In our house, quietly alone most of the time, lives an elliptical machine. Its paddles turn a big wheel, encased in a plastic shell. Each time I get on it, I push the paddles, and I hear the wheel spin, heavily. We put it together on the same weekend the Beatitudes were in the lectionary that year, and it struck me then that these verses have a familiar rhythm of their own. They come around, again and again. My mother used to caution me with verse 9, whenever a squabble broke out with my younger brother: “Blessed are the peacemakers,” she said. I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. I only knew what my mother meant. Stop fighting with your little brother. It’s your job to keep the peace, even if it means giving in to make the fight stop. Take the blame if you must.
It turned me off the Beatitudes, which being a clever girl I eventually found in my little New Testament. I read them all, and I thought they sounded sad, mostly. Still, it was clear they mattered, that I was supposed to attend to them. They reflect the human condition, the elliptical way of a spiritual life. We know we are working hard, but we wonder whether we are going anywhere.
I’ve gotten on the machine when some other member of the family used it last, someone stronger and taller, and found I could not make the paddles move at all. Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn “on,” the batteries don’t activate, until the paddles go around. So in order to change the level of resistance from someone else’s 6 or 7 to my Level 1, I had to find a way to make the wheel spin first.
The way of Jesus will sometimes feel like the elliptical set unexpectedly at level 10.
When we feel like someone is persecuting us for being the kind of person we believe we’re meant to be, the kind of person God calls us to be, it’s hard work to turn the wheel, to get things in motion again, to feel actually blessed by God in the moment of challenge.
When I have to get the actual elliptical started under those difficult circumstances, I remember that gravity is my friend, and I step on and let my weight carry the paddle down, hoping the batteries will come to life. Or I ask for help, if someone stronger is nearby.
In our effort to be disciples, we may need to let the weight of the moment carry the paddles around, slowly at first. We may need to ask for the help of others who have been there before. God blesses their faithfulness in the face of resistance. God will bless ours, too.
I’m proud to be among a great group of writers who contributed to Abingdon’s Creative Preaching Annual for 2014 (also 2015 and just signed on for 2016). This is one of a series of essays of mine for the book; I’ll be posting them as they come up in the Revised Common Lectionary. You can get a paperback copy at the link above or buy the book for your Kindle here.