Maundy Thursday Reflections – A Mandate to Love

bread_and_wine_380pxToday is Maundy Thursday when we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. We remember that we are fed by that bread and cup, costly love offered for the sake of the world.  The word “maundy” comes from a Latin word: mandatum. And mandatum means “mandate” or a “commandment.” And when we talk about “Maundy Thursday” we’re talking about “mandate Thursday.” We’re talking about the night before he died, when Jesus told his disciples exactly what he expected them to do next.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13: 34-35

In John’s gospel when the disciples gather during the Passover celebration Jesus washes the disciples feet.  It is an act of love.  We are commanded to love. 

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I remember being in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the museum where I saw a silver communion
cup over 400 years old used in an early Church of Scotland parish in the midst of the Reformation. Thanks be to God today for the the Lord’s Supper celebrated through the centuries and for the work of love and compassion that continues.

Blessing the Bread,
the Cup
by Jan Richardson

Let us bless the bread
that gives itself to us
with its terrible weight,
its infinite grace.

Let us bless the cup
poured out for us
with a love that drenches,
that makes us anew.

Let us gather
around these gifts
simply given
and deeply blessed.

And then let us go
bearing the bread,
carrying the cup,
laying the table
within a hungering world.

Spiritual Formation and New Life

As I continue my journey through Lent, God calls my attention to daily blessings as well asJesusTeaching-300x195 larger questions of spiritual growth of children, youth and adults.  My first calling in life was to be a teacher.  As a child, I loved to play school.  I loved “teaching” my dolls math, spelling, and Bible stories.  I went to college planning to earn my degree in elementary education and receive additional training as a reading specialist.  As a pastor I am grateful I have many opportunities to teach.  My love of teaching and engaging children is still part of who I am although I now enjoy teaching youth and adults as well.

1898674_10152385201164026_1763579381_oYesterday I led my monthly chapel time with preschool children at my church. I shared the story of Jesus feeding the 5000+ with two fish and five loaves. A miracle of abundance when there appears to be scarcity. Then I visited the baby chicks in one of the classrooms. Nothing says hope and spring to me today like fluffy baby chicks! 11 hatched and 1 did not. Life and death right there side by side. I love my job. So today I pray for new life, for abundance, for hope, especially for those I love who are suffering from depression. 
         

Today  I found an interesting article and website today called Bread Not Stones. confirmation wordle 2 Here is a quote from the author Rev. Rebecca Kirkpatrick.

The question is, when our children are asking us for things more complicated than bread – like spiritual guidance – how do we meet that need in the most nourishing way? How do we give bread and not stones?

One of the interesting pieces on the blog is “100 things your child needs to know.”  She suggests children and young people should know this information before confirmation.  I don’t agree with that, but I do think it is a good foundational list for us as parents and teachers to think about the ways we are equipping the children and youth (and adults!) of Willow Grove to know the foundations of Christian faith and living as disciples of Jesus.

What do you think of this list?  Would you add anything?  Take away anything? In the coming year I look forward to more opportunities to talk and plan together the ways we nurture children and youth in their faith.

Lent Day 6 Journey Stories

gilgamesh_journey_endsoftheearth_headerA helpful piece to think about journey stories in the Bible and literature. Jesus’ journeys into the wilderness and to Jerusalem are instructive for us on our faith journeys.

“During Lent we seek to have Jesus’ story provide the pattern for our lives. The Lenten journey invites us to detach ourselves from the habits and comforts that protect and sustain our status quo and to step out into a disorienting space…. It’s the desert in which the people of Israel wander. The anthropologists call this liminal space, where our perspective can shift, where we become vulnerable to transformation, and where new forms of being and living may be discovered.”

Read piece by clicking on link.

http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-02/journey-stories

Lent Day 4 Doing Nothing, Being in the Presence of God

stock-footage-elderly-couple-sitting-on-a-park-benchLent Day 4 – Choosing quiet moments each day for prayer and doing nothing except being in the presence of God.

