XCovid-19:Important Updates for Worship, Church Operations and Staying ConnectedRead more

Sermon Archives

Truly Satisfied

Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Sun, Aug 09

Texts: Numbers 6: 22-27 and Matthew 5: 1-12           

Good morning, everyone. It great to be back! Some of you have already apologized to me for missing church these past weeks but the fact is I haven’t noticed since I haven’t been here myself! The fact is I’ve just returned from a few weeks of vacation and, most recently, an amazing 10 day study leave trip to Israel and Palestine. And, my apologies in advance to you for what may seem like an intense sermon for a summer Sunday. Needless to say given the recent headlines out of the Middle East, it was an intense trip, and one that I’m only beginning to process.

Gratefully, I was traveling with a diverse crew of local Christian clergy that included Latino, Haitian and African American pastors, a Catholic priest, a mix of white mainline Protestant ministers and a brilliant rabbi from a synagogue in Needham. Our twitter handle for the trip was #RevsandtheRav! Several of us had been on holy land pilgrimages before. Several had done study tours, some which were more oriented to West Bank Palestinian narratives. This trip was intended to be a deep dive into various Israeli perspectives on the land, its people and its many contrasts and conflicts. We toured a hospital that was caring for dozens of Syrian refugees and also a military installation on the Lebanese border that included access to its barracks and bunkers. We went to several churches, mosques and synagogues, both ancient and active. We met with leaders of NGOs -- one was committed to settling Ethiopian immigrants, another to working for equality for the 20% of Israeli population that is Arab. We had a fascinating and deeply disturbing meeting with a right wing Jewish settler. We also had the privilege of engaging with a West Bank Palestinian who had spent 4 years in an Israeli prison and who was now leading non-violent resistance to the Occupation. For those interested, I plan to offer a presentation on the trip on the last Sunday of this month, after church, with photos and plenty of time for q and a. For now, I’d like to focus on a particular theme that echoed throughout our trip and that relates to our scriptures for today. The theme is blessing.

For starters, at the Israel Museum just this past Monday, we had the enormous privilege of beholding an exhibit that contained the oldest piece of biblical text ever discovered. How old? 2700 years old! The text was very same passage we heard today from Numbers, the so-called Priestly Benediction -- May God bless you and keep you.,..! It was found in 1979 and it’s carbon-dated to have originated somewhere around 700 BCE. Rest assured, it was a blessing, a mind blowing blessing, to witness such an ancient treasure and to consider that those who fashioned it were living during biblical times and well before the destruction of the first Temple. But an even richer gift came a few days before at another biblical-historical touchstone of blessing when we visited a sloping hill at the Northern tip of the 13 mile long Sea of Galilee. Today, it’s called the Mt. of Beatitudes and is considered the traditional site of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, the opening of which I just read from Matthew.
Of course, there’s a church there to mark the spot. And it was just outside that church that we circled up and asked one of our African American clergy to share the passage we just heard. Before he read, he offered a short reflection in which he introduced a new-to-me translation of the word “blessed.” Not “happy” or “fortunate,” which are common alternative translations, but, he taught us, “fully satisfied.” Fully satisfied are the meek! Fully satisfied are the merciful! Fully satisfied are the peacemakers and the pure in heart for they will see God!

I got choked up as he spoke. When we were on the bus the night before, he had shared with me the story of how his 13 year old son had been shot and killed in a drive by shooting eight years ago while walking home from school in Dorchester. His wife, also an ordained minister, was on the trip as well. He shared with me how he and they were still trying to process their anger and grief. And now there he stood, close to the place of Jesus’ own utterance, preaching to himself and to his wife and to us, “Blessed and fully satisfied are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It cut me to core! Though he didn’t mention his son just then, his reflection underscored the deep tension that’s at the very heart of the beatitudes, those “blessed are you” sayings of Jesus. They first point to a harsh present reality -- to a world as it is of human poverty, of people hungry for justice and crying for peace, of people in mourning. And yet, these realities are named in the context of an abiding relationship with and an abiding hope in God who holds all things. I wonder. Can we feel so blessed? Can we begin to imagine feeling satisfied despite the realities of our suffering? Can we even begin to feel fully satisfied in the promise that God is with us through it all? Though I know he still struggles with these questions, that still grieving father gave us a great gift and challenge in this new translation. Fully satisfied are those who suffer for they will know the promises of God. The paradoxical phrase became a refrain through the rest of our trip as we encountered heartbreaking pain and struggle but as we did so in the context of our shared hope and shared sense of purpose that was grounded in our relationship with God! Please allow me to share a few more examples.

