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“One Little Word”

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then 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. 7‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 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. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV)

One little word. Author and workshop instructor Ali Edwards believes it is solely one little word that can change our life. Edwards notes on her website, “A single word can be a powerful thing. It can be the ripple in the pond that changes everything. It can be sharp and biting or rich and soft. Edwards elaborates by saying, “In 2006 I began the journey of choosing a word, one single word for myself each new year…a word to focus on, meditate on as I go about my daily life. These words have been what I needed most and often what I didn’t even know I needed. They have helped me to breathe deeper, to see clearer, to navigate challenges, and to grow. So what do we do with this one little word? We live with it. We invite it into our lives. We let it speak to us. We might even follow where it leads.”[1]

With the onset of this New Year, perhaps we release our lofty and statistically unattainable resolutions. Maybe this year we find focus and purpose in one little word? What word needs to permeate our lives? Health. Kindness. Intention. Friendship. Generosity. Peace. What word might help us to breathe deeper, to navigate challenges and to help us grow more fully into the image of God?

In our scripture lesson this morning, Jesus brings us to a place focus. The Sermon on the Mount addresses the disciples. Its words aim to refocus their identity and lifestyle to represent God’s law of love. The sermon offers visions of the Kingdom of God as reflected here on earth. Jesus’ words ‘sketch life in an alternative community marked by justice, transformed social relationships…and shared and accessible resources for all.’[2]

Many of us are familiar with today’s text. We have heard Jesus’ words time and again. We recall easily the poetic language Jesus uses while addressing the crowds before him. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We remember these words as their familiarity strikes something deep within our souls.

Rev. Jorge Lara-Braud, a Hispanic Presbyterian minister and professor offers a new way of understanding Jesus’ prophetic message. Rev. Lara-Braud writes, “Let me take advantage of my native language, Spanish (the language of God and the angels), to get more deeply into the meaning of beatitude. In Spanish the word is translated bienaventuranza, literally "good adventure to you." We all know that adventure means risk, the courage to defy the odds, the refusal to play it safe. Listen, then, to how the Beatitudes would sound if we turn them into bienaventuranzas and if we paraphrase a bit: Good adventure to you whose hearts are genuinely with the poor: you are under God's protective rule. Good adventure to you who are without power: the whole world shall be yours. Good adventure to you who are hungry and thirsty for justice: your cup will be filled. Good adventure to you who look for truth with singleness of heart: you shall see God. Good adventure to you who work for peace: you shall be called children of God. Good adventure to you who are persecuted for the sake of justice. You, too, are already under God's protective rule; rejoice, be very happy, when others say evil things about you falsely because you are mine. God is preparing a great reward for you. [Good adventure to you].”[3]

Jesus invites us to narrow in on, to bring a Holy focus on that which is closest to the very heart of God. The Sermon on the Mount is no doubt an incredible challenge, especially against the backdrop of 2017. Jesus’ words seem boldly counterproductive to the ways of this world. We are called to risk and we are called to challenge. As Rev. Lara-Braud puts it, we are called to adventure with the Holy. I am reminded of a favorite quote by an early 20th century Baptist missionary, Fannie E.S. Heck, when she once wrote, “There is risk in change. But there is greater risk in standing still.” Her words true and timely as we change out our calendars, to represent new opportunity and growth. This year, perhaps we invite change into our lives. Perhaps we challenge ourselves to see the world from a new perspective. Maybe we center our lives on a word or a sentiment that draws us out of ourselves and into the lives of others? And perhaps, in doing so, we become more fully awake to ourselves and to God than we ever imagined possible.

