Behavioral scientists have written volumes on chasing perfectionism – a pursuit that makes us less willing to try new things, often paralyzing us with great fear and anxiety. It’s actually altering our perceptions and personalities.
And just this week there was a segment on NPR about how Photoshop have changed the way we see ourselves, because it literally can change the way we look. Perfect skin and hair are just a few clicks away. I think there’s a part of me who is a protectionist, but one with a procrastinator complex. Someday know I will be totally awesome. Actually, as long as everything is exactly how I want it I am totally flexible.
This Wednesday, the church kicks off Lent where many of us will fast from something we love for the following 40 days. This is a perfect spiritual discipline, unless you are a perfectionist, because the chance of failure is pretty much guaranteed. Lent is a time to fail. That’s the point. It’s a time to learn and grow from our mistakes. You might say it’s because of our imperfections we become perfect.
Jesus has something to say about this too. As we come to the end of Matthew 5, Jesus seems to raise the bar on what it means to be perfect.
Read Matthew 5:38-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Be perfect as God is perfect. Who’s in? Better yet, who’s terrified? Let’s face it, Jesus is good at scaring us – challenging us to do what seems impossible by human standards. He calls us into the kingdom of heaven where people love and pray for their enemies, give to those who beg, and turn the other cheek. His is a world where vulnerability is a strength.
On this mountain top, Jesus reorientates the way we see ourselves and others. To be perfect as God is perfect. So why does it feel like a set-up?
By definition, to be perfect is to have the required characteristics to be as good as it is possible to be. In his remarkable career Kobe Bryant never stopped perfecting his game. He drove himself to be the greatest athlete in the NBA. But truth be told, he was just trying to outdo what Michael Jordan had perfected. LeBron James is doing it with Kobe. And now the Greek Freak has his sights on besting LBJ. By definition, there can only be one at the top. And Jesus makes it very clear who the GOAT is.
Now think about all the hard work you put into pushing yourself to be the perfect parent, the perfect child, the perfect student, employee or spouse. This pursuit often ends in discontent for the simple fact that no one is perfect. “If you expect always to succeed, life will always disappoint you,” writes Andrea Brandt. We can strive to be perfect, but each time we come up short we’re at risk for a whole host of issues, from depression to eating disorders. No relationship will work if you demand perfection all the time.
But here’s the problem. We live in a culture where being perfect isn’t good enough anymore. And it’s causing all sorts of disorders in our communities. After years of buying into the hype my daughter Fiona admitted that “Outside Harry Stiles, perfection isn’t real.” But her sister Colleen sees it differently. Even though she couldn’t define it, Colleen said “I know it when I see it.”
So what does perfection look like to you? A perfect score? Being the greatest of all time? Maybe it’s material wealth or obtaining financial success?
Jesus boils it down to one word: love. And not just any kind of love – but God’s unconditional love for you and me.
We may not be very good at turning the other cheek, or giving our stuff away, or going the extra mile for someone we don’t like. But we can still be perfect as God is perfect by being a community shaped in the very heart of God who loves the unlovable, and gives extravagantly to anyone who asks.
This is the blueprint for the life of the church. A constitution for a new society made perfect in Christ despite our imperfections. We will struggle and failure is guaranteed. And that’s good. It’s in our faults and failures, we see our place in God’s love and grace. But more importantly we begin to really understand our relationship with our Creator, and with one another.
Jesus devoted his entire ministry to show us how to be a loving community where people put others first and where everyone strives for the common good. It was his life work to embody these values that some politicians today will criticize as being socialist or unAmerican. We are called first to be obedient to a higher authority. By looking at Jesus, and loving as he loved, we see that the kingdom of heaven has come. It’s here, today.
In Christ, we come to know and understand God’s will for us, which is to live in imitation of the One who loves and blesses us all the same.
In Christ, God became human so we will come to know what it truly means to be human. To be beloved children of God. But not everyone will live out their belovedness in accordance to God’s righteousness. Some will even try to take advantage, believing we are doormats and pushovers. Yet we are called to lead the way, following in the footsteps of Christ, as a community alive with the heartbeat of God. A community that embraces the gospel fully no matter what.
To be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect isn’t about being a perfectionist. It’s about discipleship. It’s less about getting things right and more about sharing God’s love in all our everyday messiness.
Last Tuesday, I went to the Union Rescue Mission, where a group of little Mother Theresa’s work tirelessly to feed and house and assist thousands of homeless people a day. For 127 years, URM has been sharing the gospel on Skid Row. And not just preaching it, but actually living it as if Jesus really meant what he said.
