Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
TEXT: Matthew 5:1-12
A few years ago, television stations ran a series of commercials for Capitol One MasterCard. You may remember them. They had a memorable punch line: “What’s in your wallet?”
Stuck vacationing in tropical storm season because your credit card bonus miles don’t apply at peak travel times? “What’s in your wallet?” Obviously not a Capitol One MasterCard!
Attacked by marauding barbarians while shopping at the mall? You can stop them dead in their tracks by pulling out your Capitol One card.
“What’s in your wallet?” Those commercials—and that question—always made me think about what I carry with me. Not just in my wallet, but in my briefcase, or in my car, or on my person:
- Cell phone.
- Various kinds of photo ID.
- Face mask for pandemic protection.
It’s exhausting just thinking about it all! Exhausting because, as hard as I try, there is no way to adequately prepare for everything the world throws at me.
Beyond the tangible things we carry, we carry intangible things, as well. And I think these are the things that can really wear us down. We might call them burdens—or worries, or doubts, or just plain fears.
- Your child is late coming home from school … has something happened?
- There are 10 messages on voice mail … that can’t be good!
- A family member is hospitalized.
- A national tragedy heightens our anxiety and grieves our spirits.
- The bills are piling up, and we’re being stretched so thin that we feel we’re about to snap!
We all carry burdens. Yet some of us stagger and stumble to a much greater degree than others.
Have you ever noticed how some people can endure and even surpass the most incredibly difficult times in their lives? Why is that? How is it that some people thrive despite all the obstacles they encounter? And how is it that others are so easily crushed—broken, even—by the smallest of difficulties?
Well, Jesus has something to say to us about that. Listen to the first 12 verses of Matthew, chapter five—this time from Eugene Peterson’s wonderful paraphrase, The Message:
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”
The Message Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.” Not just when you’re content, or caring, or being a peacemaker.
You’re blessed when you’re starved for God.
You’re blessed when you’ve lost something dear; when you’re persecuted and insulted and lied about.
Do you understand what Jesus is saying here? He tells us that no matter what situation claims us—for better or for worse—we are blessed.
We are blessed even when we think we’re at a dead end. We are blessed even during times of deepest despair. We are blessed in the midst of frustrations, and calamity, and heartbreak.
How can this be? How can Jesus say we are blessed in times of trouble? Because God—the Holy One, the One who created you and fills you with all that is good and life-giving—is always present.
If you’re old enough to have seen those “NOOMA” videos which were popular at the turn of the century, you may remember the first film in the series.* It’s called “Rain”—and in it, Rob Bell tells a story about carrying his one-year-old son through a violent storm. For the child, the storm is terrifying. All he can see around him is chaos—swaying trees, and lightning. All he can hear is thunder and rushing wind. All he can feel is the drenching rain.
But Rob Bell holds his son close to his heart, as together they proceed through the tempest. And all the while, he whispers in the child’s ear: “I love you, buddy … We’re gonna make it … Dad knows the way home.”
God promises to carry you through the storms and struggles of life, as well as through its celebrations and triumphs. You are blessed with a love so fierce, so faithful, that even in the darkest of times, light will shine upon you—light that clarifies, reveals, and supports you.
You will recognize it because the tables will be turned. You will be carried beyond what you have known, to a new future—a hopeful future, a future that is touched by the holy.
It may happen in the company of a friend or a stranger. It may be words offered at just the right time. Or you may wake up one day and realize that something you have deeply longed for has indeed come true. Other times, there will be those surprising, amazing coincidences that occur which are all about mystery—holy mystery. And through events such as these, you will receive what you need most.
We will carry burdens. We will travel through storms. As Rob Bell says, it always rains in our lives. There are always storms. There are always burdens.
But in the midst of all that, blessings are given. They come from beyond us, and they are gifts. Blessings come to us and bring contentment, and joy, and well-being. The most profound blessings take away the heaviness of our burdens and the sting of our injuries. They encourage us to live in hope, to seek wholeness, and to rest in the promises of God that all will be well.
Julian of Norwich—who was a medieval English nun and mystic—is known for this quote: “All shall be well; and all shall be well; and all manner of things shall be well.” In her life, Julian realized that if “God made it, God loves it, and God keeps it.” She understood each day as a blessing from God.
Julian lived through some of the most horrific times of the 14th century—including the Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War. Yet her theology is one of indestructible hopefulness. She insisted that God is not known as we wait for visions and ecstasies, but rather as we wait on God through relentless prayer and diligent study. Although she lived in a time of turmoil, Julian was optimistic, speaking about joy and compassion even in the midst of suffering. For Julian, suffering was not a punishment that God inflicted, but an occasion for God’s love to be demonstrated.
So I think maybe Capital One is missing the point. Maybe it’s not at all about what we carry—or what we feel the need to carry. Here’s what I think: it’s all about the One who carries us—beyond what is, to what will be.
May the God of new life—shown to the world in Jesus—continue to carry you and embrace you through all that is before you. “All shall be well” is the promise God invites you to rest upon. May it indeed be so—for you, for me, for all of us. Amen.