I didn't stop with the degree; most of my life is a bachelor's.
Of course I only started thinking about Valentine's Day in the last few days, too late to
customize and online order the gift I had in mind for Shepherd of the Valley.
So I headed to the stores, with no luck.
All the cheerful decorative signage at Home Goods and Hallmark read Blessed.
I couldn't find a thing in Hashtag Woe.
It's a shame, since you've already endured so much disappointment and misfortune.
I applaud this congregation for hanging in there with God despite being so not blessed.
Shepherd of the Valley has so much going against it: most of us are wealthy, well-fed, well
regarded, with so many reasons to smile and laugh.
Yes, we have lost many dear friends and members; we have had tasted many tears, but that is as close to being blessed as many of us can claim.
With such an abundance of goodwill and resources, we are especially vulnerable to the perilous perception that we don't need God.
We live mostly unprotected by poverty, hunger, grief, and rejection, those strong safeguards against idolatry which teach us to rely on God rather than insurance companies, banks, identity protection, security systems, lawyers, reputation, guns, and other false gods.
Poor Dave Engh, our faithful trustee, spends Sunday mornings walking our campus to make sure every door is locked so that nothing gets stolen; what a sad way to live.
Many of us order what we want online and receive it in our homes without interacting with the world.
Many of us drive, speeding past reality in air conditioned comfort that anesthetizes our senses and our souls.
Woe is us, missing out on so much, insulated from so many of the dangers and desperation that could deepen our relationship with God.
I applaud and admire this congregation for staying faithful amid so many disadvantages, and for being so generous with those who have different needs.
You have collected mountains of food and thousands of socks, and those gifts keep coming in, now joined by empty egg cartons.
You have exchanged books and tied blankets.
You have sponsored transitional tiny homes for people moving off the streets.
You have sent offerings to Lutheran Disaster Relief and the Payne family in the wake of devastation.
Your regular offerings contribute to the wider church bringing food and comfort and support to people in need across the valley and around the world.
You keep showing up and tuning in to hear a word from the God of Jesus who is blessing others and sending condolences to you, because circumstances change.
If you haven't learned that in the last two years, then ask Ukraine, blessed are they.
Blessed is anyone and everyone who is dehumanized by the powers that be.
That is the stunning announcement of Jesus, doubling down on his calling announced in the
Nazareth synagogue to bring good news to the poor and release to the shackled.
Jesus is targeting people who have been told all their lives, verbally and otherwise, that they are nobodies with the news that they are somebody.
If the kingdom of Rome will never be for you, the kingdom of God is yours.
If the American dream will forever be out of your reach, God's dream is for you.
Jesus is gut rehabbing humanity, rebuilding the foundation of the soul.
As part of Black History Month, I encourage you to learn about Howard Thurman—a twentieth century American author, pastor, mystic, and spiritual giant who co-founded The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco with his wife, Sue Bailey Thurman.
In his 1976 classic Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman brilliantly explains why Jesus' restoration of neglected and diminished human dignity is so important; here's a snippet:
The ever-present fear that besets the vast poor, the economically and socially insecure...is a
climate closing in; it is like the fog in San Francisco or in London.
It is nowhere in particular yet everywhere.
It is a mood which one carries around within himself, distilled from the acrid conflict
with which his days are surrounded.
It has its roots deep in the heart of the relations between the weak and the strong, between the controllers of enviornment and those who are controlled by it.
When the basis of such fear is analyzed, it is clear that it arises out of the sense of isolation and helplessness in the face of the varied dimensions of violence to which the underprivileged are exposed.
It is one-sided violence...
In a society in which certain people or groups—by virtue of economic, social, or political power—have dead-weight advantages over others who are essentially without that kind of power, those who are thus disadvantaged know that they cannot fight back effectively, that they cannot protect themselves, and that they cannot demand protection from their persecutors.
Any slight conflict, any alleged insult, any vague whim, any unrelated frustration, may bring down upon the head of the defenseless the full weight of naked physical violence...
In such physical violence the contemptuous disregard for personhood is the fact that is most degrading...
The core of the analysis of Jesus is that man is a child of God, the God of life that sustains all of nature and guarantees all the intricacies of the life-process itself...
This idea—that God is mindful of the individual—is of tremendous import in dealing with fear as a disease.
In this world the socially disadvantaged man is constantly given a negative answer to the most important personal questions upon which mental health depends: "Who am I? What am I?"
The awareness that man is a child of the God of ... life creates a profound faith in life that
nothing can destroy ...
To be assured of this becomes the answer to the threat of violence—yea, to violence itself.
To the degree to which a man knows this, he is unconquerable from within and without.
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the mourning, the rejected, the disadvantaged, the insecure.
And woe to those who are not, because their sense of blessing is a palace built on swamp.
So what is the hope for those of us cursed with wealth and social wellbeing?
Where is the good news for the rich and the reputable?
They are invited to Jesus' table too.
The poor you will always have with you, Jesus promises his followers.
Jesus refuses to allow us to be cut off from those who can bless us, despite our best efforts.
Worship remains free and open to everyone.
Bread and wine will never be downgraded to steak and champagne.
Baptismal water will never be bottled, carbonated, or sold.
Woe to any and every church that forgets that God has honored and re-dignified us all by living on our level ... as a poor, minority, refugee baby, a common tradesman, a hungry loner, a homeless teacher, a rejected, convicted criminal on death row.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.