Blessed Are You

I have a little plaque hanging in the entry from our garage into our house.  This piece of hallway is the staging area for essentially all our departures and arrivals. It’s where we dump coats and shoes, where we rally up to make sure everyone has put socks on, and where I frequently mitigate transition meltdowns from kids, dogs, and sometimes even myself.

Matthew 5:1-20

I have a little plaque hanging in the entry from our garage into our house.  This piece of hallway is the staging area for essentially all our departures and arrivals. It’s where we dump coats and shoes, where we rally up to make sure everyone has put socks on, and where I frequently mitigate transition meltdowns from kids, dogs, and sometimes even myself.  Because of that, I wanted a reminder to calm down.  Yes, even pastors lose their patience with their kids sometimes, and I’m not proud of it.

The plaque says: Grateful, thankful, blessed.  It’s just this tiny little reminder for me that no matter who has started sobbing this morning, it’s not all bad.  In fact, I have so much for which I can thank God even in these moments of stress and hair-pulling.  I have a house which, though messy, keeps me warm. I have a car which, though exploding with junk, gets me where I need to go safely.  I have shoes which, though mismatched, keep me moving forward.  See?  I’m grateful!  I have everything that I need!  It’s a gift from God!  Hashtag blessed!

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m part of the problem.  Not merely because of my tendency to lose my temper in the entryway, although I’m working on that.  It’s because of how I’ve let myself think of what it means to be “blessed”.  There is this pervasive worldview that says your wealth, your success in life, the stuff around you, these things are blessings, gifts from God.  Better yet, these blessings are rewards.  You did well, you are blessed, you give thanks.  Blessings are the good things that we point to as evidence of God’s favor.

But then what’s the flip side of that?  If you’re struggling to see the blessings, if you are without shoes or a house or even kids to roll your eyes at, does that mean that God is not present in your life?  That your lack of blessings means your lack of faithfulness?

Too often, people flaunt that they’re hashtag blessed as a way of passively indicating God’s favor.  Even if it’s all an act, they still put up the front so they don’t have to confront the pain, the loss, the brokenness.  Good people are blessed, and I want people to think I’m good, so I better let them know I’m blessed.

Today, Jesus tells us that we’ve got it wrong.  He chooses his words really, really carefully.  He doesn’t tell people “blessed are the rich, those with perfect BMIs, those who transcend suffering, those with well-curated collections that spark joy”.  It’s not because you can’t be blessed if you have those things.  You can have nice things and still be blessed.  It’s just that blessing is not a physical, outward display.  Blessing is not a thing.  Blessing is a gift given by God to those who need it.

Jesus declares: blessed are the poor in spirit, those whose hearts demand a life kept austere and sparse.  Blessed are those who mourn, those who know loss.  Blessed are the meek, those who would not possibly choose to be grander or more noteworthy.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are wasting away out of desire for God’s goodness to be known to all.  Blessed are the merciful, those who sacrifice rightness for compassion.  Blessed are the pure in heart, those who open themselves to pain for their kindness.  Blessed are the peacemakers, those who sacrifice to end violence.  Blessed are those who are persecuted, those who are literally, physically made less-than-human just because they exist.  Blessed are you, not when you receive rewards and accolades and attention, but when you are reviled and persecuted, because that is when God most stands with you.

As happens so much in the book of Matthew, this is a huge reversal.  Outward gifts and comforts are nothing to be ashamed of, they just aren’t evidence of blessing by God.  Blessing is a state of being in God’s presence and favor.  Because it can be most difficult to see in times of pain, Jesus makes explicit that God particularly chooses to grant presence and love to those who hurt and struggle and just make it through the day.

And it is because God’s blessing doesn’t have an outward, measurable appearance that Jesus says we must be salt and light.  Salt and light bring out what’s already there.  They change things.  You who are blessed by God are called to be more than blessed.  You are called to show others that blessing, not so that they’ll see how patient and peaceful you are, but so that they might know God.  Blessing is not for your benefit.  It is for the benefit of others.  You who are salt and light, you reveal God’s activity in the world.  When people see you, they see not your blessedness but the goodness of your works, which leads them to glorify not you, but God.

And then Jesus hits us with the warning.   “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  He reminds us: I’m not coming to get rid of the rules.  I’m coming to make them more than rules.  No longer will you live as if doing good things gets you good things and doing bad things gets you bad things.  Karma’s a great theory but we’re not gonna base our faith on it.  If God wanted to judge you on that, you wouldn’t make it.  I know you’re great, I like you too, and I’m telling you, you wouldn’t make it.  If you truly had to earn your blessings, you wouldn’t get them.  Ever.

This is the “so what” for today, that great question we’re asking during Epiphany.  Two weeks ago I told you that you are God’s beloved child, so you get to love others boldly and freely.  Last week Eric told you that you face temptation, that evil is real, so we look to God’s power to defeat it.  This week, Jesus tells us that we are blessed.  Especially when it looks like the exact opposite; when we mourn, when we are persecuted, when we are pure in heart, when we are peacemakers, when our blessing is not evident, we are blessed.

So what?  Jesus tells us that our blessing is for a purpose larger than feeling good or showing off.  We are blessed, no questions asked, so that we may bless, no questions asked.  You’re going to treat people with love and compassion and respect and justice and mercy, not because it earns you extra blessing credits, but because they are beloved by God and you are letting your light shine so that they can see it, too.  The rules matter because they remind us that our relationship with God and our relationship with other people matters, how you treat people matters, not because it gets you blessings or curses, but because you who are blessed get to share your blessing so that there is more, only more, always enough, for everyone.

So yes.  You are hashtag blessed.  But so are you, and you, and them, and those people, and even them.  Because God chooses to stand with us because God loves us, not because we deserve it.  You are blessed.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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