How often do you feel blessed? Like really and truly blessed? What kinds of things make you feel blessed? When something good happens? You get a promotion or a raise? When a baby is born? When you eat a really, really good meal. When you accomplish something great like a good grade (hey – trust me… even for adults that’s a big thing) Maybe when you perform in a play or concert? When you compete in athletic pursuits with successful results – be it winning the game you are competing in or just finishing a 5k. Retirement… I’m certainly anticipating that blessing someday. These things make one feel pretty good… like we are blessed.
Our society elevates and praises, honors, and adores the successful. The wealthy. The attractive. The competitive. The hardworking to the point of workaholic. Those who pursue and obtain the “American Dream”. Who live “the good life”.
We place value and status in the exclusive. The prestigious. The expensive. These are the things that show us and the world around us, that we are blessed.
I mean – REALLY! How many of us have ever thought in the middle of crisis and despair – hey… I’m pretty blessed?
I can honestly say that most of the time when something stressful or tragic happens in my life, I am not feeling terribly blessed or grateful in those moments. I’m not usually giving thanks to God for the drama, trauma, and disappointment. Not at all.
However – this past spring, I did have a moment in the midst of a very grief filled time when I did. As I was navigating through the process of terminating my marriage I felt out of control, I felt abandoned, I felt all the trauma one feels when a relationship suddenly dies. All the while I was desperately trying to keep it together on the outside for my kids and so I could get through class and because no one on my campus really seemed to want to see me sad or lonely or grieving.
And then one Monday morning, my phone rang, and it was Pastor Lynn. Calling to check on me and see if I was okay, and to see if I needed anything. Anything at all. At this point, I wasn’t coming to Grace to intern. Pastor Lynn and I had had one informal telephone interview prior to my personal life falling apart, and that was it. I figured that that ship had sailed. So, Pastor Lynn wasn’t checking on me as my future internship supervisor and coworker for Christ. He was checking on me as someone who cared.
That afternoon Pastor Schul send me an email… for the same reason. And that evening my very good friend Pastor John Boldt, who lives in Houston, TX, also called me to check on me.
It’s a good thing I didn’t wear mascara that day because I did a lot of crying… and when I went to bed that night, I felt better… I felt less alone… I felt like I didn’t have to keep it all together and put on a front… I could just be where I was and know that I wasn’t alone there. And when I prayed before I went to sleep, I thanked God – because I was very aware of how blessed I am to have these caring people in my life.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus is teaching his disciples about those who are blessed. The crowds of people are there, but he isn’t addressing them (like he does in Luke’s version of this same story) – he instead retreats up the mountain and is teaching only the 12. Maybe some in the crowds can hear him, maybe not. Perhaps, he pulls the 12 aside because the crowd is filled with the kind of people that Jesus is about to teach of. Those who are blessed by God.
Because Jesus, being the radical, counter cultural, unorthodox Rabbi that he was – didn’t bolster the rich and powerful. The strong and successful. The brave and the conquerors.
In a culture and community that deified rulers and generals who were all these things, Jesus didn’t say – blessed are the well-educated, for they will get good jobs or blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will be noticed, or blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it because – God helps those who help themselves.
NO! Jesus reinforced a complete different set of people as those who are blessed. Not necessarily to shame or condemn those who had status and possessions, but to include those who do not. Obviously, the rich and famous are blessed, but so are others.
- The poor in spirit
- The mourning
- The meek
- Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
- The merciful
- The pure of heart
- The peacemakers
- Those persecuted for righteousness sake
- Those reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name
Not the typical crowd that one then or now would think of as blessed. It was important as Jesus grew and developed his ministry, that his disciples know this.
The Rev. David Lose states: “The first thing that Jesus teaches them is how to recognize blessedness. Which I think is really interesting. Not how to become blessed, or even to bless each other, but rather to recognize who is already blessed by God.”
Jesus’ ministry didn’t favor those who had everything… it reached out and included those who struggled and had very little, if anything at all. He made sure that these people knew that they were loved and blessed by God. It was crucial that the disciples see this, recognize this, and understand this early in Jesus’ ministry, so that they could go and do likewise.
It is crucial that we see, recognize, and understand this as well – so that we can go and do likewise. That we can spread the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to all of God’s blessed children.