I believe this is how we become perfect as God is perfect. To use all the abundance God has given us to make heaven come alive on earth, right now. You don’t have to work in a homeless shelter to help a person on the streets. You don’t need a medical degree to make someone feel better. All you need is a heart. God’s heart in particular. And a willingness to share it.
At the end of his book, Growing Into God, John Mabry reminds us that, “God never called any perfect people because there aren’t any perfect people. God only ever calls flawed, wounded, limited, scared, and imperfect people because that’s the only kind there are. So, don’t be discouraged, you’re actually a pretty good company.”
Jesus calls you and me to be a visible community sharing God’s love in our every day. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, or where you come from, the good news is this: you are loved, and you are love. A noun and a verb. You’ve been blessed by God to be God’s blessing to all.
And so, I encourage you to embrace God’s love and to be God’s love out into the world as Jesus did. Through him we are made perfect and flawless, united with God as one perfect heart and life, now and forever Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp. 38-385.
Brandt, Andrea. The Dangers of Perfectionism. April 1, 2019 (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201904/the-dangers-perfectionism?amp). Accessed on February 21, 2020.
Mabry, John. Growing into God: a Beginners Guide to Mysticism. (Wheaton, IL: Quest 2012) p. 120.
It's the Law
We can’t be a Christ-centered church
a few words about life and law from
On January 20, 2009, Barak Obama stood on the steps of our Nation’s Capitol and gave his inaugural address as America’s first black president.
In it he said, “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”
I remember watching this historic event and feeling a sense of pride wash over me. There was hope on the horizon. The kind of hope that dawned, some two thousand years prior, when Jesus stood on a mountainside and gave his own inaugural address.
Today, as our country is more divided than ever, Jesus’s blessings and charge are still the same. As we gather today in his name, let us be a united people and faithful community shining God’s righteousness like a beacon of hope in the world.
As we continue reading from Matthew 5, it’s important to note that Jesus isn’t saying anything new here. Its Torah stuff found in the book of Deuteronomy. Pretty much all he’s doing is making the commandments relevant to his followers, pushing them to new heights. On the surface it might feel Jesus is demanding a level of perfection that would leave the pope feeling hopeless.
As you listen, you might ask yourself “Who could ever live that way?” The answer is, no one can. And that’s the point. No one person can do all that Jesus is asking. But as a community, we can all bring our blessing to help one another.
As a Christ centered community, Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, mind and soul…and to love our neighbors the same. We rely on the righteousness God’s words, and the holiness of God’s children.
Jesus said, in Matthew 5:17-20:
Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working. Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.
Jesus makes the claim that he did not come to change the law but to uphold it. I believe him. What would be the point? God’s laws do not change. But if you abide in them like Jesus did, they will change you and the entire world.
By upholding the law, Jesus sets the foundation for heaven and earth to be one.
Next Jesus said, in Matthew 5:21-26
You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.
Jesus knows how dangerous words can be. Then used to belittle or hurt others they often escalate into greater acts of violence and retaliation. We need to be careful with our words, and our tweets, because they tell the truth about what is in our heart. Later Jesus will have a confrontation with the religious leaders about purity laws - reminding them, “It’s not what goes into to a person’s mouth that defiles but what comes out.” Before words fall from our lips, they are first formed in our heart.
It’s imperative that a community centered on Christ be grounded in his heart, so his words will be ours. Jesus used words to heal and forgive not to harm or punish. His words had the power to transform us all into children of God because his heart was one with God’s love and righteousness.
That’s why Jesus said, if you’re at church and your heart is filled with angry words, then leave. It’s more important to seek reconciliation than sing a hymn. Every relationship we have will reflect our relationship with God. People are listening and looking for Christ in our Christianity. Just as our words need to be his, so too our actions must be his actions. By upholding God’s law we too set the foundation for the kingdom of heaven to come.
Next Jesus said, in Matthew 5:27-32
“You know the next commandment pretty well, too: ‘Don’t go to bed with another’s spouse.’ But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt. Let’s not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here’s what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump. Remember the Scripture that says, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights’? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are ‘legal.’ Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you’re responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you’re automatically an adulterer yourself. You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.
I agree with theologian Stanley Hauerwas who believes Jesus isn’t so much talking about divorce, but about establishing “a community of friendship that is an alternative to the loneliness of the world.” That’s to say, a community formed in Christ’s likeness will be a place where people don’t have to be married for social or economic reasons (which was the norm back then) because it has become place where everyone would be loved and cared for. Jesus shows us that God cares enough to become one of us for the sake of redeeming us.
Jesus knows God’s law intimately. It’s written on his heart. His actions reflect God’s love and grace. There can’t be a Christ-centered church if the heart of Christ’s message is missing.
