A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Blessed or not blessed, is that the question? Matthew 5: 1-12 The Beatitudes February 10, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 5:56 pm

What do we often say when we greet someone that we know, whether we have seen them recently or not? That’s right: How are you? And what is the automated response to that “I’m fine,” or “I’m good.” We too, just give that basic and trite response even if things are not fine or not good. If we truly are fine, we might expound upon our fineness or contentedness, but if we are not, how many of us either deflect the question back to our friend or just change the subject. It’s not a question that leads us to open up ourselves to the other person is it? It’s not easy to admit that things really are not fine, what will people think? A pastor who is a friend of Pastor Rob’s and myself taught his congregation in Elizabeth to respond to that question of “how are you?” with “I’m blessed.” One of the first times I met Dean I asked the socially appropriate question of “How are you?” and his answer of “blessed” admittedly threw me off and left me not knowing where to go with our conversation next. What did he mean by that? Blessed how? Then a colleague who knew him better asked about some treatment he had been having and I found out that his response of “blessed” was so much richer that “fine” or “good.” He was not really fine or good but he could confess that he was blessed.
I think that word gets misused and abused in our culture. When you think of being blessed what do you think of? We have come to associate “blessed” with being happy, comfortable, physically well, everything going just the way that we want it, material possessions and overall success as the culture defines it. So to not be blessed means…? That means conversely, if none of the things we just mentioned are happening in your life, then you are not blessed. Either you are or you’re not. We get caught into measuring blessedness only in these worldly terms. We turn this very God centered concept into a statistic, a tangible element, something we can quantify and measure. We do this I think because we want blessings, we want everything to be fine and we want to be able to hold on to blessings and own them somehow. We also associate being blessed with a public affirmation of God’s love for us and equate it with God’s response to our faith. If everyone can see that I am blessed, I possess these gifts from God, then everyone will know that I am faithful and MOST importantly, God knows that I am faithful. We equate positive experiences with blessings and we turn them into a measurement of our faith journey with God.
We have examples of this in many places- from Joel Olsteen telling us that being faithful will reap us rewards of material possessions. To the media, especially in the last few weeks showing us Grammy winners who thank God and hold up their award as proof that they are blessed, Golden Globe winners and sports players. If you win, you are blessed. We use it in our own everyday language fairly casually as well, I missed that big accident, I am so blessed! If good things happen, we are blessed by God. Gods blessings are for the winners and for those who seem to be able to avoid mishap, heartbreak and tragedy.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger, blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted, who are reviled.
That does not sound like a list of who’s who or winners to me. These sound like real people, people for whom life is not easy, perfect, what they expected, what they hoped, dreamed, wished or prayed for. But people who are faithfully wrestling with their relationship with God, as well as others, and wonder about why things have to be the way they are in the world. Why am I sick? Why am I sad? Why doesn’t God fix this? Jesus is teaching that God is turning on its head the idea of winners and losers, who’s in and who’s out, who’s in God’s favor and who has messed up somehow. God is not interested in labels, perfection or status. God has a greater vision of her children than that. The rich will mess up, the poor will be gracious, the celebrity will stumble, and the peacemaker will argue. No one is immune to the tragedies, struggles, and uncertainty of this world. No amount of faith keeps our bodies from declining, people from hurting us, economic downturns and the reality of death.
At the very beginning of this long sermon, Jesus leads off with God’s vision for the world: God’s promises to be with us no matter what, no matter how much or how little faith we can muster up, how long we mourn, how many times someone tells us that we are crazy to believe or how many times we feel forgotten or how often we ask why. This promise is for all of us in community- no one, no matter how messed up, is left out. In God’s vision, worldly measurements of success no longer apply. God’s promises are not contingent on our accomplishments or ability to hold our lives together but are unconditional and show up in the least likely people and places.
Gods promise of being with us and loving us unconditionally is exactly what we will as a community proclaim for Isaiah, Noah and Lukas today. God promises to those little boys being splashed with living water, that when they are joyful, God will be there, when they are content, God will be there, when they ask why, God will be there, when they are at the end of their rope, God will be there, when things are falling apart-God will be there.
As God’s people, we promise today to be the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about to Isaiah, Noah, Lukas and to their mom Desirae. We point to the presence of Gods kingdom already here–Gods promises in the water, in the bread and in the wine. And not just to them but to one another and to God’s entire world. We will walk beside them as we together proclaim and participate in God’s activity and presence in a world aching to be filled by more than Super Bowl wins, gold medals, trophies, money, or power.
Let me tell you another piece of Pastor Dean’s story. He was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. When he told his congregation they responded “blessed to be a blessing.” No one thought his illness was a good thing and I am sure that Dean and his community wrestle with why. Blessedness or blessing isn’t an end, an answer or a reward-it is the promise of deep relationship in the midst of our imperfect and messy lives with God and then with one another for the sake of the entire world. We are all blessed and thanks be to God.

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