So, who would this encompass today? Who should we be recognizing and encouraging as God’s blessed children? I would like to think that it’s me… as I’m sure we all would, and at times it I am, and so are you.
If Jesus were here teaching this lesson today, I’d imagine the lesson would go something like this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit – the agnostics, the atheists, the doubters, those who have
been hurt by and walked away from the church, the Christmas and Easter Christians, those who feel that they have nothing to offer. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s Kingdom is for you as well. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who morn – those who have lost a loved one. Those who have loved and lost. Those who have family members who are missing. Those who are alienated or estranged from their families. Parents who have lost a child. Those who must keep it all together for others around them. Those who continue to mourn weeks, months, years, and decades later. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s comfort is for you. Blessed are those who morn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek – the invisible people that no one sees. Those whom the world has forgotten. The ill-treated waitress who cannot defend herself for fear her tip will suffer and so will her ability to survive. The janitors. The shift workers. The single parents. The youth who sits alone in class and at lunch. The low-socio-economically disadvantaged. The out-of-the-cold homeless. The friendless. The unemployed. The marginalized. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. We are all in this together and this world that we live in wouldn’t be same without you. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the wrongly accused. The rightly accused. For those who struggle. For those who have no advocates. For foster children. For special needs individuals. For people who struggle through life and can never seem to get ahead. For the abused, the victimized, the marginalized, the oppressed. It SUCKS to be in these places and spaces. It’s lonely, and isolating, and empty. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for you will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful – those who put people above profit. Those who give food and water to the homeless man sitting on the corner. The teachers, the social workers, the coaches, the pastors. Those who have a forgiving nature. Those who gently correct. Those who give constructive criticism with kindness. The runners who sacrifice their own win or personal best to help an injured fellow competitor across the finish line. You who are in these places and spaces are amazing. You get it. And the world is a better place because of you. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart – those who refuse to bully or slander or gossip. Those who call out social media trolls. Those who stand up and defend the defenseless. Those who are gifted and cursed with a prophetic voice and unabashedly proclaim truth. The Martin Luther’s. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s. The Ghandi’s. The Dr. King’s. The Malala’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. You help manifest the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. Blessed are you who are pure of heart – for you will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers – The Peace Corp. The Red Cross. The U.N. Doctors Without Borders. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Mediators. The peaceful demonstrators. The Missionaries and aid workers. Those who take their vacations to go on mission trips to places like Nicaragua. The Mother Theresa’s and the Aung San Suu Kyi’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. Working to spread peace and justice and love for all of God’s children. Blessed are you peacemakers – for you will be called children of God.
Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake – the honest. The whistle-blowers. The litigated Good Samaritan’s. Truth telling journalists in China and other countries where the government controls the press. You who stand up for others, who stand up for what is right, who speak truth, and suffer because of it. The world needs more people in these places and spaces. People who are unafraid and noble. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name and who have all kinds of evil uttered against them falsely. The Christians in countries where Christianity is illegal. The Christians in this country who are persecuted by fellow Christians because they have different understandings of theology and Gospel. Non-Christians who are persecuted in the name of Christ. These are horrible places and spaces to be in. Places and spaces that no one should have to encounter. But those who do are blessed. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad – for your reward is great in heaven.
Just as it was important for the disciples to recognize blessedness, it is important for us to recognize it as well. These, and so many others, are the people we should be looking to.
If we are truly going to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must understand who those neighbors are. We must reevaluate our ideas of blessings. Being blessed is not just for the sake of potential joy, but also for the sake of making it through difficult times.
Jesus breaks into our lives in moments of joy but Jesus also breaks into our lives in moments of pain and suffering. Pastor Lynn, Pastor Schul, and Pastor Boldt helped me see Jesus in my life at that really difficult point. We are called to do that for one another and for the world around us.
Jesus has taught us how to recognize blessedness and how to help others recognize it as well. Jesus reminds us to not only reach out to those who are familiar and comfortable, but those who are different as well.
Thanks be to God for blessing the poor, the mourning, the meek, those hungering for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. Thanks be to God for teaching us how to recognize blessedness. And thanks be to God for creating communities of people who love, support, and encourage one another through all of life’s blessings.