Emmanuel Stained Glass

Epiphany 6 – Some Blessings – February 13, 2022

Some Blessings

Blessed are you who are poor, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Plain, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Both Mount of the BeatitudesMatthew’s and Luke’s gospels give us the Beatitudes.  Matthew’s version takes place “on the mount.”  Matthew likes mountains and uses them to get his story across, although the likely place for this sermon, given the other details we get in Matthew’s gospel, is actually a low hill over a cave by the Sea of Galilee.  The low hill forms a natural amphitheater so that thousands of people could hear without modern amplification.  Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus and his disciples came down and stood on a level place, so you’ll hear people call Luke’s version the Sermon on the Plain, although the way the topography works in the place where this sermon was likely given, on the mount and on a level place could describe the very same scene, depending on whether you’re describing the view from the vineyard above or the seashore below.

The important part was that a great crowd of Jesus’ disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon were there to hear, and the natural acoustics accommodated their hearing.  And we know that communications were clear that day — on the mount or on the plain — because we read the sermon today, and from two different gospels, written for two entirely different audiences.  The Beatitudes — those tough, counter-intuitive proclamations of blessing on times in our lives that feel way more like woe — can be tough to hear.  How can we possibly understand the experience of those who are poor, hungry, weeping, or excluded from the community as something God looks on with favor?  How can the deep hurting sadness that shows out in weeping be a blessing?

Weeping is a Blessing

Mourning is grief inside out          We’ve had experience with this at Emmanuel over the past weeks.  We’ve all had a tough beginning to this new year, with five Emmanuel funerals already, six if you count one last Saturday in Atlanta, close to my heart but 1000 miles away.  With two other funerals at Emmanuel on the same day, it wasn’t possible for me to mourn my beloved young friend in person, but I wept anyway.  Blessed are those who weep, Luke’s gospel tells us.  But how can it be that God blesses us with losses that break our hearts and make every part of our bodies ache?  There’s a difference between grief and mourning that sheds some light on what feels like a fundamental contradiction in the Beatitudes.  Grief is what you think and feel on the inside.  Mourning is when you express that grief outside yourself.  Mourning is grief inside out — showing and doing.

When you weep, wear black, write a thank you note for the gift of flowers or a casserole, or plan and participate in a funeral, you are mourning — expressing that grief outside of yourself.  That’s the great gift of the Episcopal service for the Burial of the Dead, in the scripture, prayers, and music.  That ritual for death and loss allows us to mourn — express our grief and sadness.  And that mourning invites others to come close to console and comfort — knitting together the body of Christ — the community that sustains us.  And all the people who came to hear the Sermon on the Plain knew this in their very bones.

 A Great Multitude

Emmanuel PeopleLuke’s gospel tells us that a great crowd of Jesus’ disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits — the first century way to describe mental or emotional illness — were cured.  Everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him, Luke says, because healing power came out from Jesus, and they were all made well.  Was this great multitude of people poor, hungry, weeping, or excluded from community?  Almost certainly yes.  We all are in some way.  And they were healed.

As preacher Ragan Sutterfield writes, The poor are not blessed as poor so much as blessed by what poverty makes possible. They are ready and open to the possibility of another reality.  The blessing is in God’s response that is invited by those conditions that feel like woes to those who are in them.  Poverty invites plenty as compassion leads to sharing.  Hunger invites nourishment and fullness.  Weeping and mourning invite consolation and comfort.  Preacher Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes that the blessing of those who mourn may be an invitation to deepen our understanding of how mourning may bless us—perhaps because it takes imagination and a very open heart to enter into others’ sorrow in order to mourn truly and generously.  It’s not the loss leading to grief that is the blessing.  It’s God’s response through those who show up to comfort those who mourn.

Celebrating Life at Emmanuel

Last Saturday morning, we came together to celebrate the life of Jackie’s son, Christopher.  There were more people in the church than I have seen during my time at Emmanuel.  Family came in from all over, bringing tears and love and stories — of summers spent in Newport, growing up at Emmanuel, and love for Christopher and for this community.  Was there grief?  Yes, absolutely — aching, deep, wide grief.  And there was love and comfort, spilling wetly over cheeks, squeezing deep into hugs, and warming aching hearts as we listened intently for shared memories of our origins, our connections, and our faith.

Emmanuel Stained Glass            Our vestry turned out in full, as did our volunteers.  Former acolytes and friends sought comfort and connection seeing familiar faces — Bobby had a line of people checking in.  Our music, favorite hymns chosen by Jackie and by Christopher’s wife, Erica, was glorious, and former choir members lined up to meet Randy.  We had ushers, greeters, and gift bearers, and a whole church full of people sharing the blessings of faith, community, and connection, and our whole community was drawn together through this mourning.  Later last Saturday night, there was another Emmanuel funeral — not here in the church, but in a uniquely appropriate offsite location — the Rig Shed in Jamestown for Carolyn’s husband, John.

John was a transplanted Atlantan who went to high school in Atlanta with Jere.  He was such a passionate sailor that he made his home on the Narragansett Bay and his community at the Rig Shed — decades of relationships built and painted in dry dock in the winter months to withstand the pitch, roll, and yaw of the open seas.

After the formal service — straight from the Book of Common Prayer — the toasts and stories began.  I was moved to see God’s saving work in drawing the community together as Carolyn herself — the grieving widow — assured each speaker of John’s love and care for them with personal stories and words from John.  That is the blessing of weeping.  Both those who weep and those who draw close to comfort them are consoled — building, fitting, sealing, and painting their relationships in community to withstand the pitch, roll, and yaw of the open seas.  Blessed are those who weep, for they will be comforted.  Amen

Your Favorite Brass Quintet plays Sunday, July 3 at 9:30 am on the lawn