We made our very next stop just down the road from the Church of the Beatitudes where we visited another ancient Northern Galilean church. This one marks the site of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Tragically, just six weeks before, a group of young Jewish extremists set fire to it and tagged its limestone walls with graffiti citing Jewish prayers decrying idol worship. Before we even entered, you could smell the lingering stench of the smoke. Though the chancel in the church and its famous 4th century mosaic depicting a basket of loaves and two fish was untouched, several of its outer walls and ceiling beams were charred, some covered with makeshift plywood as the church awaited repair. As we gathered in a prayer circle at the end of the visit, I overheard someone say “You can still smell the hate.” With tears in our eyes for a second time that day, we prayed not only for those impacted by vitriolic church burnings there; we also remembered the hate-filled impact of those extremists responsible for the recent string of church burnings here in the south. The blatant lack of regard for a place that so many deem as holy ground was staggering. Thinking back now and remembering the nuns who have spent decades of their lives tending to this sacred space, Jesus’ words ring true…. 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! Blessed and fully satisfied may you be!

Later that day, after some grateful and much needed light hearted banter on the bus – oh there was laughter all right, a lot of it – we made our way down the lush Jordan River valley, along the Golan heights and the Jordanian border and made the turn towards Jerusalem, the City of Peace, Jeru Salem. Our guide invited us to attend the Jerusalem Pride that was kicking off that night shortly after we arrived at our hotel. About half of us opted to join him.. The other half took a well-deserved nap. Given the intense expressions of religiosity in Jerusalem, we knew to expect a more serious political march as opposed to the raging parties that Pride parades have become in Tel Aviv and elsewhere! About 10,000 gathered. It was a delight to see rainbow flags with stars of David. For the first time, transgender symbols on green flags were interspersed with rainbow banners that were hung on streetlights. Go Jerusalem! A huge “Love Wins” banner hung on the US Consulate gate declaring that the US Consulate General proudly supports your right to love and live.” I also noticed a sign in Hebrew being carried by a lesbian couple in front of me. Our Rabbi friend translated it “Blessed are you God who has made me according to your will!” Blessed are you, indeed. Yet sadly, these powerful displays of love and justice were terribly interrupted. The parade came to halt when a Haredi Ultraorthodox Jewish man came running through the crowd swinging a knife. The man was quickly pinned to the ground by police and arrested but not before he injured 6 people, some critically. A few members in our group and I were literally fifteen away feet from where most of this happened, eyewitnesses to an abhorrent display of hatred that was immediately decried by religious and political voices across the spectrum, including Ultra Orthodox leaders. After the man was escorted away, we stood for a few minutes waiting for the parade to continue, which thank God it did. Despite the fact that people were visibly shaken, the defiance and solidarity and, yes, pride was all the more palpable, not only in that moment but at the vigils and demonstrations that followed throughout the country later in the week. By that point, I happened to be standing there beside a few inner city pastors who were not nearly as phased by the street violence as I was. And their presence and perspective gave me strength. The prayerful words of our Rabbi Jesus were once again resounding, specially when we learned that a 16 year OLD named Shira Banki succumbed to her wounds and died three days later. Again, 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..

Despite still other moments of extremist violence and backlash violence while we were there, we also encountered stories of great courage and hope – from an Arab Israeli citizen working against police brutality and racism and addressing economic inequality for the Arab citizens who live within the State of Israel, from a leader connected to one of the six Jewish-Arab cooperative schools in the country, from a Palestinian Christian theologian in the West Bank, and from a West Bank settler who had recently had something of a conversion experience when after 37 years of living in a settlement he finally had a conversation with a Palestinian which changed his life and outlook. He now works with a non violent resistance group called Roots, building bridges between West Banks Palestinians and Israeli settlers, a feat which is practically unheard of but which was a genuine inspiration to all of us!

