Dealing with death is one of the most unique parts of what God has called me to do. More than once I’ve had people say “I don’t know how you do that!” And, honestly, sometimes I’m a little unsure how I do it to. I just know to lean on God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. I am honored to be invited into a place of deep grief and vulnerability. Grief, unfortunately, is an emotion that all of us are familiar with; sometimes a little too familiar. And when someone you love dies, it can feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you. You may not remember what day it is, if it is night or day, or even if you ate on a particular day when you are in the midst of grief. The vulnerability you feel can be crippling.
Earlier this week, I got a message from a college friend of mine. Her first husband and father of her oldest child was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. She said “I’m having irrational thoughts like something bad is going to happen to me.” She went on to tell me how she was paranoid while driving. I assured her that what she was feeling was perfectly normal. But when I reflected more, I realized she was feeling vulnerable. Death has a way of doing that to us. Death is a reality for all of us. And as much as we may not like it, death causes us to be vulnerable.
Luke’s telling of the beatitudes is a little different than what we get in Matthew. First of all, Matthew doesn’t give us all of the “woe to you” verses that we get in Luke. Second, Matthew’s beatitudes are often called the “Sermon on the Mount” or mountain. But, if you look again at the text I included in this morning’s reading you will see that the setting is a little different. “He came down with them” (the disciples) “and stood on a level place.” We already get a different picture of this Jesus. He has come to be on a even playing field (so to speak) with those around him. The first thing that Jesus ever says in the Gospel of Luke is that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (4:18a). From the very beginning Jesus gives us a clear picture who he is and what he has come to do.
So, Jesus comes down to the plain, and he is surrounded by people who want to be cured, who want to be healed, to hear him, and maybe just be seen. These were people in society who were vulnerable. And, as it is today, the vulnerable in our societies are easy to ignore or overlook. Maybe folks showed up to hear Jesus because they knew that for once they would be seen as human beings; they would be seen for more than their ailments and troubles. They showed up in all of their vulnerability because they had nothing else to lose. Often instead of being vulnerable, we chose to just be numb. We want to numb ourselves to pain, to suffering, to hurt, and to grief. But when we choose to numb ourselves to the “bad stuff” then we also numb ourselves to the “good stuff” like joy, celebration, love, and happiness. And so some choose to show up and be vulnerable.
When Jesus starts in with his “blessed are you” sentences he is speaking directly to those who have gathered around him; those who have chosen to show up and be vulnerable. And here’s the thing, I have to think that there was just one or two people in that crowd gathered to hear Jesus that had a small problem in believing him. The last thing any of us want to hear when we are grieving is “hey, you’re blessed because you weep and later you’re gonna laugh.” When grief is swallowing you up, threatening to take away every ounce of identity you’ve ever had the last thing you may want to hear is that you are “blessed.”
And trust me, brothers and sisters, we say this to other people. We are well meaning and sincere when we say things that are often said at funerals. But in reality, these sayings hurt and do nothing to bring comfort. But we say the things we say because we’d rather say something than to be vulnerable and enter into the pain and suffering of others. So we say things like “God needed another angel” or “they’re in a better place” even “at least they knew their Lord and Savior!” I beg of you, get these sentences out of your vernacular. They’re damaging and hurtful. If you don’t know what to say, say exactly that. “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry and I’m praying for you.” END. OF. STORY.
Jesus continues by saying his three “woe to you” sentences. “Woe to you who are rich….to you who are full now…to you who are laughing now.” And so you may wonder what any of that has to do with the “blessed are you” sentences; or even what it has to do with you. Again, we don’t like to be vulnerable. Vulnerability, in our society, has become tied with being weak, which is just ridiculously stupid. So, we protect ourselves from being vulnerable with our money, with our possessions, with our class, with our status, our stuff, and yes, the one I’m most guilty of, our humor or sarcasm. We do this all in the hopes of not being vulnerable. We do this in the hopes of not being really seen. We do all of this in the hopes that death will not find us, and if it does, we will not be scathed. But we know that never happens.
It is my hope and prayer that church can be a vulnerable safe space of sorts. This is the place where anyone can come, just as they are, be vulnerable, and not apologize for it. Because this is the place where Jesus meets us. This is the place where Jesus comes, washes us clean, feeds us, and comforts us. Jesus always finds us where we are and how we are, but that doesn’t mean that he leaves us as he finds us. See, because when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you allow yourself to be opened up to love; not only the love given by those around you to you, but the love of God given to you through Jesus Christ. And in case there was any question or doubt, you are worthy of any and all the kinds of love given to you. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you open yourself up to grief, yes, but also to great amounts of healing that come through grace and mercy. When you open yourself to being vulnerable, you open yourself to healing and wholeness instead of carrying guilt and shame around like a blanket you don’t even want.
I know many of you who are grieving. You think you’re grieving privately, but we know. We know because we can see the Holy Spirit swirling around you, begging to be let in. We see you up at 2 or 3 in the morning because you can’t sleep the guilt is so great. We see you and hear you questioning if you could have done more. We have experienced the way guilt has turned into anger and hurtful words. We grieve the loss of the part of your spirit that died the day your loved one died. Brothers and sisters, if you are grieving, know that you are not alone. This is the place you can be vulnerable. This is the place you don’t have to apologize for your tears. This is the place you don’t have to explain why you’re grieving. This is the place you can come and be loved because this is the place where you are beloved. God finds us in our grief, God finds us in our vulnerability, God finds us in our mourning and reminds us that death never has, never will have the final word. The Saints are here, my friends, be vulnerable enough for them and keep showing up. Be vulnerable because they were and through their lives we are reminded of God’s love for us all.