Getting in Line

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | January 29, 2023

Matthew 5:1-12

Something I enjoyed about British culture was the queue; what we call, getting in line. People over there respect the queue. If there is a queue to be gotten into, folks there instinctively get in it. It’s a really bad thing to jump the queue.

“Get in line,” we say. Or, “Everyone line up in an orderly manner!”

A trend has developed over the years whereby people, “jump the queue,” or “cut in line.” Not necessarily by rudely pushing themselves to the front. But by displaying an attitude that says, “Why should I have to wait in line like other people?”

And so the rules of the line have changed. If you are willing to pay extra, then you go to the front of the line. We have gotten used to airlines sorting us out before we get on the plane. For those of us in “economy class” also known as “stripped of all dignity and packed in like sardines class,” we go through lanes in order of one to five. If you are willing to pay, then you can buy a seat on the airplane that gives you priority in the line.

There are titles for this priority such as “premium partners,” “first class,” or “elite.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” to which the airlines reply, “But they shall get in line accordingly.”

The story is told that Jesus went up to the mountain and he sat down and began to teach. His followers sat close and the crowds gathered to listen. We call his teachings, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

He talked to people about life; what life with God means; certain realities and expectations of God’s rule of life. He talked about the possibilities and the depth of life.

The first part of this sermon of his we call the “Beatitudes.” Every culture has its own sort of beatitudes. They are common sense sayings such as “the early bird gets the worm,” or “a penny saved is a penny earned.” They are like proverbs, such as, “You reap what you sow.” The idea of a common sense saying is that if you do “this” then “that” will result.

Some bible translations will say, “happy” rather than “blessed.” Happy doesn’t quite get the full meaning. The Greek word is “Makarioi” and a way to think of what it means is to think of it not as one word like “blessed” or “happy” but as a concept.

A concept like discovering a sense of centeredness; happy maybe, but more in the sense of Bobby McFerrin singing, “Don’t worry, be happy.” It’s like “no worries,” or having the best seat in the house, or understanding the nature of God’s rule and being good with that. It is poetry more than prose; story more than explanation.

I heard a saying once that all the troubles of the world can be traced back to two words: me first.

People love to visit the “magic kingdom” of Disney World in Florida. So many people in fact that you can wait for hours to get on certain popular rides. That’s a long time to stand in line.

Disney used to have a policy that allowed people who were physically challenged to get a VIP pass that allowed them to go to the head of the queue. It was a generous policy for people and their families to enjoy the fun of the park without the added strain of waiting in line for a long time.

Disney changed its policy. They made it more strict. People with physical challenges now must fill out forms for a pass and have their photograph taken. There’s a zoom interview. If there is a line, these folks are given a time to return for their turn on the ride. We might say, “How heartless and cruel of Disney! Just what you can expect from a big money operation like that!”

But if you dig a little deeper, you find that Disney changed its policy because of a company called “Dream Tours Florida.”

Dream Tours Florida offered a “special concierge service” whereby people could avoid all the muss and fuss of standing in line. This service became popular amongst a wealthy set in New York City to the point that Disney decided to put a stop to it.

What exactly did Dream Tours Florida do? The service they offered was to provide families or groups of up to six people willing to pay their fee of $130 an hour with their very own physically challenged person to use as their pass to the front of the line.

But if one was not inclined to pay $130 an hour through Dream Tours Florida, one could hire an independent contractor with a disability pass for anywhere from $50 to $200 per day.

Disney changed its policy not because of a sense of justice, as in “that’s no way to treat people with physical challenges.” They did it because Dream Tours Florida and the independent contractors were undercutting Disney’s own VIP service. If you are willing to pay between $400 and $900 extra per hour, Disney will provide you with a VIP pass that gets you to the front of every line.

Money talks – it says, “Why should I have to stand in line?”

Jesus took the conventional wisdom saying and turned it around. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

One way to interpret these sayings of Jesus is to see them as a kind of personal holiness code. This is popular because it gives wealthy people an easy out. This is a way of saying, “I am nothing, I have nothing apart from God, woe is me – what a sinner am I.” And my money is mine.

Blessed are those in solidarity with the poor, to such belongs the realm of God.

Blessed are those who mourn injustice, the day will come when they will find comfort.

Blessed are those who don’t need to buy their way to the head of the queue, they will inherit everything.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst with a purpose – for justice – they will be filled.

Blessed are those who see things as they are; who are not under the illusion that money is their god, because they see God.

Blessed are those who work for peace – not peace enforced by power, but peace that comes as a result of justice. They will be called the sons and daughters of God. But the system that lives by the credo “money talks” will revile them.

It is no wonder that the first followers of Jesus were gathered from the ranks of the poor.

“For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is not a place or a kind of royal status that allows anyone to be above the fray. It’s more like being in the center of life, or centered in life – like the eye of a storm is a center of calm in the maelstrom.

How to find that place is the challenge. I think it involves unloading ourselves of excess baggage, mostly in the form of attitudes that we use to navigate through life. That could be a long list. The process of unloading the baggage to where we get to the point of having room in our souls for the kingdom of heaven is a life-long occupation.

Sometimes I wonder about a young lad I used to know from around the parish. His mom was a heroin addict. I once conducted the funeral service for one of her boyfriends who was murdered. This boy had a lot working against him.

One Saturday I was walking up to the church. I was dressed in my suit and clerical collar. He was riding by on his bicycle.

“Hey Dr. Mann,” he called out, “Is there a wedding today?”

I told him there was a wedding that day. He wanted to know if there would be a scramble after. A Scramble is when members of the wedding party throw coins into the street. Children waiting outside the church gates then ‘scramble’ to pick up what they can.

I said I couldn’t say for sure if there would be a scramble.

“It would be nice if there was a scramble,” he said. “A guy could find money for a sandwich if there was a scramble.” And he rode off on his bike.

That was one time among many times that I didn’t have a good answer. Those who weep, who mourn injustice, who cry out for peace – Whether we are amongst them or in solidarity with them, we discover the odd miracle that God is with us not merely at the end result, but all along the way; in each and every step of our yearning for the life God makes possible – and each and every step toward making it happen. Amen.

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