The gospel we will hear will be Matthew 5:1-12, when Jesus sits down on a mountain to teach the crowds, and we receive one of the two versions of the Beatitudes in the gospels.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
"Blessed are those who mourn,
"Blessed are the meek,
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
"Blessed are the merciful,
"Blessed are the pure in heart,
"Blessed are the peacemakers,
I especially give thanks this year for this gospel being before us as we head into next week. Many of us are anxious for an extra reason in the next few days: the election on Tuesday. We have all heard people, even before voting began, anticipating their idea of the worst and vowing to resist violently and to turn on their political opponents.
This is NOT the American way, nor is it the way of people of faith. But it does have precedent in American history.
In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president in a fractious election that featured the vote split among four candidates. After the electoral college met in December of 1860, states began attempting to secede from the Union, even before Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861. Seven states had announced their decision to part by the time Lincoln addressed the nation in his first words as president. In his First Inaugural address, he appealed to calm, reason, and affection, to shared history and values. Lincoln closed with this plea:
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
In the end, Union prevailed, albeit at great and terrible cost, but unity remains harder to come by, even now. Yet it is never too late to turn aside from the forces of division, and embrace hope.
Look back over that list of eight blessings from Matthew. Each of them refers to better angels of our nature. Each of these blessings begins in the present (Blessed ARE…) and points to the future (for they WILL BE…), except for the first and the eighth statements, which say that the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted are blessed “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Beatitudes remind us that those who are especially blessed of God are not the high and mighty ones, but those who are on the side of those the world esteems little: the poor, the weak, the suffering, the innocent, the peacemakers, and those who persevere in discipleship even when they stand at risk of unjustly losing all the things the world values. The Beatitudes are addressed to the Church, to those who proclaim that they are disciples of Jesus. Those who are blessed are those who look beyond themselves.
During these next few days and weeks especially, I bid your prayers, and know that I pray for each of you as well as our nation and our world. No matter what the results on Tuesday or however long it takes, I pray for us all to be bold witnesses and peacemakers who stand for justice, unity, and respecting the dignity and worth of every person.
There will be special services at the Washington National Cathedral on both Sunday at 3 pm CST and Wednesday at 11 am. I also ask you to join me for a special prayer service online at 7 pm on Tuesday streamed on Facebook live at St. Martin's Facebook page.