The minister asked if anyone would like to speak. My uncle stood up and pulled out some notes. He walked to the front and faced the small group that had gathered. And then he proceeded to describe a man who was always kind, who always did the right thing. A man who was a flawless example of what God intended when he created humanity. He stood and described a man who didn’t exist.
The eulogy my uncle gave for my grandfather was a sanitized version of who my grandfather really was. My uncle had smoothed out the rough edges and conveniently forgotten the less than perfect parts of my grandfather’s life. After all, he wanted to honor him.
I find it curious that when we remember people after they’ve died, we sometimes find the need to clean up their legacies. The stories we publicly share often highlight their best moments – rarely do we take time to honor their worst.
I wonder if this might be because of scriptures like the Beatitudes that we read this morning. This is a list of those who experience God’s blessing. A list of people who are vulnerable. A list of people who are committed to doing the right thing in the world no matter what the consequence. We read the list and decide that it’s giving us instructions on how we should live. And thus, when we remember our loved ones, we clean them up – our way of making sure they are acceptable and loved and remembered after death.
Lance Pape, professor at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, says, “[The beatitudes] are a description, not a proscription.”1 They explain the way things are. Amy Oden, visiting professor at St. Paul School of Theology in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, explains the beatitudes in this way:
Within God’s life (kingdom) “blessedness” does not depend on wealth or health or status. It is not a reward for righteousness or duty. Rather, blessedness is God’s sheer gift. In the realm of God, life is not governed by honor and shame, but by the promise of abundant life. Mourning, poverty of spirit, and meekness reveal this inbreaking of God’s abundant life. When we have “eyes to see” our lives within the kingdom of God, it’s like pushing the reset button.
Take the first beatitude, for example. Poverty of spirit bears within it the blessing of life abundant. When one is poor in heart and mind, one is emptied, we are free of clutter, available and roomy. When we are “wealthy in spirit,” we are full of ourselves, eager to display how much we know, how much we can do. Or we are filled up with multi-tasking, preoccupied by busy-ness.
There is “no room in the inn” for God to do a new thing. Blessed, then, are the poor in spirit, these ones not so full of themselves. They show us open lives, available for the mercy that re-orders life in the reign of God. Mercy is the currency of the kingdom of heaven.2
The beatitudes describe times in our lives when we are better able to open ourselves to God, when we are better able to receive the abundant life that God is offering rather than framing our life in terms of the culture that we live in.
The beatitudes are not a checklist for sainthood, although I think we sometimes think of them that way. The Lonely Pilgrim website says this, “Protestants should be aware, “saints” refers to all the “holy ones,” the believers of the Church.”3 In other words, we are all saints and our sainthood is not contingent upon sanitizing our lives to look more holy or acceptable.
Which is the good news that Jesus offers us – God loves us flaws and all. This month’s theme is come to the table. Think for a moment about all of the people that Jesus had meals with. So many of them were untouchables for one reason or another. They were sinners – flawed people who didn’t always live in God’s way. And yet, they were welcomed to sit at the table with Jesus – a symbol of the grace that God offers.
As saints, our task is to continually seek out God. Sometimes, our lives present circumstances that make that easier – often when we are at our most vulnerable. Oftentimes, seeking out God takes a lot more work. All the time, we must open ourselves to letting God in – to accepting that God’s love is not conditional. We must open ourselves up to the grace that is offered at the table.
So, as you remember the saints that have died, remember their whole selves. Think of it as a spiritual practice. A practice that can remind you that you too are blessed by God. You too are in the company of saints. You too receive God’s unconditional love and grace.
Let the good news inspire you, release you from the guilt of not being good enough, and free you to seek and name God at work in your life and in the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.