11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection February 5, 2016
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday (January 29) I preached on the Beatitudes as found in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel. I will share some of that sermon in this week’s Advance.
The Greek that is often translated as “Blessed are … ” can also be translated as “Happy are … “ I personally like the translation that renders the Greek “God makes happy …” But what does it mean to be “blessed/happy”? It doesn’t always mean what we think it means.
We know that the most important person in the entire Old Testament is Moses. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as the “New Moses.” And so when Jesus climbs up to deliver his famous “Sermon on the Mount” it can be said that Jesus, like Moses on Mount Sinai, is giving us a “new” law.
The Beatitudes can be understood, in one sense, as new divine commandments (there are eight Beatitudes in Matthew). But, I believe, the Beatitudes are considerably more difficult to follow than the Ten Commandments ever were!
Blessed/Happy are those who show mercy (kindness) is one of the eight. But we, humans, have never been very good at showing mercy. We believe our God is a God of unimaginable and boundless mercy, but we are not very good at showing mercy to each other. We often judge each other with great harshness. We want God to show us mercy but not those people or that group!
Blessed/Happy are the “poor in spirit.” To be materially poor is not a blessing according to the Bible but something to be corrected. As Deuteronomy 15: 11 states: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I (God) therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and the needy neighbor in your land.’”
Blessed/Happy are you when you are harassed - when you are insulted. Really? I, for one, don’t feel especially blessed/happy when I am harassed and insulted. “Be full of joy” when this happens? A hard saying!
One of the greatest challenges we face in life is anxiety and fear. We are all terribly anxious. I am anxious. You are anxious. We are all anxious. Why? Because life is hard. Because life is frustrating. Because life is disappointing. Because life is dangerous.
Blessed/Happy are people who make peace ... but to become a peacemaker is very difficult. It is so hard because we are - at bottom line - seriously afraid of each other.
Even with my beloved Beth - even though I loved her dearly and deeply - there were times when I was afraid of her. Why? Because she knew my every weakness - my every flaw. And I, in turn, knew her every weakness, her every flaw. Every wound each of us had suffered in life was known to the other and the pain that came when those wounds were touched.
We are all wounded. We are all flawed. We are all shackled by the immense variety of human weaknesses. And this realization makes us afraid of each other. Peace making is so hard because we are all so human.
Now I want to certainly assert that my beloved Beth and I affirmed each other easily and often. I would tell her how beautiful she was - how caring and compassionate she was - with all creatures great and small.
She would tell me how smart I was - how handsome I was - and, you know, there were times when I actually believed her! But that is all gone now: ashes in my mouth.
And, no, I’m not suggesting in any way that anyone in our beloved church needs to affirm me. Yet without affirmation we remain deeply anxiety-afflicted. Without affirmation, we remain very much afraid of each other and that fear often reveals itself in our angers and rage.
Of course, many of us are afraid of being judged especially the judgment of our God. Who among us has the faith of that ancient bishop of North Africa, Augustine, who wrote: “Even from my sins, God has drawn good.” That’s a mouthful hard to swallow!
Yet if we believed this - would we not be less afraid? If we believed this, would we not be more inclined to trust God in all things?
Will the hole in my heart that opened up with Beth’s passing ever heal? I doubt it - this side of the veil. Yet I know how deeply Beth suffered, not only with the evil illness that took her earthly life, but also with the many dysfunctional people she encountered her whole life long. She truly suffered.
Now my beloved Beth is beyond all suffering, beyond all anxiety, beyond all fears, beyond all worries. For this I am strangely happy for her!
But I’m not there yet! This reality hit me on my recent flight back from visiting my son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren in Boston. The flight home was very bouncy - and no one was allowed out of their seats (including flight attendants) for most of the flight.
I said to myself: why worry! If I go down, I’ll be fully with God and with my beloved Beth all the sooner! But - you see - there’s a part of our brain known as the limbic system (aka: the reptilian brain) that generates our emotions (especially thru the amygdala). That part of the brain doesn’t understand words. I was afraid and could not easily assuage my fear. Life is like that!
Yes, fear often keeps us from being peacemakers. But here’s a quote we could all well ponder from the Christian hermit, Charles de Foucault (who was assassinated in Algeria by bandits in 1916): “The one thing we owe absolutely to God is never to be afraid of anything.”
Do we trust God or not? Do I trust God with my own fragile future? Do we, as a beloved congregation, trust God with our own fragile future? I pray our answer is a resounding YES!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor