Lenten Devotional – Mon, Mar 1: WHO

The people referenced in these blessings are considered in a communal way. In particular, they are the followers of Christ within the Greek-speaking community for whom the author of the Gospel of Matthew wrote. They are also, in another sense, all humans. Common folk. People like you and me.

We might not want to recognize ourselves in these lists, or in others who find themselves described within the Beatitudes. It’s an uncomfortable association.

Yet among these lists of challenging human conditions, we’re likely to identify with one or more of the circumstances that are described by Christ in the Beatitudes. Since we’ve had these experiences, we are encouraged to develop empathy and connection with others. If we have recognized ourselves in these Beatitudes, we can also reach out to those who are living within these circumstances and experiences.

These blessings remind us that we are connected to each other, as well as being welcomed into the community of God’s children. This expansive view of who is blessed also cautions us that we’re not in charge of the invitation list for the kingdom of heaven. We don’t decide who sits at the common table.        

This human community belongs to Christ, who has given out the invitations. Now, elbow to elbow, we’re invited to share more than just a meal.  — Rev Gail

Meditations:

You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.

I support you; you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Challenge or Question: Who in your life is a sounding board for you? Who holds up a mirror for you and helps you become more self-aware? And for whom do you offer this reciprocity?

Lenten Devotional: Sat, Feb 27: IS

In these Beatitude statements, the ‘to be’ verb is open-ended. It is not past tense. It is not even present-tense. Nor is it conditional. It creates the world by declaring it as accomplished.

In fact, as Maxie Dunnan and Kimberly Dunnan Reisman write, “Originally there was no verb in the Beatitudes … ‘are’ … did not appear in the original Greek or Hebrew text. That word was added to bring out the meaning of each sentence.” William Barclay explains, “Jesus did not speak the beatitudes in Greek; he spoke them in Aramaic … The Beatitudes are not simple statements; they are exclamations.”

To retain that meaning across different languages, the verbs used to translate this Beatitude from Aramaic into Greek, shape a statement that presumes that what it declares will become true. It emphatically pronounces it and renders it real. The scholar Boring says, “The beatitudes are written in unconditional performative language. They do not merely describe something that already is, but bring into being the reality they declare.”  

Within this verb, we do not find a promise for the future. Rather this is a spiritual wealth, rooted in belonging to each other and to God’s kingdom, that is already ours. Dunnan and Dunnan Reisman add, “This means that the Beatitudes are not an explanation for what might be—could be; they are exclamations of what is. … And it is ours now, not in some future time.” It’s the first of several paradoxes.

When Christ says it, this blessedness unfolds. The Word creates. Again and again, over and over, then and now.

Perhaps the people described within each Beatitude statement don’t feel blessed or special. The circumstances described in each Beatitude aren’t ones that we, as humans, aspire to attain. We don’t want to be poor, hungry, or sorrowful.

Yet these states of being are part of the human condition. And Christ confers a blessing on these least likely of humans. Yes, we can admit, that we may continue to wonder, where is the blessing that comes with this circumstance in which I find myself? Maybe we even think: I’d rather return the blessing so that I do not need to live in these undesirable, unwanted conditions.

Our perspective about these worrisome, painful, underdog conditions — these difficult states of being now labeled as blessings — are forever changed by Christ’s attention. Martha Storz tells us, “Jesus blesses us by sharing our lot and reversing it … A philosopher calls this sort of speech performativespeech because the words themselves deliver the goods. A Christian calls this incarnation.” Back in Jesus’ time, and now in ours, perhaps the blessing begins by being seen and acknowledged as one who matters in the eyes of God. — Rev Gail

Meditations:

I was born the day I thought: What is? What was? And what if? — Suzy Kassem

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. Oscar Wilde

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Maya Angelou

Make the most of yourself … for that is all there is of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are. Lady Gaga

Challenge or Question: What is possible for you? What limits have you put on yourself? What limits have been placed on you? When have you been seen and valued for yourself?

Lenten Devotional: Fri, Feb 26: HEAVEN

Matthew uses the Greek word basileía. It contains such a big idea. What is heaven? Is it above us, up in the sky or cosmos? Is it lodged within our minds and hearts? Is it a place or a state of being?

We can sum up cultural ideas of heaven as a location or realm where gods and supernatural beings — Christians believe this to be Christ, Spirit, Godself — and angels dwell. Often it is conceived as being removed from our human plane, in an otherworld or paradise. Historically, our concept of heaven as especially holy means that it is a place set apart. Sometimes humans can access it, but often conditionally so. Religions that recognize heaven may also have an opposing concept or place such as the underworld or hell. In some traditions, elemental structures such as the World Tree connect the heavenly world to the human world and sometimes an underworld.

