“I’ve Been A Mess”
Matthew 5:1-12, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
February 2, 2014
First Christian Church
It was a Friday afternoon. I was working at a major law firm in the Twin Cities as an assistant. It was not my favorite job and things weren’t going well for me. I didn’t enjoy the job and I wasn’t doing a good enough job for folks. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though.
Anyways, I was busy at work trying to get somethings done before Daniel arrived in town for the weekend. I got a call from one of the lawyers to come into his office. I got up and went to his office not expecting anything. I came in and saw the lawyer along with another lawyer seated in the office. I was being fired. I had made a mistake on an assignment and this was one too many. I was escorted back to my office to gather a few things and then brought downstairs to the lobby. In contrast to the cold nature of the attorneys, the secretary who escorted me did so with tenderness and care. She said her goodbyes, leaving me alone in the lobby.
Losing a job is not fun. Being fired is even worse. You know you made a mistake that can’t be undone and you live with a sense of shame.
It’s been almost a decade since that happened, but I still can feel the sting.
As I was preparing this sermon, I came across and article about the rising number of pastors who leave the ministry. The joy of their ordination is long gone. Many of the pastors feel used up and spit out, dealing with long hours and little pay, depression and lonliness. The website expastors.com shared this horrible statistic: “50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.”
I don’t think this is an overexaggeration. I’ve seen with my own eyes how friends trained as pastors end up leaving and trying something else. I’ve felt that temptation to hang it all up.
I share these stories because we all live with a sense of failure. Maybe it was a failed marriage, or having to deal with depression or come to terms with some issue of addiction. Whatever it is, we don’t feel up to snuff.
The gospel text today is a well-known passage. The Beatitudes are the preface to the Sermon on the Mount, but they stand on their own. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blest are those that mourn. Blessed are the peacemakers and so on. When we read these familiar words, we tend to see this as an instruction. So we work on trying to be meek or being a peacemaker and so on. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant by those words. What Jesus was talking about is that those who are poor in spirit or who mourn are the ones that are blessed by God. No one needed someone to tell folks how to be better people, what was need was something that spoke to the present condition.
What Jesus was offering to the crowd that day was a word of hope. For those who feel like they are losers or left out and excluded, these are the ones that God blesses.
But what does it feel to blessed? We know shame and sadness, but what does it mean to see blessing as a feeling? Theologian David Lose explained it this way:
To be blessed feels like you have someone’s unconditional regard. It feels like you are not and will not be alone, like you will be accompanied wherever you go. Being blessed feels like you have the capacity to rise above present circumstances, like you are more than the sum of your parts or past experiences. Being blessed feels like you have worth — not because of something you did or might do, but simply because of who you are, simply because you deserve it.
What I needed on that November day years ago, was to feel blessed. It’s what so many burned out pastors need to feel. It was what every one of us needs to feel : that we are loved and cared for not because of what we have done, but because of who we are. Being blessed means that we don’t have to put up a front and pretend that everything is okay. Because God accept us, we don’t have to hide. That’s something I wish my fellow pastors would hear more, because we are so good at pretending that everything is okay with us.
I want to end with one more story. It’s been over 20 years now since my grandmother died. My mother took her death pretty hard. She saw her mother die as she suffered a stroke while in the hospital. In the months that followed, Mom went through a very involved mourning process. I learned from this experience how everyone mourns in their own way. That lesson was lost on the pastor of my parent’s church. Mom recounted how he told her to stop mourning her mother. After all she was 90 years old, so death was inevitable.
Needless to say, Mom was upset. The pastor didn’t understand that in God’s economy, those that mourn are welcomed into the kingdom. What would have happened if the pastor blessed my Mom? What if he told her she was blessed and that God loved her? What if he honored her brokeness and told her God remembers her?
The good news is that God’s kingdom welcomes those who are poor, those who mourn, thost who try work for a just society and world, the lowly, the least and the forgotten, which is basically all of us.
I leave you this morning with this. You are blessed. You are blessed, even if your life is imperfect. As the hymn we sang earlier says, “rejoice and be glad! Blessed are you, holy are you, rejoice and be glad, yours is the kingdom of God.”
Let it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.