It’s Holy Saturday! As we are on the cusp of Easter, I give you a sermon from a couple of months ago: because y’all, this is one is always true. You are beloved. Receive that. And keep that the main thing. (As per the usual, a video of the sermon can be found on the church’s Facebook page – look for the February 13th date).
I work from home. My desk is up against a south-facing window, which looks into our backyard when the sun’s not streaming too hard and I have to keep the blinds closed. Eleven potato tubers rest on the windowsill, because even baby potatoes need to sun themselves before planting sometimes. Just under the windowsill lies a collection of sticky notes, quotes and personal reminders, bits of wisdom from my therapist and the yearly tax schedule for sole proprietors like myself.
It’s a set-up only the slightly scatterbrained could love, but to me, it all fits together – including a sticky note quote I stare at daily: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
A bit redundant, it’s also terribly true.
The main thing, dear one, is to keep on keeping that main thing the main thing. My main thing might look different than your main thing: Tell the truth, my main thing might say. Be true to your words, dwell in story, use your words for good: those are all variations of my “main thing.” Work hard so you can help pay down debt and take care of your family: another main thing. Love people well: main thing. Grow, cook, eat: main thing.
If I’m allowed to have a whole lot of things to keep on keeping the main thing, then I have more than successfully met my goal.
But there is, of course, one more main thing I haven’t fully mentioned, even if that main thing squeezes its way into every line of this sermon. It’s the main thing that brings us here today, that reminds us of our belovedness, that unites us as children of God.
The main thing we are to keep keeping the main thing a main thing is the God who loves us and calls us God’s own.
“We are each a God-carrier,” Desmond Tutu said. “A tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by God the holy and most blessed Trinity. To treat one such as less than thing is not just wrong. It is as if we were to spit in the face of God.”
At first glance, I relish in this quote: we, the God-carriers, are also houses of the Spirit who lives within us. That part feels good. But then the quote takes a turn, reminding me of my neighbors and that not treating all of those God-carrying ones around me is just like spitting back at God. That reminder, even if it comes from a hero like Tutu himself, feels bad.
And in a way, this two-sides-of-the-same coin quote from Tutu isn’t all that different from this week’s Gospel reading …which is, at its core, also about a reminder that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Luke 6:17-26 opens with an image of Jesus coming down off the mountain and standing on flat ground, so much so that what he’s about to teach is sometimes called “the sermon on a level place.” There’s a ton of people around him – “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.” Jesus, at this point in the narrative, is a pretty popular dude. They’ve heard he’s a healer: they want him to heal them, so everyone tries to get as close to him as possible so they might touch him and feel that power come out of him – that power that will heal them.
And it’s at this point in the story that Jesus begins to teach. He looks up at his disciples, not, mind you, at the throngs of people around him, and he delivers four blessings and four woes – four “blessed are yous” and four “woe to yous,” or four “you’re blessed whens” and four “it’s trouble aheads,” according to The Message version.
Here’s how The Message reads:
You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all.
God’s kingdom is there for the finding.
You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry.
Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal.
You’re blessed when the tears flow freely.
Joy comes with the morning.
Those, of course, are just the blessings. But the blessings are so upside-down to everything we know and seem to strive after in our world: we’re blessed when we’re poor and don’t have a penny to our names? We’re blessed when we’re hungry and have not food? We’re blessed when we weep, because someday we’ll laugh again?
Once again, Jesus flip-turns our world upside-down, describing a world that reverses almost everything we know about how things work. This is the God-shaped world. This is the Great Reversal. This is the “hard-hitting gospel,” as Latin American theologian Justo Gonzales calls it.
For this world Jesus describes is not good news to us as we stock our 401Ks, but it is good news to the unhoused living behind nicely fenced territory under the 101, just down the street.
It is not good news, as we stock our pantries and buy fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market every Saturday morning. But it is good news for our neighbors experiencing food scarcity, who don’t know when or where their next meal is coming from, who’ve had to choose between paying renting and utilities and putting food on the table for their families – because working a full-time job at minimum wage still isn’t enough to pay the bills.
And it’s not good news when we’re happy, per say, but it is good news when sadness and weeping overwhelms us, when we cry more than we laugh, when we are broken by the brokenness of life.
Then we are blessed. Say what?
A couple of weeks ago, I flew to New Jersey for a writing weekend. My friends Micha and Erin and I have been meeting monthly for a couple of years now, all in an effort to support one another in our writing lives, to make better the words that flow from our fingertips. All three of us have written and published books, all three of us have future books rumbling around in our souls.
Micha, the author of Found, is particularly interested in writing a book about the Beatitudes, a book that flips the script on the world we sometimes find ourselves nestled in, instead welcoming in “the empty ones, the grieving ones, the ones without power, the ones hungry for justice, the mercy givers, the innocent of heart, the makers of peace, the misunderstood, and the ones who practice radical love.” Her words, not mine.
Micha experienced this firsthand when she welcomed her youngest son, Ace, into this world. Ace, who was born with an extra chromosome, is one of the lucky few. Ace, who has Down syndrome, was later also diagnosed with autism. At six years old, he doesn’t speak and may never speak.
But Ace is most blessed of all …and Ace has taught Micha and her husband Chris, new ways of living in this world – slower ways of living that flip the script on ordinary definitions of blessedness.
For Micha, this way of engaging the Great Reversal of a God-shaped world with new eyes has changed the way she lives.
And it’s been an answer to the quote: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” which is perhaps what Luke’s rendition of the Beatitudes invites us into today.
May it be true for all of us.
What is your main thing? How do you keep the main thing the main thing?