January 24, 2023 – Blessed are the righteous strugglers

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It was wonderful to spend the morning with so many folks for our combined breakfast, worship, and Annual Meeting this past Sunday. A special thanks to our tech team for making the latter two flow as smoothly as possible for remote participation. I welcome feedback from those who Zoomed in, as we may want to use this mode of meeting for future activities. 

This coming week, our worship theme is “rejoice and be glad,” as we look at the beatitudes that begin Jesus’s sermon on the mount (Matt 5:1-12). While the passage is surely a beloved one, it can also be difficult. For who feels blessed in the midst of grief, or harassment, or longing for something better than the latest news report? Indeed, the command to “rejoice and be glad” applies to the situation “when people…speak all kinds of bad and false things about you.” I’d venture there are few of us whose first response to false criticism is elation. Still, perhaps we can imagine God rejoicing when the righteous path, the honest path, the harder path is clung to. 

On Tuesday’s Morning Edition from NPR, Steve Inskeep interviewed diplomat and policymaker Richard Haass on his new book, The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens. Haass has worked within the executive branch under both Republicans and Democrats, and shared in the interview his growing concern for US democracy and its ability to function peacefully and productively. And so in his book, he offers ten obligations, things we needn’t do, but ought to do, in order to preserve a more perfect union.

Among the list are things like “be informed,” “stay involved,” “promote the common good” and, finally, “put country first.” Interestingly, under that last section, Haass spoke primarily about integrity both among those who hold public office, as well as those who vote the officials in. Haass comments: 

“At some point, we need character—what the founders of this country called virtue—in our political leaders. I’m not sitting here naive; I don’t expect a lot of these people we see in public life to simply become virtuous and put the country before their own political ambitions, but that’s then up to us voters. Politicians…may not be responsible, but they are responsive, so we as voters, we as citizens, have to reward good behaviors, and we have to penalize behaviors where elected officials are acting badly.” 

“Amen!” I said, as I finished washing the dishes. Righteousness, integrity, is something that needs to cut both ways. But of course, it’s harder than it looks. How quickly does righteousness slip into self-righteousness when untempered by the meekness and humility also praised in the beatitudes? How much more difficult to remain a pure-of-heart peacemaker when we enter the raucous public square?

Still, it is the pathway onto which God’s children are called. The lectionary rightly pairs Matthew’s beatitudes with Micah’s most well-known refrain: “and what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” May we be so blessed, and even rejoice, as we again take up this journey.

With righteous hope,

Pastor Jen