Monday, November 7, 2011

A Different Kind of Blessing

I promise not to do this very often - this is my sermon from yesterday which was All Saints Day.  All Saints Day happens to be my favorite Sunday of the year - filled with mystery and holiness and honest human emotion.  So - here are my thoughts from yesterday - based on Matthew 5:1-12.

For as long as I can remember I have been confused by the word, “Blessing.”  We use it in so many different ways in our culture – and yet I’m not sure we completely ‘get it’.

When someone sneezes, we say, “God Bless You!”  In other words, I hope you get better soon – and then you will be blessed.  When we talk about someone who is going through a really hard time, we often turn to one another and say “I had better count my blessings.” 

When my dear and faithful friends moved into their new home, which is an extraordinary and enormous home – they looked at one another and said, “We are so blessed.”

And every year when my husband brings home a bonus right after I have spent too much money on Christmas presents – we say to one another, “what a blessing!”

It seems to me that when we say we are blessed – we are not only making a statement about blessings – what kinds of gifts God gives.  But we are also making a statement about the flip side of blessings.

So when someone is sick and we say “God bless you” – we understand that the blessing is in the getting better.  So does that mean that when someone is sick – God’s abundant blessings are temporarily removed from their lives?

And when we say, in response to someone else’s tragedy – “I need to count my blessings” – are we saying that people who suffer in tragic circumstances are not blessed?

And when we look around at all of our earthly possessions and give thanks for them and call them ‘blessings of this life’ – are we making a statement about people – like those in the Horn Of Africa experiencing six years without rain – or like those in Guatemala who are suffering the effects of flood waters in an already impoverished area……if all that we HAVE – our houses and cars, our bonus checks and our diamond rings – if those are blessings from God – then does that mean that God is not blessing 90% of the world’s population?

You will be happy to know that people were confused about this very thing way back in Jesus’ day.  In fact, there are ancient Greek writings where people call out blessing upon blessing – riches, fame and power – and call those without these “blessings” – those that are cursed.

Ancient Greek Philosophers, however – wrote about the Gods as being the only ones who were blessed.  And their reasoning behind this idea was that the Gods were the only ones who were free from the constraints of this earthly life.  Free from anything on earth having power or control over them….and while they had the part about the Gods wrong – it turns out that they were onto something else.

Jesus had his very own ideas about blessings.  In fact, Jesus turns upside down the whole idea that God’s blessings are revealed to us in wealth and health. 

We have come to know these words as the “Beatitudes” – and while many of us could probably recite them and some of us have cross stitch samplers of these words hanging on our walls at home – I’m pretty sure that over the years we have misunderstood their meaning.  Their meaning is radical and world-turning.  With these words, Jesus actually intends to turn the world upside-down and to redefine for us what it means to be blessed. 

Jesus has just been baptized and spent some time in the wilderness.  Then he called his disciples and went to the top of a hill – because that’s where all great revelations from God in the Bible come – at the top of hills - where the very first words that came out of his mouth were words that define for us exactly what it means to be blessed.  An interesting and very cool aside – is that the last word in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word “Cursed.”  And the very first words that Jesus speaks to a crowd; The very first revelation of God through Jesus – is a word of Blessing.  And with these words of Blessin – Jesus ushers in a new day in God’s relationship with all of us.

But I think these Blessings are more than just blessings – I think they are also a mandate from Jesus.  I think he is saying – “Look – this is what my Kingdom looks like.  If you want to join me in this earth-turning, world-shaking revolution of Love – you need to understand that it looks a little different that what you’re used to!”
And so he begins…..

Blessed are the poor in Spirit…..they are filled with humility and wonder.  They cling to God because they understand that they won’t make it through the day without God.  They are empty so God can fill them up.  They are poor so that God’s riches – like love, and grace and peace – can define who they are.

Blessed are those who mourn……those whose hearts are open enough to feel grief – mourning the loss of relationships, the state of the world, the failures and losses we experience along the way, and the loss of our connection with God through sin.

Blessed are the meek – those who don’t seek power by dominating or forcefulness, but by seeking true power which only finally revealed to us in the power of the humility of the cross.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – who yearn for what is right and holy and good from the deepest part of their souls.

Blessed are the merciful who give people the benefit of the doubt and who have their eye out for the true victims of this world.

Blessed are the pure in heart - not the corrupted.

Blessed are the peacemakers - not the instigators.

Blessed are the persecuted not the powerful

And to drive it all home – in case you thought following Jesus would be easy – Blessed are you when people hate you because of me.  When you seek justice.  When you stand up for everything that is of God without backing down.  When you go to the extreme to live your life not for yourself – but when you empty yourself of everything that you know and you fill yourself with God.  Then you are blessed. 

What is really cool about all of these blessings – all of these things that Jesus spoke – is that he said them, and then he walked right down that hill into the world where went on to live each and every one of them.
  • He emptied himself so that God’s will would be done in his life.
  • He humbled himself so that we would see God.
  • He hungered for righteousness and justice by lifting up every person who was treated unfairly
  • He had the purest heart ever to beat
  • He stood for peace by turning the other cheek
  • He was persecuted and killed because he wouldn’t back down. Not even when the pressure got to be too much – and in his final act of dying and rising – he blessed us once and for all time.
I think it is fair to say that Jesus is the only person ever to walk the face of the earth who could realize these blessings to their fullest and intended potential.   And Jesus knew that we could never fulfill these - at least not every one of them every day.  That’s why Jesus died!

I also think that we are called, as Children of God – to live out these blessings in our lives to the best of our ability.  To align ourselves with God so that we are empty enough for God to shine through us.  To understand on a deep level that the only blessing we truly have in this life is the one that frees us from the bonds of this earth.  That is what we celebrate on All Saints Day.  That God calls each and every one of us saint – not because of anything we have done – but because of the blessing that we have through Jesus Christ…..who emptied himself so that we could live.

So – a question for you.  On All Saint’s Day – 50, or maybe 100 years from now.  What will people remember about you?  Will it be that you were wealthy and healthy and powerful?  Or will it be that you lived your life aligned with a different kind of Blessing?  The kind of Blessing that can only come from God’s love through Jesus Christ?  The kind of Blessing that calls us to empty ourselves – so God’s light can shine through us.

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