(preached two weeks ago before the election)
Yesterday I was at the Antiques Road Show and saw many interesting items that came in through the door. There were anvils and tiny clockmaker’s jack knives, coin collections and a play tea set of Blue Willow china made in Occupied Japan. There was a mandolin that had survived being carried into World War I and a Cree-French dictionary written by Reverend Lacombe. Every item had a story of who it belonged to or where it had come from, and it was that history that added value to it for the people who brought it.
History is like that, it adds meaning and richness to items that might otherwise be of no value. I took over my grandma’s lamp and it was worth about what I could buy a replacement brand new. No market for lamps, even glass ones made in the 40’s. But it tells me the story of my grandmother and reminds me of who she was.
Scriptures are intended to do the same. When Jesus mentions false prophets to his people, they would remember the stories of their history books where a lone prophet like Elijah or Naman or Nathan or Michaiah spoke truth to kings and to the people. He used history to remind his listeners that it’s not the ones who are popular or famous or rich who are the ones who hear God.
My grandma’s lamp reminds me of someone generous with pies, with a great sense of humor, of a woman who worked hard to feed her children and her husband during the depression and war. My favorite photo of her is dressed in her eldest son’s biker jacket and hat, mugging for the camera, trying to look like a fierce biker grandma. Grandma was from a generation that was proud to call herself Mrs. Ernest Taylor, known by her husband’s name, not her own. Even after she had been widowed many years, she still preferred to get mail addressed to her that way. Women took their name, their identity and their status from the men they married. The more successful the man, the more they felt successful. The phrase, “the power behind the throne,” or ‘behind every great man there is a great woman,” was something they took to heart. When grandpa started losing his sight way before retirement age, and had to figure out new ways to earn a living, that was a blow to her self identity as married to a successful man. I also remember how angry she was when that oldest son died from a heart attack in his 50’s, and how lost she felt. Another piece of who she was had been taken away from her.
Who we are is made up of our history and our connection to others, how we think others see us and how we see them. It’s at the heart of many of our personal struggles and emotional challenges. If we see ourselves as weak, as unloved, as useless, it can lead us into depression, anger, self-abuse, bullying and more. How we see ourselves in what one saint called ‘the dark night of the soul’, and what we believe ourselves to be when we are most down can be at the root of much of the conflict that we see in the world around us. Dr. Gabor Mate said last Thursday that Donald Trump must secretly feel insecure and vulnerable or else he wouldn’t be constantly attacking those that he sees as weak and vulnerable, like immigrants, ethnic minorities and women. When we struggle with anger, guilt, grief or resentment, this can be a sign that we have a negative sense of who we are that we are trying to mask through hording, eating disorders, bullying and bursts of emotion when we least expect it.
When we lose someone dear to us, it is like we have lost a piece of who we are and we don’t know how to rebuild ourselves a new identity. Like my grandma, we are uncertain how to go forward and live life without the people we have been used to taking care of or relating to on a daily basis.
Jesus knew that. When he said ‘blessed are you’, he was turning our ideas of who we were and who others were on their heads. In his society, a widow or orphan was seen as having deserved their disaster. That they had done something to bring God’s disfavor down on them. The poor were poor because they were lazy or sinful or undeserving. Jesus stood all these assumptions on their heads. He reminded the people of their history, of how the prophets that truly spoke for God were the ones who were not afraid of going against popular opinion. That God often favored the weak and not the famous. That God sees us with a different yardstick than we do.
Nickelback sings a song “This is how you remind me of what I really am” a song of struggle in a relationship gone wrong, a song where he is working out who he is after a relationship is lost. And I think that’s what Jesus is doing with these blessings. Reminding us of what we are. Not what we do, as everyone will eventually lose what they do through retirement or illness or life circumstances, nor what we have, power, possessions, or status. But reminding us that we are blessed children of a loving God. That is a heritage that helps lone prophets stand up to powerful kings, and ordinary saints in the making like you and I to continue to work together to make a difference in our world. Remember that you are beloved children of God, no matter what life hands you. There is no other blessing needed than that.