Sunday Worship Service begins at 10:30 AM
Third & Adams Street, PO Box 9774, Moscow, Idaho USA | (208) 882-3715

Finding Blessings - June 11, 2017

Mathew 5:1-4

Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.

Once upon a time, in a time far far away, my family went through hell. There was sickness. There was hardship. There was injustice. And there were trials of fire. You could call it a dark night of the soul. You could call it the dark woods. You could call it a "hard time". You could probably call it most anything you want. I tend to call it hell. It was a time of loneliness, isolation, fear, and doubt. And while it probably could have gotten much

worse, it felt like the most awful reality we could have ever faced.
It was one of those times when you truly turn to God, because, in large part, that's all you have left. You've exhausted your options. The people you can count on in really big ways can be counted on one hand, if you're lucky. And resolution or solution of any kind feeldown right impossible. You certainly don't know how to bring anything good out of any of it, so instead you say, "I need you to take this God because I have nothing else to offer."
Not that we can't (or shouldn't) rely on God under any and all circumstances. But the reality is, for most of us, we only sort of rely on God when things are going well. Complete and total surrender doesn't generally come unless it's forced on us and we have found no other way, so we throw up our hands, or, more realistically, barely reach out to hand it all off to God.
Now, when you go through that kind of thing...the awful things (whatever that might be), lots of folks try to be helpful and encouraging and say things like:
• what doesn't kill you makes you stronger
• God won't give you more than you can handle

Those people are trying to help you feel find some light in the midst of great darkness, and that's needed. But beyond some hope that if it doesn't kill us (which seems a likely possibility in the midst of it) we'll be stronger, there has to be something more...doesn't there?
Well, before we go looking for the blessings in the midst of the suffering, I want to clear one thing up....that saying "God won't give you more than you can handle" is not theologically sound. First, God regularly does give you tasks that seem bigger than yourself and your abilities...they require faith, and dependence on God...but those are things that are good for us, that help us to love and serve and care for the world. God doesn't heap on hellfire and misery. That's not who God is. And besides, there are plenty of others who are ready to offer misery. God doesn't come to do that, God comes to offer hope. And if you have doubt about that, I want you to listen to Jesus' words. He says, "I come so you might have life and have it abundantly". He comes to bring good gifts, not trial by fire.
Ok, so now, the other piece....finding blessings in our trials. In the first of the beatitudes, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." If we look at it too quickly, it sounds like another someone patting our knee telling us it'll be ok because some day—-some-day...better things will happen. But it's not that. It's not an "it's ok that things stink right now, because some day you'll go to heaven." It's not that at all. So what is it?
I think to understand it, we have to work backwards...we have to start with the kingdom of heaven and then to the poor in spirit. What is the kingdom of heaven? What did Jesus mean? The quick answer...the common answer is that the kingdom of heaven is the eternal place after you die. But for Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is much more imminent than that, it's not something you wait for after death, it's something that can be a reality here and now. The kingdom of heaven is when heaven breaks through to's when holy moments happen here. It's when God is experienced now...that's the kingdom of heaven. It's when we experience grace, hope, love, joy, compassion, and mercy. That's the kingdom of heaven.
Now, most of us would say that when we are going through it, we don't feel a whole lot of hope or joy, right? Which is totally fair. I don't think Jesus means there is extra hope or joy in spiritual deficiency. I think instead Jesus means, when we are emotionally and spiritually raw, when we have nothing left to give, we are extra sensitive...we're tender...and in that tenderness, we have a sensitivity to feel the gifts of the kingdom. When grace, love, and joy happen, they don't have to be extraordinary mountain top experiences...they can be simple, ordinary, small things and because we're so raw...they feel extra precious.
I think the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are in spiritual hell (w/c?) because they've been stripped of the fan-fare, the fascade, the walls of protection so they can actually feel God on the micro level...not just the macro one...and that becomes a gift. Receptivity to God's action is a gift. Simple kindnesses are magnified by our suffering. And while we aren't asked to celebrate suffering for the clarity it might bring, we can acknowledge that we don't have to wait until "someday" to experience God or the gifts of the kingdom...for they are right here at our fingertips if we dare to experience them.
The second beatitude for today is similar to the deals with our deep need and raw vulnerability and being able to receive the gift of care in the midst of it all. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. This isn't about celebrating death. It isn't meant to be cavalier about the deep pain we feel in grief...instead it's exactly the opposite. Jesus knows the depths of grief. He knows how awful it hurts. He knows how deeply we long for more time together. He knows what it means to have hurts go unhealed....when we wish we could have been reconciled and now no longer have the chance. Jesus knows all of that. And he knows that grief can can strip us of pride, or vanity and force us into vulnerability and longing for connection. And if we allow ourselves to feel so deeply...then we can be heard, known, and loved.
Most of you know my mom died last summer. My road of grief has been a little hilly. I often push through and do just fine...not daring to feel the depths of my emotions...they're messy and time consuming and I don't always have the time or the energy for them. And when I'm fine and people ask...I can keep it at a distance, and in so doing I keep them at a distance.
But the thing about stuffing your emotions is that eventually you run out of room and they all come spilling out. And in those moments, I can't be fine any more. I have to stop and I have to mourn. And, ironically, when I let the hurt rise to the surface, when I force myself to feel it all...the gift I receive is comfort and healing. It doesn't make logical sense. You'd think that feeling deeply would only make the pain more severe, but instead grieving and feeling deeply allows for peace and release of, at least, some of what has been bottled up.

Simply stated, I think the first two beatitudes are saying, "If you're desperate and reaching out to God, take heart knowing God is reaching right back."

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