One of the most poignant moments happened near the end of the trip when we witnessed the interactions between our two African American pastors that had lost their child and two survivors who spoke to us from a group called Parents Circle. Parents Circle brings together bereaved Israeli and Palestinian family members to share their stories and find common ground in their pain. An Israeli father of a young girl killed by a suicide bomb on a bus in 1996. And a Palestinian sister of a young man killed by an Israeli soldier. Both of them at first vowed vengeance in their hearts. They came to their first meeting of the Parents Circle begrudgingly. She said she had to wash her hand after the first time she met and shook hands with the Israelis in the group, so deep was her fear and hatred. But she returned, again and again, and heard the shared stories of grief and trauma and recognized a common human story and began to hear her story in their stories. She told our group, “We have an enormous power as an ally which is the power of our pain.” They were now channeling that power in profound ways, reaching out across separation barriers and through walls of fear and hatred decades in the making. Indeed, blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. And blessed are the peacemakers!

What does it mean to know God’s blessing in the midst of such tragic suffering? What on earth can it mean to be fully satisfied given such enduring loss? How is it that cups can be filled to be brimming with bitter and yet even then there is beauty, even then there is solidarity, even then there is hope? I can’t say that I know. To find blessing and meaning that is forged in the holy ground and in the truth of one’s pain, perhaps there, in that knowledge that life doesn't get any more real or true, perhaps there is something like a fullness and maybe even some kind of poignant and full hearted satisfaction.

Blessed are you, as in…

Blessed and fully satisfied are the poor in spirit, for your soul knows the depths of human poverty and by God, you know what it means to not take whatever riches and gifts you do know for granted.

Blessed and fully satisfied are those who mourn, for your soul understands the depths of human sorrow and by God, the heights of human love have never been so fully known!

Blessed and fully satisfied are those who have experienced persecution and hatred, for your bodies and souls know the depths of human depravity, and by God, your heart knows what true freedom looks like!

Friends, this is not an easy message. This is not an easy world. It’s hard to grasp, and I’m not even sure I or we are supposed to fully grasp what it means when a grieving father says “Fully satisfied are those who mourn, for…” Yet it is in absence that we know presence. It is from the power of our pain that we are called most fully and purposefully to share the power of God’s love. Perhaps it’s when we can receive that blessing of full satisfaction, that we can deny our all too human tendencies toward fear, toward hatred and othering, even toward a vengeance that might otherwise be all-consuming. That pastor was well acquainted with these temptations in his heart, as were many others we met on this trip.

To know the gift of gratitude though, to receive God’s blessing amidst the absences we feel, to even imagine ourselves as becoming fully satisfied by God’s hope and love, perhaps there, maybe there is a source of our resilience, courage, strength and hope. Blessed is your pain! Blessed is your suffering and sorrow and your weakness, Jesus says! Stop right there and at least let that satisfaction of recognition start to seep in! Blessed are these experiences for they are your greatest strengths, your most powerful allies! Blessed and fully satisfied may we be as we find ways to share these precious assets with the world. Do so, and you too will know what it means to be grateful, to hold an overflowing cup of blessing, beauty and purpose, even if you are among those who also hold a cup of ever present sorrow.

Blessed are all the grieving fathers and mothers.

Blessed are all the daughters of Abraham and sons of Sarah.

Blessed are the still warring siblings in the Spirit both here and in the holy land.

And blessed are you, dear church, even now, as we hear God’s word, as we receive these stories, as each of us ponders how to enact God’s purpose of peace and justice in our world. Amen.

Looking for ways to support our community during this unprecedented time of need? The Missions and Social Justice Committee has compiled and vetted a short list of organizations looking for assistance to aid in their work in the COVID-19 response...

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Shelter has expanded into Sage Hall to allow for greater social distancing, and is now open to guests around the clock, thanks to additional funding from the Commonwealth. They would very much welcome...