What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Sometimes these questions haunt us after the death of a loved one, or a traumatic event or illness. We can easily blame ourselves, feel shame, and guilt—feelings that are very real, but often based on an illusion of control we do not have.
I thought it was my fault when I was diagnosed with 2 kinds of breast cancer –these thoughts were not necessarily rational—maybe I didn’t eat well enough or I hung on to resentments, or I didn’t exercise enough—somehow I had done something wrong and this was my fault. And then when I got through treatment and went back to work, I had even worse survivor guilt. Other women did not make it—why did I? I started working myself to death—much more than I do now, if you can believe that! I was driven by the feeling that I had to do or be something pretty spectacular to be worthy of surviving, of being given a second chance. I felt I had to do something great for God or I would not be worthy of having survived.
Just as challenging as the physical healing, can be getting help with the blame-shame-guilt that accompanies a traumatic illnesses, or grief that we carry when someone we love does die. This is something which we may call to mind on All Saints day today. I imagine this mix of blame-shame-guilt-grief, is at least in part how the crowds felt as they gathered around and followed Jesus through Galilee. A few verses before the Beatitudes begin, we read this:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
The Beatitudes begin with When Jesus saw the crowds, …Then he began to speak, and taught them. These crowds were full of the sick and people with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics
Jesus and everyone in these crowds lived in such a strong culture of honor and shame. They did believe that illness was a direct result of sin and that they were being punished by God with epilepsy or demons or paralysis and other diseases because they or their parents sinned. Imagine the guilt that rendered not only individuals, but upon parents and grandparents for such debilitating life-long diseases for which there were no cures. Imagine the loneliness of widows or widowers, who not only grieved their loved ones, but who wondered why they had survived and their son or daughter, or their spouse had not?
It was not just a quiet struggle, but something society from the Roman oppressors, and their culture all agreed on, and around which they structured their communal participation. Those with illnesses sat outside the Temple gates, they kept their distance in the marketplace, they did not participate in social events. Crowds such as this one following Jesus—who were poor and outcast, who were grieving and ashamed, who were too meek to fight the system and who worked to make peace where they were—they were the bottom rung of social ladder and everyone knew it.
Whereas I had an internal struggle with self-blame and guilt and shame—they had this plus a culture that de-valued and ostracized them; they were surrounded by a society and an oppressor that would never respect or honor them. So when Jesus saw this crowd, this group of hungry, grieving, meek, disease-infected, shame-burdened, guilt-ridden, family-loving, but impoverished, salt-of-the-earth group of people at the margins, Jesus bestows on them a blessing from God that society will never give them, a status they can never earn, a respect they could never, ever imagine for themselves.
Jesus gives them God’s honor, bestowing on them, the envy of others, for they have a place in God’s realm, in God’s heart:
Blessed is not just favored, but honored
How honorable are you, who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
How honorable are you who mourn, for you will be comforted.
How honorable are you meek, for you will inherit the earth.
‘How honorable are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled.
‘How honorable are you merciful… you pure in heart…you peacemakers…you who are persecuted.
How honorable are you who blame yourselves and feel unworthy, how honorable are you who feel guilty and ashamed and always live on the bottom rung.
You are honored in God’s sight. You are enviable. You are chosen. You are loved. You are seen. You are held in the highest esteem by the God who made you.
Jesus values what society devalues. Jesus loves what we cannot love and refuse to see as worthy, even when it is we, ourselves. Jesus announces God’s honor as being true for them right now with him in the present, and also in a promised future that Jesus will fulfill for them. You are honored now and you will be comforted. You are honored now, and you will be filled.
Jesus is God’s beatitude, present with us now, and securing our promised future. Jesus is our blessing— he takes our trauma----whatever it is---with it’s blame and shame and guilt—and carries it to the cross, and he honors it there, and he says, “it is finished!”
So leave it here today-- in the candle, on the ribbon, in the prayers, at the cross. Because then Jesus always comes back with new life, and says Blessed are YOU.
How honorable are YOU. How worthy are YOU. You are free and made whole, filled with honor and respect, with mercy and love.
This is what Jesus has done for me. Dan has told probably 100 times it was not my fault I got cancer, and he would say it again today if I needed it, but I don’t anymore. God does not need you or me to be any more spectacular than the purpose for which God made us—because that is already pretty great! None of us needs to outdo God and God’s plan for our life.
So claim the beatitude of Jesus for you--for Jesus says, “I have chosen YOU to be the beatitude for the next person. To honor them when no one else has. To listen to them the way no one else has."
First John says it this way: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
To be a saint is to be a beatitude for others— especially those whom society devalues, and showing them God’s honor, helping to melt their guilt and their shame and their blame. How does God call you to be a beatitude to others? Some days it will be a spontaneous interaction with someone God puts in your path.
Sometimes it will be a conversation you share with someone in your circle of influence. Other times, it will be through your direct, intentional service.
Today is a day to discover opportunities for being a beatitude, a blessing, a way to give God’s honor to others in service at our Mission Fair. We not only have every Mission Team at St. Luke’s with a table in the Congregational Life Center, but we also have our community partners who rent space from us, so we can learn and build relationships! We have Time and Talent Sheets in your Stewardship packets and also extra copies in the gym with a booklet explaining the ministry of each team. You’ll get a sticker at each table you visit and Time and Talent sheets turned in with 10 stickers will to into a drawing for pizza gift cards! So, come and discover how God is calling you to serve in 2024.
For Jesus, our beatitude, honors you, child of God, freeing you into being a beatitude for others.