Dust and Ashes
Steve Garnaas-Holmes offers reflection and prayer on the many meanings of the imposition of ashes.
Two Pockets: Healthy, Faithful Perspective
A reflection based on a parable by the well respected and beloved Polish Rabbi Simcha Bunim. “Every person should have two pockets. In one, there should be a note that says ‘for my sake was the world created.’ In the second, there should be a note that says, ‘I am dust and ashes.’”
Mercy is not merely feeling sympathy. Mercy is extended by one who has the power to condemn or punish but chooses not to. We choose not to criticize, not to say, “I told you so,” not to exact our “pound of flesh” — not to avenge. As Jesus shows us in his interaction with the woman caught in adultery, mercy does not look back at what the person has done but forward to what the person can do in the future. – Mary Lou Redding. The Power of a Focused Heart: 8 Life Lessons from the Beatitudes
Christ have mercy on me,
I have failed to love as You Love
I have treated others as objects and obstacles
– less than human
– less than made in the image of God
I have elevated goals, persons, and things to the throne of my heart
I have procrastinated
I have wasted your precious gifts of time and talent and money
I am proud in unhealthy ways
I am apathetic
I have raised myself too high
Hid myself too low
Trusting in you and your promises
I call on your Mighty Name for mercy
I ask your forgiveness, Gracious Savior
I surrender to your healing, Great Physician
I claim your resurrection power, Risen One
You are already here
Calling me from the old to the new
Speaking my name
Welcoming me to table
Hallelujah! I will follow…
Based on Matthew 9:9-13, The Call of Matthew
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
The angels, saints, siblings in Christ are praying for us and cheering us on in the faith as we make our way to be more and more like Jesus, as we make our way to heaven. The devil and demons are working hard to distract us and tempt us so we fall off the path.
Jim Forest sees this painting and thinks- that ladder is like the Beatitudes. We climb the Beatitudes, step by step, one after another. The Beatitudes are the natural progression of a faithful life.
(I got a stunt double to climb the ladder for me this week! One step for each Beatitude.)
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
This is the first half of the Beatitudes. It seems the first two Beatitudes and the third and 4th Beatitudes are paired. The fifth and sixth are also paired, as are the seventh and eighth. (Like taking two steps at a time.)
First two are paired in recognizing our need of God. I recognize I am poor in spirit. I recognize I am a spiritual beggar. I cannot save myself. I am in need of salvation and God provides it. Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn. As I begin to look at myself I get honest with my sin, my shame, my guilt, my mistakes. I get honest with the mess I’m in and recognize I need forgiveness. I need new life. The first two Beatitudes are about recognizing our need.
The second two Beatitudes are about recognizing our strengths. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. I recognize I am strong and I have gifts. I place it under the authority and discipline of God.
I recognize I have the Holy Spirit living in me, I have hungers, thirsts, passion, fire, appetites. I ask God to focus all of that good energy into righteousness- right relationship with God, with others, between others, with myself, and with creation. God focus that good energy so I don’t use it in ways that are weapons, in ways that don’t last, in ways that are false.
The first two steps are about bowing in humility to God. The next two steps are about standing in the truth of who God made me.
In the first two steps, I recognize I am dust and ashes. In the next two steps, I claim I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
The first four Beatitudes prepare us for the last four Beatitudes. There’s a great deal of internal work going on in the first four Beatitudes. The higher we climb, the more external this blessing becomes, the more action-oriented.
The first 4 prepare us so we’re in the right soul place to join Jesus in the adventure of saving the world. I am named blessed so that I can be a blessing.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
I remember back all the way to the first step when I needed mercy. In fact, there isn’t a time when I don’t need mercy. The Beatitude checks all the passion, fire, hungering and thirst strength to make sure I am not using it as a weapon. I am using it in a merciful way.
God is all-powerful. God is strong to save. Does God wield that as a weapon? No. God wields God’s power mercy-fully.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Checks our motivation. Is my motivation to have Jesus sitting on the throne of my heart, to see the world as Jesus sees it? (How’s the view from up there?
God, I want to want what you want. I want your motivation to be my motivation. “Pure in heart” is about having an undivided heart. A divided heart has one foot with Jesus and one for our selves. It’s like having two people trying to sit on the throne at the same time. It’s not going to happen.
