Today is my brother’s birthday. Ralph is the eternal optimist. He has been through more than his share of problems, including heart surgery, diabetes, and business challenges, but he has always been one to see the cup more than half full. I guess that this positive outlook came from my mother’s side of the family because our Daddy was a worrier. The events of this last week would have absolutely freaked him out. Daddy worried about worrying!
One year I thought that he was unduly dragging my Mother’s optimism down so I thought that I would make him a Christmas present that would make him lighten up. The little church that I was serving had a mimeograph machine. Those of you who can remember using them recall the smell, the ink, the aggravation, and the inevitable mess. Anyway I typed up a template, glued in a stencil, and made a perpetual calendar of sorts. I entitled it, “Papa Mac’s Ailment Calendar.” For every day of any given month I typed in different things that were on his worry list and his lips. There were things such as illness, money, taxes, arthritis, bursitis, and any other “itis.” I added a sub-title that said, “For God’s sake and Mama’s, please only worry about one thing per day!”
I’m glad that my brother Ralph is pretty much immune from our McClendon OCD-ish list-making worryitis. Jesus had a lot to say about worry and its futility, “How can worrying add a single hour to your life (Matthew 5:25-34)?” A guy went to his doctor and complained of feeling run down. The doctor said, “Sir, you’re not run down. You’re too wound up.” Not Ralph, but it is the story of too many of us, right? This past week exacerbated it!
Contrast a worry-filled life and the blessed life of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…those who mourn…the meek…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:3-10).” In the aftermath of last week’s tragedies and the anticipation of unknown troubles ahead, how do we embrace and live into the blessed life that Jesus offers?
It is difficult at best to live in the world while not being of the world. For each beatitude that Jesus offers, there is evidence of a contradictory worldview around us. Being poor in spirit is less valued than being rich in spirit, upbeat, exuding self-confidence, and on top of the world. No one wants to be poor in spirit. Our culture values winners over losers. We would rather be happy than mourn. The meek are devalued in our pushy society where we belittle those who aren’t assertive enough and can’t “suck it up” and succeed. Those who want righteousness as their daily sustenance appear weird in our condoning, non-condemning society where the strongest rebuke is “I’m just saying…” Mercy is seen as weakness. We want justice and we want it now. Being merciful and being the most litigious society on the planet aren’t compatible realities.
Goodness, purity of heart is just plain unrealistic. I’m just being human. In other words, forget about regeneration and new life. We have turned piety into a bad word! At least peacemakers have gotten good press this past week for running toward danger and subduing evil. For the most part, however, we applaud vigilantes and anyone who stands up for themselves. Think about the political nastiness of D.C. Where are the peacemakers in our homes, schools, churches, and government? Lastly, who wants to be persecuted? Give me a break. We all want to go along to get along with others. I remember when I used to walk out of movies if I heard certain words, and now I’ve sadly become inoculated.
No wonder worry has overtaken us! We live and act like we have one foot in God’s peaceful kingdom and the other in a violence-ridden world. Our split personalities have torn our lives asunder. We shouldn’t be surprised at the calamities and atrocities that surround us. As good as humankind is, too often we hide the Creator’s image and embrace the darkness of our masks.
We have got to make better daily choices: Be blessed or yield to worry; Trust in self-made goodness or depend on God’s grace; Be like Jesus or Judas. If we keep on living like the distinctions aren’t clear then the light grows hazy, if not dark. No wonder Jesus ends the Beatitudes with talk of persecution. The clash of values leads to clear division. In the words of Chris Tiegreen, “The Beatitudes serve as an emphatic imperative: Live in the world where God placed you, but never, ever blend in.” Amen.