by Leslie Scoopmire
For the past two months I have been filling in for our diocesan youth missioner. One of the most exciting things on my agenda for this summer was leading a delegation of youth from our diocese to central Oklahoma, for the triennial Episcopal Youth Event. I have had the honor to have spent the last two days with nearly a thousand youth and hundreds of adults from all across the US, the Caribbean, and Latin America, talking about peace, hope, and resilience.
The Episcopal Youth Event 2017 is a three day marathon of worship, joy, and fellowship for high school aged youth –and their lucky adult chaperones. Our scriptural text that we have been focusing on are the Beatitudes found in chapter 5 of Matthew gospel, verses 1-11, which contains eight blessings Jesus pronounces to the crowds that have gathered to hear him preach. This week a crowd very much like the one Jesus may have preached to gathered in Edmond, Oklahoma, hoping to live more deeply into our faith—and in the process, perhaps even change the world.
Beatitudes, of course, received their name because, in their Latin translation, each of the eight blessings contained in the first 11 verses of Matthew 5 begins with the word “Beati,” which means “blessed” or even “happy.” This reminds us that one who is blessed is one who is happy, and one who is happy is one who is blessed. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The theme of this year’s EYE meeting, “the Path to Peace,” centers on all the beatitudes, certainly, but particularly on Matthew 5:9- “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.” Jesus spoke these words 2000 years ago, whether on a hillside or a plain doesn’t really matter. What matters is the blessing, as we are reminded of the many blessings God provides for us that we too often can’t see or that we take for granted.
As I looked around the crowd of faces anticipating the official start of the gathering at Eucharist on Tuesday, I was struck by the similarities to that congregation long ago in terms of size. From that small gathering of the incipient Jesus Movement that Matthew wrote about 2000 years ago, here we were in a comfortable, air-conditioned field house, with a praise band up on stage offering modern worship songs projected on large screens in English and in Spanish, with opening prayers in Creek and Cherokee as well as English. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was the eagerly anticipated preacher. If you didn’t make that connection between blessings and happiness before hearing Bishop Curry speak, you certainly would understand it afterward.
In his energetic, heartfelt sermon, Bishop Curry spoke repeatedly about the hope that we live in peace and empathy with each other, remembering that we are one family, regardless of our differences. We are one family because we all have been created in the image of God, as Genesis reminds us. In one pivotal moment, Bishop Curry used the striking image of the possibility of living into “God’s dream” for human beings. That phrase reminds us all of the pronouncing of creation and all in it as “good” by God. It reminds us that God never, ever gives up on anyone, and loves even those who have lost their way. To live in peace, justice, and equity—that is God’s dream for us all, a dream of transformative power if we stretch out our hearts in order to dare to believe in God and in ourselves, as collaborators in making that dream a reality.
That phrase continues to strike me forcefully. I pondered this idea of God’s dream for humanity anew as we listened in the evening to speakers from the Oklahoma City area who were survivors and family members affected by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. Today we will make pilgrimage to the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum site, treading on holy ground where we are reminded more than ever what a true blessing peace and compassion are. It is a place that was first stained with a terrible outpouring of hatred, but was nonetheless finally stamped by a tidal wave of love, hope, and mutual affection that followed in the weeks and months and years afterward.
We heard made aware, yes, of the depravity of which some people are capable, but in the end, those are not the stories that live on. The stories that live on are stories of resilience, tenacity, courage, and faltering hope that flickers to life in the deepest darkness, and yet eventually provides the light that leads to gratitude, and even happiness. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Matthew’s gospel reminds us. Blessed are those who, in the midst of mourning, nonetheless commit themselves to peace and unity, to “being of use to others,” as one survivor put it, and creating an oasis of peace even after in the wake of tragedy. As we listened to the speakers last night, we saw that it IS the peace-makers who change the world in a lasting way. God’s dream for us is to not just BE blessed, but to be that blessing out into an often un-peaceful world.
“As you leave here today, make up your mind to be a blessing for someone else; that’s how you change the world,” Bishop Curry reminded us. What would happen if we all determined each day to try to be a blessing to just one person we encountered that day?
Today could be the day to start living into God’s dream for each of us, one small act of peace at a time.
Image: Panorama of the Survivor Tree on the grounds of the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum, taken in 2015 by Leslie Scoopmire.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri, and a graduate from Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is Interim Youth Missoner for the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @Scoopexplainsit. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.