February 2, 2020

#Blessed

There’s a word we use in church a lot that hasn’t until recently been very popular in the world outside. At least not everywhere. The word I’m thinking of is a very positive word, but southerners have always known how to use it as a sort of insult… especially southern women. So if you’re in Kentucky or Alabama and somebody says to you, “Well bless your heart,” please know (if you don’t already) that you are at best just pitiful. At worst, somebody has just said to you—in the kindest way possible— that you are perhaps the most mean-spirited, hateful person that they’ve met in at least a month.

So the word I’m talking about is bless—more specifically blessed. It’s really made a comeback. And usually used in a very positive way these days. Now you’re as likely to hear somebody say to you, “Have a blest day,” as “Have a nice day.” And I bet that most of you probably like that.

And I bet that most of us like it that the idea of blessing has left the confines of our hymns and Bible readings and prayers, and has entered the mainstream.

Another example is the hashtag. For example, I did a little search on Twitter while I was writing this sermon. I stuck the pound sign in front of the word blessed and clicked search. The search yielded thousands upon thousands of results, where people had tweeted something followed by the hashtag #blessed. A lot of them concerned family. Some were about a clean bill of health. There were any number of other subjects to people’s tweets, including one person whose coworker had brought her a cup of coffee. #Blessed.

The point behind this, of course, is simple gratitude. To say you’re blessed when acknowledging something good in your life is another way of thanking God. And being grateful to God is a good thing. After all, the Letter of James (the brother of Jesus) tells us that “every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (1:17) And so whenever something good happens to us, we should say we’re blessed. And if we’re saying it on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, we should use the #blessed hashtag so that we can join a whole conversation with others who are as thankful as we are.

And this is a good thing. It’s good for our souls to be grateful. And it’s good for the world if believers give God the glory for the good things that happen to us. It’s even better that the world is now talking more and more about blessing.

I hope Jesus would approve. He also talked about blessing, of course. But he didn’t necessarily talk about it like we do. We see that here in this morning’s scripture reading— words that were among the first and the most important that we hear from Jesus. In them, Jesus uses a sort of divine hashtag in order to punctuate what he wanted people to hear and what he wanted people to say to each other:
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit 
  • Blessed are those who mourn 
  • Blessed are the meek, etc.
The list goes on, but none of it really includes the stuff we generally talk about when we count our blessings. He never says, “Blessed are the comfortable,” or “Blessed are the healthy,” or any of those things. Now, I believe we should count our blessings if we’re comfortable or healthy. If we ignored those blessings or refused to thank God for them, we would be guilty of ingratitude. Even worse, the world would see us as arrogant for taking them for granted.

But we need to take note of the fact that when Jesus pronounced his Beatitudes, the people he called blessed were often the very people that we often view as anything but blessed.

A lot can be said here, but let’s sum it up in three ways: First, Jesus was talking to people who could never dream of the blessings we’re grateful for. And yet Jesus still wanted them to know that they were God’s people, that God loved them, that they were a blessing.

And if Jesus was talking to them, I think he was also talking to us. So the second thing I want to say here is that Jesus may have pronounced those blessings for everybody else’s benefit, too: The well-off who may have been present to listen to the Sermon on the Mount, and those of us who are listening in 2000 years later. From Jesus we learn that those we might think of destitute, as having nothing to be thankful for, perhaps even as cursed, hold a special place in the eyes of God— that they have something to share just as we do. It’s clear from Jesus that the least among us should never be overlooked, and here we have the first indication of why this is so: The nobodies are somebody in the Kingdom of God.

The final point about this I want to make may be the most important. That’s because those who were singled out by Jesus in the Beatitudes are not necessarily other people. I think especially of those who mourn, the ones who will be comforted. Though we thank God for the blessings of health and friends and family, there are times when we question God because something or someone has been taken from us. When grief seems unassailable, the last thing we feel is blessed. And yet here Jesus is, specifically telling us that that is exactly what we are. It’s important to remember then that no one is God-forsaken, not even we ourselves when we feel abandoned. Maybe we don’t need to hear that when all seems right with the world. But when things turn out badly, that’s when Jesus reminds us that we are still blessed, and that his comfort is intended for us.

This, too, is part of the gospel we proclaim: Seeking blessedness in our own lives when nothing seems right… and finding it in each other as part of the body of Christ. So let’s remember that just as Christ is with us always, so we are there for each other.
—©2020 Sam L. Greening, Jr.

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