In Hebrew and Christian scriptures, heaven has been depicted as a garden, as a holy tree, or a light-filled city with flowering trees and flowing river, populated by people from all over the world. Pope John Paul stated, that heaven is ‘neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.’

For our purposes, perhaps we can understand heaven as a metaphysical state of being within us or as a set-apart holy place where God dwells. Yet the kingdom of heaven, as the Beatitudes describe it, is also here and now. Not in the future and not far away. Heaven is essentially a place where the blessed find a homecoming: both in our living and beyond death itself. — Rev Gail

Meditations:

There can be no Kingdom of God in the world without the Kingdom of God in our hearts. — Albert Schweitzer

Jesus said, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ I think if he lived nowadays, instead of ‘kingdom,’ he would have said, ‘dimension.’ And ‘heaven’ refers to a sense of vastness or spaciousness. — Eckhart Tolle

The kingdom of heaven is like electricity. You don’t see it. It is within you. — Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

The whole point of the kingdom of God is Jesus has come to bear witness to the true truth, which is nonviolent. When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek. — N. T. Wright

Challenge or Question: What offers you a glimpse of heaven now? Is it a place? An experience? A relationship? What do you imagine heaven will offer you? And what do you imagine you will bring with you and leave behind when you enter the kingdom of heaven?

Lent Devotional – Thurs, Feb 25: KINGDOM

In these Beatitudes, the kingdom is a place of belonging. In this sense, it becomes an expansive community. Perhaps it will manifest here on earth as well as in heaven.

As Christ tells us, the blessed become part of the kingdom. They have citizenship within it. Or if one thinks of kingdom as family, the blessed have been adopted into it.

Of course, all human families and communities come with their own complexity. Belonging to the same circle of spiritual connection doesn’t guarantee consensus. We may or may not get along. Work and commitment are required, on our part, to belong to each other within this kingdom that has embraced all of us. We must also believe that God will continue to help us belong to each other; we’re not always good at doing it by ourselves.

Yet the other aspect of the grace of these Beatitudes and God’s kingdom, is that we cannot earn our participation in it. We have been invited. Yet we also have free will. We have the choice to turn away, or to say yes. — Rev Gail

Meditations:

The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place, but a state of mind. — John Burroughs

The outer kingdom is not our real home. The inner kingdom is our everything.  —Marianne Williamson

Jesus made clear that the Kingdom of God is organic and not organizational. It grows like a seed and it works like leaven: secretly, invisibly, surprisingly, and irresistibly. — Os Guinness

A little kingdom I possess, where thoughts and feelings dwell; And very hard the task I find of governing it well. — Louisa May Alcott

I believe in Liberty for all men: the space to stretch their arms and their souls, the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine, and ride on the railroads, uncursed by color; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of beauty and love. — W. E. B. Du Bois

Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more. — Oscar Wilde

Challenge or Question: Within which of the communities or circles of belonging to whom you connect — family or extended kin-group, friend network, affinity groups, clubs, teams, schools, workplaces, nonprofit organizations or institutions — do you experience an expression of the kingdom of God? What does it look like in these scenarios?

Lenten Devotional – Wed, Feb 24: THEIRS

Ironically, this English word is translated as a possessive noun: theirs. We read ‘theirs is the kingdom’ as if the recipients, now blessed, have been handed a reward. It sounds like the prize or treasure has been given to them. They own it, keep it, possess it.

In fact, Greek translators of the Gospel of Matthew emphasize that ‘they’ are actually the ones under the authority of the kingdom of heaven. Powell translates it as, ‘heaven rules them.’ They belong to the kingdom. Rather than being those who possess something, they are possessions of heaven!

By default, the blessed are part of heaven’s community. That includes you and me. We have been claimed by God.

God calls you God’s own. Can you feel it? God has marked you and asked you to be part of God’s realm. How has that invitation shown up in your life? And what has been your answer? — Rev Gail

Meditations:

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. — Desmond Tutu

You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. — Frederick Buechner

Challenge or Question: To whom do you belong? To whom do you want to belong? And how is that belonging signified? By blood? By name? Affiliation? Affinity? Accredidation? Employment? Oath? Vow? Covenant? Treaty? Certification? Promise? Or just showing up?

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