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Archive for January 2018

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Poor

As we continue to explore how to change our attitudes as this new year begins, we look to the beatitudes of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew’s lengthy Sermon on the Mount. We’ve already discovered that “Blessed are you” has very different connotations than we may be aware of (read the intro here if you’re behind on your beatitudes) and “Meekness,” although not a popular quality, can teach us how to be obedient to our rock-star teacher, who was self-described as meek  (read about “Meek” by clicking here).

Today we take another look at the beatitudes by reading The Message translation by Eugene Peterson:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Typically, the translation for “end of your rope” reads “Poor in spirit.”  In the Lukan version of the beatitudes, we read merely “Poor.” But recognizing that a majority of my readers are not economically “Poor” in any sense of the word, I love this translation for “Poor in Spirit”: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.” I love it because those words are absolutely more fitting to our context and actually make a lot of sense. When you’re at the end of your rope (and we all get there sometimes), you recognize your deep and essential need to give God control of your life. It’s unfortunate that we must find ourselves dangling precariously before we turn it all over to God, but it is our human nature to do so.  Peterson says, “With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” If we were to change our attitudes for 2018, we might decide not to wait until that last minute emergency to turn to God.

And what would that look like? We would empty ourselves of everything except God; we would allow the character traits that Jesus expounds upon here to permeate our very lives and begin to be filled with an amazing, fresh perspective! Instead of bemoaning our desperation, we could be praising God for filling our every need and trusting God to provide. We would be less stingy with our own abundance (whether it be food, time, money, etc) and more willing to show generosity to anyone who had a need.

Our (be)Attitude Change for 2018 is really shaping up to be a challenge. My prayer for you is that you will find yourselves rethinking your reactions and interactions with our world; and that in your re-thinking process you can begin to embrace Jesus’ challenging teachings. Don’t be discouraged if your perspective doesn’t change right away. You can always try again tomorrow. And you will find yourself blessed, indeed (even in the failing).

With hope,

Rev. P

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Meek

I read this quote recently while working on a service of baptism:

“When the convert emerges from the water, the world seems changed. The world has not changed, it is always wonderful and horrible, iniquitous and filled with beauty. But now, after baptism, the eyes that see the world have changed” (Liturgy Training Publications).

With wonder, I realized that we who are baptized, or who are believers or even seekers, need to be aware of our own eyes and how we see the world.  The world is not going to change; we must be the ones to change.

So I started working on how best to teach an “Attitude Change” or change of perspective that Jesus and John the baptizer both spoke about when they said, “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Greek word for repent here is “metanoia,” indicating not just a change of direction (the Hebrew word for repent, תְּשׁוּבָה, teshuva, means “turn back” specifically to God, but can also indicate just a change in direction), but a change of one’s entire perspective: heart, mind, eyes, understanding.  Meta — noia is what John and Jesus were calling us to; but how do we change our perspective?

Well, shortly after Jesus calls for a metanoia in Matthew chapter 4, he begins to teach.  Chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew comprise the longest teaching section of Jesus anywhere in the Bible: the Sermon on the Mount, and the sermon on the mount kicks off with a series of perspective-changing imperatives:

‘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 when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So we are using this series of imperatives to help us change our own attitudes.  These statements can be confusing; we’re taking them one at a time to make them more manageable.

Sunday, Jan. 21, we tackled “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meek?  Blessed are the meek?  Meekness is not exactly a quality that is honored in our present day.  A current definition for “meek” in Merriam Webster says, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment mild.” That definition backs up what I think most people have in the back of their mind for meek:  “doormat.”

In our entirety of scriptures, only two biblical characters are described as “Meek:” Moses and Jesus. I would never say that either of them served as a “Doormat.” Rather, their leadership was found in the source of their power: God.  We get a better clue as to what Jesus meant by “meek” when we search for other scriptural references using “Meek.” As it turns out, Jesus’ “The meek shall inherit the earth” was a direct quote from Psalm 37.  In Hebrew, the word we have translated as meek means “Humbled.” It carries an even heavier connotation of the humility being by choice — as an animal who chooses to be obedient to his master. A good image for this is a work animal, like an ox, being yoked to a plow or wagon and following the direction of the human.  The ox hasn’t lost any of its power or strength, but all of that power and strength is being submitted to the master.

