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Sixth Sunday After Epiphany: Blessed Are...

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord.  

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Sith Sunday after the Epiphany!  Once again we have some wonderful scriptures to guide our worship and reflection today.  And as always, God is at work connecting the dots for me and I hope you!  The women’s bible study just started studying the sermon on the Mount from Matthew and today, we have the Luke version!   This passage calls us to pay attention to the inequality in the world around us as Jesus’ words invite us to imagine a world in which those who suffer are comforted as we strive to live into the kingdom of God here and now. 

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber has a YouTube video of the Beatitudes with a modern-day twist.  She’s filmed sitting inside a sanctuary saying, “Blessed are…” but what comes out of her mouth surprises many.  I believe it is Jesus words for many of us moderns!  Listen to some of her statements:  

“Blessed are they who doubt, those who aren’t sure, those who can still be surprised.  

Blessed are they who have nothing to offer.  

Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, whose tears could fill an ocean.  Blessed are they who’ve loved enough that know what loss feels like.  

Blessed are they who no one else notices — the kids who sit alone at the middle school lunch table, the laundry guys at the hospital, the sex workers, the night shift street sweepers.  

Blessed are the forgotten.  Blessed are the closeted.  Blessed are the unemployed…The unimpressive, the underrepresented.  

Blessed are the wrongly accused.  Those who never get a break, the ones for whom life is hard.  For Jesus chose to surround himself by people like them.  

Blessed are they without documentation.  Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.  Blessed are they who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.  Blessed are the burned out social workers, and the overworked teachers, and the pro bono case takers.  

Blessed are the kind-hearted NFL players and the fund-raising trophy wives.  

Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak.  Blessed are everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it.  Blessed are the merciful for they totally get it.” 

Then she looks at the camera and ends with “You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you!”  

I think her list is beautiful and like Jesus’, it challenges the status quo and the worlds understanding of who is blessed.  Some of the posted comments reflected this and jumped out at me.  Like one from Irishwarriorq who wrote: “’Blessed are the closeted.’ That’s one line I didn’t expect to hear.  Consider me pleasantly surprised.”  But the hateful comments made me think of Jesus saying blessed are those who are hated for my names sake!  Because boy were there a bunch of those too!  

Why do we have such a hard time not only naming, but believing and practicing that God blesses people whom the world often sidelines, ignores, and even contributes to their abuse?  

As we’ve done for the last two Sundays, today I want to lift up a group of people who often DO NOT feel blessed, much less welcomed and included in faith communities who follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:  those who identify as LGBTQIA+ individuals.  

I hope most of us would be surprised that LGBTQIA people would NOT feel welcomed, loved and fully included in church families but the truth is often painfully the opposite.  Even churches who feel they are fully welcoming often are not.  Take the 2 Michelle’s for example.  These two gay women were both on faculty at the University of Iowa, had 2 children and had attended a church in Iowa city for a number of years because it was well known for its youth programs.  Although active in the church, neither of the women were allowed to serve communion, be on committees, or have any position of leadership because of who they were.  Then gay marriage became legal across the country and they asked to be married at their church, who’s denomination DID affirm same gender unions.  They were told absolutely NO!  And so they left and joined my parents Lutheran church and small group where Norm and Gaye got to know them very well—as gifted women, loving mothers, faithful followers and yet, like all of the rest of us, simply human- flawed and imperfect but fully loved and welcomed into the beloved community by God.  I’ve heard stories of their lives for years because the 2 Michelle’s and their daughters matter to my folks and their congregation.

They were part of a congregation for a long time that felt it was welcoming… they had a gay couple as members right?  But they were not fully inclusive!  For so many in the LGBT community, showing up at a church that says they’re welcoming doesn’t mean they’d be welcomed!  Fully welcomed as they are!  I know of people in our community, TRINIDAD, who don’t attend any house of worship because not one of us has stepped out and publicly stated that we are a welcoming church, that accepts people of all flavors and stripes, fully inclusive of any type of diversity that God has created.

Today’s scripture passages not only express blessings and woes but they tell us that God wants us to be rooted FIRMLY in our faith. The Psalm reminds us that the people we keep company with will determine if we have a life of blessing or a life of judgement- we all know that the people we surround ourselves with shape our perspective and lifestyle the most!  I want to keep company with those who know, extend, and work for God’s love of all people!  Because our faith is rooted in LOVE!  Therefore, there is neither Jew or Greek, free or slave, male or female or trans, or intersex, or fill in the blank…. We are all one in Christ Jesus.  Those are Paul’s words from Galatians.  All have been created in the image of God.  All are expression of the divine- no matter what qualifiers the world throws at you, We are ALL BELOVED CHILDREN of the one true God, who created and loves us, and calls us to be in community!

