Real Mission: Mother Liberty
"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mile eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
These words, written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, are most famously known as The New Colossus. Many of you know them as the words that adorn the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York City, but today, I want to explore what these words might be saying to us theologically.
What does it mean to be a tired, poor, huddled mass yearning to breathe free? When are we homesick, tempest-tost individuals, looking for someone to lift a light and point the way to a golden door? Who are our statues of liberty?
Blessed are you who are poor, blessed are you who are hungry now, blessed are you who weep now, blessed are you when people hate you on account of the Son of Man.
And woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full now, woe to you who are laughing now, woe to you when all speak well of you. -Luke 6:20-26
The Beatitudes have been on my heart recently after I read them and wondered with sadness, “Is this blessing for me? Can it be?"
Light is a complex concept, but practically speaking, light is more intense when it is surrounded by shadows. We see the flame more clearly during those times in our lives when hope seems lost, when all seems dark. As Christians, we see the light more intensely when we are on the side of the poor. Jesus knows that if we each experience times of need, times of hunger, times of distress, and times of exclusion, then we will better understand the adversary of these afflictions.
Most often, when reading the beatitudes, I find myself a bit discouraged because, in my life, I have - often - fit into the category of people who are receiving the woes from Jesus. Woe to you who are rich, full, laughing, and spoken well of. This place is where I find myself operating most of the time. And in this place, it is easy not to need someone to hold a lamp for you. It’s easy to lean on the presence of the golden door without ever opening it.
You see, Jesus gives us four blessings and four woes in Luke, chapter 6, not because some of us are stuck in one category, and some of us are stuck in another, but because God’s prayer for us is that in our lives, we will experience both. The Beatitudes are not about the sweet by and by. They are about life right now.
Jesus wants us to know what it feels like to be uncomfortable, to be uneasy, to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Jesus wants us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to turn the other cheek, to give the shirt off our back, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you because Jesus knows that times of darkness, times of suffering, and times of sacrifice, allow us to see the greater light, the lamp that lifts a light beside a golden door.
If we spend all of our time being rich and full and happy and revered, then it is unlikely that we will look for the true light and more likely that we will come to see ourselves and our own workings as the fullness of life.
We who hear the Gospel experience true blessings when we put ourselves in a place of risk, in a place of compassion, in a place of humility. When we serve the community as missionaries, dedicated to the restoration and reconciliation of all people with God and one another. When we are set aflame with the fire of the Spirit. When we open the door and say, “All are welcome here."
This is why we honor the Saints in our faith tradition, the great cloud of witnesses, those blessed people who knew what it meant to feel like a tired, poor, huddled mass yearning to breathe free. Many of the saints were homeless sojourners. They knew that their true home was eternal. They were hungry for justice. They cried out for the poor. They were not perfect, but they were faithful.
They saw the true light of Christ leading the way to salvation. They were willing to risk the comforts of wealth, satisfaction, and admiration in order to bring others into the light. To bring the realities of injustice and hardship out into the light.
I wonder how we would view the New Colossus if we pictured one of the Saints there holding the lamp? I wonder what the beatitudes would mean to you if you pictured yourself hoisting the flame heavenward? I wonder if the poem would mean more to you if you had been to places of discomfort, hunger, and need, cold waters on the edge of unchartered territory?
I wonder if the beatitudes could be a blessing to you.
I used to think that that blessing was not for me, but then I saw the light.
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