By Mother Rebecca

Growing up in my single-parent home in the 1970s wasn’t always easy. My mother was the Director of Nursing at a retirement community an hour’s drive from our house, and she worked long hours for paltry pay. Her staff came from all walks of life and brought all their personal problems to work with them. At the end of the day, Mom was often, understandably, exhausted. As a latch-key child, after-school activities were not a thing. The routine was wake, before-school care, school, walk home alone, homework, cook dinner, stressful meal, bath, bed, repeat. And, no matter what, make space for Mom to unwind!

Weekends, though, had a different tenor, especially those Saturday mornings when Mom would put a Bill Cosby record on the record player (I know, this was before all that) or (in the early 80s) a Pink Panther movie in the VCR – not the comic; the ones with Peter Sellers. In the hands of these comedians, the stress of our lives would melt away and we would laugh until our sides nearly split, tears tumbling down our cheeks.

One such morning when Mom’s parents were visiting, Grandma, clearly drawn by our uncontrolled giggling, walked into the living room shaking her head and pronounced: “Sing before breakfast, you’ll cry before bed.”

I had no idea what she was trying to tell me.

And yet, Grandma’s phrase stuck with me. This week, I googled it and learned it’s actually a common American idiom. I suppose the idea is that things can change quickly. I guess Grandma was trying to warn that if we were feeling on top of the world, there was nowhere to go but down. She was, of course, missing the point that we were actually pretty down most of the time – that these moments of giggly glee were the corollary to her pithy little idiom.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke this week reminded me of my Grandmother’s phrase. Jesus has just spent a night in prayer atop a mountain not far from Capernaum. When dawn comes, he calls together his disciples and chooses twelve to serve as apostles – those he’ll soon send out into the world. Together, Jesus and his disciples (including the twelve) descend the mountain where a crowd has gathered. After healing some and casting out demons from others, Jesus begins to teach:

Blessed are you who are poor …

Blessed are you who are hungry …

Blessed are you who weep …

Blessed are you when people hate you.

“But,” he continues:

Woe to you who are rich …

Woe to you who are full …

Woe to you who are laughing …

Woe to you when all speak well of you.

What’s Jesus up to here?

In part, Jesus is saying that the way things are now is not the way they will always be. Fortunes change for good and for worse. If you happen to be poor, hungry, weeping, or hated, Jesus is bringing you good news. And, if you happen to rich, full, laughing, and highly-praised, well

“Sing before breakfast; you’ll cry before bed.”

Barbara Brown Taylor (Episcopal priest and author) has described this as “God’s Ferris wheel.”[1] Noting that many of us hear Jesus’ words from the “well-fed end of the spectrum”[2], she observes that Jesus is bringing us good news as well. Each of us, no matter how wealthy, well fed, joyful, or respected, one day gets that phone call we never want to take: there’s been an accident, the cancer is back, our brother’s been arrested, our spouse has been laid off. And suddenly, we’re plunged into darkness and grief. Even in such moments – especially in such moments – Taylor reminds us, there are important things about life and about God to be learned. “Our grief may teach us more than our good fortune ever did.”[3]

The reality of human life is that we are all blessed and we all share woe. Perhaps it is true after all that if we sing before breakfast, we’ll cry before bed. Is that what Jesus is trying to teach us in this week’s passage? Perhaps.

Join us for worship this weekend, and we’ll explore it more together.

God’s keeping, friends.

 

 

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, “God’s Ferris Wheel” in Home By Another Way (Cowley Publications: Cambridge, 1999), 51.

[2] Ibid., 54.

[3] Ibid., 56.

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