In the days of another former president, I would some days wake up, and after listening to the morning news think, “I could do better than that.” With some presidents, that was a more frequent thought than with others.
Mumbling about idiotic decisions and crony appointments, my wife knew it was safer not to say anything. Just let him rant and rave. Even presidents I had voted for often disappointed. How many times was I fuming over Obama’s boneheaded Middle East wars! I was probably the best Monday Morning Quarterback any president could have ever had.
As President Biden frequently says, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the other guy” (or woman). My standards were tough – except for myself. We all disappoint. I know I have.
Jeremiah offers wise counsel here:
“Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out roots by the stream.”
“Trust in the Lord” is not some empty phrase. It means to heed the wisdom given to your heart and mind and soul. Heed the wisdom that builds community and binds us together and to the earth. Heed the wisdom that is tested by life experience and community reflection. You can even find some in the Bible.
We are given this because God has implanted agency within us. We can choose – for the better, and not the worse. Choose LIFE. That’s always the summons. Choose LIFE.
This trust is mentioned again in Psalm 1. The people who trust in the Lord are those wise who do not run with the wrong crowd or sit in the seat of the scoffers. The righteous, the tzaddikim, are in solidarity with neighbor and stranger, with creation – for solidarity is a better translation than “righteous.” This is a woman, a man, you can count on. These are people who know deep down they are loved and that same love just bubbles out of them. They’re people you want to be around. For lack of a better word, we call them saints. But that is the vocation of each who is called to follow the Way.
Take up with those who have followed that path, like Bryan Stevenson and Fannie Lou Hamer. They have been so tested and purified that they have become windows to God. As they lived out this wisdom they draw others in. Spirit just oozes out of them. They are tokens of God’s solidarity with us.
Luke in the Beatitudes enumerates the qualities of the tzaddikim:
“Blessed are you…” These blessings are about the so called “little people,” those without pretension.
Then follow the “woes.” Woe to you who are satiated with good things. Woe to you who hoard up more than you know what to do with. How is it that just three gazillionaires own more than half of all Americans? When did “enough” become “filthy rich?” Three people! Life is not about “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Woe to the puffed up and self-important. You will always be searching if this is where you’re looking. Take the off-ramp. Choose LIFE.
When I drove plastic bottles in a big rig at night down to the Coke bottling plant in Los Angeles, several of us would be lined up in the street waiting to be unloaded. A Black fellow poorly dressed and quite odiferous would often approach our trucks looking for a handout.
After a few encounters, he would engage me in more extended conversation. I didn’t want to just give him a dollar or two, as if I was some superior, benevolent person – which I wasn’t. So,it came to be that I would carry some rags and chrome polish with me in the cab. I’d tell him that If he polished the bumper or the chrome on the wheels, I’d be worth five dollars to me.
When I asked him his name all he’d tell me was that it was “Can Man.” That’s all I ever got out of him.Obviously — that was what his shopping cart was full of, cans to be recycled for a little extra.
Several others would offer to help, so each night I’d make sure I had some extra cash with me. I figured that this small offering was the price of doing business in the big city. My encounters with Can Man always made my day. He was a blessing each night. I prayed I might have been as well.
When my youngest son, living in Cairo, mentioned that he would feel badly, seeing all the beggars in the street or at the entrances to mosques or churches, I told him about my approach to the destitute in Los Angeles.
Just take some extra coins in your pocket, each large enough that a person might use it to get something to eat from a street vendor. And when they’re gone, they’re gone. Whatever you can afford to part with.
Just remember, even Jesus didn’t feed everyone, didn’t heal everyone. And you ain’t in his class.
What counts is that everyone counts. What counts is that out of the abundance of our lives, we share what we can. And a bit more. Without judgment. Without expectation.
The Beatitudes are not a new law, not a way of earning divine favor. Rather, they serve as a direction as to where life is to be found. It’s about “seek and ye shall find” – more abundance than you ever counted on.” It is more about the sentiment of the heart than any notion of perfection or earning one’s heavenly brownie points. That’s already been taken care of when the Spirit touched mind and heart.
Blessed is not the same as “happy.” “Happy” is a transient superficial emotion. One can get “happy” from a bottle of Jim Beam.