Lastly, Jesus said, in Matthew 5: 33-37
“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.
We are our word. It’s how a Christ centered community identifies with God. And what it means to be the salt of the earth. God has entrusted us with an important message of hope. People are listening and looking to see if our yes and no’s mean yes and no.
Jesus didn’t come to change the laws and prophecies. He came to uphold them – to bring us all together as a united community, redeemed in God’s righteousness and love. By upholding the law, Jesus formed an ethical community where people make amends and accept apologies no matter what. A community that knows your heart well enough to care for it and to trust you because of it.
By upholding the law, Jesus created a new kind of community, one that is always there for each other. One that focuses on hope instead of fear. A loving community united in purpose, seeking to build bridges of peace instead of sowing seeds of conflict and discord.
Jesus gathers people together in a new way and offers them a new way to live life – a new order of peace and truth – “by making concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person.”
This is what it means to be the church, the body of Christ, blessed and sent to be the salt of the earth, a city on a hill and a light to the world.
Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006) pp. 68-71 (Kindle edition).
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 5:13-16
Growing up in Florida you learn a few things about nature. First, never open a door or window if there is no screen between you and the world for you never know what will fly in and land on you.
Second, if you sense that a storm is about to come you’re probably right – even if the local meteorologist argues differently.
I believe we all have special intuitions that help us detect when something bad is about to happen, or how we should act in a specific circumstance.
But most of what we know or do is learned behavior. We are taught how behave in church, or how to be on guard when walking around at night. And this brings us to our reading today from Matthew’s gospel.
We are still on the mountain side with Jesus and his disciples. We are part of the crowd listening in to glean some wisdom from this amazing new teacher.
Our lesson today continues from Matthew 5:13-16.
To this day, his blessings and analogies still ring true. What Jesus said back then, still matters to us today. We are salt and light. We receive God’s blessing and then are called to be that blessing out in the world for the sole purpose of helping others see, in the good things that we do, how God is at work in their life… so they will respond by giving glory to God. That’s pretty much sums up today’s reading. And what it means to be a Christian, as individuals and as a church. We are salt and light.
Any student of science knows salt is an important part of life. It’s a mineral that plays a vital role in hydration and maintaining a balance of electrolytes in the body. Without salt, we would die. Whenever I had a sore throat as a kid, my dad made me gargle with saltwater. A gross tasting magical elixir… which helps to reduce inflammation. If you have sore muscles or tired feet, nothing is more healing and restorative than a good soak in a salt bath. Maybe Jesus uses this analogy to tell us that we play a vital role in the healing and restoration of the world.
Salt is also used to enhance the flavor of food. In some households, it’s the secret weapon to enjoying your mother-in-law’s cooking. In our house, one cannot sit at a table without being given a sampler of salts to sprinkle over whatever food has been prepared. Kathleen swears that different salts enhance the natural flavors of different foods. Perhaps Jesus is telling us that as salt we are to elicit goodness and bring out the best in people.
Here’s a little known important fact to keep stored in your head. Salt was the main contributor to the development of civilization because it is a perfect way to preserve food for storage or travel. A thick coat of salt can keep meat from being corrupted or spoiled. Is Jesus telling us that we are to be a spiritual agent that stops the spread of bad things from corrupting and harming our communities?
Because of all these great qualities, salt remains one of the world’s most valuable commodities. Back in the olden days, was a common practice for Roman soldiers to receive salt as part of their salary. Thus a person was, or wasn’t, worth their salt.
For all it’s goodness, salt also has a bad side. Too much can spike your blood pressure or cause kidney disease, or affect your appearance. In biblical times salt was even used as a weapon. Once it lost its flavor, or its tang as they say in Scotland, one would spread salt on an enemy’s crops, causing the land to go barren. Maybe that why Jesus warns us not to lose our flavor, our saltiness, so we don’t do harm to others or ourselves.
Someone once said, “while we can’t lose our soul, we can lose our savor.” We all run the risk of becoming unsavory – a worthless commodity that does more damage than good. We see this today not only in our politics but even in our churches. It happens when people who call themselves Christians do not stand up for what is right and just. Instead they turn a blind eye or simply put up with the corruption festering all around them. Such people, as the old saying goes, “are not worth their salt.” If there is no Christ in your Christianity, then you have no value in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said, “You are salt.” But if you lose your saltiness then how will people taste godliness? If you’re going to call yourself his disciple, you cannot lose your capacity to love and value those who are dispossessed. Jesus teaches us the way of godliness and righteousness – always seeking justice and fairness, showing mercy, having integrity, and speaking up and standing up for what is right even if those in power crucify us for doing so.
