Texts:  Matthew 5: 1-12; 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31  

Chances are, if each one of us was asked, as we arrived here this morning, what are the marks of a blessed life, our list might look something like this:

A blessed life …  that’s about managing to come into old age   unscathed, without tragedy.

A blessed life  is a comfortable life, no worries, no wants … bills get paid no problem, the kids are safely launched, everything is copasetic.

A blessed life  is a peaceful life, no one hounding you or interfering

A blessed life … it’s when you win the lottery!  

So then Jesus enters the picture and we hear:

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are the meek,  those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Blessed are the merciful,  the pure in heart,  the peacemakers

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake

Blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you, utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  

Quite different lists aren’t they! Now, I realize that there’s a second half to each of Jesus’ statements -- a promise attached:  those who mourn will be comforted; the meek will inherit the earth, the merciful will receive mercy, and so on. So, is that where the blessing is to be found …eventually … in the reward on the other side of it all?  Except that I’m guessing  not many of us are much helped in the midst of our grief, for example, by being told “the day will come when you’ll be comforted”;  or, if we are being reviled, persecuted,  to hear that “this is just like what happened to the prophets before you.”  

So here we are – or here I am—trying to make these beatitudes make sense  when, meanwhile, we’ve got St Paul tipping us off that there’s another wisdom at work here than our human wisdom or logic; and in all likelihood it will sound like foolishness to us.  True enough … most every one of these beatitudes is counterintuitive.  So rather than trying to wrap our minds around them, what if we look at our lives.

Do you know how something can be the worst thing ever AND somehow the best thing? It makes no sense … and yet, I’ll bet many of us right here know the truth of that with our own lives.  Do you know that one? -- how the worst thing can also be the best thing.  What we’re talking about is the arrival of grace into the most raw and seemingly un-grace-able places.  

I expect some of the worst things we would describe are experiences of our world falling apart … our lives falling apart … our marriage, our body, our mind, our work, our investments, our dreams, our beliefs … our beliefs about God, about who and what we could trust, our beliefs about ourselves, who we are, what we’re made of, what we would never do.   There are so many ways, aren’t there, our world  and  our worlds can and do fall apart.   And getting real about that isn’t t to make us afraid of living.  I think getting real about that is about accepting ourselves and everyone else as human … which at our most basic means we are finite, we are fallible, we are frail.  We are of God but we are not God.  Coming to terms with that can be as freeing as it is frustrating … but to get it is, I think, one of the keys to the kingdom!  

Here’s a taste of what I mean.  A few years ago I read a tiny little book called Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Baptist Metz.[1]  That tiny little book brought me face to face with the bare fact that my life is utter gift.  Now wouldn’t you think that would be a lovely welcome discovery?  You might think --but I tell you, I fought it.  I resented it.  I hated the very thought of it.  Why?  Because I wanted to believe that who I am is my doing -- that I’ve made something of myself.  In a sense that’s true … but beneath it all, the deeper truth is I did not bring myself into this world.  I can’t even take credit for one breath that I breathe.  My life is a miracle!  And the very essence of who I am is God-given.  And the life I am drawn into is through the Spirit’s impulse.   And whatever inspiration there is, whatever healing, whatever gratitude… it’s all gift!   

While at first that realization made me resentful --I want to claim some credit for my life!-- once the wonder of it all began to dawn, something shifted in me so that I have begun to live a little more from this place of receiving rather than striving or proving.  And I have begun to sense the freedom that comes with knowing it’s not all up to me.  I’ve begun to trust that, to welcome it, to notice it … and wait for it -- this flow of life that is given.  

So to be human is not only to be finite, fallible, and frail.  To be human is to have this capacity for God’s grace to be at work within us ... within our finiteness, within our fallibility, within our frailty.   To be human is to be a home for God’s infinite goodness,  for that mysterious strength that works a change in us, that kindles courage in us, that unlocks generosity, creativity, compassion in us.  

If this is true, our task then is not about rising above our vulnerability or overcoming our frailty, or beating back our fallibility --or anyone else’s -- but allowing grace to meet us there - right there.  For remember, it’s the cracks that allow the light to come through!   

It’s no wonder then that Charles Elliott suggests that we might glimpse something truer to the real meaning if instead of the word Blessed,  we substituted the phrase “you are in the right place when …”[2]   You are in the right place when you are poor in spirit.  You are in the right place when you mourn.  You are in the right place when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, when people revile you, persecute you, utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.   Don’t go there with your head!  But if we trust that it is there, in these seemingly un-grace-able places, that grace is most powerfully at work, we can feel the truth of “you are in the right place when …”    

A few weeks ago Gordon posted on our website the CBC Tapestry  podcast … Warriors for the Human Spirit, an interview with Margaret Wheatley.[3]  Maybe you heard it.  She’s talking about the need to protect these human capacities of kindness, generosity, creativity … qualities that are threatened in this day and age, at risk of being eroded, forgotten. “There’s no such thing as a casual warrior," she says.  "You have to train, you have to sacrifice, you have to have a level of dedication.  The commitment is to service … serving people and the quality of our service is that we vow not to add to aggression, and not to add to fear.” She describes how the warriors in training have to write a description of what is a warrior for the human spirit.  “One woman,” she recalls, “she’s a minister, she said a warrior for the human spirit is someone who makes a commitment to stay.  Who practices compassion and insight wherever they are, who knows they can’t do anything without community.”  

The interview lingers a bit around this notion of a commitment to stay … what is that?  It’s the opposite of someone in denial, believing everything is going to get better, or I decide I can’t bear the grief, the suffering, so I’ll hide behind a screen and entertain myself to death … a pretty common response these days.  But the work of the warrior Margaret says is to really fully take in what’s going on …it’s about staying in the world and trying to be more open to people’s suffering.  It’s then we discover the qualities that are needed:  compassion, gentleness, non-aggression, clear-seeing.  When you fully witness what’s going on, your heart opens and compassion is released.  That’s what leads us to serve and in serving we discover a more satisfying life.  

You can hear it can’t you …  you are in the right place when you are mourning. You are in the right place when you are merciful, peaceable, persecuted --for it’s there, in these seemingly un-grace-able places, that grace is most powerfully at work.  

So, we’re left with the question … are you in the right place? … where might that place be?

[1] Johannes Baptist Metz, Poverty of Spirit, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1968

[2] Charles Elliott, Praying the Kingdom- towards a political spirituality, London:  Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1985

[3] CBC Tapestry podcast,  Warriors wanted:  why one woman is training to defend the human spirit, posted January 3, 2020