“If our intention is to remember our efforts and our strivings cannot save us, it would be better for us to do nothing, and do it often, these six weeks. Stare out the window at creation. Hold a warm cup of tea and sit. Waste an hour doing absolutely nothing. God fills the emptiness that comes. In a culture that measures our worth by the length of our daily accomplishments or the volume of our inbox or how scheduled our days, how countercultural would it be?

Perhaps then we will discover the power of grace that comes in every breath.”

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/do-nothing-lent-and-be-grateful/2455

Season of Lent – Ash Wednesday and Day 2

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During the season of Lent, I have decided to post links to articles I find helpful as well as share my own reflections.  Here are the first two postings.

Ash Wednesday – The Hands that Hold the Ashes by Jan Richardarsonblog-BlessingTheDust

Jan is a Methodist pastor, artist and writer.  Her work has been very meaningful to me through the years.  Her husband Gary died suddenly in December so she is walking along the journey of grief as well as liturgical seasons.  Her reflections on ashes were powerful for me.  After my father died in 2002, my mom in 2012 and my sister in 2013 along with countless friends, family and members of congregations I have served, I too have thought about life and death and ashes in a new way.  This mystery of life and death and life beyond death while being held in God’s holy love is hard to put into words.  I am thankful for Jan’s words.  Click on link below.

http://paintedprayerbook.com/2014/02/27/ash-wednesday-the-hands-that-hold-the-ashes/#.Uxh6Z_mKrLp

From Trey Ratcliff at www.stuckincustoms.comDay 2 – Meandering through Lent

A beautiful piece about the importance of meandering through life and along our faith journeys.  I like thinking about water moves down a hillside.  Taking a longer time for water to meander is instructive for us.

“Lent offers us an opportunity to slow down, to meander rather than to rush, to allow life to sink in a bit, to find ways to go deeper and not always stay on the surface. A time to observe, to pay attention, and then to act — and in so doing provide the space to move from rush to replenish. When we take this practice seriously, we plant its blessings so that they benefit not only us in our lives for this season, but also extend to the world around us.” Erin Dunigan – On Being with Krista Tippett

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-induced-meandering-of-the-lenten-season/6169

Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the Light

Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the Light
Blessed are the Upside Down:  Lessons from Sermon on the Mount   Part 2    
Isaiah 58:8-12, Matthew 5:13-14
Feb. 9, 2014
Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney
Willow Grove Presbyterian Church, Scotch Plains, New Jersey

downloadDid you see it?  Did you watch the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics?  There was so much going on with music and images projected and dancing and athletes.  I did not watch the whole thing.  But one of the parts that gave me goose bumps was the end.  The Olympic flame, the light, that had travelled thousands of miles from Greece and throughout Russia, came into a darkened arena. Tennis star Maria Sharapova brought the light in.  She passed to a pole vaulter and then to hockey player and ice skater.  They ran outside arena through hundreds of colorful dancers from the ceremonies.  They ran to a platform place, lit it, and the light literally moved up a chain of light into this large structure to the caldron.  The light of the Olympic games.  It struck me that light is an essential part as human beings for special events.  And the flame is a beautiful symbol of light of the Olympic spirit.

I have been thinking about light and also salt this week.  The salt of the earth is in high demand at the moment. Governors are calling states of emergency as salt supplies diminish. “Everybody is low right now.”   Mayor of Fanwood said there was only enough on hand for one more storm.  And even worse, lights have gone out in wide swaths. Electrical lines have fallen due to ice storms, thus causing trials for millions. No salt. No light. No small problem.

These images of salt and light seem to bring my focus to ways God is at work in my life and our church and the world.  Notice the present tense as Jesus tells his followers they are salt and light now, not in some distant future. Jesus’ teaching is not only about what the Kingdom of God is, but centrally about who we are, what our new lives in this new realm look like — tasty and lit up.

Salt of the Earth
Think about salt first.  What did it mean for Jesus to call his followers salt of the earth.  The whole history of the world can be told by tracing what has happened with salt.   I read some excerpts from a book  Salt: A World History by Mark Kulansky.