We are salt. We are valuable to God. It’s in the way we live out Christ in the world, that people come to see their worth in God’s kingdom and give God glory. That’s the gospel. To be the salt and light, because human beings cannot live without either one.
I might be old, but I do remember some lessons from a high school biology class I had in the early 80’s. One is that light is the main source of energy for all living organisms. It is the essence of life itself. Without it we would literally be nothing. Maybe mushrooms, or mold, but who wants to be something so slimy and gross?
In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is making us light-bearers with him. He’s putting us in the center of the table to illuminate the entire room for others to see how God is present even in the darkest of places.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that every day, when light breaks the darkness, there is a new beginning, a new day. Every sunrise awakens every lifeform. So maybe when Jesus gives us this analogy he is reminding us that every day we are given a new opportunity to shed light on God’s blessing for the world to see. God’s light is our light, the light of life itself.
Last week, my friend Gianni and I were talking about the affects that artificial light has on our health. Whether it’s the neon numbers from an alarm clock or the glow of a television screen, artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm – the body’s 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Science has shown that artificial light affects things like brain wave patterns, hormone production, and cell regulation. It has also been linked to medical issues like depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and sleep disorders like insomnia.”
Just as artificial light is harmful to one’s health, artificial faith is harmful to one’s spiritual growth. Likewise, real faith, like real light, is life giving. As followers of Christ, we must be his Light – willing to faithfully go to the dark places, bearing the light of Christ in all that we do. Just as the moon, which has no light of its own but reflects what it receives from the sun, we who chose to follow Jesus, are called to reflect his light upon the world. It’s imperative that we not to hide our faith or spiritual gifts but to put them in the center of life – drawing people to its warmth and radiance.
We also need to remember that a candle only shines once it’s lit. We cannot bring the light of Christ to others if we refuse to let it shine in our own heart. Our spiritual journey begins with God’s blessing upon us. But it doesn’t take off until we accept that blessing; allowing it to penetrate the deepest and darkest depths of our soul, so that we can fully and truly light up as bright as the Son. By embracing our own blessing, we are able to bless all our relationships in a way that fulfills the righteousness of God – to love as we are loved by God.
By truly embracing our own blessing, we are able to demonstrate what it means to have a character shaped by God’s blessing – to be the salt of the earth. We are able to make our words mean something, to live with integrity, to show respect and kindness to one another without fearing how others might retaliate.
By understanding our own blessing, we are able to illuminate God’s blessings in those dark places where love is lacking, forgiveness is needed, and where mercy and justice are missing.
My charge to you today is to go and be the salt and light of Christ in the world, so people are able to see their value in the kingdom of heaven, to know their worth in God’s glory and shine themselves.
This is how Jesus fulfilled God’s righteousness, and blessed the world with love and grace. And this is how we, his followers, are able to abide the same – loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul; and our neighbor as ourselves.
Let us pray:
God, you have enlightened us with your Word today, and illuminated us with your Spirit. Send us now out into the world to bring out the best in others by being our best. Help us to shine brightly, not for our glory but for yours. As our individual lights come together to form this church, we pray that you will draw others to it’s warmth and radiance, now and forever. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting On The Word, Year A, Vol 1. (Louisville: Westminser John Knox, 2010) pp. 332-337.
Lockyer, Herbert. All The Parables of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963) pp. 146-147.
In Christ, God reveals the truth about who God is, and who we are in God’s eyes and heart. Through him, God turns our world upside down to help us see the world and ourselves differently
For the last ten weeks or so I’ve been writing in this gratitude journal that was given to me by my dear friend Darlene. I’ll admit, when she gave it to me I didn’t really know what to make of it…other than I loved the title, "OKAY, FINE, I'm Grateful."
But once I started writing in it, things began to change. Taking a few moments in the morning to jot down the things I’m grateful for has helped to switch my default position of griping and complaining to one of being mindful and present in all of life.
This simple daily practice has also opened my eyes to see all that God is doing in my life. In Christ, I have access to all the abundance of everything ever created. But for many, this massive blessing can be hard to see, especially if you are not looking for them. That’s why living in gratitude is important. It keeps us always on the lookout to what God is revealing to us.
Read Matthew 5:1-12
The beatitudes, as they are commonly known in the church, are these “short, two-part affirmations that sum up common knowledge about the good life. Blessed are those who floss, for they will have good teeth.” (Taylor) But up here, on this mountainside, Jesus does something different. His blessings are equated with things people worked hard to avoid – poverty, suffering, hunger, and persecution. I imagine those who listened, did so in shock as their world was turned upside down.
