We hope you have enjoyed our month looking at the Beatitudes, I want to thank all three of our contributors, Rev. Jerry Herships, Christy-Anna and our final contributor for this series Rev. Jenna Morrison
I am a workaholic.
A self-professed, time-tested, and experience-proven workaholic (so what if I maybe just made up a couple of words? You get the idea.).
I work to make a living (also: shoes). I work so I can tithe. I work so I can spoil my dog-child. I work so I can keep a roof over my head and sometimes afford organic produce like a full-fledged adult. I work so I can afford the new washing machine that was delivered to my house this morning. These are all honorable-ish reasons to work, I think.
I also work to give my life meaning. I work so I have a place to ground my sense of self and root it in something bigger than my own little life. Who doesn’t also love a good pat on the back every now and then for a job well done? I work so I can feel like I’m playing a tiny little part in the world. I have a tendency to forget that my part is tiny and that I’m not in center stage, but that’s a problem for another day. It’s a part nonetheless.
As a pastor, this usually works out pretty well for me. I somehow have convinced people in my community that I am worthy of being invited into some of their most vulnerable, sacred moments. I get asked to pray, a lot. I also get asked to speak for big groups and small groups about grace and mercy and love and forgiveness and hospitality and faithful living in the world. I have stacks of big, fancy-titled books and a beautifully framed (expensive) diploma stating that I have the proper education to lead people to Jesus (aside: is that even really a thing?).
These things are generally good for self-esteem, it turns out.
It also turns out that pastors are easily swept up into the world of paperwork and meetings and trying to force a budget to balance. I am easily distracted by endless lists of things to do and people to see. The urge to cross things off of that list is almost debilitating to me (ok, ok, it also gives me great, great joy, which may or may not also be a larger problem). I believe that putting out a good product is really important, so I spend countless hours editing and formatting brochures and bulletins and handouts.
Because, you know, the church with the best handouts will inherit the earth.
When I was asked to write a little diddy about the Beatitudes, I groaned, out loud. Thankfully the invitation was over the interwebs so no one knew my exuberant “YES!” was partially forced.
The Beatitudes are HARD.
I mean, can we just talk frankly about this for a second?
Sure, the Beatitudes read like poetry. Yeah, the imagery is lovely.
In fact, they sound like wonderful aspirations and dreams to accomplish in order to inherit the earth, to be fed, to be made glad, to receive mercy and see God.
Sweet baby Jesus, I even have the propensity to turn Scripture into a to-do list.
But the Beatitudes are anything but a list; these aren’t things that we can necessarily achieve and cross off. They aren’t characteristics that we can fake or force, and if we’re really being honest, these are not things that we would want to aspire to (yes, please. I would like to grieve more. In fact, let’s go straight for hopelessness. That sounds like a good one today.).
I think we often do this with Scripture—especially Matthew 5—as a way to swallow the bold pronunciations that Jesus makes in his Sermon on the Mount; we turn these prophetic declarations made by the Son of God into a list of practical advice. We assume that these statements by Jesus are common-sense accounts about Christianity instead of a topsy-turvy blessing on the authentic body of Christian community.
If the Beatitudes aren’t a list of things to aspire to, and they aren’t common sense, and they aren’t even really for an individual consideration at all, what the eff am I supposed to do with them?!
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that, while the mystery of Scripture maintains that we can never know with full certainty what exactly is meant, the Beatitudes are a message to me about my work. Not just the whole pastor thing, but a message about the way that I work and the things that give my work and life meaning.
Here’s where this all gets super complicated, even (especially?!) for a pastor: the Beatitudes make it clear that the important things in life—the things that will ultimately bring us peace and fulfillment and mercy and comfort—have very little with our vocations. It doesn’t matter if I’m a pastor, teacher, stay at home mom/dad, janitor, business professional, CEO, or if I have no official employment. It doesn’t matter how much money I make, how many shoes I have, or even ultimately if I buy organic or not (blasphemy!).
Jesus makes it clear that for the gathered faithful to enter into the Kingdom of God in the future and now, on earth, we don’t have to cross everything off our lists or achieve anything of note, according to the world. We simply have to gather together with the meek, the grieving, the hopeless, the hurting, the peacemakers, the ministers of mercy; the Beatitudes are not addressed to me, but to us. They are addressed to all of us who proclaim Christ as Lord so that together, we can experience the kingdom of God now, and forever.
It will not reduce our stress or shrink our waistlines. It will not save us from illness or cause us to advance in our careers, necessarily. Our faith—our witness—and our hope in Christ will instead lead us together into a life where righteousness and peace will prevail, and God’s future will be one of mercy for all of us.