Thirteen years ago, my niece, Zoe, was born.
She was the first child born on either side of my family, besides my own kids.
As I gazed into the picture of baby Zoe on the internet, freshly squeezed from birth,
my first thought was: The gene pool is real!
I must confess that even though I had had my own two children by this point,
that I still thought all babies kind of looked alike, especially as newborns.
I expected baby Zoe to look like my babies.
We were in the same family, after all.
But as I looked into that little face, there could be no doubt:
this child looked nothing like my husband or myself.
She looked like a combination of her parents’ faces—
and though it makes perfect sense, it was a shock to see so boldly displayed:
this could not be my child.
The gene pool is real.
Embedded within our DNA are characteristics in proto form.
Physical attributes, future diseases, intellectual aptitude, character traits—all there in the DNA.
It took me the experience of being a parent to finally get it:
nature really does play a role in the person each one of us is.
Our genetic code, while not the only factor in determining outcomes,
contains individual characteristics at basic level, in proto form.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is talking about our spiritual DNA.
The gene pool from which we emerge is the Kingdom of God.
Jesus describes what this Kingdom is like in this passage that we called “the Beatitudes”.
It is a place where those who are down on their luck are lifted up.
It is a place of cosmic reversal, where those who have been given the short end of the stick
finally get a fair shake.
It is a place where those who trust in God act in counter cultural ways,
loving enemies, praying for persecutors, and doing good to those who return it with evil.
It may seem like a pretty unrealistic scenario.
This Kingdom hardly seems to present in our day to day existence
where students compete for top spots in the rankings
where politicians denounce one another instead of focusing on problem solving together
where a dog eat dog world hurtles workers into unending activity trying just to keep up.
It wasn’t so different for Jesus’ listeners.
They knew the crushing effects of poverty--
as an oppressed minority governed by Rome’s iron fist, they could not get ahead.
They suffered illnesses that had no cures
and the indignity of judgment from a religious system that called them unclean and unworthy.
They they felt weary, lost, forgotten-- just like we often do.
But Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was already a present reality.
But how is that so? There are a lot of ‘wills’—future tense-- in this passage:
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled/
blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh
It sounds like a future promise, but in the Greek, Luke is actually using the present forms of the verbs.
The present tense in Greek is a continuing action, beginning now, and lasting into the future.
Like our DNA, the kingdom is here already, and also still coming more fully in the future.
We can see the Kingdom in proto form in our daily lives.
Take the ‘woes’ that Jesus talks about.
Woe to you who are rich now, for you have received your consolation.
We live in the richest state, in the richest country in the world,
and compared with the average person in the world, we are by most measures rich.
But despite material possessions, we often feel empty.
Despite being surrounded by people, we can be deeply lonely.
What Jesus says is not a prediction or a judgment, just a statement of how things are.
By the same token, Jesus’ blessings are also true in our day to day life.
Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh, Jesus says.
Think of a time of struggle or pain in your life.
Were there people who helped you?
Routines that got you through?
Moments of peace or strength that came to you?
These are the moments of light in a dark time, God’s faithfulness and blessing despite circumstance.
It doesn’t mean that there is something inherently holy about being hungry or grieving,
but instead that there is blessing in these hard times
because we recognize our need for God and God’s ability to provide.
The gene pool of the kingdom is real, it is present in our lives
but like DNA, we are shaped not just by nature, but also by nurture.
our environment affects who we are, who we surround ourselves with, what we choose to do.
And so the Kingdom reality can be of a greater or lesser part of our lives depending the choices we make.
Ten years ago, I was part of two mission trips to the ELCA Center in Mexico City.
It was an immersion experience to begin to understand what life is like in the ‘2/3s’ world, developing world.
We met with local people: street vendors, farmers, bible study leaders, and teachers
to get an inside view.
And boy were we changed!
We saw the big picture: these were our brothers and sisters, despite language or culture or country.
Learning about issues that affected people on both sides of the border
inspired us to find ways to make a difference in the world.
We wanted to make Kingdom choices, and share more of God’s blessing in the here and now.
So our group started a CSA, a community supported agriculture vegetable coop.
We had learned that small farmers in US have the same problem as farmers in Mexico:
large farms with government subsidies can grow food much more cheaply,
and put small ones out of business.
Middle men eat up a lot of the profits when farmers do get their crops to market.
And crops from large farmers generally travel long distances from farm to supermarket,
which is hard on the environment.
Our church members purchased shares in a farming family’s summer produce.
It brought our food production closer to home, and provided a decent living for the family.
The CSA exists to this day, a small way that one church saw the Kingdom of love and justice in their midst,
and made a choice for a new way to step a little further into that Kingdom.
Today is our celebration of All Saints Day.
We are already saints with a small ‘s’, believers in Christ.
God’s kingdom is in our DNA.
Together we work to we become more fully God’s saints:
people who strive to see glimpses of God’s kingdom among us,
people who make kingdom choices that make the world a better place.
The gene pool is real, and so is God’s kingdom of justice and mercy.
Alive in you and me.
umbrella and a helmet
OK, I am ready for our OT lesson. It’s an apocalypse.
Do you know what an apocalypse is?
My helmet is to protect me from the zombie apocalypse.
When the zombies take over the world. I am protecting my brains here.
Do you know what this is for? well, that’s in case we get a snarknado—a tornado of sharks.
I figure I will be safe under here.
What is an apocalypse, anyway?
(a kind of writing for people who feel like it’s the end of the world as they know it.)
Did you know the bible has apocalypses in it?
One is the book of Revelation in the NT; our OT reading today from the book of Daniel is too.
The people in Daniel’s day were undergoing hard times.
They did not have their own land anymore; foreign countries had taken over decades ago.
A new ruler had come into power: Antiochus IV.
He was not a Jew, like the rulers before him, but what was new
was that he did not let the Jews practice their religion anymore.
He persecuted them, sent them to prison, even took over their temple.
It felt like the end of the world to the Jews.
In the book of Daniel, he is described as being one of the beasts.
An apocalypse is always written to provide hope that God will act.
Despite the beasts, despite their hardship, God promised the people will ‘receive the kingdom.’
God will be with them, and bring them to a safe place where God is in charge.
We may not have a bad king over us
We may not have literal beasts or zombies knocking at our doors,
but do have things that scare us
for example, some of those adults right now might be worried about the upcoming election
Someone might have a loved one who is sick and dying, and be worrying about how they are going to go on.
When we come to the end of the world as we know it,
we can be confident that Daniel’s words from God are for us, too.
God will also bring us to a safe place where God is in charge.
God will continue to work in and through our world, even when there are beasts.
God will stand with us, no matter what.
So maybe I don’t need these after all! (umbrella and helmet)