Salt is still a basic symbol of hospitality in the Middle East. Salt is often presented to visitors, along with bread, as a way of saying, ‘your life is safe with us, and we recognize you as friend.’ The ancients understood the profound potential hospitality holds for building and transforming lasting relationships–for binding families together, making strangers into friends, even turning enemies into neighbors.  Salt is a symbol for hospitality.

Wars have been won and lost on the basis of who has control of the stores of salt.

Governments have found salt to be a lucrative means of raising money — by controlling and taxing it.

At different points in history, salt has been the currency of commerce. The word ‘salary’  has its  Latin roots in the sense that the worker was paid in order to be able to ‘buy salt.’  And think of the phrase, “Worth your salt.”

Evidently, until a hundred years ago, salt was scarce.  And in the time of Jesus and long before that and ever since, salt was necessary for the preservation of food. Having it or not having it was the difference between life and death.  Think of all foods through history where salt was used to preserve for long trips and voyages across oceans – fish, meats.  (1)

In Jesus’ time salt was an ingredient for fuel.  The salt referred to the leveling agent for paddies made from animal manure, the fuel for outdoor ovens used in the time of Jesus. Young family members would form paddies with animal dung, mix in salt from a salt block into the paddies, and let the paddies dry in the sun. When the fuel paddies were placed in an oven, the mixed-in salt would help the paddies burn longer, with a more even heat. When the family spent the salt block, they would throw it out onto the road to harden a muddy surface.  (2)

So another aspect of this image is that Jesus saw his followers as leveling agents in an impure world. Their example would keep the fire of faith alive even under stress and opposition.

A quote I discovered this week is “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” – Isak Dinesen

So salt brings taste and flavor to food and to life, salt is a symbol of hospitality, salt preserves what is valuable, salt stings but bring healing and salt can keeps the fire of faith burning.

“You are the salt of the earth.”  How can we be salt?  How is our church salt? Willow Grove is a place of hospitality.  New people say they feel God’s love and are warmly welcomed here.  We offer hospitality to groups who use the building and are part of our mission and ministry.  We offer hospitality to families who stay here  as our guests through Family Promise.  Willow Grove is a place of hope and healing.  As a church we care for each other and our neighbors near and far.  We encourage people to see how their faith, their love, their gifts, their calling can be salt in the world.

A group of us worked at the NJ Community Food Bank in Hillside yesterday.  We met Eli who was in charge of the senior boxes.  We packed boxes for seniors in senior housing who may not have enough food.  He said he loved working at the food bank.  He loves thinking about the seniors who will receive the boxes.  He is salt int the world.

Last Tuesday many of gathered to give thanks to God for Sylvia Ballatt.  As we shared memories of her and reflected on her amazing life and deep faith, it  is clear she was salt.  She was humble. She flavored those around her with God’s love, with God’s Word, with compassion, with intellectual rigor,  with joy.  We are thankful for Sylvia and the way she was salt among us.

Light of the World
In addition to salt, Jesus also asks us to be the light of the world. What did he mean?  What did his followers hear when he said that?  We are the light of the world and that light is shone through our deeds, our actions.

For the Jews light was connected to the Feast of the Tabernacle.  At the end of this feast, an array of candelabras or lampstands would be lit in the court of the temple. The rabbis who participated in the feast would then dance around these candelabras.

Yes, special light in the temple, for the gathered community of faith.  But Jesus challenged them by saying You are the light of the world. Most homes were one room.  So if the light was on the lampstand it lit the whole house.

Let Your Light Shine
Think about Jesus’ time and the reality of day and night, light and darkness.  I take light for granted.  When we lose power, we realize again how dark the night is and how much light one lamp can offer.  We are the light the world, but I am just one person.  And yet together we can reflect that light of Christ as individuals, as a church, as a community of faith.  That is our purpose and our calling.  Be that light, let it shine.  Be willing to talk about your faith and how God is at work in your life.  Jesus  said don’t hide the light.  Shine so others can come into the light too.  That is what is meant by evangelism.  When our relationship with God becomes the source of our life and our hope, we want other people to experience it too.

