Church in the Park…
In July, a dear friend of mine who is priest in the Diocese of Alabama asked me to preach at Church in the Park. My friend started Church in the Park with several other clergy to bring the Church and most importantly God to the homeless who spend their days in a downtown park in Birmingham, AL.
I was very honored that my friend asked me to preach. I must admit it was one of the hardest sermons I have ever written. What do I say? How do I preach the Gospel to people that suffer hardships far worse than anything I have ever experienced? I tried to let go and let the Holy Spirit do its thing. The result was a sermon that I felt was suppose to be preached that day.
What was really fantastic about that day was watching God’s people, black, white, male, female, rich, and poor, worshipping together. Praising God for the many blessings we have been given, asking God for forgiveness of our sins, and asking God to help us in our times of trouble- no matter what that trouble is. We don’t have a home or our marriage is on the rocks. It doesn’t matter the need, the pain, it only matters that we go to God.
Here is my sermon, its not really my sermon, it is the Good News that God put on my heart that day in the park. Blessings as the ride continues…
I am reminded of a woman that I knew named Bea, Beata to be exact and her parents named her after today’s Gospel reading, commonly known as the Beatitudes. Beatitudes means blessings. Bea grew up in a time of great fear and poverty, the Great Depression. She never had much, she lost two siblings at a young age, and her mother died just a few months after her birth. Bea never had the opportunity to finish school and had to scrape to get by through life. Bea knew that she was often at the bottom, but at the bottom is where she felt closest to God. She never doubted her faith, even though she went through many hardships and failures. Bea knew that the grace of God was always with her.
One of the hallmarks of the teachings of Jesus that no one can dispute is that lowliness is next to Godliness. The ones who occupy the lowest place in the world’s power ladder are the ones who are most likely to enter the Kingdom of God. These are the lost, the weak, the defenseless, the broken, the bruised, the diseased, the dying, and the forgotten.
In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew quotes Jesus, with the opening breath of his first teaching saying that spiritual power lies at the bottom, not at the top. It lies where people hurt and know that they hurting.
You see Jesus knew that, at the bottom, nobody much cares about defending the turf they don’t have. At the bottom, there is no need to prove one’s own correctness, not to God, to society, to Church, or to anyone else. To be more specific, when you are ravaged by cancer, or when you have been unemployed and out of money, you have lost a child, or lost yourself, or a host of them, you are blessed, Jesus says.
Blessed, He means, because you are near the bottom. And being near the bottom is about all in this world you are sure of. It is at the bottom that we are broken into Gospel blessedness. It is there that we reach out for the unseen, healing presence of Jesus. The thirst for grace becomes strong enough to open us to Gospel blessedness. So Jesus begins his most famous teaching by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Maybe some get by in life without undergoing the hardships that you face, but not many get by without experiencing sheer brokenness. Something of the bottom comes upon us all and in that coming lies a crucial choice. We can try to rely on ourselves or we can yield to our circumstances as an invitation to rely on grace.
The open arms of Jesus await to any that will come, but it is the “poor in sprit” who have the best chance of entering the embrace. The bruised and brokenhearted, they are the ones nearest to surrender, to letting go and letting God. Bea has now embraced God in heaven, she died last year. There is nothing broken in Bea now. In her death, as in her baptism, she has been claimed by Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit to be whole, to be free, and to be truly blessed.
How does that song by Winona Judd go? Isn’t it “things are rough all over, but I’ve got good news. When you get down to nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. In a way, rock bottom makes good solid ground. And a dead end street is just another place to turn around.” AMEN.