Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
January 29, 2017
Matthew 5: 1-12
Pr. Ben Adams
The #Blessed Life Unbounded
In our 21st century context we have an interesting understanding of what it means to be blessed. I’m sure most of us have seen a Facebook post or tweet followed by #blessed. And I’d be willing to bet that whenever you see that hashtag, the post that it follows is likely describing a positive development in that person’s life.
For the sake of this sermon, I decided to test my hypothesis, so I searched for #blessed on Facebook, and maybe this is due to Facebook’s algorithms, but when the results came up, the top public post I saw was from none other than, you guessed it, Paris Hilton, who was apparently #blessed and #grateful to have spent #Christmas in #paradise with family.
And it’s not just Paris Hilton sharing this understanding of blessing. We too use the word blessed in the same way, praying that God will bless our family, or attributing our undeserved gifts to God’s blessings.
And it’s hard to talk of being blessed today without talking about Josh and Caroline Judd-Herzfeldt. We say goodbye to them today after seven blessed years, and for those of you who don’t know, Josh has served as our church administrator, our handyman, our human google when we have a question, and the figurative engine that keeps this church running . And with Caroline along with him, it’s hard to quite convey just how much we are losing as they move to the great Pacific Northwest.
Josh and Caroline, you’re irreplaceable, you will be so so missed, and we have been blessed, so blessed by your presence in our community. We pray that God continues to bless you as you move and settle into your new life in Washington.
I want to affirm this understanding of what it means to be blessed. It’s important we are able to recognize our blessings and give thanks to God for them, but at the same time, I think we need to also question our understanding of blessing in light of Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes we read of in Matthew’s Gospel.
What does it really mean to be blessed? Is the blessed life really synonymous with the successful life? And if we are only able to regard the blessed life as the successful life, are we limited in our ability to see God’s blessing on all people?
In our Gospel today, Jesus takes the traditional social order of blessedness and flips it on its head. Imagine, for a moment, the social order of blessedness like a pyramid of success where the more one moves up the pyramid, the more blessed one becomes.
Jesus recognizes that if this is how we regard the blessed life, as a continually more exclusive experience the more distance you create from those at the bottom of the pyramid, then the blessed life is being monopolized by the successful, and so Jesus begins to teach, and in his teaching, we are both confounded and liberated. Confounded by the seemingly alternative reality that Jesus speaks of, but also liberated to see that being blessed is not a product of success, but a mark of our identity as children of God.
All are blessed. Especially the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, and you, even when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on Christ’s account.
All our blessed. This statement, when we take Jesus’ words seriously, has significant implications on our life of faith. It means that no longer can we remain silent when our siblings in Christ are mistreated, it means that we must strive to treat our blessed siblings, especially refugees and the most vulnerable, as blessed children of God and not as burdens, or as threats to our economic or national security.
Jesus fundamentally reorients our relationships through the beatitudes. And Jesus does this by reminding us of the abundance of blessing in our lives and the lives of others. Even in the pain and mourning, and persecution. Maybe we could even say especially in the pain, and mourning, and persecution, because these are truly the moments that draw us closer to God.
It can be tempting in our success to feel blessed while simultaneously turning from God and in on ourselves for being self-sufficient. This often leads to pride and self-righteous. But if there is anything we can take from the beatitudes it is a revolutionary understanding of what blessing truly is. A liberative experience with God, not just God’s gifts.
And in today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in God. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish our grip on the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal.
More than our successes, often it is our struggles and trials, our aching disappointments and our unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.
So where are you feeling blessed in your successes and in your struggles? Where are you being called to see that God-given blessing in others? Where are you being called to speak up and witness to the inherent, God-given blessedness of our mistreated siblings in God?
If you’re struggling to find an answer to those questions, I repeat the words of Micah 6:8, my favorite of all scripture, that we heard today. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Whatever that ends up looking like for you, just know that you are blessed, and know that all are blessed. Live in the faith that no matter our worldly success, or our endless pain and struggle that we are all blessed children of God and as such we are all invited to take our place at the Lord’s table, where we experience Christ’s presence, and act out a vision of God’s reign where all come to eat with nothing to offer but open hands, and all are fed, no exceptions.
Take that blessed experience with God and share it so others know their blessedness. Don’t keep it to yourself, for Christ has taught us that the blessed life is abundant and unbounded by our social order. Amen