Shine your light by talking to people.  When people ask, What did you do this weekend?  Do you say – I went to worship at my church.   I went to the food bank with people from my church.   I had this great soup lunch with friends at my church.  I realize God is changing me.  I’m getting clearer on what really matters.  You want to come to the at my church on to a concert?  Want to come to worship next Sunday?

Salt and light means not hiding, but living our faith.  Inviting others to know, to experience being salt and light.

Salt and Light – Not the main thing
Salt and light share a funny characteristic. Each of them is discernible by our senses—we taste salt, and we see light—but neither of them is usually meant to be a direct or main object of perception.

Nobody makes salt for dinner. We put salt on the chicken, but the chicken is the dinner. The chicken tastes better if we salt it; and enjoying the chicken, not the salt, is what we are after.

Light is like this, too. We turn on a light not in order to look at the light, but in order to look at other things by means of the light.   So if a Christian is the light of the world, we are enabling the world to see something other than ourselves.

I believe in Christ, like I believe in the sun – not because I can see it, but by it I can see everything else.
C.S. Lewis

Reflect the Light
We are called to reflect the light so we can see the world as in that light.  I found a story about that.

The well-known writer of Bible studies Keith Brooks had just finished speaking to a large class on the Christian’s responsibility to be a “light” in the world. He emphasized that believers are to reflect the Light of the world, the Lord Jesus. After the class, one of the men  related to him an experience he had in his home which had impressed upon this same truth.

He said that when he went into his basement he made an interesting discovery. Some potatoes had sprouted in the darkest corner of the room. At first he couldn’t figure out how they had gotten enough light to grow. Then he noticed that the cook who worked in the house had hung a copper kettle from the ceiling near a cellar window. She kept it so brightly polished that it reflected the rays of the sun onto the potatoes. The man said to Brooks, “When I saw that, I thought, I may not be a preacher or a teacher with ability to explain Scripture, but at least I can be a copper kettle catching the rays of the Son and reflecting His light to someone in a dark corner.”  1430 — WHY THE POTATOES SPROUTED  (3)

How can we reflect Christ’s light at home, with our friends, with our families?

Godspell and You Are the Light of the World
I think about this passage whenever I have seen a production of “Godspell” or listen to the music.  I first saw it when I was in high school.  Our church did a production.  Then I saw it Papermill Playhouse with a group from Willow Grove.  The musical is based on passages from Matthew.  “You are the light of the world”  is one of my favorite songs.

Read a reflection from a person who performed “Godspell” at his church.

“You are the light of the world,” I sang. And then I went home and reflected on the amazing thing we had just done. Godspell had forever changed me, but in the hours after the show I don’t think I had any idea just how much.

“You are the light of the world,” we all sang and our Jesus went out into the audience. He grabbed someone and had them stand up so we could all sing to that one particular person, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then quickly to another man he dashed. He got him to stand up so we could point to him and sing, “You are the city of God.” Finally, he found one last woman. She was sitting near the back, and we sang one more time, “You are the light of the world.”

It was the last song before intermission. …..  And at  the end of the show, after singing the beautiful refrain “We can build a beautiful city, yes we can. Yes we can.”….I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

After the show a woman approached me. She told me that she had a great time. She loved the music, and she was so glad she could come. For years, she told me, she had a Playbill from the original Broadway production. She also had an album she had never played. For years she had kind of wondered what Godspell was, and when she saw us in the paper, she decided on a whim to come check it out. I told her how happy I was that she was there, and invited her to come again to worship with us.

The next day I was talking to our head usher about what a great experience the show was. We were marveling at the amount of people that came, and how many people came that were not a part of our church. I told him about the woman I talked to after the show, and he quickly realized that he knew who I was talking about.

“Yeah, I was talking to her at intermission. She seemed like she was looking for something.  I realized she was one of people that the cast sang to.  I half-joking said, ‘You are the light of the world.’

“She kind of laughed when I said that. And then she said, ‘No one has ever called me that before.’”

