The Reverend Stacy Swain
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Billy would sit in the back of the room. He sat by himself, except for times when his care attendant sat with him. Sometimes Billy would pound the table with his hands and sometimes if he were having a particularly difficult day, Billy would pound the table with his head.
Florence was rolled into the room in her hospital bed. But I often wondered whether she was with us at all. For she spent most of our time together crying out in a language only she could understand, flailing her arms at a foe only she could see.
And then there was Phyllis and Genevieve, who came in their Sunday best. They sat in the front row, they held hands, and leaned forward. As if I was about to share with them a precious secret, the best news anyone could hope for – and like kids on Christmas Eve, they could not wait to see what was going to be in the package.
And in the back of the room, we met in the cafeteria and in the back, where the kitchen was, the cooks cooked the midday meal. They would be clanking pans as the smell of tuna casserole or macaroni and cheese or shepherd’s pie slowly filled the room.
This was the Emerson Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Once a month I would hold a worship service with the residents there. We sang and prayed, and I preached and then served communion. When I first started these services, I was told that there were several people in the room who could not take things by mouth for they were far too sick. And so I would take the plate of bread and the cup of juice and walk by, It felt it wrong, but I did not know what else to do. I just walked by.
But then, one month I decided I had had enough of walking by. And so, I stopped and I took the hands of the one who could not take the bread or the juice and I held onto them. And I looked them in the eyes and said “you are a child of God. God loves you and feeds you and calls you Gods own. Blessed are you child of God.” Then I would move to the next person.
Now during these worship services, there was usually noise — a lot of banging and talking and clatter and side bar conversations, and sometimes I wondered what in the world it was that I was doing there. But I tell you, when it came to that time of serving communion, whether it was communion by putting bread the mouth and feeling it dissolve on your tongue and tasting the sweetness of the grape, or whether it was communion by simply holding onto hands and saying “You are a beloved. You are God’s child. When it came time for communion, there was not a sound in the room. There was perfect stillness and attention. You could of heard a pin drop.
And if by chance I had neglected someone, if I had inadvertently walked by somebody, the others would call out “don’t forget Betty!” “Don’t forget Florence.” “ Don’t forget Billy.”
Jesus went up the mountain and sat down. It felt good to sit down for his feet were sore and dirty with dust kicked up from the miles and miles of road. For you see, after having emerged from that River Jordan, been blessed as God’s beloved child, after having calling out to those tending their nets by the shore, “follow me”, Jesus had been on the move. Teaching in the Synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of that kingdom heaven has drawn near, curing every disease and every sickness among the people. And where ever he went great crowds of people gathered around him. People just could not get enough of him. For people all across Galilee were being healed by his presence, by the touch of his hand. Those with diseases, and pains. They all came to him, some were even rolled in — in their hospital beds.
Jesus went up the mountain and sat down. The disciples and the crowd gathered around. There was a lot of noise, lots of jostling. But when he spoke. When Jesus opened his mouth and spoke you could of heard a pin drop. In the sweet communion with him, there was perfect stillness and attention.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you
And they could feel it. Something was happening in rag tag crowd of men and women, broken in body, sick in mind, sidelined by age and infirmity, ignored and forgotten in that nursing home. There in the communion of Jesus presence, right there in that cafeteria, Jesus’ blessing was lifting them up out of their despair, and heart ache, out of their loneliness and grief. Jesus was lifting them out of what it was that was holding them down and helping them all catch a glimpse of the kingdom coming near. Giving them a chance to see how things look from God’s perspective. Giving them a chance to see what wonder and hope, what love and joy is right there right there on the far side of longing. Jesus was lifting them up into the truth that they are blessed. Blessed because they are children of God.
It did not make sense, they knew it was true. They were the nobodies. The back water, country bumpkins from Galilee. They were not the rich or the powerful and yet this man Jesus was telling them, they were blessed? But they could feel the truth of his blessing. They could feel the kingdom of heaven drawing near right there on the mountainside. In Jesus presence, the kingdom was opening to the poor in spirit. Comfort was coming to those who mourned, Fullness was coming to those who hungered and thirsted. They could feel it. Miraculously it was for them. For all of them. No one was left out. Not Betty, not Florence, not even Billy. No one was passed by. The grace of God’s blessing is for us all, for you and for me no matter how rag tag, sick and tired we may be. And if that is good news, I don’t know what is!
Now the Apostle Paul is right. All of this may sound like foolishness to those who listen to the wisdom of the world. For the wisdom of the world preaches a market place prosperity gospel that tells us that riches and power, success and security are signs of God’s blessing. That our wealth, our nice homes, and cars and vacation homes are a sign of how pleased God is with us. That the power of our nation is a sign of God’s blessing. God must be smiling on us for look how fortunate we are. But this kind of wisdom of the world thinking is foolishness to God. While we may indeed be grateful for all we have, let not for a moment think that we have all of these things as a kind of reward, as a kind of divine affirmation of how special we are. If we begin to equate blessing with merit, or wealth with divine favor, we are on some dangerous ground. For the flip side of this kind of thinking, this wisdom of the world thinking, is that those who are homeless or hungry, Those suffering crushing poverty or violence, those who mourn, or are meek or poor in spirit somehow they are without blessing. That they don’t deserve God’s favor. That hardship is a sign that sweet communion with God has walked by them. That blessing has skipped over them.
But the passage from Matthew this morning, commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it perfectly clear that no one is outside God’s blessing. In fact it is the least of these, those pushed to the edges those suffering hardship that it God seems to have a soft spot for in God’s heart. God seems particularly fond of those who the world values the least. God’s blessing you see comes not because we earn it or deserve it but because of in God’s grace God loves us and calls us God’s own. We are blessed because through the presence of Jesus Christ we are forever in communion with that love. We are blessed because God wisdom is guiding and shaping our lives.
We are blessed because Jesus made a point of going to the weak, the low and the despised in the world to explode once and for all the worldly constructs of worth that sideline and malign so many. Jesus is making the point and Paul is underscoring it with yellow high lighter that no one, especially not those the world despises, are sidelined from God’s blessing.
Every Sunday morning we slip into these pews hoping to catch a glimpse of Jesus. We come in our brokenness and in our pain, in our longing and hoping. Some days we may slip into the pew like Billy full of anger, isolation and frustration. Sometimes we may slip into these pews like Florence, so lost in our own torment that we scarcely know where we are. And sometimes we may slip into these pews like Phyllis and Genevieve dressed in our Sunday best, with hearts on fire ready to receive a the precious gift of the good news. But however we come through these doors, we come trusting that we will meet Jesus. That even now he is lifting us up so that we may catch a glimpse of the kingdom that is coming among us this day. Lifting us up into new life so that our lives may be a blessing, not only for ourselves but for all of the Billys, and Florences, and Phyllis and Genevieves that we may meet.
So let us receive the blessing that is ours this day. “You are a child of God. God loves you and feeds you and calls you Gods own. Blessed are you child of God.” And let us go proclaiming the Good News of God’s blessing for all to hear. Praise be to God. Amen.