This week's author is Karen Ziel, Minister of Faith Formation and Leadership for the Connecticut Conference, UCC.
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12 (CEB)
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. He taught them, saying:
"Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
"Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
"Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.
"Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.
"Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.
"Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.
"Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God's children.
"Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
"Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.
So much of faith is a paradox. Sometimes we name experience as blessing and at another time, in similar circumstances, as shadow or curse. I am sure you know what I mean. Of course, so much of how we perceive blessing or curse in our journey is up to us.
I have often wrestled with the paradox of these verses from the Sermon on the Mount, what we typically refer to as The Beatitudes.
Reading them again from a translation I have come to use regularly, the Common English Bible, I discover I am uncomfortable with the choice of words. Happy are people who… you name the difficult circumstance and it's listed here. Was happy a good choice?
"Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.
Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth."
A paradox indeed, but how to imagine what Jesus wants me to understand?
What I comprehend in times of reflection is that each verse speaks of a way of opening oneself to receive God's nurture and care. What is nurtured in us when we lean into our hopelessness, our mourning, or our own deepening humility? Perhaps what is nurtured is a state of being that could be described as happy— if happy in this context is contentment or acceptance. A way of acceptance that is not acquiescence however.
For example, it might be that someone we care for has worked hard to avoid that murky place of grief— for whatever reason. It would not be unusual. In many ways we are a culture that avoids leaning into our grief. The paradox is that avoiding that journey prevents us from coming to that place of acknowledgment or full appreciation for what has been lost. The result is that many of us spend our precious spiritual and emotional energy avoiding the very thing that would bless us or bring us into fuller communion with God and one another.
Happy are you who risk a broken heart, for your hearts are open.
Prayer:Gracious God, nurture in me a spirit of loving kindness, of compassion, of openheartedness especially in those darkest moments— that you might care for me and I come to know you more fully. Amen
Special Prayer Requests:
- The Rev. Joseph Tobin Jr., pastor of Church Of Christ, Congregational in Goshen, whose mother, Raimonda Tobin, died on Jan. 19 ;
- the Rev. Micki Nunn-Miller, who had knee surgery on Jan. 17;
- Debi Mastroni Kenyon, Director of Faith Formation at Monroe Congregational Church, who had surgery on Jan. 18; and
- the Rev. John Livingston, senior pastor of the United Church of Rowayton, whose father, Wes Livingston, died on January 11.
- Those grieving after a Turkish cargo place crashed in Kyrgyzstan leaving 37 dead on Jan. 16;
- those suffering or grieving in Florida after a gunmen killed 5 and injured several others in a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6;
- the people of Northern California and Nevada who are struggling with severe floods after a winter storm stuck on Jan. 6-7;
- the friends and family of the Rev. Dr. Evans F. Sealand, Jr., former Board member and Archivist of the CT Conference, who died on Dec. 29
- the members and staff of Thompson Congregational Church after a fire severely damage the building on Dec. 29;
- those grieving or suffering in Turkey after a New Years' Eve attack by a gunman left 39 dead and more injured;
- the people of Iraq after several bombings a left more than 50 dead and many more injured during the last week of December;
- those grieving in Brazil after a prison riot left 60 dead and sparked a gang war in the city of Manaus on Jan. 1 ;
- the Rev. Da Vita McCallister, Associate Conference Minister for Leadership & Vitality, who is recovering from surgery on Dec. 16;
- Michael White, former Operations Manager at Silver Lake Conference Center, who was diagnosed with colon cancer;
- Juliane Silver, the daughter of the Rev. Jim Silver of Middletown, who is in dire need of a liver transplant. We pray that a donor will come forward giving the gift of life and a portion of their liver to Juliane;
- Chacy Eveland, husband of the Rev. Marcia Eveland, pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Ansonia, who has been moved to a full-time facility for care of dementia;
- the thousands of migrants worldwide who flee from violence and persecution in search of safety;
- our ecumenical partners in the Kyung-Ki Presbytery in South Korea;
- the Conference's partners working for peace in Colombia amidst violence;
- the leaders of this nation, that they may meet the challenges of the day with insight, wisdom, and compassion;
- this nation, that it may continue its difficult work to end the practices of racism;
- those suffering due to the ongoing financial woes of the nation, be they struggling to meet an unaffordable mortgage, seeking employment, or working to find just resolutions; and
- those serving or living in war or conflict zones around the world, or where terrorists have struck.
To be added to the prayer list, please send an email to Drew Page at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
First Congregational Church, Branford
Nada B. Sellers - DT
Theresa Borchetta - AP
Susan Trucksess - AP
Olivet Congregational Church UCC
Cynthia A. Stasko - P
United Congregational Church Bridgeport
Sara D. Smith - P
John T. Michniewicz - MM
Bridgewater Congregational Church UCC
Peter M. Hammond - P
Christopher Shay - MM
First Congregational Church, UCC
Kristen J. Kleiman - SP
Earl W. Keirstead - PE
Karen Ziel supports Christian Educators and faith formation leaders with consultation, training, resources and programs. She has guided the development of the Leadership Studio at United Church Center, a communications and workshop facility for ...