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We chose the Beatitudes as one of the readings at our wedding, because my husband felt it was a meaningful passage for him (although we really weren’t even churchgoers at the time). Today, we heard it once again at church.

These are all ideas from the pastor’s sermon — I didn’t come up with this myself! But it made a lot of sense to me, so I wanted to share it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12, THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I’ve seen the Beatitudes interpreted a couple of different ways. First, they are often seen as prescriptions for how we should live — we should be poor in spirit (humble), pure in heart, merciful, etc. We should be OK with being persecuted; it just proves that we’re doing all the right things!

Or, we think that Jesus is saying “It’s OK if you’re broken-hearted, or if people persecute you, because you’ll be rewarded later, so don’t worry about it!” Yay, pie in the sky!

Both of these are lacking something, I think.

So, in the sermon, Dustin suggested that perhaps the Beatitudes are an invitation, and a message of inclusiveness, instead! Jesus is saying that everyone is welcome in the kingdom — the broken-hearted, the meek, the mourners, those who are persecuted by society, as well as those who are already pure in heart, hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc.

Jesus didn’t exclude anyone from the kingdom — and neither can we.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. (First Thessalonians 5:16-18a)

Paul gives this advice to the Thessalonian church, and it’s a list that transcends time; I certainly find it as useful in the 21st century as it presumably was in the first.

But how? OK, maybe I’m not literally CONTINUAL about it. But I do reach out often for a hand, a rope, a presence. And if I don’t know what to say, I fall back on a couple of short prayers that are easily memorized and repeated.

One is similar to Paul’s advice above.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 118:29, paraphrased from the NRSV)

This phrase appears in many of the Psalms and in other books of the Bible; I can imagine people throughout the ages repeating these words.

And the other is the Jesus Prayer, a traditional prayer of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I got this one from Madeleine L’Engle, who described especially falling back on the Jesus Prayer when waking up with middle-of-the-night anxieties. I’ve read about it elsewhere since then (and even seen it on Twitter), but that was where I first heard about it.

In times of joy, anxiety, grief, or any time at all, this is where I go.

This post was triggered by my reading of the daily devotional from The Upper Room; reading this is a great daily practice and I urge you to check it out if you’re interested.

On May 21 this year, a tweet or a blog post (I don’t remember which) reminded me that it was Ascension Day, the traditional celebration of the day that Jesus, following his crucifixion and resurrection, returned to heaven.  The most detailed of the biblical accounts (Acts 1:1-12) says that “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9, NIV)

Naturally, many scholars (and average believers) now question whether this is what literally happened. For me, the reminder about Ascension day led me to ask what Ascension Day means to me, regardless of its factual status.

I had trouble with this idea at first. I read over the various accounts of the Ascension, along with traditional Christian teachings and creedal statements, and discovered that most of it meant nothing to me!  The Incarnation is important to me; that Jesus lived as a human among humans.  His death is meaningful to me (see previous post).  The Resurrection tells me that Jesus is still with us; that he defeated death, and it did not separate him from us.

In contrast, the Ascension does seem to separate Jesus from us.  “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right and of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” (The Nicene Creed)  He left us, returned to heaven, and someday he’ll be back.  He’s not with us any more.

But wait!  Jesus also said “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)  And that’s been my experience — that he is with us and accessible, not separated from us until some future glorious event.

So how can a believing follower of Jesus reconcile this with the Ascension?

Strangely enough, there is a traditional belief that helps.  It’s more common in the Eastern Orthodox church, according to Wikipedia (although sadly I can’t find a source that clearly verifies this).  Jesus’ ascension “consummated the union of God and man.”  Or, as Grace of Kingdom Grace puts it, “Because of the bodily ascension of Christ, we are now lifted into and included in the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit.”

Rather than a separation, the Ascension represents a joining of God and humans.  Once again, it says that God is with us, now and always, Emanuel.

I didn’t know until this morning, when I read an essay by Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek, that the Bible used in President Obama’s inauguration had additional significance.  Yes, it was the Bible used in President Lincoln’s inauguration.  But who was the other party involved in that inauguration ceremony (and did he get the words of the oath right)?

Chief Justice Roger Taney presided over Lincoln’s swearing in.  As far as I know, he got the oath right.  But one thing he didn’t get right was the Dred Scott decision.  Taney wrote the opinion on that historic decision, which said that Scott, a slave from Missouri, could not automatically become a free man by traveling to a free state.  In his opinion, Taney said that such African-Americans

had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.
(Taney, Roger Brooke, C.J., “Opinion of the Court,” Scott v. Sandford)

Things have changed more than a bit since then. One might say that it’s justice, poetic or otherwise, to have an African-American man take the presidential oath of office on a Bible previously used by Justice Taney.

On my other blog, I asked and partially answered, “What is Justice?

Justice is related to the word justify.  If you work with type, or if you use word processing a lot, you might have heard the terms left-justified and right-justified before (or simply justified).  In this case, justified means the type lines up evenly on one or both sides of the text.  The text you’re reading here is left-justified; it all lines up on the left side.

So, justice can also refer to making things line up evenly, or making them line up correctly, the way they are supposed to be.  That’s the way I like to see it.

Justice does not just mean making people pay for what they’ve done, and it definitely does not mean taking revenge.

It’s about making things right.  So how do we do that?

Justice is also God’s business.  God is interested in making things right between us and God, and between all of us here on Earth.  And as I said above, this can’t involve revenge.  According to Jesus, it has to include forgiveness; continual forgiveness.  For instance, Matthew 18:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
(Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)

It’s also essential to be reconciled with our brethren in order to be right with God:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
(Matthew 5: 23-24, NIV)

Does President Obama’s inauguration Bible, perhaps, signal the beginning of an era of reconciliation and justice?

I’ve been sick and had some time to think — and I think I’m going to make a new start with my blog for Easter.

Originally, I started this blog because sometimes I have things I want to write about that don’t necessarily fit at other sites I write for, like Associated Content.  I figured that this might often include religious and spiritual subjects, and so my blog title became “What’s the mission?”  This refers in one way to my mission in life — what is my mission?  What would God have me do?  What has Christ called me and other Christians to do?  It’s also a reference to a quote I heard elsewhere from a soldier in Afghanistan — what’s the mission?  What are we doing here?

Since then, however, I’ve basically written about whatever’s on my mind at the time — sometimes religion, but also politics, kids, writing, and just plain silly stuff.

I’m still reserving the right to post whatever I feel like posting, but my plan now is to focus on Christ, and how Christ’s teachings relate to the world today.  I’m going to start by going through the gospel of Mark (a challenge from my husband), and writing about my journey.

That may still lead me to write about things like immigration, English-only,  and the presidential election.  It may even lead me to be silly occasionally.   Whatever happens, I’m sure the journey will be fruitful.