The New Familiar

Galatians 5.25

If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

The Bible repeats itself. 

There are literal phrases that show up word for word in different sections, relevant themes pop up over and over again, and there are call backs (and call forwards) all over the place.

For instance: If you were to read the assigned texts for this Sunday from the Revised Common Lectionary you would encounter the radical departure of the prophet Elijah into the fiery whirlwind (2 Kings 2), the psalmist’s meditation on the holiness of God (Psalm 77), Paul’s proclamation about the freedom of the Christian (Galatians 5), and Jesus’ challenging call to let the dead bury the dead (Luke 9). On the surface they might seem like completely unrelated texts and yet they all hammer home the call to follow the unknowable God.

The repetition of the Bible is also mirrored in the repetitive nature of our worship. We mark the year with the same liturgical seasons returning to the same themes over and over again. We do so not because the liturgical calendar keeps spinning like a broken record, but because we need to hear and receive these scriptures over and over again. 

In life there is this beautiful desire to return to the familiar from a different angle. It’s why so many of us enjoy “cover songs”; the beauty of the original is brought to us through different voices and instrumentation that heightens what we already know.

In the life of the church this takes place every week when a preacher stands up to preach. The texts have remained the same for centuries, but every Sunday a preacher tries to offer a new “cover song” to the gathered people called church. 

A few years ago David Zahl preached in Charlottesville, VA and offered a proclamation about Jesus’ beatitudes. However, rather than offering the predictable “this is what Jesus said and this is what Jesus meant,” David rewrote the beatitudes for the church today. I encourage you to read through his “cover” of the text, and I hope you discover something familiar and something new at the same time:

Blessed are those whose lives don’t add up,

For they will be released from score-keeping.

Blessed are the humbled and the humiliated,

For they have been relieved of the burden for self-righteousness, 

Which is the great enemy of love.

Blessed are the brokenhearted,

For cracks are where the light gets in.

Blessed are those for whom death is not a metaphor,

For they have been returned to reality,

Which is the dwelling place of God.

Blessed are those who cannot abide another funeral,

For they have loved deeply.

Blessed are those who can’t seem to move on from loss,

For they will not look to themselves for consolation.

Blessed are the left behind, the overlooked,

And those for whom life feels like an ordeal,

For Jesus surrounded himself with people like these.

Blessed are those whose fears and anxieties exceed the reach of their coping mechanisms,

For only those in need of help will be helped.

Blessed are those who years for the world to be put to rights,

For that yearning is a form of hope.

Blessed are the cursed out and cancelled, especially for reasons of their own making,

For they will be quick to listen and slow to judge.

Blessed are the brothers and sisters who refuse to condemn their siblings for not making better choices,

Because there but for the grace of God go they (and may yet still go). 

Blessed are the forgivers, 

For at the end of the day, as Saint Dolly Parton tells us, what else is there?

Blessed are they who hear that they are forgiven,

For they have nothing left to hide. 

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