How does that make you feel?

January 30, 2011

Christ Church Episcopal – Norcross, GA
Given while serving as seminarian.

4th Sunday after the Epiphany – Year A (RCL) – Micah 6:1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12

How did that make you feel? This is the question Ceci often poses to me in our one-on-one sessions when I share an experience that I’ve had.

Working in banking for 20+ years this question didn’t come up much.

As I thought about it more, it didn’t really come up in my family life either. We’re mostly a “Left brain” bunch, where reason and logic jump in and take center stage. We THINK about things a lot, but we don’t probe into how we FEEL about things… or at least we don’t spend much time giving it a voice.

So, the first few times Ceci asked “How did that make you feel?” she had to follow that up with “Glad, Sad, Mad, or Afraid?” Now, there are lots of other feelings, but this at least pointed me in the right direction.

When we look at today’s gospel reading Jesus talks about feeling “blessed,” that is Happy, or even better “Fortunate” about certain situations in our lives, and we might find it a little surprising…

The passage starts with Jesus seeing the crowd, and then going up and sitting down on the mountain-side. The disciples we’ve been hearing about for the last few weeks, having let go of their fishing nets to follow his call, gather around and Jesus begins to teach them.

His words surely caught the disciples off guard as he looked toward the crowd, and then said…

“Fortunate are the poor in spirit…”, “Fortunate are those who mourn…” – these aren’t the normal feeling associate with these circumstances. Inadequacy, guilt, and even fear can emerge when we feel our faith is not where it should be. Sadness, loneliness and maybe even abandonment are what we carry when we mourn. And I believe that this is all you will feel if you keep your brokenness hidden.

Jesus challenges us to live into our brokenness in community, and by doing so, we allow the kingdom of heaven to enter our lives. By sharing our losses, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, graduating from high school, or for me, it’s the loss of proximity to my family in coming to a new place. And even though some of our losses have a positive side, there is still a loss that occurs, and with it mourning.

By sharing our hurts, our doubts, and our fears with others, and with God, we open the door to being comforted – we can’t expect someone to comfort us or to help us through our spiritual valleys if they don’t know about them. We are meant to live in community so that we share each others joys and share each other’s pains.

Perhaps the foundation of Jesus’ message of the beatitudes is two-fold – The first is to be authentic, warts and all, and the second is to embrace and lift up the authenticity of others, even if it isn’t easy.

Living authentically forces us to take the time to get to know ourselves and let others know us fully. That means becoming vulnerable.

Vulnerability is hard for most of us. Perhaps it’s fear of not measuring up to others’ expectations, or maybe we’ve been wounded by someone we trusted and don’t want to risk being hurt again, or do we worry that if we are truthful about who we are that we will be subjected to bullying or rejection? So we bury our feelings and hide our true self.

This fear of rejection often keeps us from living authentically.

I’m amazed by the courage of someone like David Kato Kisule, a 46 year old man in Uganda who would not run away from who he was as a gay man in spite of the persecution he faced. And he is not alone.

Yesterday morning, I learned that he had been killed earlier in the week. Although the authorities are saying it’s the result of burglary, he has received death threats since last October when his picture appeared on the front page of a newspaper, alongside a picture of the former Ugandan Anglican bishop. The headline read: “Hang Them.” Both were outspoken advocates for human rights.

Unlike other recent experiences I’d discussed with Ceci, I had no problem naming my feeling on this… I am angry.

It was after visits from American evangelicals in 2009 that the Ugandan Parliament called for broadening criminalization, including introducing the death penalty for homosexuals. Leaders in the Anglican Church have voiced their outrage over Kato’s death, as has President Obama – but what will change?

My persecution was in having to move from Houston to Atlanta because my diocese wouldn’t allow me to follow my vocational call as my authentic self, a gay woman. This seems very minor now in light of Kato’s constant fear of being murdered.

The bullying that has led to suicides by young people in America is caused in large part by messages being delivered by Christian institutions.

How does that make you feel?

I believe we have a silent majority at work here. I think the majority of Christians believe that Jesus’ call to love one another includes all people. Why aren’t our voices being heard? Because the majority of us, including me until now, aren’t saying anything!

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – that is, those who work to do what is right. They won’t always succeed, but they strive to do what God is calling them to.

Blessed are the merciful – those who show compassion to others even if they don’t fully understand or agree with them.

Blessed are the pure in heart – those who do things with honest motives and with the best outcome in mind.

Blessed are the peacemakers – the ones willing to help those with opposite views come together so they reach a place of common ground.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake – fortunately in this country, we don’t fear death, but we may lose a few friends when we speak up for what we believe.

In doing these things, we bring the kingdom of heaven into our midst.

Jesus made that possible by taking on flesh.

He brought the divine into the earthly realm.

In his authenticity, he showed us that he too had moments of a weakened spirit, but lived into God’s will for him.

He weeps with us and comforts us.

He fills us with his strength and life-giving spirit.

Through him, we find forgiveness for our shortcomings and imperfections.

During these Sundays following Epiphany we see disciples dropping their nets and following Jesus. They don’t really know what that means. Jesus says “Come and see.” And so, they leave behind all that is familiar because they sense there is something more, something bigger than themselves that they are asked to do.

They sit at Jesus feet as he teaches them on the mountainside. Looking toward the crowd Jesus talks about “them” – blessed are they, blessed are those. And at the end, his attention shifts squarely on the disciples themselves. They are about to find out what they signed up for…

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely because of me. REJOICE and BE GLAD for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Our persecution may take a different form… we don’t fear for our lives because we profess Christianity. Yet, we let others define Christianity in a way that does not build up God’s kingdom. It does not embody God’s redemptive love.

At the risk of persecution, we need to stand up against them.

Minorities of all kinds have had to rely on the majority to win the cause for them. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Friends, and I am thankful to count you as friends, let us not be silent.

Instead, let us be disciples!

One Response to “How does that make you feel?”

  1. This is the one that makes my heart go pitter-pat.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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