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Archive for January, 2014

“Blessed are the ???”

This Sunday, the gospel lesson is Matthew 5:1-12 which is commonly called the “Beatitudes.”  In them, Jesus (as he usually does) turns the idea of being blessed upside down.  It would seem that those who are considered poor and needy are the truly blessed.  Maybe it really boils down to what we define as “blessed,” though.

What does it mean to be blessed?  I just returned from nearly two weeks in my hometown visiting my parents and the rest of my family.  I wanted to go before this, actually at the end of November when my mother was moved into a long term care facility because my father wasn’t able to care for her in their home any more.  Mom has Alzheimer’s Disease, and Dad is totally with it, but he is 90 years old and simply not able to provide the medical attention and care that Mom needed.  It was something that had to happen, but it was very difficult for our family.

However, as often is the case for me, I begin reflecting on these events and what the blessings are in them.  The nursing facility where Mom is now living seems to be very good.  I knew quite a few people who are there.  These are folks who were my role models as I was growing up:  girl scout leaders, parents of my friends, leaders in our church, active participants in the life of our tiny town in the Midwest.  Yet, here they are in a nursing facility, most of them sharing half a room, some of them having few or no visitors. 

As my sister and I began cleaning out the closets at Mom and Dad’s house, under Dad’s supervision, I was amazed at how much “stuff” they had.  Dad knew that he would no longer need all the “good” dishes, serving bowls, crystal, Christmas decorations, and other things that were stored in the closets and cupboards.  Mom treasured all those things, even if she didn’t need them or want them.  Why?  Because much of what was there had belonged to her mother, grandmother, or Dad’s mother and grandmother.  Some of it came from us kids and the grandchildren as gifts. 

But now, as Mom lives in half a room with only the essentials in clothing, some pictures, a few “trinkets” that she really doesn’t care about, the whole reminder of what is truly important in life was brought home to me once again.  Mom doesn’t need “stuff,” nor does she want it.  What she needs, even though she can’t think of it or realize it, is us.  It’s her family and friends that she needs:  those who love her and who are willing to stand by her side even to the end, even in her unawareness and inability to advocate for herself.  Sometimes she breaks through the mumbling and the seeming lack of recognition to a moment of clarity, but in an instant, it is gone. 

The blessing is that she has someone who cares and who is with her.  She and my dad have been married for sixty-seven and a half years, and my dad sees her twice a day.  When I watch him look at her, I see the heartbreak in his eyes, but it doesn’t stop him from going.  That’s blessing.  Love transcends things, disease, heartbreak, and even death on a cross.  Maybe that’s part of what Jesus was talking about in the “beatitudes.”  Maybe we are truly blessed when we can forget about “stuff” and connect with the love we are offered both from family and friends as well as from the One who loved us enough to give his life for us.  May you be blessed this day and every day as you love others.

Remember Who We Are

“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'”  Matthew 3:17 (NRSV)

Jesus’ baptism is rather interesting.  Why would the Son of God need to be baptized?  We believe that he is the incarnation of God, and John the Baptizer called for the baptism of repentance.  But, really, what would Jesus have to repent about?  There are a number of ideas about the “why’s” of Jesus’ baptism. 

There is one idea that it “kicks off” his ministry.  He comes from a little Podunk town called Nazareth, a place that didn’t have a great reputation for bringing forth prophets and rabbis, and he approaches John (who according to Luke is his cousin) asking to be baptized.  John recognized that this was rather strange, and in Matthew 3:13-17 we have a pretty clear idea that John resisted doing it.  However, Jesus insisted, so maybe it is also a symbol of his change in his life’s work – a sort of ordination into mission and ministry.

Another thought about why Jesus was baptized is that it is God’s way of claiming Jesus’ and identifying him for all to know that he is God’s beloved Son.  In verse 17 (see above), the voice from heaven (we presume to be God’s) names and claims Jesus as God’s own and adds “with whom I am well pleased.”  Maybe the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry needed to start with his identity being declared for all those around to hear.

Maybe Jesus also was baptized as a way of identifying with us.  There are stories about kings who left their throne and dressed in peasant garb so they could find out what life was like as one of their subjects.  God, in Jesus, entered into our lives as human beings and through Jesus also understands our joys and sorrows, hurts and pains, celebrations and worries.

When we are baptized, we are welcomed into the family of God, named and claimed as God’s own child, and given the identity “Christian.”  That means that we have been given the gift of a whole community of faith that, ideally, sets and example for us and helps us to live in this world in the way that Jesus invites us to live.  We are God’s beloved children.

Would God say, “. . . in whom I am well pleased”?  I would hope so.  We all have challenges, and none of us is perfect.  God certainly knows that, or there would never have been a need for Jesus to die on the cross so that we would have forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.  Maybe remembering our baptism every day is a way of trying to follow in Jesus’ footsteps more faithfully, and when we don’t get there, repenting, asking for forgiveness, and trusting that God’s love and grace are big enough so that we can move forward once again.  That is my hope and prayer for myself as well as everyone else.  May it be so.

Epiphany thoughts

And there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.”  Matthew 2:9b-10 (NRSV)

Epiphany is a time when we remember the visit of the Wise Men/Scholars/Magi (whatever you want to call them – they weren’t kings, though).  It’s also more than that, though.  The celebration of Epiphany is about the “in-breaking” or manifestation of God into our world.  It’s a revelation or a moment of understanding or realization.

The story of the Magi, who were probably more astrologers, has most likely been included by Matthew to establish that the ministry and mission of Jesus was for more than just the Jewish nation.  This would be an “aha” moment for many of the Jewish people because, as God’s chosen nation, they would not quickly accept Jesus as a Savior, much less as a Savior for ALL.  Since the Magi were Gentiles, their presence in the birth narrative in Matthew is a good indication that Gentiles were also welcome in the kingdom of God.

The idea of the star as their guide and how it lit their way ties in well with the teachings that God brings light; Jesus is the light of the world; and we are to shine our light for others to see Christ in us.  The Divine and light go together.  Epiphany shows us the way the Light came into the world to “enlighten” us, to teach us about God and God’s love, to show us how we are to brighten someone else’s life by sharing the love of Christ with them.

What are our “aha” moments when we realize that God’s presence is with us?  When have we experienced the joy of “seeing the Light” in some way or another?  How do we share that Light with others?  Let us keep our eyes, hearts, and minds open to see the presence of God wherever we are. 

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