I imagine the crowds went to the mountain that day feeling the same way we would as elementary school kids going to assembly. You never knew when it was going to happen, but one morning you get to school and your teacher says, “leave your backpacks, we’re going to the cafeteria”. And your eyes light up, and you line up in the hallway and march to the cafeteria in its sticky glory, and you wait for all the other teachers to shuffle in all of their classes too, making everyone face the old stage with the faded blue velvet curtains. You are talking with your friends, hoping it is the magician or the cop this time instead of the guy with the lame puppet show. But whoever it is, this is way better than regular class. There were rumors it might even be a new guy that did not come last year, a professional yo-yo-er or jump-roper, or some other person who is about to blow away your 8-year-old mind. And even if it is the lame stranger danger puppet show guy, you are at least content with the fact that it is better than regular class.
And that is the kind of mindset I imagine the crowd who had followed Jesus would have, wandering up the hillside and waiting for what this mysterious new teacher was going to say. Maybe they had heard of him, maybe they had not, but followed the crowds to see what was happening. Maybe they heard some of the parts of Jesus’ story that have happened so far: that even as a baby he escaped King Herod’s death sentence, that he beat Satan in the wilderness, that he’d been going around Galilee teaching and curing the paralyzed, the sick, the demon possessed, calling the smelly fisherman to be his own disciples. And people from all over Israel and way beyond would seek this man. Not only could he do things and heal people no one else could, but by now he was this famous, powerful guy, who hung out with all society’s outcasts. He was the coolest kid in school, who still chose to hang with the chess club and the short kid with smelly clothes, and the kid with a stutter.
Of course, crowds followed him. Of course, so many people would seek him out, bringing them their sick children, their crippled friend, their own pain, and brokenness they had been wrestling with for years or a lifetime. In a society that scoffed at those people – put them off as impure – sinner – untouchable – Jesus said come. I will teach you; I will heal you, and I will turn your weakness into strength. Jesus said come, and in the midst of a world that says you are broken, let me tell you how you are blessed.
So, this is the crowd that has gathered, folks not just from one town, but from all over the ancient world. They have heard about this amazing new healer, Rabbi, leader, whatever he is to each of them. Some of them have probably already been healed, or had a friend be cured, some of them are probably waiting for the chance. And these people all go to this mountainside and wait with the anticipation of an 8 year old on assembly day.
So Jesus sits down, and the people there would have known that he means business, he was ready to teach. And their minds are wild with imagery of Moses on Mount Sinai, sitting and teaching the crowds the ten commandments. And as he speaks, they hear echoes from the Psalms, and from the Torah, and they must be thinking, Who… is.. this.. Man? This man who has the authority to teach in the synagogues of the Pharisees and the scribes, high on the social ladder, and yet he shows mercy to the afflicted, he welcomes the outcasts, he doesn’t blame the disenfranchised but meets them in their pain, enters into it even, and heals them. If this Jesus guy can really do all that, then maybe what he is saying is worth listening to.
In the midst of a global pandemic, election season, isolation from friends and family, financial instability, and all the rest of the chaos and anxiety that 2020 has brought, I imagine that for many of us, blessed would not be the first word you’d use to describe how you’re doing right now. But that is exactly what Christ is calling us to hear. Every person in the crowd that day had something they needed to hear, part of them that was broken or in pain or yearning for something more, and Jesus told them all, You. Are. Blessed. You who society says should be downcast, ignored, disdained, broken, despised, all for your weakness and vulnerability, You. Are. Blessed. So, come exactly as you are. You see, that weakness that we have, becomes a way for God to enter into our lives, to take hold of the control we didn’t really even have in the first place, so that God can be in fuller relationship with each of us, not in spite of our vulnerabilities, but because of them. It’s not that God wants or causes these things to happen so we’re forced to depend on God, but it’s that we have a God who works through the worst parts of ourselves and our communities, meets us in the worst times in our lives, and reminds us each, I made you, I’m still working in you, and I called you good even if you don’t feel like it right now.
So those of you whose lives feel like they are falling apart, God is with you. Just keep your eyes out. Those who want nothing more than to live righteously, to have your hearts yearn for God, when you cannot seem to make yourself believe or hope or trust any more than you already do. God can work with that. God sees that. And all of you who meet your neighbor with mercy and peace, even in the face of persecution, God strengthens you in that, and reminds you, promises you, that you are not alone, and what you’re doing is not in vain. All the burdens we carry, as we bring them to Christ, he reminds us of just how blessed we are, how present God is in our lives when we need him most.
On this All Saints Day, I carry with me the memory of so many friends and family members in my life who have died much sooner than I wish they would have. People who taught me about God, who were a light when I needed it, people who God worked through to bless me at times I needed it most. On All Saints day, even in the midst of all our mourning for those we’ve lost, we’re comforted by the reminder that God is with us, not just accompanying us in our grief, but fully understanding what it’s like to die, and what it’s like to lose someone we love. Today we remember all those in our lives who God has worked through to bless us and so many others by being Christ to us when we needed it most. In our mourning for those we have lost, we are strengthened by Christ’s promise that our weakness is an opportunity for us to feel God’s presence stronger than ever.
With God, with Christ, weakness is no longer weakness. It is opportunity and invitation, to look closer and see where God is at work in even the worst parts of our lives. Perhaps that looks like comfort, or flowers, or a card from an old friend or a hospital chaplain when you have lost a loved one. Or maybe like God working through community, through church members and bereavement teams to bring comfort and healing as a grieving family gets back on their feet. Maybe it looks like receiving forgiveness when you were too ashamed to ask for it. Just as we do from our neighbors, our parents, our spouses, our teachers, and from God more than we could ever imagine. It could even look like the bullied 3rd grader who is invited to sit by one of the popular kids at a school assembly, who makes a new friend because of God moving in the hearts of those we least expect. God’s promises are both present and future, calling us into better relationship now, promising us the joy of that relationship still to come. And in all of it, Christ invites us to simply listen as those who first heard him speak on that mountain. We are called to come exactly as we are, to open ourselves to God’s Word, and to hear in it that even at our weakest, God is at work in us for good, and we are so very blessed.