I was reading a devotional this week where the author wrote todays “Gospel makes a curious claim about Jesus.  Luke says that the power came out from Jesus and healed all of them.  This is one of the most compelling claims about how Jesus showed up in the world—that tangible energy radiating from Jesus that brought healing to all who needed it simply by being in his presence.  YES!  And Jesus embodies healing in our time as well as his!  He so sought to conform his life to the values of his Father that he became a channel through which the Spirit of God could bring healing and redemption to the world!  

And guess what??  ALL Followers of Jesus are challenged to imitate Jesus’ behavior.  We are called to be healers and ministers of reconciliation.  We’re called to live our lives with eyes wide open to the pain and brokenness in our world, and we should, we have to work to extend healing and grace to everyone!  We can be the conduits which the Holy Spirit radiates energy, LOVE, to those in our world!

This is a high calling but it is what our world needs to see from the disciples of Jesus.  We are to step into the divisions and establish justice.  We are to be willing to sacrifice our self-interest to ensure the well-being of the others.  We are called to bear witness to the powerful love that Jesus embodied and to help the world see that these are the ways to abundant and joyful living- to a blessed life indeed!  This is the high calling we chose when we decided to follow Jesus: to be a people whose very energy and presence bring healing and grace to broken places & broken people.  Through us the Spirit of God can bring healing to our world- usually one person at a time.  

Let me share another story.  It’s the story of a high school boy in Edmond OK.  A few years back, my old church in Oklahoma became a Reconciling in Christ Lutheran congregation and so on their electronic sign they have the words all are welcome but also include an image from the Reconciling in Christ works organization—a rainbow heart. Well one Sunday this young man walked into the church all by himself and joined them for worship.  Everyone was welcoming and my friend, the church president, said they also wondered about him—because lets be honest, how many HS sophomores walk into a new church by themselves these days?  They got to know him and he is a gay teen who lives with his parents and sister in a neighborhood across the street.  He didn’t feel welcomed as he was in the church they attended so one day, he crossed the street to Lord of Life.  After that his parents dropped him off on the way to their church because he kept coming!  Now he is in confirmation, active in the youth group, growing in his faith in a community that opens their arms/doors/hearts to everyone, no matter what qualifier they use or have received from the world.

Now I mention him specifically because did you know that 10% of all LGBT students have missed school because of safety concerns?  Or that 1/3 have received physical threats and over 73% have received verbal threats because of who they identify as or who others perceive them to be!  48% of youth who have come out to their families state that their families make them feel bad about who they are!  And the statistics vary but between 11 and 40% of all homeless youth identify as LGBT!  These people of God matter and overwhelmingly are not feeling loved by their people, their communities of faith, their municipalities.  I hope it’s hard for us to accept that anyone would feel rejected by God’s people but ask the LGBT folks you know about their stories, their experiences with THE church.  ALL ARE WELCOME because God welcomes ALL!  But that’s often not their experience but it is God’s desire for them!  Blessed are you who are created in the image of God and with diversity in one’s sexuality….

The front page of our bulletin has a line that I really like:  We are encourage to find our place in the crowd among those who desire to touch Jesus.  YES!  We are like anyone in the crowd who wants to be healed, loved, accepted by Jesus Christ.  And so I ask you, would Jesus deny anyone coming to him?  Would Jesus limit anyone based on who it is they love or where they fall on the spectrum of human sexuality?  With all its diversity?  I say ABSOLUTELY NOT!    Again, God has made God’s creation with so much diversity its stunning.  And we believe all bear the divine image! Therefore, as followers of Jesus, we are to imitate Jesus’ behavior and welcome all!  Have a wildly expansive, fully inclusive community of love where no matter what one’s abilities, mental health issues, or sexuality, everyone is loved simply because they have been created by God.  

Today is the 3rd sermon in which I am asking us to consider tangible ways in which we can be a fully inclusive community.  We’ve shared ideas these last two Sundays and now today, I want to hear what you think we need to do to be a fully welcoming community to those who identify as LGBTQIA.  Because the work of love is not passive but actively seeks to do God’s work, care for those around us including the most vulnerable is our work, in Jesus’ name!