I got goosebumps when he told me that, Then I went back into my office and was overwhelmed. Something washed over me that I can only describe as the Holy Spirit as I prayed “Thank you God.” Tears started to flow, as I was struck at once with an overwhelming sense of awe, wonder, sadness, joy, and purpose. “No one has ever called me that before,” she said.

“You are the light of the world,” is not just a catchy line in a pretty song in an upbeat musical.

“You are the light of the world,” are Jesus’ words to his followers. It is part of Jesus’ message about what it means to live in this world.  (4)

I think for a moment of the children in this world that have never been told that they are the light of anyone’s world, and it breaks my heart. I think for a moment of people stuck in darkness of abuse or violence or addiction or depression.   People who feel worthless or stuck or desperate. I think for a moment of young people  that want only to hide and be as invisible as possible so as not to draw anyone’s attention, and it hurts my heart to know that they have never been told, “You were created in the very image of God. The light that God created at the very moment of creation. Hear Jesus saying to you, ‘You are the light of the world.’”

Supply of Salt and Light

Is salt and light in short supply in the world or in New Jersey right now?  Is the news right?  No salt. No light. No small problem.

But Jesus was talking about a different kind of salt and light.  How shall the vital elements of life be distributed, conducted, dispersed? Who will carry them to places of need?

Friends, the salt and the light that Jesus was talking about are not in short supply, but maybe it is only those willing to be the salt and to shine the light. He says we are the salt, we are the light, conveyors of God’s love and hope, not to be stockpiled in a shed or hidden under a basket but to be dispersed widely, with prodigal abandon.

We tend to hold ourselves in reserve, counting up the cost. One roads supervisor said: “It’s actually more of a salt bottleneck than a salt shortage.” I think Jesus would appreciate that take on the situation. The availability of salt is not to blame; the light of God has not abandoned us.   (5)

We either will be light and salt, given freely, or we will not. If we say we want to follow Jesus, we no longer live for ourselves alone. We become servants of the common good. We are day laborers, linemen, road crew, faithful distributors of salt and light.  Amen.

(1)  The Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt, You Are the Salt of the Earth, Feb. 2, 2014, Dancing With the Word     http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2014/02/you-are-salt-of-earth.html

(2)  Word Sunday.com  Salt and Light                                                                                              http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/a/5-a/A-5-a.html

(3)  SERMON ILLUSTRATIONS Compiled and Arranged Topically by Duane V. Maxey               http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyctr/books/1801-1900/HDM1876.pdf

(4) Rev. Robb McCoy, You Are the Light of the World, April 14, 2013                      http://fatpastor.me/2013/04/14/you-are-the-light-of-the-world-2/

(5)  Kayla McClurg,  Being Salt and Light, Inward and Outward, Feb. 9, 2014              http://inwardoutward.org/the-story/feb-9-epiphany-5/

 

Fans or Friends? Reflections on the Beatitudes

Fans or Friends?  Reflections on the Beatitudes 
Blessed are the Upside Down:  Lessons from Sermon on the Mount   Part 1     
Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12
February 2, 2014
Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney
Willow Grove Presbyterian Church, Scotch Plains, New Jersey

beatitudes1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.                                                                                                        Matthew 5:1-12

So today is a big day for many people.  And what exactly are we celebrating today?  Super Bowl Sunday. Of course! And today is Groundhog day.  It is an odd legend about a creature and shadows.  Many of us pay attention to Doppler radar and not Phil from Punxsutawney, PA.  And some of us have had had enough winter.

It is a day about being a fan, about winning, about longing for a creature to tell us that light and spring are coming soon.

What is today’s passage about?  Being a fan of Jesus?  About being on God’s winning team?  What is the light we long for – sunlight and fewer cold winter days or a different kind of light?

The Beatitudes offer us some clues about all of these.  These verses like the Ten Commandments are iconic.  They are in many ways the New Testament version of the Ten Commandments, statements that define the message of Jesus.  There is beauty to them, and yet on closer look they seem both radical and impractical.  Like the Sermon on the Mount, which they introduce, the Beatitudes turn things upside down.  We tip our hats to them, acknowledging their divine origin, but then move on to more practical things.