With our world seemingly more divisive and exclusive than ever, one word keeps appearing in the corners of my mind and literally in my online news feed. In seeking to be peacemakers as Jesus challenges us, the sentiment of “welcome” keeps reappearing. A recent article in the Chicago Associated Press caught my attention with the title, “Sanctuary Restaurant”. The article states, “From down-home delis to upscale bistros, dozens of restaurants nationwide are seeking "sanctuary" status, a designation owners hope will help protect employees in an immigrant-heavy industry and tone down fiery rhetoric [that exists currently in our country.] First inspired by churches, the label is something cities and other public entities have sought to offer local protections to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally… The restaurants agree to anti-discrimination policies, put up signs on windows that pronounce their sanctuary status and receive know-your-rights training. Roughly 80 restaurants are participating, in locations New York to California. At Detroit's Russell Street Deli, customers walking in the front door of the racially diverse restaurant see a sign that reads: "SANCTUARY RESTAURANT, a place at the table for everyone." "I have this one little place where I get to decide how people treat each other," said owner Ben Hall, who is biracial and was moved to sign up after a few customers' racially tinged comments. "If someone has the need to insult someone ... then they don't get to participate. I've told them, 'There's another diner next door.'” Employee Iris Quijano, a 22 year old says, "In terms of all the negativity and the hatred we have in [our world] in general ... it'll be good to be known as a sanctuary restaurant," she said. "All our co-workers stand for the same things. It's really important for others to feel the same vibes in the restaurant and have a good meal without having to worry about anything negative.”[4]

While most of these sanctuary establishments protect those looking for safety, many provide spaces of welcome to those most vulnerable to discrimination. As a faith community, we strive to make this place one of gracious welcome. At our annual meeting only a few weeks ago, we voted unanimously on our new welcome statement. It is another step in the direction of God’s call to love with its proclamation stating, “The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York, United Church of Christ, believes that all people are created in God’s image and are thus loved and valued equally by God. Love is our guiding principle, and we strive to follow Christ’s command to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” In this spirit, we invite and welcome into our Family of Faith people of every age and race, national origin and faith background, marital status and family structure, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, mental and physical ability, economic and social status. In our church all people are encouraged to participate and share their talents and energy in worship and sacrament, leadership and ministry, learning and service, mission and fellowship. Therefore, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

In her latest book of blessings and poetry, author Jan Richardson describes eloquently this idea of welcome within a faith community. In a writing entitled “A Blessing Called Sanctuary” she exclaims,

“You hardly knew

how hungry you were

to be gathered in,

to receive the welcome

that invited you to enter


nothing of you

found foreign or strange,

nothing of your life

that you were asked

to leave behind

or to carry in silence

or in shame.

Tentative steps

became settling in,

leaning into the blessing

that enfolded you,

taking your place

in the circle

that stunned you

with its unimagined grace.

You began to breathe again,

to move without fear,

to speak with abandon

the words you carried

in your bones,

that echoed in your being.

You learned to sing.

But the deal with this blessing

is that it will not leave you alone,

will not let you linger

in safety,

in stasis.

The time will come

when this blessing

will ask you to leave,

not because it has tired of you

but because it desires for you

to become the sanctuary

that you have found—

to speak your word

into the world,

to tell what you have heard

with your own ears,

seen with your own eyes,

known in your own heart:

that you are beloved,

precious child of God,

beautiful to behold,

and you are welcome

and more than welcome


Perhaps this Lenten season God calls us out of ourselves and into the lives of others. Welcome. So what do we do with this one little word? We live with it. We invite it into our lives. We let it speak to us. And perhaps by the grace of God, we might even follow where it leads.”[6] AMEN.

Pastoral Prayer

Loving God, You find us, wherever we are, when we are toiling, numb to the possibility that we might be called to belovedness and belonging.

Your call is so urgent, so clear to leave what we know, to discover that what seems impossible ~ justice, mercy, love, equality, kin-dom is your complete and possible dream, and we can be a part of it as we follow You.

Bind us together in peace, irritate us so completely that we give all we have to be healers of the things in need of mending, the offerers of grace, and the voice of hope.

We pray… for our world. for our country. for our earth home. for our children. for the sick and lonely, the disengaged and angry,

Help us to remember that we belong to You, that we are beloved, and that we are Love in this world. Through Christ we pray, Amen.

Prayer adapted by Rev. Karla Miller who is the Minister for Community Life at Old North Church UCC in Marblehead, MA, on the North Shore of Boston.

[1] Edwards, Ali.

[2] Warren, Carter; The Book of Matthew commentary; The New Interpreter’s Study Bible.

[3] Lara-Braud, Rev. Jorge; Presbyterian minister and professor;


[5] Richardson, Jan;

[6] Edwards, Ali.

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