As far as we’re taught, blessings given are to those who succeed. To be poor in spirit or meek will get you nowhere in a culture that is grounded in competition and fear. But to Jesus, who sees the world with God’s eyes and loves others with God’s heart, he blesses those who know what it’s like to be excluded and the ones who don’t make it to the top of the ladder. His blessings may shock some, yet they give hope to all. For the way things are…is not the way they will always be.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes it like a Ferris Wheel, where “those who are swaying at the top, with the wind in their hair and all the world’s lights at their feet, will have their turn at the bottom, …while those who are down there right now, where all they can see are candy wrappers in the sawdust, will have their chance to touch the stars…This is simply the truth about the way things work, pronounced by someone who loves everyone on that wheel.”
How does knowing this about God change the way you see yourself or your current life circumstances? Are you grateful in your own hunger or poverty? Or let me ask it this way: how blessed are you that God sees you differently than you see yourself?
I am grateful to know that no matter how far I stray from doing what God has called me to do, I’m never beyond the boundaries of God’s love for me in Christ. I believe the same is true about whatever mess you find yourself in. No matter how many times the world drags you down, God always draws you up?
Let us count it a blessing that God sees our real worth no matter how much money we make or how far down the ladder we have fallen. God does not focus on our poverty or deficiencies but on the wealth we produce loving and caring for one another. Blessed are you who takes the time to be present when a friend really needs you to be there; or you who stands up for someone being picked on at school, for you are worth your salt in the kingdom of heaven.
I count it a blessing that God sees through the costumes and masks we think we have to wear to make it in this world. I am grateful that God loves me just as God made me. Real. Divine. True. We can lie to ourselves and try to fool the world, but we cannot hide or conceal ourselves from God who knows the secrets of the heart. And loves us anyway.
So blessed are you who strive to do good, you who seek to cooperate instead of compete or fight, for you will be called first to sit on the lap of God in heaven.
So how blessed are we? Very blessed said Jesus, who reveals our future to us by giving us a foretaste of it today; blessing us so that we can go and bless others in his name.
Why is this important? Because the world blesses those who build their fortune and fame on the back and expense of others. The world idolizes power and strength, it loves to flex its muscle with acts of aggression, war and violence. It promises salvation through favoritism and consumerism, bought by those who can afford it. Enslaving others who cannot.
In Christ, God disrupts the way things are going on in our world and transforms them to the way things are to be in God’s world. Those who are last will be first. Those who hunger will feast. Those who are persecuted will live forever in the kingdom of heaven. That’s how it’s done by the God who has loved us and blessed us from all eternity.
In Christ, God reveals the truth about who God is, and who we are in God’s eyes and heart. Through him, God turns our world upside down to help us see the world and ourselves differently so that we might know wherever hunger is, wherever pain or injustice is inflicted, or tears are shed, God is there…making some kind of blessing.
So let us count it a blessing that our God saves us when this world fails us? And that God loves us enough never to give up on us? Blessed are those who understand this and invest their life in imitation of Christ, for they will be worth more than any earthly treasure.
I invite you to take the time each day to count your blessings. Write down in a journal or note pad all that God is doing for you, out of great love for you. It might be something as simple as a good night sleep, or to have a great cup of coffee to wake up to. It might gravity, puppies, health insurance, comfortable shoes, or a Super Bowl championship. The more you practice living in gratitude, the more you realize it’s easier to count your blessings than it is to resist them.
I know there will be things that happen that will make it seemingly impossible to be grateful for. It would be remiss of me not to address the tragic death of Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and the seven others onboard that helicopter which crashed a few miles away from here. Where is the silver lining in that?
During an interview at Friday’s Laker game, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers said something to the affect that Kobe had a special way of uniting different races, ethnicities, and social classes. He did it by giving us hope when things seemed hopeless. In a single game Kobe could transform enemies into friends, and bring us together as one family. “Even in his passing,” Flea said, “Kobe continues to unite us.” I was grateful to hear that, and to see the truth in his words.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I believe this to be true.
“The way things are… is not the way they will always be, and no one gets to stay at the top of the wheel forever,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor. “What goes round, comes round. Neither the going up nor the coming down is under our control as far as I know, but wherever we happen to be the promise is the same. Blessed are you who lose your grip on the way things are, for God shall lead you in the things that shall be.”
Let us pray:
God, a wise person once said, if the only prayer we offered was thank you, that would suffice. And so thank you God for the endless blessings you pour out upon this world. May we never lose sight and always be humbled in gratitude. Amen.
Taylor, Barbara Brown. Home By Another Way. (Lanham: Cowley, 1999) pp. 51-56.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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