Our master is Jesus. That might be hard for some to swallow, but it is who we claim to be when we say we are “Christians.”  To be meek then, for us, means to take our best talents and skills and submit them to God’s direction. We don’t lose our selves in the process; rather we use what God has given us (like God gave the ox brute strength), trusting that we will be led.

When we learn to be “Meek,” we are showing our faith and our trust that God will come out on top. We are trusting that we don’t have to fight back or put up defensive protection for ourselves: God will take care of that for us.

With this wonderful understanding of the word, “Meek,” a terrific modern day example of meekness is Martin Luther King, Jr, who advocated for non violent protest against the injustice of Jim Crow, segregation, and other racial injustices. Without fighting back, he was able to lead an entire corps to speak up for equal rights. In his wisdom, he said, “Darkness cannot chase away darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot conquer hate; only love can do that.”

So our (be)Attitude Change for Meekness challenges us to use our strength and power to be light in the darkness, and love in the midst of hate, trusting that is all we are called to do when we submit ourselves to our loving and meek master.

May it be so for all of us as we continue to change our perspective on the world.

With Love,

 

Rev. P

(be)Attitude Change 2018

As we begin a fresh new year on the calendar, we’ll be exploring the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 and Luke 6, remembering that both John the Baptizer and Jesus called us to a radical repentance because the “Kingdom of God is at hand!” The Greek word used here for repentance indicates more than just “turning around” or changing one’s ways: “Metanoia.”

Using the beatitudes as a template for our own attitudes, we can make a plan of action to experience “Metanoia” or a change of perspective/change of heart. The Beatitudes challenge us to seeing the world in a new way because the conditions for which Jesus congratulates his listeners seem to be less than positive or even ideal.

Read through these Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12 a:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘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 when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now, because we live in an age where our idea of “blessed” has been somewhat neutralized, let me try and recapture what Jesus was really indicating when he said, “Blessed are you. . .”  The Greek word here is “Makarios” and it indicates not just a blessing, but a blessing of divine proportions. If you look through different translations, you’ll see other words such as. “Fortunate, happy, lucky.”  My preferred translation is offered by the Scholar’s Version: “Congratulations!”

Why would Jesus be congratulating this massive group of people who had gathered to hear the long expected Messiah? They were actually the hungry, the poor, the persecuted, the mourners. The last thing they expected to hear from Jesus is that they should celebrate their lot in life. What Jesus was preaching here was his view of the “Kingdom at hand.”  In God’s upside down kingdom, the first come last and the last come first.  Those who are poor should rejoice.  Those who are mourning should recognize their blessings! So those who were gathered were already living in God’s Kingdom.

While it’s hard for us to digest this idea of the Kingdom, just imagine what the First Century listeners were thinking! The more I ponder it, the more I recognize how much better we would be if we realigned our own perspective to fit into that of Jesus’.  The Kingdom of God is certainly different than the world we live in, and that’s why true disciples of Jesus Christ experience such a disconnect when it comes to living out the principles of the Beatitudes.  Poverty, hunger, meekness, and mercy are not exactly “Valuable traits” to possess in the here and now.

When preaching on the Beatitudes, Carolyn Arends suggests the example of Ruby Bridges embodies these teachings. Ruby Bridges was just six years old in 1960 when she became the first black student to attend an all white school in New Orleans. This was a tumultuous time over the idea of “Desegregation” and Ruby ended up attending school all by herself that year. Entering the school and heading home each day she was accompanied by US Marshals, to protect her from the angry parents and community members that shouted obscenities and threw vegetables and trash at her. A child psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Coles, was studying stress in children and decided that there were no children more stressed than little Ruby, whose life was threatened on a daily basis just for going to school. What he discovered though, was that she walked with her head held high and with marked determination she didn’t let any of the insults and threats daunt her. Through interviewing her, he found that she was praying for her persecutors every day.  By name. And her prayer was always the same, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

Click HERE to watch a wonderful interview with Dr. Robert Coles as he remembers his interaction with this Child of the Kingdom, Ruby Bridges.

When we look at the way Ruby was able to live out her faith in the midst of the turmoil of desegregation, what we see is someone living in the Kingdom of God. Living out each of the beatitudes, she was able to change her perspective and show us a modern day example of what it is like to be comfortable in God’s upside down kingdom.

Throughout the rest of January and right up until Lent, we’ll be learning about the traits espoused by Jesus in the Beatitudes and then learn how to live them out in our daily lives. I hope you’ll join us week by week, and if not, catch up with the series right here on our webpage.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula