Surprise Yourself

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.  
{Neil Gaiman}

Blessing on You {a hillside sermon}

A pastor was born to bless – this I believe. It is only right that we conclude our meditations on Jesus’ blessing by receiving one for ourselves. I offer this blessing to you – just passing along Jesus’ mercy.

To you who are empty,
may Jesus’ love fill you, overflowing
To you who are in misery,
may Jesus’ kindness be your balm
To you who are alone,
may Jesus provide you rich friendship
To  you who are sick,
may Jesus be your healing
To you who are running,
may Jesus catch you
To you who are cynical,
may Jesus surprise you 
To you who are sorrowful,
may Jesus grieve with you
To you who are blue,
may Jesus laugh with you
To you who are joyful,
may you know the One who gives you joy
And to all of us, whatever and wherever we are,
May the One who is life fill us with life
In the name of 
The Father
The Son
and the Spirit.

Ridiculous Blessings {a hillside sermon}

Blessed are the poor. {Jesus}

Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on. {Paul Simon}

No matter the continent or century, we agree: the destitute and impoverished among us are the oppressed, not the privileged. The poor are beaten down by the man, undone by their addictions or overwhelmed by unjust systems. However we might describe the downtrodden, they are most certainly not blessed.

Yet Jesus leads off his litany of blessing in his sermon on the hill, the sermon launching revolutions and befuddling readers, with these strange words: blessed are the poor. Is Jesus glossing human sorrow with sentimentality? Has Jesus surrendered to an inner, “spiritualized” idealism, making a clean break from reality, from the poverty staring him in the face? Has Jesus lost his ever-loving mind?

Some have wondered if Jesus’ words minimize the plight of the poor, as if those under the heels of economic strain should stop bitching and thank their lucky stars they have received such an odd mercy. It hurts, but it builds character says the cliche. Of course, few of us want to get in line for this brand of mercy. Odd, isn’t it, how we can twist words so that the one who came (as the old prophet Isaiah said) to “bring good news to the poor” sounds darn close to a callous robber baron.

Jesus has no idyllic vision of poverty. Jesus is not suggesting that the hungry boy trapped in the slums simply surrender to squaller because – doesn’t he know?? — he’s blessed. Rather, Jesus announces the presence and power of God’s Kingdom, that reality that unseats and overturns every other reality, by proclaiming that the very ones gathered round him (the sick, the diseased, the outcast) who were in every way poor were welcomed, were desired and would by God’s grace be blessed, made well. As Glenn Stassen said, “The poor are blessed, not because their virtue is perfect but because God especially does want to rescue the poor.”

Matthew casts a wider net, telling us that all who are “poor in spirit” are blessed. Poverty makes it round to all of us. The poor in spirit includes all of us who are humbled. All of us who think we have nothing, are nothing. All of us who have slammed up against our limitations or another’s ridicule. All of us who feel small and insignificant. All of us who have been crushed by disappointment or shame. All of us who have been ignored or dismissed.

In one way or the other, at some point or another — and if we possess the courage to be honest — each of us will discover ourselves situated firmly in the company of the poor. We will be among those whom no one mistakes for an expert, who have no wide following, who fail to make the list marked elite. We are the silly ones, the bumbling ones. No one would come to us for an endorsement or to raise cash. We have little power. We are a poor fool.

And strangest of truths, Jesus announces to us in our impoverished place, the Kingdom is yours. Welcome. Blessed.

Rise Up and Live

A Blessing from Easter Sunday, for Easter Season

Into every dark corner of your heart
Into loneliness and fear and shame
Into despair and greed and lust
Into ruin and hopelessness and everything death breeds

Receive this: Jesus crushed darkness and death, finished and done.
Rise up and live.

Into every hopeful place in your heart
Into your desire to be loved
Into your longing for true life
Into your desire to live free and bold in the Kingdom of God

Receive this: Jesus walked out of the tomb, trampling death by death and flooding resurrection and light into your heart.
Rise up and live.

A Blessing for Death

This week…
May you gather up everything that you cling to
     as if your life depends on it…

Your reputation, your energy,
     your creativity,
Your business skills, your beauty,
     your contrary nature.
Your fear and your skepticism
     and your greed.
Your story.
Your hurts.
Your hopes.
Your desires that have turned into
Those things you hide from others,
And those things you judge others by.

May you gather up these things –
     and everything
     that holds you back from being free…
Your caution that someone may do you wrong.
Your concern that you may get it wrong.
Your haunting fear that God may be wrong.
And in a defiant, courageous, child-like act,
May you fling them all aside –
And run to Jesus
And walk with Jesus to the Cross.
And die.
And then wait in death’s dark tomb.
Wait in death’s dark tomb.
Wait…for Resurrection to break in.