We are tempted to spiritualize them in such a way that they define what heaven will be like, but there is no expectation that these prescriptions can take effect in this world.

Not simply a spiritual list , but code of behavior and attributes of God
What if they are indeed the way we are called to live our lives as followers of Jesus?  That they reflect who God is and how Jesus acts.  Perhaps, if we’re going to catch hold of the meaning of these statements we need to read further into the Sermon, to the place where Jesus teaches about prayer.  In that prayer many call “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus teaches the people to pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done “on earth as in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-11).  For those of us who pray the “Lord’s Prayer” weekly or even daily, do we recognize how the spiritual and the secular are brought together in this prayer?

Even as the Ten Commandments serve to guide the development of the people of Israel, so these nine statements provide the foundation for the realm that Jesus was inaugurating – not only in heaven, but on earth as well.  As Jesus went about Galilee preaching the kingdom of God and calling for repentance, what he was doing was calling for a change of allegiance and vision.  If this is true, then should we not see the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes that introduce the sermon as a summation of Jesus’ vision of what the realm of God – on earth and in heaven – should look like?

Matthew wants his readers to view the Sermon on the Mount as a definitive interpretation of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) that Moses received on Mount Sinai. Jesus does not cancel the Mosaic Law by substituting a new legal code. For Matthew, Jesus fulfills Torah by providing its proper interpretation. The Sermon on the Mount is not the historic record of a great speech, nor is it a series of philosophical abstractions. It is a code of behavior for shaping a community of faith in ways that call conventional wisdom into question, subvert the way things are, and intend eventually to re-shape it.  They are not entry requirements we must meet for God to accept us. They describe the state of joyful response God enables in us when we actively accept God. Each beatitude is a gift that calls for our response. Each beatitude combines elements of both promise and challenge.

What does it mean to be blessed?
If we’re followers of Jesus, what it means to be blessed? What is the vision of blessing that God seeks to offer? We often talk about being blessed as if it is a reward, as if good fortune comes to us as just desserts. Much of Christian culture equates blessing with prosperity, with health, with satisfaction and obvious abundance. While it’s tempting to equate these gifts with the favor of God, this notion comes with a corresponding fallacy that says that those who are sick, those who are not prosperous, those whom misfortune has visited: these are not blessed.

With the beatitudes, Jesus utterly disrupts this line of thinking. Being blessed is not a reward for a job well done or for the accident of being born into fortunate circumstances. It is likewise not an accomplishment, an end goal, or a state of completion that allows us to coast along. And although the Greek makarios can be translated also as happy, being blessed does not rest solely upon an emotion: blessing does not depend on our finding or forcing ourselves into a particular mood. (1)

Here in the beatitudes and throughout his ministry, Jesus proclaims that blessing happens in seeing the presence of Christ, in hearing him, in receiving him, in responding to him. And because Christ so often chooses places of desperate lack—those spaces where people are without comfort or health or strength or freedom, those places where they hunger for food or mercy or peace or safety—it is when we go into those places, when we seek and serve those who dwell there, that we find the presence of Christ. And, finding, then carry him with us.

To be blessed is not a static state. There is a dynamism within the word blessed: it implies an ability to be in the ongoing process of recognizing, receiving, and responding.

Jesus wants friends not fans
The goal is the eventual formation of a new community. It will not be a community of fans, but of friends and disciples. Think about being a fan – sports, band, school, celebrity. What are you a fan of?

