You are blessed. Jesus said so. You are blessed. But, what does it mean to be blessed?
People often say, “I am so blessed to have… a healthy child” … …a job… good health… a beautiful house or something else that is good or desirable. But these blessings sound like being “successful” or “rich” or “living the good life.” And that sometimes implies that people are blessed with success, riches and a good life because they did something to deserve it...and then… does that mean that those who don’t have healthy kids or a good job – are not blessed?
No. As Lutherans, we believe that God has blessed us – all people – with gifts of time, talents and skills and resources. As the Bible says, the sun shines and the rain falls on the good and bad alike. We believe that we are blessed – not because we did anything to deserve it - but out of God’s great mercy. And because we are blessed –we can be a blessing for others. We have been blessed – to be a blessing.
In today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims blessings to people who are in situations that don’t sound like the good life. They don’t even sound like something to give thanks for. Who wants to mourn? Or be meek? Or persecuted? How is this blessing? Or “Good News?”
To put it in context, I’m going to read just a few verses of Matthew before our Gospel reading: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. “ (Matthew 4:23-25).
Jesus is not talking to those who, in his society, were considered “successful” or “rich” or “living the good life. He’s talking to those who could not afford medical insurance, those who were disabled, sick and hurting. They showed up because they were in need. They needed to hear the good news of Jesus – and they were hoping – despite everything – that Jesus could heal them. They came from all over - Jews and Greeks – immigrants, foreigners and locals too. Into this unlikely crowd, Jesus brings healing – and then he does something more transformative still – he proclaims blessings on those that society did not consider blessed – pitiable maybe – but no one would have considered them “successful” or “living the good life.”
But Jesus called them, Blessed.
In the height of the Great Depression, circuses would travel from town to town, often with a “sideshow” – an exhibit of people who in that day were considered “freaks” – a bearded lady, conjoined twins, a painted man. In the short film, Butterfly Circus, the sideshow master urges the crowd to gather around to see a man “whom God himself has turned his back upon” and then dramatically pulls back the curtain back to reveal Will, a man without arms or legs.
Will escapes the cruelty of that circus and circus master and by stowing away in the Butterfly circus truck, hoping to find work with them. But he is surprised to find that they don’t have a sideshow. He is about to despair that he will be thrown out. But this circus master tells Will he won’t allow him to be displayed and laughed at for what he lacks – but he also urges Will to not just sit on the sidelines feeling sorry for himself but instead to find his gifts, saying, “You are magnificent…. If you could only see the beauty that can come from ashes.”
With his new community at the Butterfly Circus, a community built of people who also had experienced challenges, Will discovered that God had not “turned his back on him.” Instead, he found that what he had been taught was a weakness, a deficiency, could be used as a blessing, a unique gift, and that by using this gift, he could be a blessing to others.
Jesus proclaims surprising blessings – to Nic V., the Australian man the character Will portrayed – and to you. But sometimes, like Will, we need to be reminded that we have been blessed.
Sometimes hearing God’s Word in a new translation can give us new insight – especially in familiar passages like today’s Gospel. So, for example, the first blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is translated by the Message Bible as: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
Ever been at the end of your rope? I have. Jesus knows that it is at those times that we are often more open to hearing God’s Word and God’s way for our lives. It is at those times that we realize that we can’t do it on our own that our ears are open to hear the Holy Spirit saying, “I’m here! I’ve been here all along!” Jesus is there with blessing and love even in those times when you don’t feel particularly worthy or confident or capable, even when your spirit feels weak, tired, distraught or in pain.
Today is All Saints Day, a day in which we remember and mourn the loss of our loved ones. We hear the words: “Blessed are those who mourn” translated by the Message Bible as: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.”
When we mourn the loss of those that we love our emotions can range from angry, to sad, to thankful, to bitter, to glad, to out of control and sometimes all at the same moment. But Jesus blesses us in the midst of our grief, bringing us comfort and hope and the knowledge of his abiding love and care.
Throughout these blessings, Jesus turns the world’s expectations and understanding of what it means to be blessed upside down. Because in those times when we are hurting, mourning, and filled with heartache and everything seems to be going all wrong… it is then that Jesus reminds us that we are not alone. God is with you… and this, in itself, is reason to call you blessed.
You are blessed. But, again, sometimes we don’t feel so blessed. So let me remind you of the time in which you were first claimed by God as God’s child.
Someone - maybe me – stood before a bowl of water and proclaimed, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” and as each name of God was spoken, water was poured on your head. You were already loved by God, but on that day, with the water and God’s Word spoken, you became an official part of God’s family, a brother or sister of Christ and heir of all of God’s promises.
You are blessed. Jesus says so.
But sometimes we need a reminder. That was the case for the people in Rome. And so Paul reminded them – and us – that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
That’s God’s promise. That’s God’s blessing for you. Thanks be to God. Amen