When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“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 receive 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 for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 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 (NRSV)
Friends, I’m going to begin by apologizing today. That’s probably not a good way to start a message, but to be honest, my mind has not stopped processing today’s message. I thought about it every morning as I woke up, I reflected during the day, as I was working and running errands and cooking dinner, and I thought I about it as I was getting ready for bed. I think I probably even dreamed about it each night too!
You see, before Lent began, I worked to pull together several of the themes from the movie “I Can Only Imagine” to guide us on our journey through Lent. You can see the themes on the cover of your bulletin. Last week, we imagined about “inviting God in.” This week our theme is “making something out of nothing.” Next week, we’ll be imagining “an assurance of God’s love,”
and you can read on to see what is happening for the weeks after that.
Though it sometimes feels nice to have a structure set in place like that, I often find that when I try to organize things too much for worship or even in my life, that’s when the Holy Spirit steps in to remind me that I am not the one in control. So, let’s just say that this week’s theme has played with me all week long.
It sounds like a very straightforward message. It is an age-old theological concept that, as Christians, we believe in redemption—the idea that God can take something broken or lost and make it whole—or as today’s phrase says. “God can make something out of nothing.” A person who has no faith can be brought to faith. A person that lives a sinful and hurtful life can be brought to goodness. And a person that is surrounded by suffering and disease and unrest can brought to a place of healing. All good news!
We can all be saved from our nothingness and made into something. It’s the idea that God can take a bad situation and make things better, that though we are all sinners, we are all forgiven through the work of the cross and crucifixion of Jesus. We are filled with grace, and we are given the gift of Eternal Life. That is the theology that the church has been sharing for centuries. To understand that is what it means to be a Christian, and if I simply held on to the teachings of the church, that would be today’s message.
But there is a well-known quote from a famous theologian named Karl Barth who says, “It’s always important to preach with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” Because it’s not enough to teach and to learn about God if we can’t connect God to our everyday lives. I read a blog post from a pastor in Minnesota last week that expanded and brought Barth’s famous quote into the 21st century. It read: “We must hold the Bible in one hand, and our hand-held device in other—filled with Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, blog subscriptions, news articles from a variety of sources and perspectives, and even local gossip. We must open our own experiences to reflection as we listen for God’s voice in the stories of others. We must look beyond our doors, our books, and our own theologies, and spend some time in the real world, in our community, among our neighbors, and through our networks as we pay close attention to those voices too. Yet at its heart, scripture still interprets them all, interprets us all, and brings us into God’s timeless truth again and again.”
You might be wondering, “Why is Pastor Kelly sharing this with all of us?” It’s because this week I saw a movie that has caused me to look at this idea of “nothing” and “something” quite differently. I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie “Christopher Robin,” but it’s about Christopher Robin from the Winnie the Pooh books. It’s actually on Netflix right now, if you have Netflix at home. In the movie, Christopher Robin has grown up and has lost sight of his adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. All of his time is consumed by work, and though he has a wife and daughter, he never has time to spend with them because his work takes too much of his time. Christopher forgets about having fun, and he forgets that sometimes it’s important to simply do nothing. Over and over again in the movie, as only Pooh can, Pooh talks about the fact that sometimes nothing is something, and about how doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.
So, my head started to spin this week with the ideas of “nothing” and “something” and how they work or how we experience them in our lives, and how sometimes one is looked at as good, and the other bad, unless you look at it through a different lens.
I’m sure some of you are looking at your watches right now and wondering if it’s time for coffee hour, yet! But I kept finding myself returning to the original statements. So, God makes something out of nothing, but Winnie the Pooh tells us that nothing is something. I think my biggest struggle was that I like what Winnie the Pooh is saying! Because it not only tells us that it is important to take a break every once in a while and just do nothing, but it also reminds us that in the beginning, even when we struggle and even when we have pain, and even when things don’t go our way or we don’t get things right, we are something because we are creations of God, made in the image of God. We may not be perfect. We may make mistakes and bad choices, and we may really need God’s guidance and a firm faith foundation to help us to better understand. But even in our brokenness and struggle, we were never nothing. However, when we’re healed or given faith, we become something so much more!
I know that it sounds crazy, but even when we think we are nothing, we’re actually something! Just like even when we think we are alone, God is holding us in the palm of God’s hand. And even when we think we’re not good enough, or worthy enough, or that all we are is simply sinners, God reminds us that we are—and we have always been—God’s beloved creations.
It made me think of today’s scripture reading, which also was already chosen before my mind was turned upside down by this Winnie the Pooh movie! The scripture is about the Beatitudes, which are some of the lessons that Jesus taught the people at the Sermon on the Mount. The word “beatitude” means blessedness, supreme happiness, heavenly joy, or divine rapture. If we look at the Beatitudes through the lens of redemption, God takes the broken and makes it whole. And God takes the hurt and gives it healing.
But friends, I never want the message to be heard that you have to be perfect to be something important, or that you have to have things to be blessed. Sure it’s great to be given the kingdom of heaven, and to be comforted, to inherit the earth, and to be satisfied, to obtain mercy, to see God, and to be called children of God. Because friends, those things are awesome! But don’t ever forget that we are blessed even when things are difficult. We are blessed even when we struggle and when things don’t go our way.
And this is where I hear Winnie the Pooh’s message saying, “See, nothing is something!” Because things don’t have to be perfect to be okay, and we don’t have to be perfect to be something, because Gods unconditional love meets us just where we are. So I guess if we pull the two ideas together, and we allow Winnie the Pooh to talk to us about redemption, then we would understand that God created us just the way we are, but God loves us too much to let us stay that way.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that you are never nothing, because you are created in the image of God. Know that you that you don’t need to be perfect because you are loved just the way you are. Allow God to guide your steps, keep your heart and mind open for the movement of the Holy Spirit, and know that it’s okay to be confused sometimes, to ask questions, and to imagine about your life and your faith and the world around you. Remember that you are blessed no matter what situation you are in. Know that you are loved, and you matter, and most importantly that you are never alone!
May it be so, thanks be to God, Amen.