To be BLESSED is to be grounded deep down in God’s goodness. It’s to be so grounded that goodness spills out of you and overflows into all you do, all that you are. BLESSED doesn’t depend on the approval of others. BLESSED just IS.
Bryan Stevenson’s mother lived the beatitude of reconciliation.
Blessedness restores broken relationships and enables life to go on. Bryan Stevenson tells of a lesson in saying you’re sorry his mother taught him that has stuck with him over the years. Sometimes the most embarrassing lessons are the ones that stick.
Blessed are those who say they’re sorry. Blessed are those who go the extra mile, those who seek to understand with the heart.
Bryan Stevenson’s mother is one tough lady, the sort of disciple Jesus needs. You have to be tough sometimes to be a parent these days. She, and any parent on God’s green earth knows, parenting is tough stuff – not at all for sissies or the unformed. There’s a reason sixteen-year-olds shouldn’t be having children.
For those who don’t know Bryan Stevenson, he is the Black lawyer who works on death penalty cases for indigent inmates awaiting execution in Montgomery, Alabama. As he listened to one inmate about to be led into the execution chamber who was having great difficulty in talking with Brian due to a severe stutter, Bryan had a flashback to an old memory from his childhood.
Bryan and some of his friends had been making fun of another boy with a speech impediment. As Bryan and his friends were laughing at this boy, he saw his mother looking at him with an expression he’d never seen before. Bryan continues his story in his book, Just Mercy:
It was a mix of horror, anger, and shame, all focused on me. I stopped my laughing instantly. I’d always felt adored by my mom, so I was unnerved when she called me over.
When I got to her, she was very angry with me. “What are you doing?”
“What? I didn’t do…”
“Don’t you ever laugh at someone because they can’t get their words out right. Don’t you ever do that!”
“I’m sorry.” I was devastated to be reprimanded by my mom so harshly. “Mom, I didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”
“You should know better, Bryan.”
“I’m sorry. I thought…”
“I don’t want to hear it, Bryan. There is no excuse, and I’m very disappointed in you. Now, I want you to go back over there and tell that little boy that you’re sorry.”
“Then I want you to give that little boy a hug.”
“Then I want you to tell him that you love him.” I looked up at her and, to my horror, saw that she was dead serious. I had reacted as apologetically as I possibly could, but this was way too much.
“Mom, I can’t go over and tell that boy I love him. People will—”
She gave me that look again. I somberly turned around and returned to my group of friends. They had obviously seen my mother’s scolding; I could tell because they were all staring at me. I went up to the little boy who had struggled to speak.
“Look, man, I’m sorry.”
I was genuinely apologetic for laughing and even more deeply regretful of the situation I had put myself in. I looked over at my mother who was still staring at me. I lunged at the boy to give him a very awkward hug. I think I startled him by grabbing him like that, but when he realized that I was trying to hug him, his body relaxed and he hugged me back.
My friends looked at me oddly as I spoke.
“Uh…also, uh…I love you!” I tried to say it as insincerely as I could get away with and half-smiled as I spoke. I was still hugging the boy, so he couldn’t see the disingenuous look on my youthful face.
It made me feel less weird to smile like it was a joke. But then the boy hugged me tighter and whispered in my ear. He spoke flawlessly, without a stutter and without hesitation.
“I love you, too.” There was such tenderness and earnestness in his voice, and just like that, I thought I would start crying.
That day Bryan learned compassion. Now, that’s a BLESSED moment!
Out of the tough love of such a Gospel-Soaked mother, Bryan grew to be the man he is today. She was a living, breathing Beatitude. Through her persistence of, Jesus would raise up a man who would end up devoting his life to serving the most despised and discarded. Those of you who are mothers know exactly what I am talking about.
This godly wisdom is the door to all that is holy, all that is true, all that is just. It is the open door to an abundant life. Trust this, and you will have put your hand in the hand of the Man from Galilee, The Man who stills the rough waters of life. What a Friend you will have – trust in him. This, my friends, is BLESSED.
 Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, (New York, NY, Random House, 2000), p. 286,287.
February 13, 2022, Epiphany 6
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney
Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20;