Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, revile you, defame you…rejoice and leap for joy for surely your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:20-23)
These blessings known as the Beatitudes are some of the most profound words in all of Scripture. No matter where you find yourself on the spiritual/religious spectrum, chances are your life has been formed and informed by Jesus’ ethical framework.
For some these blessings mean a call to live out God’s radical love in the world, which compels us to stand in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the widow and orphan.
For some these blessings are a chance to wrestle with God’s countercultural worldview and wonder what it means to value the poor (not the rich), the ones who weep (not the ones laughing), the persecuted (not the popular).
Taken to the extreme, these blessings can idolize poverty and suffering and blindly assume that those experiencing poverty or loss or pain live in a deeper state of grace than the rest of us. Sometimes, these blessings become walls to hide behind — if God is the one blessing the poor, then maybe I don’t have to engage in relationship with those who are suffering.
But Luke’s gospel does not let us off the hook so easy. Here Jesus offers a slice of the real world saying, life is a mix of blessings and woes. Suffering, loss and adversity are part of life. And no amount of money or power or possessions can change that fact. So don’t get too attached…let yourself be free and open to the deeper things in life.
Collateral beauty — tells the story of a man’s transformational journey through grief. Will Smith plays a top marketing executive who has retreated from life after losing his six-year-old daughter to cancer. The film opens with the quote: “Love. Time. Death. These three abstractions connect every single human on Earth. Everything we covet, everything we fear not having, everything that we ultimately end up buying is because at the end of the day, we long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.”
As Will Smith’s character wrestles with his grief, he questions the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. When Love, Time and Death show up in person to respond, he begins to see how these things connect and how even loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.
“Love is the reason for everything…love is there in the laughter, but love is also here in our pain. Just be sure to notice the collateral beauty. It’s the profound connection to everything.”
Jesus teaches us to look at the blessings and the woes — to see the collateral beauty, the collateral blessings in our lives.
I met Derek when I was working as a hospital chaplain. He was on the pediatric ICU dying of a heart condition. Derek had one simple request of me…he wanted to be baptized.
Derek and I had some wonderful conversations about life, about God, about his family. When it came to being baptized, it wasn’t so much about freedom from past sins or a religious conversion. It was more about Derek choosing his own path to honor the life he had been given. By being baptized, Derek found a way to be blessed even in the midst of suffering and tragedy. With only weeks left on the earth, Derek found what most of us seek our entire lives and may never find. Derek found inner peace and the freedom to fully live.
Derek taught me the real meaning of what it means to live as Jesus did. That even in the midst of suffering and dying, there is still the chance to be blessed and reborn. Derek showed me and those around him how to be a better priest and a better person. But more importantly, he taught us how to fully live — how to see the collateral beauty and blessings in the midst of great tragedy.
I wonder, if I had not been the chaplain, would I have had the courage to get to know someone like Derek?
“Woe to you,” Jesus says…woe to any of us who let money or power or possessions or our own beliefs get in the way of us being in relationship with our own suffering and the suffering of others. Because if we aren’t in relationship with the blessings and the woes, our compassion cannot grow. If we cannot see the collateral beauty, we cannot be fully transformed…we cannot really live.
This is why we show up on Sundays. This is why we engage in spiritual formation and daily prayer and service to others. Because these spiritual practices open us to see the collateral blessings of God in the midst of the darkest, most painful, troubling times. These practices buoy us up to carry faith, hope, and love in the world.
This week, I invite you to get to know someone who is suffering or in need. This could be a close friend or family member or it could be someone you have never met. Don’t just give money to a homeless person or feed someone at Saturday Kitchen. Have a conversation. Get to know who they are. Strive to see God in their eyes. And when you walk away, note where is the collateral beauty? Where is the deeper meaning and blessing from this encounter.