2 February, 2014
the Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
Zion West Walworth & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The question I would like to pose to you today is
“What is real?”
There was, a few years back,
a media effort by one of our local colleges.
I believe it was either St. John Fisher
or the University of Rochester
that placed billboards around the area
and created television commercials
based on the statement
“We prepare you for the real world.”
It was a clever idea,
appealing to the perception
that college life wasn't truly the real world,
and that somehow
the administration and faculty
could do something a little different
at their institution of higher education
to make the student ready for a career
in teaching, engineering, nursing, business, government, or law.
would be the arts, humanities, cultural affairs, or religion.
After all, what can they possibly teach you
or prepare you for in the real world?
One of the perceptions about mainline pastors in general,
is that we don't live in the real world.
Somehow when I abandoned my efforts
to become an engineer at the end of my college sophomore year,
never put to use my undergraduate degree in mathematics,
and chose to enter the seminary,
that I had made the transition
from what is real
into a world of pipe dreams and promises,
where one charges windmills in a surreal dream of Don Quixote.
The popular assumption that was taught to us,
and that we have ended up teaching our children,
is that the real world
is one in which you can earn a living;
where you can support yourself and your family.
“How are you ever going to support yourself
flipping burgers at Wendy’s,
waiting tables at the diner,
or babysitting other people’s kids?”
For those going to college,
“How are you ever going to support yourself
majoring in anthropology, acting, music, or art history?”
The criteria of success we've established is based on money.
The more you make,
the bigger the bucket of cash you bring home,
the larger the number you report on your W-2,
the more successful you must be.
The real world is defined
by the capitalistic, competitive lens
through which most Americans view the world.
“Pastor, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there,” I've heard it said,
“if you aren't making a profit,
then you’re going to sink.”
“If you don't take every possible dime,
then you've left money on the table.”
The media reinforces our notion of what is real.
If you aren't earning six figures,
driving a Mercedes, Lexus, or at least an Acura,
then you're an underachiever,
you aren't in the top echelon of the social strata.
We're told that Coca~Cola is the real thing,
that real men carry a handgun,
that drug dealers and sex offenders are everywhere.
We are to believe that prison is the only solution to offenders
and that capital punishment is necessary
to maintain a law abiding society
– especially for half-hearted suicidal people
who threaten to step in front of a speeding freight train.
“In the real world, Pastor,
we need the electric chair and armies,
cops and strategic weapons,
less we become a doormat
for every thug and two-bit dictator.”
In the real world
we believe the homeless exist because they are lazy,
and people on social services
are gold digging,
pandering welfare queens.
We are told that in the real world
we need to have curfews
and ban skateboarding,
that all kids are juvenile delinquents in the making,
and that simply teaching abstinence
will make teenage pregnancy go away.
In reality, we tell ourselves,
all taxes and government are bad,
that Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security
are broke and they need fixed,
and that when mom or dad can't live on their own any longer,
they should just go into a nursing home and keep quiet until they die.
We don't stop for hitchhikers
or for people who are broke down
along the side of the road any more,
because, well, someone is going to pull a knife or gun
and take advantage of you.
Lets face it, in the real world,
Islam is the enemy
and all Arabs are terrorists.
“Get real, would you pastor Todd?”
I look into those eyes
and I know
that the word “liberal”
is just barely under the surface.
I have seen the look.
I know the stare.
And then along comes a Gospel lesson like we have today.
Our Gospel is a new kind of politic;
a different way to rethink reality.
Our Gospel knocks us right between the eyes,
and we know that we'd better pay attention.
The words of Jesus are a wake up call;
and we'd better listen.
Every one of our assumptions
about what is real in this world
are turned on their heads
when Jesus teaches to the crowd
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3).
Whether Jesus is talking about the poor,
the developmentally disabled,
the cognitively impaired,
or the hopeless,
suddenly Jesus is prepared to give them heaven!
Jesus is going to hand it over;
lock, stock, and barrel!
