Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 29, 2017
[sermon begins after Bible reading]
Matthew 5:1-12 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
[1 Corinthians reading is after the sermon]
Several months after my husband Rob and I started dating, we ended up at a New Year’s Eve party. We were standing in a circle of people we didn’t know. A bit of round-robin started as people talked about their work. Rob said his usual, “I’m in sales.” Someone asked, “Oh? What kind?” He said something like, “I’m a manufacturer’s rep for a Georgia-based carpet mill.” As is often still the case, people don’t seem to know how to reply to that statement. Possibly because cut-pile vs. loop or solution-dyed vs. yarn-dyed controversies aren’t quite party talk. So, I’m next in the round-robin. People have their eyebrows up expectantly, hoping their curiosity moves into easier conversation. And I say, “I’m a pediatric cancer nurse.” Stares and crickets. More stares and crickets with some nodding and mmmm’ing, while the conversation moved to the next person.
Some conversations are too detailed for party-talk, like the pros and cons of carpet manufacturing techniques. And other conversations are too hard, like kids having cancer. These are not the only ones. Just a couple of examples of so many things that don’t qualify as polite conversation. Grief is another such thing. This is where the church comes in, talking through the polite conversation into what’s happening in our lives. It’s one of the reasons being part of the church can be a comfort while we’re also challenged by Jesus’ teachings. Listen to this Bible verse again from the book of Matthew:
[Jesus teaches his disciples, saying,] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Jesus is often found teaching in Matthew. The Bible verses today are most commonly known as the Beatitudes based on the Latin for blessed. It is curious that people who suffer are described as blessed when these moments can feel and look like the opposite of blessing. Jesus is pushing against the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. There is no explanation for why people are poor in spirit or mourning, why people suffer. There is simply a description of suffering and God’s promise to be present in the midst of it.
The Beatitudes state a promise into the suffering. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Notice there are no requirements to receive the kingdom. In Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is now and it’s here. Check out the kingdom parables in Matthew chapter 13. They describe active presence of the kingdom on earth. As Jesus teaches his disciples, Jesus teaches us, that we receive the kingdom, live the kingdom, and teach the kingdom.
I can hear you asking, “Well, pastor, that’s lovely poetry, but what does it look like on the ground to receive the kingdom and live in it?” I’m glad you asked. Richard Rohr, Franciscan monk and scholar, describes the rational mind hitting a ceiling. That ceiling is suffering. Today’s Bible verses name suffering as mourning and poor in spirit and more. We can’t explain why it happens or its purpose. We just know suffering exists and spend energy trying to prevent our own. I mean, really, does anyone actually love eating kale? Eventually, though, someone we love, or maybe even ourselves, suffers – we get sick, we grieve a death, we lose a job, we miscarry, or we watch our partner walk away. All that we thought we knew about life and our place in it shifts.
But, as Paul says, “we proclaim Christ crucified,” the ultimate in earthly foolishness. Except that the cross means something beyond comprehension when it’s God’s foolishness. Jesus’ death on the cross means that God knows suffering. More than that, it’s the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer. Paul’s use of “Christ crucified” points us there because the crucified Christ is also the resurrected Christ. Christ whom we claim is among us now by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit.
The same Holy Spirit names us the Body of Christ known as the church. We are part of a resurrected life that we share together as a congregation. We share that resurrection promise as a community of faith. As Jesus teaches his disciples, he also teaches us, that we receive the kingdom and live in the kingdom especially when living through loss and grief. Knowing this kingdom teaching can help stop us from painting a silver lining into someone else’s grief. We can simply be present with someone else in their suffering without fixing it or explaining it or telling someone it’s time to get over it. We can avoid the trap of thinking someone else’s pain is a teaching moment for them and avoid setting ourselves up as the teacher. Rather we can live the kingdom now by asking people how they’re doing, by telling people we’re sorry this is happening, by quietly listening, and by praying for them.
Prayer is one of the languages of the kingdom. Jesus prayed the Psalms while on earth and now we do too as the body of Christ. Therefore, in the Psalms, we “encounter the praying Christ…Even if a verse or a psalm is not one’s own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship.” Praying for people on our prayer list who are suffering of mind, body, or spirit. Taking the prayer list that’s in the weekly announcement page home, naming each person on it in prayer, or simply praying the whole list at once. Praying is kingdom language even when we think our own prayers are uncomfortable and clunky. That discomfort and humility in prayer are part of the kingdom language. So is praying for people we don’t necessarily like.
As Christians, praying and being present to each other and the world’s pain is a freedom we have through the cross. We may recognize God’s foolishness as wisdom and look to the cross as a way of knowing. It’s possible that one of the truths of Christ crucified is that our suffering connects us to each other differently. We move through the party talk and listen to someone talk about their grief and loss. These moments become prayer by transcending what we’re arguing about ideologically and opens our eyes us to see each other truly as beloved children of God. Through the cross, through the suffering, we love before we know, we love as a way of knowing, we love as Christ loves us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Richard Rohr, Public Remarks, Join the Divine Dance: An Exploration of God as Trinity, Arvada, CO, January 13-15, 2017.
 1 Corinthians 1:23-25
 This is a riff on Brené Brown’s work on empathy vs sympathy. See video, “Brené Brown on Empathy”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw&sns=fb
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 46-47.
 Rohr, ibid.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30 He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”