Beatitudes as a prayer for each of us to consider when we can feel God’s blessing.[2]

Blessed are you, yes blessed;

When you feel as if no one gives a damn,

when you don’t know where to turn or what to say,

when ‘why’ becomes the biggest word;

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you, yes blessed;

When you feel forgotten, lonely, misunderstood,

when the whole world seems against you,

when utter despair seeks to be your only companion.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you, yes blessed;

In your grief and pain, for what or who once was,

in your doubts and disillusionment, for what or who could be,

when past and future want to swap restoring life to memories.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you, yes blessed;

when the road seems blocked, the map lost, the ground sinking sand,

when you are full of question but void of answers, yet still ask, no demand.

Blessed are you.

Blessed are you, yes blessed,

when you are frayed, tattered, worn out,

damaged beyond any seeming chance of repair.

Blessed are you, for claiming the whole of your humanity.

Lament, weep, scream, for dawn will break on another day

and in that day, you will be blessed once more,

blessèd hope—

that those fresh blessings are more welcome companions.

[1] Farmer, Paul; Gutierrez, Gustavo. In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez . Orbis Books. [2] The Rev Kirstin Freeman, “Blessèd Hope” on her blog

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