Can you see yourself in the beatitudes?
In each of these blessings by Jesus gives us an example to reflect on our own relationship with God and with God’s world, and each gives us the chance to wonder how that statement is like us. “Am I poor in spirit? Have I been merciful? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness?”
The beatitudes come from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The author of Matthew’s gospel portray the sermon as one long afternoon talk that Jesus preaches to the masses. Some scholars, however, believe that it’s more likely to be a collection of sayings that Jesus used as he travelled from town to town spreading God’s words. In other words, this may be Jesus’ “stump speech” – like today’s politicians, he may have had a talk that he carried with him, his core set of beliefs and teachings that he shared with the crowds that gathered to hear him.
Here in this summary of all that Jesus believed, are these 8 beatitudes. Eight blessings that he felt were so important that each needed to be separately and specifically named. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Can you see yourself in these beautitudes?
Are there beatitudes that seem strange and unfamiliar to you? Characteristics or actions listed here that seem far from who you are?
This summer, we’ve been focusing on the statements list on the “Be the Church” banner outside of the church. So far, we’ve looked at the ways that our faith calls us to be the church by protecting the environment, caring for the poor, rejecting racism, and forgiving often. Today, we’re looking at the ways that we are called to embrace diversity.
What does it mean for us to be called to embrace diversity? To not only accept or tolerate differences but to willingly and enthusiastically support others who look or act or think in ways that seem strange and unfamiliar to us?
Maya Angelou wrote “In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.”
We are blessed to live in a diverse nation in a diverse world; a world made up of different nationalities and ethnicities and colors; a richness of life that should call our attention to the variety of ways that we can see and experience the Holy. When we are faced with others who are not the same as us, we are called to see God in their eyes.
Think back again to the beatitudes. Which ones were easy for you to connect with? Where there a few that don’t reflect your lived experiences so you skip over them or dismiss them? Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. If you skipped one or two (or a few) because they are not your experience, can you still see that they are important to God?
When we open our eyes to the diversity that surrounds us, we are faced with people and ideas that are strange and unfamiliar to us. It’s easy for me to shrug off stories about women facing sexism in the workplace because that has not been my lived experience. I can’t see myself in her story. If I can’t see my own life in the lives of others who struggle with mental illness, I will struggle to understand how God is at work. If I can imagine what it’s like to rely on free school breakfast and lunches, I’ll be better able to embrace families who struggle to put food on their table.
In diversity, in our differences, there is beauty and strength. But in our desire to understand, we often want to ignore the differences and focus on the similarities. We want everyone to be just like us because it’s easier for us to put ourselves in another’s shoes that way. On the surface, that’s admirable. But if we brush off difference, we often end up dismissing what’s important.
Can we still see ourselves in the eyes of someone who is different from us? Someone who’s lived experiences we can not even imagine?
I’m blessed to be a part of the Sudbury Clergy Association, a gathering of ministers, priests, rabbis and educators from the various houses of worship in town. Some might think that such a gathering would be difficult. With all of the different theologies and beliefs, we should be constantly debating the meaning of life or the proper way to worship.
My experience with the Clergy Association has been the opposite. The group is able to come together and discuss complex and important issues affecting our town not just because we are able to focus on our commonality – which we do – but also because we respect and lift up our differences. When we worship together, we do not ask any group to avoid practices or prayers that are different or unique to them, we are able to seek the common good but staying solidly rooted in our own traditions. It’s that diversity that makes our endeavors so successful.
When we as a church are called to embrace diversity, we may be tempted to focus on similarities instead of differences. Wouldn’t life be easier if we were all the same? We could avoid contentious election cycles because everyone agreed on all of the political issues of the day; we could all understand each other because everyone would speak the same language; we would need to clutter up our pews because everyone would agree to sing from only one hymnal.
It’s easy to focus on the similarities; it’s much more difficult to embrace the differences.
Jesus could have simply said “blessed are all people.” Instead, he saw the need to name different groups, to lift up people who are mourning, or who are poor, or who are desperate for righteousness. He demonstrates how important it is to recognize the differences.
That’s one of the reasons that it’s upsetting when someone responds to calls that “Black Lives Matter” by saying “All lives matter.” Yes, it’s true that everyone’s lives matter and that no one group is more important than any other. But embracing diversity means being called to open our eyes to the experiences of others who lived experiences are different from our own. When we dismiss calls that “black lives matter,” we are ignoring children of God who are in the midst of crisis. Simply because we may not have experienced systematic racism, less opportunity for success, or persistent violence in the streets outside our homes, we are tempted to ignore the differences instead of embracing the diversity and discerning how God is calling us to respond. To not do so would be like interrupting Jesus’ declarations of “blessed are the meek, blessing are those who mourn, blessed are the peacemakers” with “blessed are EVERYONE.”
Can you see yourself in the beatitudes? Can you see yourself in the lives of others who’s lived experiences are vastly different from your own?
How do you want others to see you?
Even as we struggle to walk in another’s shoes, we cry out hoping that they will understand our point of view. Embracing diversity involves seeing God in someone else’s eyes and asking them to see God in our eyes. Embracing diversity means being able to tell our own story while listening with genuine curiosity to someone else’s. Embracing diversity means developing an authentic appreciation for our differences. It means seeing others the way the God sees us.
As we follow our call to be the church by embracing diversity, let’s open our hearts to others, others which different skin colors and ethnicities, Muslims, Jews, Atheists. Let’s hear stories of oppression and inequality from people of color, the LGBTQ community, women and gender non-conforming individuals. Let’s work to change broken systems that leave the elderly struggling and children suffering.
“In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength.” As we embrace the diversity, our lives will be richer and our world will move closer to the Kingdom that we are called to co-create with God.
Let’s pray: Holy One, help us to see you in all of our differences. As we learn to embrace the diversity of your Creation and recognize the beautiful tapestry that you have woven in our world, give us strength and courage to fight for equality and justice – not so that we are all the same, but so that we all have the same opportunities. Help us hear the Jesus’ reminder that we are blessed by remembering to name one another and to see you in the eyes of everyone we encounter in this life. This we pray in your holy name. Amen.