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 be shown 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 because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. -Matthew 5
Last week was a difficult one with the violence in the national news. But for my family, it was not national news. My husband’s family is from El Paso, I have a very dear friend that lives there and so we waited and worried to hear from them. My children are also preparing to start public school and frankly, last week’s news of more gun violence left me really upset. So upset I didn’t want to go to church on Sunday morning. I didn’t want to go to a public space that is consistently targeted for mass shootings. It made me grumpy. And so I showed up to church grumpy, scared and worried, which in general is a terrible way to show up and try to interact with people.
The first person I saw on Sunday morning was Ms Pat. Well, I didn’t see Ms Pat, my youngest did and she went tearing down the hall to throw herself upon Ms Pat’s legs in a hug that was borderline dangerous as she nearly toppled the two of them in the Sunday School hallway. After they both regained their balance, Everly showed off her backpack a glittery and sequined contraption that needs a warning label and protective eyewear. She told Everly how happy she was that she was here this Sunday.
I was still grumpy and nervous after dropping my kids but on my way to the sanctuary I ran into one of my pastors. She asked how I was doing and I told her the truth. She looked at me earnestly and said “me too, I am also scared for my kids.” I felt seen and heard, but still grumpy.
As the praise band started up my older daughter begged me for her friend to join her in our pew. Her mom and I exchanged facial expressions and hand gestures and agreed the girls could sit together. Between giggles and whispers the sound of their sweet voices singing drifted up and through the pews. Next to me my parents slid into the pew, visiting from out of town and my mom squeezed my hand.
By the time the minister got up to preach I was not entirely thawed from the protective shell of grumpy indignation I had been building all week. But then he started his sermon talking about the exact things that were worrying me. As a preacher I have had people come through the hand shaking line after service and say “you were preaching straight to me pastor” but never in my life had I ever had that feeling sitting in the pews. It felt as though a bright spotlight was shining on me and the grumpiness that had grown large enough to take up its own spot in the pew. It felt like my pastor had spied on my earlier phone call to my best friend where she had commiserated with me and then unsuccessfully tried to remind me that we live in hope and we believe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ (to which I responded “thanks, but I think I will just stay scared and grumpy today.”). It felt like in the sea of my despair over the state of the world, a searchlight found me and tossed me a real, tangible, actual life raft. And I grabbed hold of it.
I grabbed hold of the preacher’s honest admission that things were indeed not doing so great as a culture with our love of violence and our deep despair. I grabbed hold of his suggestion that in the midst of despair that we ought to hold onto and live out of the Beatitudes found in the Gospel of Matthew. Our response to cruelty, violence, racism, misogyny and bigotry should not be despair but a grabbing hold of the vision of who we are and who God created us to be that is laid out in the opening of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. When we feel despair we are reminded that God comforts the mourning, but God also calls us to be peacemakers. It is not lost on me that the very thing that will heal us is what we are learning to avoid–human connection and communities that gather in real life to share a common experience. When we are sold a vision where to be safe we must stay isolated, God calls out of isolation and into community so our kids can be hugged by Ms Pat, our backpacks can be blessed, our pastor and friends can say “me too, I’m scared too” and we can be reminded that the Kin-dom of God is about building communities of care and inviting those who are broken hurting and scared to join them with you.
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