“Blessed and Brokenhearted”
June 14, 2020
Matthew 5:1-10 (The Message)
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Friends, this is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Stories matter. The narratives we tell ourselves, and the stories we repeat to one another make a difference. There’s a story that has been told and re-told in my family. When my mom was five-years-old, her mom took her to the Sears downtown on Broad Street in Richmond, to pick out her first baby doll. Mom remembers this was a big deal, because it wasn’t Christmas, and it wasn’t her birthday. A salesclerk showed them to the aisle with the dolls and toys, and my mom was asked which one she wanted. She pointed to the very top shelf, where the only black baby doll was, and she said, “I want that one.” My mom remembers the look of disgust and the disdain in the clerk’s voice as she asked my grandmother, “You’re not going to let her have THAT one, are you?!?” Mom says Grandma paused for what felt like an eternity, and then she said firmly,
“If that’s the doll my daughter wants, then that’s the doll she’ll have.”
I grew up loving this story. I come from a long line of caring, courageous women, and I loved how both my mom and my grandma went against what was expected in the early 1950s. This story was passed down with pride. Our family talked about race, and how as white people, we need to be aware of how our choices and our actions affect people who don’t look like us or go to our church. My parents taught my brother and me to be kind to everyone, and to look out for those who might not have many friends at lunch or on the playground. One of the stories we were taught was that Jesus loves the little children of the world, no matter what crayon they use to color their skin in their family pictures.
Those lessons seemed so simple when I was a kid.
Jesus loves everyone.
Different families do things differently.
Say “Please” and “Thank you,” every time.
These past weeks, I’ve wished the rules and ways to respond were simple again. My head has been spinning with the desire to join my friends and neighbors in protest, against violence and injustice. But I’ve also worried about what it means to be around so many people at once, after months of sheltering at home. Especially when the number of cases of those with the Corona virus has increased in our state, and there are still so many unknowns. My head hasn’t been able to make sense of it all. My heart has cracked wide open, watching so many people around the world stand in solidarity with our black and brown neighbors, and with the signs I’ve seen little kids holding at protests:
“Am I next?”
“Stop the Violence!”
My head and my heart have struggled to take it all in. What about for you? How have the images and reports of mass marches, curfews, services of mourning, and more violence touched your heart? How are you navigating the stories being told right now?
As for me, this week I went searching for words of comfort and encouragement from Jesus. And then I landed on the Beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel, and my heart stopped wandering. It’s a beautiful, powerful story. From a hillside, Jesus taught,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”
I’ve needed to hear and heed these blessings. I’ve needed this story of care, compassion, and courage, when Jesus teaches a crowd on a hill. While studying the Gospel of Mark with you, I was struck by how many stories describe how Jesus responds with compassion to those in need. Jesus heals children, women, the unclean, and the unnamed, even on the Sabbath day. Jesus is patient with the disciples, even when they don’t understand his teachings or prophecies, even after they betray him. For me, the compassion of Jesus rings loud and clear in this story, too. Jesus looks around at the crowd, and he blesses them. Not by name, not individually. Jesus doesn’t say outright,
“Blessed are you Campbell, Michael, and Tracy.
Blessed are you Max, Nancy, and Robert.
And you too, Eleanor, David, and Melissa.”
No, in the stories that Matthew and Luke tell, Jesus doesn’t his bless his disciples by name, but he does so in such a way that he clearly knows them well. Jesus blesses them from his heart. He blesses them knowing full well the condition of their own hearts. Jesus blesses them as an act of divine love.
I hope this is a familiar story for many of you. This week, I found it most helpful for me to hear the story with fresh words, interpreted by Eugene Peterson. In the past, when Jesus offered these blessings, I’ve struggled to figure out where I am included. Maybe you’ve wanted to be among the blessed before, too. When Jesus starts passing out blessings, I’ve wanted to trust that I’m part of the list. But this week, my heart needs the way Peterson tells the story. Can you find your place among the blessings Jesus offers?
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.
You’re blessed when you care.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart— put right.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”
This list of blessings soothes my heart. This version of the story blesses the families who are grieving the death of their beloved, gone too soon. Here, Jesus blesses the people who are scared to leave their home, those living in fear of this virus that has cost our country so many lives and so many sacrifices. Jesus blesses the parents who are at the end of their rope as they’ve juggled work in new rhythms, teaching their kids online, managing a house when everyone is always home, and figuring out how to navigate changing schedules. Jesus blesses the lonely, staying safe in isolation, and he blesses the workers on the front lines, serving and supporting our systems of health care and commerce with increased demands. Friends, I trust that with this story, you are included, too. Jesus is blessing you, even though you weren’t there on that hillside. This story of the blessings of Jesus is worth repeating.
There is one more story I want to share with you. A story about a surprising blessing in the midst of fear and confusion. Last week, I heard this story on the evening news. A man, named Rahul Dubey, sheltered over 70 strangers in his home in D.C. to protect them from tear gas as they were peacefully protesting. As the hour of the city curfew approached, Dubey heard a loud bang, and he watched protesters running past his front stoop on the evening of June 1st. He opened his door, and yelled for people to shelter inside and find safety. For over 10 minutes, strangers kept streaming into his brownstone, moving onto other floors to make room for more and more people. He said the first hour and a half were mayhem as people were reeling from the tear gas and seeking aid for their injuries. Then the mood settled down, and they decided after midnight it was best for everyone to stay there until the curfew lifted at 6:00 am. Neighbors helped by delivering food and supplies and protecting the front stoop from the police. A local pizza place delivered donated pizzas from the back alley to get food to the crowd. The atmosphere was caring and kind; Dubey said now he thinks of everyone who sheltered in his home as his friends. They worked together to make sure that everyone was accompanied to their home safely the next morning. What an incredible story of compassion and care. An open door turned a home into a safe harbor during a scary night, and strangers became friends and treated each other like family. This is the type of story I want to remember from these uncharted days. This is the type of story of care and love that reminds me of Jesus.
Friends, we are writing our story of 2020 as we live it. We are living our story of being the body of Christ week by week, as we make sure local children are fed, as we fill the mailboxes of high school seniors with cards of encouragement, as we pray for one another, take care of one another, and grieve with one another. Our story of how we are living these days matters. Our story matters because we are a part of God’s story, of God’s people, of God’s love. So as you write your story this week and in the days ahead, remember that Jesus calls you blessed. You are a part of God’s great love story. Share that story. It’s a story that matters. It’s a story that needs to be passed down.
May it be so. Amen.
 “Man Shelters Over 70 Protesters Fleeing Arrest in His Washington Home.” The New York Times: June 3, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/03/us/rahul-dubey-dc-curfew.html
“Man who sheltered protesters from police says he saw ‘horrific use of force.’” CBS News: June 5, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/man-who-sheltered-protesters-from-police-says-he-saw-horrific-use-of-force/
“This man sheltered dozens of protesters in his Washington, DC, home to protect them from arrest.” CNN: June 3, 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/02/us/dc-protesters-sheltered-trnd/index.html