When I hear this text, the Beatitudes, I have a difficult time. Because in some cases it feels like a laundry list of things I haven’t done or at least should be doing better. I think is that when I hear “Blessed are the pure in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” I tend to think, “Am I pure enough in spirit?” or “I should try to be more pure in spirit.” Or, when I hear “blessed are the peacemakers” I think, “Yes, I really should be more committed to making peace.” Allowing my brother to land out a 2nd story window is probably enough to count me out as a peacemaker. At least with “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” I have the assurance of knowing that on those occasions when I am mourning I will be comforted. But, to be perfectly that’s relatively small comfort because the truth is I don’t want to mourn, and hearing this beatitude doesn’t make me any more eager for additional mourning. The same thing is true for being persecuted.
I wonder if our difficulty with the Beatitudes isn’t part of a larger problem most of us have. And the problem is this. We are far less eager to be blessed than God is to bless us. Or maybe “eager” isn’t quite the right word. Maybe it’s that we have a hard time believing God wants to bless us in the first place. We picture a God of judgment who rules on high. A God who punishes us for the things we do wrong. Or maybe it’s that we know ourselves too well to feel worthy of that grace. After all, we are intimately familiar with our faults and limitations, our insecurities and failures. And knowing ourselves this well we may find it hard to believe God loves us unconditionally.
Very little if anything in our world is unconditional. We’re used to paying for our mistakes, paving our own way, toeing the line and reaping the consequences when we don’t, and so it may not only be unexpected, but downright unsettling and nearly inconceivable to imagine that God behaves differently, showering us with blessing apart from anything we have done, earned, or deserve. But let’s me be clear Jesus isn’t setting up conditions or terms (this isn’t the small print that appears after an offer that appears too good and often is) but rather Jesus is just plain blessing people. All kinds of people. All kinds of down-and-out, extremely vulnerable, and at the bottom of the ladder people. Why? These are certainly not the people that are going to gain Jesus power and fame.
Jesus blesses these people to proclaim that God regularly shows up in mercy and blessing just where you least expect God to be – with the poor rather than the rich, those who are mourning rather than celebrating, the meek and the peacemakers rather than the strong and victorious. This is not where citizens of the ancient world look for God and, quite frankly, it’s not where citizens of our own world do either. If God shows up here, Jesus is saying, blessing the weak and the vulnerable, then God will be everywhere, showering all creation and its inhabitants with blessing.
And Jesus is not saying that this is a reality that will be experienced some day, but this is something that is to be experienced right here and now on earth. Blessed are the meek right now. Blessed are the peacemakers right now. Blessed are the poor in spirit right now. Blessed are those who mourn right now. There are no conditions attached, just blessing.
If you survive two years of seminary, you go onto internship. I did my internship at Lord of Life Lutheran in Chagrin Falls, OH. Not long after I arrived a wise retired man in the congregation named John called me pastor. Every time he called me pastor it made me uneasy because I was anything but a pastor at that point. I was only a couple of years into seminary and a long ways from being a pastor and had a long way to go before I deserved to hear the name pastor associated with me. Eventually it made me uncomfortable enough that I said to him, John, I don’t have my degree yet. I am anything but a pastor at this point.” Pastor, he patiently responded, “Where I come from we are not content to call you what you are, but instead call you what we believe you will be!”
Those words from that wise man have stuck with me. Where I come from we are not content to call you what you are, but instead call you what we believe you will be. Blessing. Unexpected, unsettling, nearly inconceivable, yet blessing nonetheless. God sees us as people not as we are (broken), but as who we will be (blessed).
I remember one of my first baptisms here at Messiah. It was of a 4 year old and she was not happy to be the center of attention. And since she was old enough she could do something about it. So she ran around up front while I tried to perform the baptism with the poor family chasing her around up front. I think Pastor Karl smirked from somewhere in the congregation thinking something about how he was thrilled to now have an associate pastor to handle stuff like this. But she wanted nothing to do with the baptism or me. When we finally chased her down, I poured water on her to baptize her in the midst of her screaming and then I made the sign on her forehead in the midst of her kicking and it got me thinking. First, I think Pastor Karl will be doing the next baptism of a 4 year old, but second I think many of us receive our blessings kicking and screaming. We want to be blessed, but we want it on our terms. But in the absence of our ability to do, control, own or have any power at all; God blesses us.
Today we celebrate the 54th anniversary of Messiah. So many things have changed during those 54 years. Our community around us, our building, many of our people, and our pastors are even better looking, but our call as Christians is the same as it was 54 years ago and it will be the same 54 years from now. Our call as a church is to share the blessings that we experience with the community and the world. That has been Messiah’s call from the first time Messiah had services in the park down the road and it will continue to be our call into the future. Sure it might happen in different ways than it did before. When we welcome someone into Joseph’s coat and show them they mean something for the first time in a while. Blessed are they. When we reach out to those that have lost loved ones. Blessed are they. When we welcome people in this place that are welcome nowhere else. Blessed are they…right now! Just like that wise man from my internship congregation, we are called to see people not as they are, but as who God created them to be.
At my internship site that I mentioned before they had a saying that started with their first pastor many years before. He would say blessed to be a blessing. God has blessed us in our baptisms, made the sign of the cross on our foreheads whether we have received it willingly or kicking and screaming. May we share this blessing with the world. Amen.