One of my favorite sets of Jesus’ teachings is the Beatitudes. I’ve had the chance on several occasions to reflect upon them as I sat in the Chapel of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee, which is the traditional site where Jesus first shared them. As you know, each beatitude begins with the word “blessed,” which can also be translated “happy.” Consequently, many have referred to Jesus’ Beatitudes as the “Be Happy-tudes.” As corny as that may sound, I like it, particularly in a day when so many Christians find so much to be upset about.
There are eight beatitudes in total (with an interpretation of the last one). The number eight in the Bible is symbolic of new beginnings, so Jesus’ teachings represent a new way by which his disciples might bear witness to the Kingdom of Heaven in their everyday life. Even when things take a turn for the worse, believers can choose to respond in ways that will secure their joy.
Over the course of my ministry, I have taken inspiration from Jesus’ Beatitudes to come up with other ones that have enabled me to remain joyful even in the face of difficult circumstances – the first of which is “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” I don’t think Jesus would disagree with that viewpoint. After all, his harshest rebukes were directed toward those religious authorities who were rigid and judgmental in their dealings with the multitudes. I know that convictions are critical, but I also have seen the wisdom of holding our convictions loosely enough to be most effective in situations we could never have predicted, like a pandemic.
Speaking of which, I want to applaud you for the flexibility you have shown while our church has endeavored over the last almost twenty months to provide a safe setting for all worship activities. As you’ll remember, we started out on our wilderness journey with the three-legged stool of being responsible, incremental, and flexible in addressing the realities of COVID. We didn’t act rashly or rapidly. We instead took our time in putting protocols in place that would keep us from endangering one another, and we recognized back then that the future would be likely marked by taking one step back to take two-steps forward.
You really have done exceedingly well. There’s been only a minimum of murmuring and complaining. Now that the number of COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in our community have declined significantly from their summer peaks, with the concurrence of our in-house medical experts and lay leadership, we have reverted yet again at MBBC to a “Mask Optional” policy for all in-person gatherings. If you wish to continue to wear a mask to ministry activities, please do so; if you do not, then the mask requirement no longer applies for you. This policy revision reflects the practice of the Mountain Brook Schools; and like the revised school policy, we will reverse ours if COVID outbreaks take place. Let’s hope that we don’t have to go back to “Masks Required,” but if cases in our community (or our church) occur in an alarming fashion, then you’ll understand our need to do so.
If this revision to our church policy feels like a roller-coaster ride to you, I couldn’t agree more. The best thing I can tell you is to put your hands in the air and enjoy the ride. At some point this ride will stop. But until it does, let’s make our flexibility a sign of our faith, and let’s also believe that with every twist and turn we encounter, God is ever in control. Surely that thought will make us both happy and blessed, come what may.
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:20).