If we’re really honest we can’t multitask. We can’t do two things at the same time with any kind of skill or accomplishment. We can’t serve 2 masters.
Do I want to build myself up or am I building up others, building the Kingdom? Jesus, I want to see you and join you and glorify you.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. As we step out in faith to be a blessing to others, we begin to see Jesus in the folks we are with. We see God right here, right now.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
How often do we pray for peace? We want peace of mind and heart, in our family, safety, security, calm, comfort.
Jesus is Jewish. When he’s thinking about peace he’s thinking about Shalom. Shalom is about the well-being of all creation. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the right relationship of everything.
When I do this, folks will see Jesus in me and say, “that must be a child of God.”
The well-being of persons, the earth, systems so they are just and fair, governments so they have the best interest of all people. It’s big picture. The higher we go, the more we can see.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
The followers of Christ have been called to peace. … And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end, they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ, nothing is to be gained by such methods. … His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they overcome evil with good and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Jesus is raising us up to be prophets. Jesus is raising us up to be like him in his power to heal and to be ready for the persecution when it comes.
There’s a long history of persecution and harassment for God’s children. Placing our trust in Christ and living a life that looks more and more like his stirs things up.
When you start practicing mercy, peacemaking, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, your life is going to look different and people are going to notice. Not all of that notice is going to be positive. This Beatitude is honest enough to admit it.
We climb the ladder of the Beatitudes. It’s all leading up to so loving Jesus and desiring to follow him, that I will risk persecution. The higher you go on the ladder, the more risk there is.
Closer and closer to Jesus. I want to see thinks as you see them. I want to do things as you do them. Closer and closer to heaven- your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In order to get to heaven, you have to die. In order to be fully a part of heaven on earth, you have to die to self and be raised to new life in Jesus Christ.
The higher we climb, the more we die to self.
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit- God, help me to die to trying to save myself and doing things in my own strength.
Blessed are those who Mourn- God, help me to die to sin and self-centeredness.
Blessed are the Meek- God, help me die to unbridled strength. I never want my power, talents, and strength to be used as a weapon.
Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness- God help me die to division, to prejudice, anything which keeps apart from one another.
Blessed are the Merciful- God, help me to die to revenge, resentment, and payback.
Blessed are the Pure in Heart- God, help me to die to trying to serve two masters. Be the leader of my life. Sit on the throne of my heart. Give me an undivided heart, a heart after your own heart.
Blessed are the Peacemakers- God, help me to die to evil, injustice, oppression. Help me to die to violence and hate. Help me to die to me and mine, us and them, because in your kingdom it is only us.
Blessed are the Persecuted- God, help me to die to approval, popularity, and safety. Help me to die to hiding my faith and risk aversion. God make me courageous in wherever you would lead me.
The main symbol of Christianity isn’t the star of Bethlehem or the empty tomb. It’s the cross- an instrument of injustice and mocking and torture and death.
If you’re going to be a Christian, be a Christian, fully alive in Christ. Christian literally means “a little Christ.” Everything that goes along with following Jesus. If you’re going to be a Christian, then be a Christ. Be the blessing.
I’ve been offering a series of reflections and prayers based on the Beatitudes on my Instagram account (@revlisad). It’s been so rewarding to prepare the graphics, I thought you might want to see them as well. Feel free to share them on your social media platforms. I pray they are a blessing to you. – Lisa <><
Sermon Series: The Beatitudes, God’s Surprising Blessing Message 3 of 4: The Ladder of the Beatitudes
Scripture: Matthew 5:1-7
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 9/8/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.
Yes, this message was preached while climbing a ladder. 🙂
It’s a painting of monks climbing a ladder towards Jesus in Heaven, illustrating the journey of faith.
The angels are cheering and praying for them in the top left corner. The faithful are cheering and praying for them in the bottom right corner.
You’ll also see shadowy demons trying to pull them and tempt them so they will off the ladder. At the bottom is the face of the devil- big, blue, cold, eating one of the monks who’s fallen.
Jim Forest sees this painting and thinks- that ladder is like the Beatitudes. We climb the beatitudes, one after another, and it brings us closer and closer to being like Jesus, seeing things like Jesus, and following him in his saving work. The Beatitudes are the natural progression of a faithful life.
Step 1: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
There’s nothing I can say or do or give to earn my salvation
I come to God as a spiritual beggar, I have nothing to offer God
I recognize my need and turn to Jesus. “Jesus, I am in need of forgiveness and salvation. I place my trust in you as my Lord and Savior.”