What is real,
is that the Heavenly Father
created each of these people in His image,
and that it is God's will
to give them the kingdom.
The kingdom goes to those with an empty bucket,
not to those with buckets full of cash and success.
Jesus is telling
the one who would visit the residents
of Monroe Community Hospital,
an ARC home or program,
the county jail,
the state penitentiary,
or the Rochester Psychiatric Hospital:
“This is what is real. These are the people who are authentic.”
Jesus draws us
to the bedside of the bedridden nursing home resident,
forgotten by their family,
rolled periodically just to prevent bedsores,
whose dementia has stripped them of their former identity,
and He whispers into our ear,
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
“But the earth belongs to sovereign nations,” we protest.
“to people who hold deeds,
to corporations that purchased mineral rights!”
Jesus takes us into the group home for unwed mothers.
He leads us to the Battered Women's shelter.
He brings us into the refugee resettlement camps in Turkey and Jordan.
He points us to the killing fields
of Rwanda, Auschwitz, and Cambodia.
He insists that we accompany Him to Juvenile Hall.
And He tells us,
“to these people I leave the world, and the fullness thereof.”
Jesus is giving them my place on the lake and my nice car?
We think that having our stomachs full
is something noble and true
– even expected and ordinary.
Yet Jesus tells us today
that in His real world
the hungry and thirsty are the ones who are filled.
Those of us who might want to split hairs
- “who hunger and thirst for righteousness” we say
- might want to take note:
it is starting to look like God's kingdom,
that is, the real world,
is a whole lot bigger than our sorrowful perception of reality.
“Blessed are the merciful,
... the pure in heart,
... and the peacemakers,” (Matthew 5:7-9)
Jesus tells us, “for they will receive mercy.
They will see God.
They will be adopted by God and called God's own children.”
The real world isn't defined
by the terrorists who straps plastic explosives to their vest
any more than it is
by the soldiers firing blindly into a hostile crowd.
God's reality is at the Syrian and Iranian negotiating tables,
is working to bring potable water and effective waste treatment
to developing neighbors.
God’s reality is in every prayer said,
every dollar given,
every heart warmed
in every effort to bring food and supplies
for Philippine survivors of typhoon Haiyan.
In God's reality bridges are built,
physically and metaphorically.
Walls are broken down and fences are destroyed.
Arabs and Israelis are brought together,
dialog between Islam and Christianity
welcomes everyone to the same table,
and the privileged
are those who volunteer in soup kitchens and shelters.
If we insist in living in the old world reality,
then we'd better be prepared to become really good at grief.
Bishop William Willimon wrote,
“If this world is only a veil of tears,
and life in this world is merely solitary, poor, brutish, and short,
then there is no end to the mourning.”
(William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resources, 1/30/05)
The Sermon on the Mount,
starting with these Beatitudes,
is the landscape Jesus paints for us today.
It reveals to us that
Jesus is leading us towards a whole new reality,
a whole new kingdom
and that it is up to us to follow.
In a way,
the Church serves as a point on the new beachhead;
we are the first wave of God's effort to establish a whole new world.
The new reality isn't coming like Noah's flood,
to wipe the slate clean and to make a fresh start.
The new reality is what we fervently pray for
when we speak the words of the Lord's Prayer:
“Thy Kingdom may come, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It is the establishment of God's kingdom,
where time is eternal,
where peace and justice become one,
where Christ and His ways become what is real,
and all the former things,
“crying, and mourning, and pain
will be past away.”
“What is real?” I ask you this morning.
“Where do you stand?
Are you on the beachhead,
the front lines of God's emerging Kingdom, as Jesus describes?
Or, are you desperately holed up
on a sinking ship
frantically lashing together repairs for the old reality?
Walking humbly with our God,
as the prophet, Micah, would phrase it,
means that today is the first day of the rest of our lives.
This is the day
take part in shifting the world from it's axis,
and by taking our first steps into God's new kingdom,
we will truly become the people
God created us to be.
is what is real.
Thanks be to God.