Fans cheer from the sidelines. Fans look on as a person or team or band perform. Fans get excited and then when the game or concert is over, then go home, back to daily life.
Fans of Jesus admire his idealism and spirit of sacrifice as they go their own way, a path paved by common sense and self-preservation. Fans of Jesus have different beatitudes. Blessed are the self-reliant (not the poor in spirit), the cheerful (not those who mourn), the bold (not the meek), the proactive and the ambitious (not those who hunger and thirst for righteousness), those who demand to be treated fairly (not the merciful), those with a single, driving ambition (not the pure in heart), those who stand up for themselves (not the peacemakers), those who have a high quality of life (not the persecuted), and those who have a good reputation (not those who are reviled and slandered). (2)

Friends (i.e., followers, disciples) of Jesus take him at his word and put his upside-down beatitudes to the test. The life of discipleship is a process of shifting our status from fan to friend of Jesus in the specific scenes and situations of our daily lives. It’s a risky replacement of one definition of what it means to be blessed with another.

Let’s see if, when we manifest humble dependence on God’s grace, God can make us contributors to the divine reign on earth (5:3).
Let’s see what happens when we lament, not just our personal sorrows, but those of all who are subjected to injustice, and are moved to do something about it (5:4).
Let’s see what happens when we embrace meekness, not as passivity, but as proactive humility that is a key ingredient of faith (5:5).
Let’s see what happens when we “hunger and thirst to see right prevail” (New English Bible) and put our actions behind our appetite for justice (5:6).
Let’s see what happens when we embrace compassion and forgiveness, recognizing them as actions and not merely as attitudes (5:7).
Let’s see what happens when we ask God continually to purify us from all inward motivations that do not spring from God (5:8).
Let’s see what happens when we work for peace in the midst of people and communities in conflict (5:9).
Let’s see what happens when we pray to have the heart of a lion and the skin of a rhinoceros, able to risk and withstand criticism in service of God’s calling on our lives (5:10-11).

Each beatitude is like a glowing candle, waiting to light our particular path. Fans of Jesus can’t be bothered to bear the light of Jesus into a hurting world. But friends are a different story. (3)

Close with a story about a fan and an athlete and connection that was a blessing to both of them. Most people probably don’t know the name Derrick Coleman. Derrick Coleman is a running back for the Seattle Seahawks.

He also happens to be deaf. But Derrick’s desire his whole life has been not to let his hearing impairment slow him down.

Derrick received a letter sent to him by Riley Kovalcik, a 9 yr old girl from Roxbury, NJ.

She wrote a letter to him that read:

Dear Derrick Coleman,
You are my inspiration. I know how you feel. I also have hearing aids.
Just try your best. I have faith in you, Derrick.
Good job and good luck in the big game.
Here are a few things we have in common.
I wear two hearing aids. I love sports.
Other things are I’m an identical twin and my twin sister wears a hearing aid too.
Your friend, Riley

Derrick was moved to write back to his new found friend—
“Really was great hearing from a friend who I have so much in common with,” he wrote. “Even though we wear hearing aids, we can still accomplish our goals & dreams! If you or your family are ever in Seattle, I hope we can all get together & play some sports or games!”

Riley’s father wrote back: “You’ve inspired my little girls in a way I never could. THANK YOU!” (4)

I don’t know who’s going to win the Super Bowl and I don’t really care, but Derrick and Riley are already winners in my book. They moved from a fan and athlete to connection and friends.

So think about it. Are you a fan of Jesus or a friend? How do you deepen a friendship? Time, devotion, talking and listening. Faith is a relationship, not an idea. Jesus does not want fans but friends and followers.

This week do something to deepen your relationship with God. See your relationships and the world with different eyes. This week choose to live one of these beatitudes and you may be surprised. Amen.

(1) Rev. Jan Richardson, “Epiphany 4: Litany of the Blessed,” The Painted Prayerbook, 1/23/2011    http://paintedprayerbook.com/2011/01/23/epiphany-4-litany-of-the-blessed/#.UvrhpvmKrLo

(2) Alyce M. McKenzie, “Fans or Friends: Reflections on Matthew 5:1-12,” Pantheos, 1/20/2011     http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Fans-or-Friends-Alyce-McKenzie-1-20-2011?offset=0&max=1

(3) McKenzie

(4) “Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman receives touching letter from 9-year-old girl,” Daily New, 1/22/2014      http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/derrick-coleman-inspires-hearing-impaired-jersey-girl-article-1.1587483