When I do, I receive the gift of salvation and the Kingdom. I’m now an heir, a child of the King.
FALSEHOOD WHICH MAKES US FALL:
You’ve got to earn your salvation. Get good to get God.
If I believe this, I misstep. I’m not even on the ladder.
Truth- Jesus save me. I cannot save myself.
Step 2: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
I stop trying to save myself and take a good look at myself
I get honest about what a mess I am
I mourn my mess- my sin, my poor choices, things said and done, things left unsaid and undone. How I’ve hurt myself, others, God.
I mourn and I surrender the burden of my guilt to God.
I confess and I receive forgiveness.
“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
The burden of my guilt is lifted and I’m comforted
FALSEHOOD WHICH MAKES US FALL:
Mourning means to keep beating myself up over my sins and mistakes. I must continue to carry that guilt and shame like a cross.
Truth- Jesus took the beatings and carried the cross so I wouldn’t have to.
Step 3: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
Meekness is strength under authority
I recognize I am powerful. I am strong, talented, resourced. I am filled with the Holy Spirit. I have a calling upon my life. God empowers me and gifts me in order to live out this call.
I recognize this and own it and place all my strength under Christ’s authority. “All that I am and all that I have I give to you and to your service. You are God and I am not.”
Jesus says, “You are ready to join me in the great adventure of going out and saving the world because you are now meek.”
That’s what it means to inherit the earth. We join Jesus in saving and blessing, in being generous and kind and light.
FALSEHOOD WHICH MAKES US FALL:
Meekness is about being in control, never take a risk, institutionalized, quiet, timid, shy, passive, a wimp, a doormat
Truth- Jesus says, “Let’s go! It’s an adventure out there!”
The higher I get, the stronger I hold on to the ladder! We start climbing the ladder and things start looking different. We’re getting closer to Jesus and closer to heaven. We’re getting a new perspective and we realize we can’t do this without Jesus and so we hold on really tight.
Step 4: Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Hunger and Thirst = Appetite, Longing, Craving
This is the beatitude of passion. The beatitude of fire. The overwhelming longing that life should be on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus Christ doesn’t say
Blessed are those who think it would be a good idea if we all got along
Blessed are those who have a heart for peace in our world
Blessed are those who think righteousness is a good idea
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness– a right relationship with God, with others, between others, with ourselves, with creation
Jesus says blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
people who want what is right as urgently as a person in the desert wants a glass of water, as a child in a refugee camp cries desperately for a crust of bread.
When we hunger and thirst for the things of God, we are filled
FALSEHOOD WHICH MAKES US FALL:
Something else will fill us. We are fooled and cheated by Unworthy Appetites. We pour all our passion into something that doesn’t last, doesn’t satisfy, and doesn’t fill us
FALSEHOOD WHICH MAKES US FALL:
Our passion and fire for righteousness gets twisted, becomes destructive. We fight fire with fire.
We start trying to fix people and force people to do what we believe is right.
That’s how you get the Crusades, Jihad, Spanish Inquisition, people burning each other at the stake. None of this is of God.
That’s why we have step 5: Blessed are merciful, for they will receive mercy
When I was hurting people what did I need most in the world in order to change? I needed mercy.
We remember where we’ve been. We remember our spiritual poverty and our need for forgiveness and grace. We remember we needed mercy and that’s exactly what God gave us.
I received mercy. I know what it can do. I am now mercy-full and can pass it along to others.
What do you hunger and thirst for?
Where is God calling you to not only spread righteousness with your passion and your joy but also spread mercy with your openness and your grace and your peace?
We remember we’re spiritual beggars. We’ve found some bread. Won’t you come for the bread, too? It’s all about invitation. Won’t you come and sit with me? Won’t you come and walk with me? Won’t you come to see what I have seen?
Prayer– God we thank you for the fire of the Holy Spirit which gives us passion, grace, and a calling upon our life. God, we thank you for mercy which keeps things in perspective so we don’t hurt people while we’re trying to help them. God, fill us with hungering and thirsting and God fill us with mercy, that we may be fully yours and join you in this great adventure of saving the world. We need you Jesus and we love you. We pray that everything we do gives you honor and glory and draws people close to you. Amen.