November 2023

SERMON: Upside-Down

Sunday Sernon, November 26, 2023

Have you ever noticed that life just isn’t what we thought it would be???  It didn’t turn out like it was supposed to…the old old story we love to tell.  It was supposed to be more orderly, kinder, more predictable, less of a mess.  More like Leave It to Beaver.  What happened?

I once received a note that said:  “I’ve told people before that if I were a pastor, I think I might just get up every Sunday and say, ‘It’s complicated,’ “ offer a blessing and sit back down.  Although it would be more than adequate for me to give the blessing “Dona Nobis Pacem,” and sit back down, Doug would say I hadn’t preached long enough, so here we go.

Life has become complicated, indeed.  Things are askew.  We find ourselves experiencing things that we were never prepared to navigate.  None of us were prepared to be full time caregivers for another human being, and yet AARP reports that 43 million Americans provided unpaid care for an adult last year.  It is virtually impossible to understand what a caregiver goes through, and caregivers themselves often report high rates of anxiety or depression, because they have a harder time tending to their own health.

We were not prepared when an international virus virtually closed down our world.  We weren’t prepared for the loss of jobs, the loss of health, the fear of how this isolation would affect our children and their development. We weren’t prepared for the isolation and the loss of daily routine.  We missed one another.  It felt like the world was upside down.

Most recently we felt an utter horror watching human beings blow each other up, tanks rolling into communities within feet of now unhoused children, rubble, blood, and chaos.  How could this be in a so-called civilized world?  We just aren’t prepared for this sort of thing.

We learn in our text that our lives are part of a series of seasons.  Seasons for birth, for hope, for laughter, for death.  Seasons for planting and reaping, seasons gathering and seasons for letting go.  We were never promised a trouble free existence.  We will have seasons of peace and seasons of pain, but we can feel blessed when we see beautiful things in humble places where others see nothing.

Remember all the years we studied to prepare for a career that would accumulate wealth, and then we learned the hard lessons of what money cannot buy?  Money cannot buy good health or happiness or life itself.  Money cannot buy respect or delight.  Money cannot buy true friendship or deep faith.  Money cannot buy serenity or peace of mind.

We were never educated about seasons of life that require us to learn the art of letting go.  We find it especially difficult to let go of control, to allow our children to be their true selves, to step out of the spot light, to give someone else the credit, to surrender the need to be right, or ultimately to surrender to death.  For everything there is a season, and as it passes, each season requires the art of letting go.  We might ask ourselves, “What are we willing to release?”

We were not introduced to the notion that much of our lives will be the result of our attitudes. We were not told that misery is optional or that being offended is a choice.  We were not taught that lack of gratitude has consequences such as negativity, complaining, selfishness, an attitude of entitlement, jealousy, pride, and self pity.

Jesus must have known about the changing world being upside-down, because he preached a message declaring a new order of things.  In the Beatitudes, or the blessings, we learn that we can’t do it alone.  We need one another, and we need God.  Jesus speaks in what are referred to as “beatitudes,” blessings where we can find divine joy, sacred delight, and happiness.  By pondering these statements, we will experience the feeling of being fortunate, and may have a transformation of the heart.  We will see things not as the world understands, but as Jesus teaches.

Blessed are the poor in spirit?  We might wonder what’s so hot about being the poor in anything.  Mother Teresa puts it this way:  “Before God we are all poor.  We are all handicapped in one way or another.  Sometimes it can be seen on the outside, sometimes it is in the inside.  The healthy person may be closer to dying or even more dead than the person who is dying.  They might be spiritually dead, only it does not show.”  When we recognize that we are all poor, we might also recognize that we are all part of God’s kingdom, declared to be blessed.

We learn that we will mourn, and that God comforts us in our loss, our open-ness, our vulnerability.  We learn that God loves human beings.  God loves the world.  Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. The blessed life is a complicated life.  It is full of love but also pain.  It is a process, and includes loss.  We learn that as we bow and weep, God weeps with us.  God blesses us as we mourn.

Jesus declared “Blessed are the meek.”  Meekness is not weakness, rather it is strength under control.  The blessed meek do not need to prove or assert their dominance.  We are not commanded to roll in with a brigade of soldiers surrounded by tanks, rather we are called to pull life out of the rubble, even if we are sweaty and exhausted, we are called to give grace and meaning to life.  Jesus declared that it is the meek who shall inherit the earth.  Perhaps strength under control is the only way we will preserve the world in which we live.

When Jesus spoke of righteousness, he was not referring to a know it all attitude, rather he was referring to people who are not satisfied with the status quo, people who are not satisfied with superficial spirituality or lukewarm faith.  Jesus was talking about caring, cooperation, diligence fairness, honesty, loyalty, patience, positivity, responsibility, reliability, and unselfishness.  Righteousness is about conducting ourselves with empathy and compassion, giving credit where credit is due, being accountable, apologizing, and striving to be helpful.  Righteousness is about stepping up and doing the right thing even if there is a price to pay.  Righteousness is about making our deeds eloquent.

Serene Jones is the President of Union Theological Seminary, and she speaks of the founders of the school who believed in an education based on the Beatitudes.  She describes the thinking of the founders of Union saying, “Students didn’t need to be nestled away from the world, the founders thought, they needed to be thrown into the world and forced to wrestle with the unruly and messy demands of God’s people in all their wild variety.  They were especially concerned that clergy in training needed to grapple with what it meant to preach the Gospel to New York’s growing masses of poor people, of immigrants and dockworkers, of the plague-ridden sick and desperately hungry who filled its densely populated neighborhoods.  Preaching the Gospel for them meant not just talking about God; it required actively doing the work Jesus had called all Christians to do:  Feed the hungry, care for the widow and the orphan, heal the sick, proclaim release to the captive and imprisoned, do justice.  They even wrote this mandate right into the preamble of the school’s 1836 charter.  From the start, it was a seminary responsive to claims of the world upon the church.”

The real message here is that we are called to become the living Beatitudes, the living blessings.  We are called to live out a faith that has meaning in the real world, a faith that is a slow unfolding process that faces the newness of each day. It is not a wish-washy faith or a faith for an academic lightweight.  It is a faith that requires some grit and has to be lived on a daily basis. The challenge of living faithfully is not about being perfect, it is about facing each new day and new challenge with love and withthe assurance of God’s presence, God’s ever present love.

We are called to a faith that requires practice, and is based not on fear, but on love.  Love motivates us to do good because we are grateful for the blessings of life itself, not because we are terrified or competing for a heavenly prize.  We find ourselves bringing in sheaves of kindness, responsibility, caring, love and mercy, not because we have to, but because we want to as a response to the love of God.

And finally we hear:  Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.  While we know that we are already children of God, we must challenge ourselves to be peacemakers in this turbulent time in history.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace.  One must believe in it.  And it isn’t enough to believe in it.  One must work at it.”  The fact of the matter is that we need one another, we need community, we need to nurture one another through the seasons and sorrows of life.  We need to come together not fall apart, so keep coming to church, keep supporting one another.  We need to fully include one another in our loving circles and in our prayers.  We need to look into one another’s eyes and hearts recognizing that what we see is blessed.  You are blessed in the eyes of God.  God is with us as we gather here this morning.  Blessed are you. Blessed is Black Mountain United Church of Christ.  Amen.

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