What does it mean to be “blessed”?

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Sunday, January 29, 2017
Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Epiphany/AEpi4_RCL.html

How often do you say (or hear others say) “I am blessed”? What do they mean?
Looking today at the teachings of Jesus, I have to wonder: Do they mean, “My heart is broken and I am blessed because I’m learning to be compassionate, now that I’m awake? I am blessed because I can now imagine what it is like to bear someone else’s burden— my heart is broken, and I can see things I never saw before?”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God. They shall see God in the midst of this broken world, and they will never be the same again. Or do they mean, “through this grief I carry, I now have insight to be in deeper relationship with others who suffer great losses–what a great blessing!”

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted—they shall be comforted by the community of those willing to make the journey together, and they shall find healing on the way.
When we hear, “I am so blessed!”, do we think the speaker means: “No one assumes I have ideas to contribute. I would never presume to push my way in, but I am listening, and learning. I am blessed to carry such depth in my soul.”

Blessed are the meek, for they are building up a deep, deep well of wisdom and goodness, and they shall be the ones to lead the reign of God.

Maybe we hear this: “I am so blessed, I pour out my energies, my hopes, my resources in the struggle for people to be loved and accepted, and to make the world a better, healthier, safer, fairer place. I am blessed because I can see the potential for this so clearly I can almost taste it. I’m so thirsty for it and I’m grateful for the dryness that draws me on without giving up.”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they are building the beloved community, which will fill their bodies and souls with goodness.
Do we consider people blessed who are able to offer mercy and loving kindness to others? Blessed in letting go of judgment, in loosing the ties of anger and the need for retribution.
Blessed are the merciful, because they understand the freedom of the soul, and they shall receive it in kind.

Or are the blessed those who don’t let the world besmirch their souls, who still look at each person and see a child of God. Who are not hobbled by wanting what they don’t need. Who are focused on the love of God, and are at peace, calm before God.
Blessed are the pure in heart, because they have the clear space of conscience and spirit to see God in all of life.

Do we think it is a blessing to work for healing of the world? To work tirelessly for something most people think is a pipe dream?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are learning to model for the rest of us how God’s children behave.

According to Jesus, prophets and others who get in trouble for standing up for the marginalized are especially blessed. We might think of them as the opposite of blessed. It’s a big mantle to carry.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, who are reviled and against whom evil things are said, for they are in the best company of all the faithful. They are doing the hard work now of living into the reign of God and will be at home with ease when it comes in fullness.

God’s blessings are not like gold stars for work well done. The richest blessings come through living faithfully, courageously, humbly, and with clear intent into the love of God, which necessarily means living and struggling together with other people. We are built to be on this journey as a community.

Why does Jesus single out all these marginalized categories of people for special status as “blessed”? Because living in these states makes one vulnerable enough to welcome the love of God. All of these ways of being that Jesus describes are expressions of vulnerability before our Creator that offer the chance for hearts and lives to be transformed.

If you identify with any of these blessings today—whether you are in a hole of broken- heartedness, or struggling to show mercy and loving-kindness–I invite you to take time to ask God how your heart can grow in this time. How can the love of this community grow stronger, and your faith deepen in this midst of what you are learning and living through? How will you be different, and more Christ-like, when you turn the page on this chapter? Brian MacLaren writes:

Our choice is clear from the start: If we want to be his disciples, we won’t be able to simply coast along and conform to the norms of our society. We must choose a different definition of well-being, a different model of success, a new identity with a new set of values.
Jesus promises we will pay a price for making that choice. But he also promises we will discover many priceless rewards. If we seek the kind of unconventional blessedness he proposes, we will experience the true aliveness of God’s kingdom.¹

To paraphrase St. Paul, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those whose hearts are closed to it, but to those who are vulnerable to being blessed, it is the power of God.”

How blessed are you willing to be?
How much of a blessing will you choose to be?
¹ Brian MacLaren, We Make the Road by Walking (New York: Jericho Books, 2014), p.129