When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Word of Life. Thanks be to God.
This week I went on to Instagram - an app that allows you to share pictures with your followers - and decided to search the images that are tagged with #blessed. There were 120 million images. Those of you with phones and Instagram - take a moment to do a search - and I’m curious as to what you’ll find.
There are tons of images - mostly selfies - with comments like “so many reasons to smile” #blessed. “Nothing is worth it if you aren’t happy <3” #blessed. “I couldn’t have asked for a better day!” #blessed “You can have it all.” #blessed.
There’s a tendency in our culture to equate being blessed with material expressions...the more stuff you have, the more blessed you are. And we all know that that isn’t right. Yet we also tend to equate being blessed or feeling blessed as an emotional state akin to gratitude - we’re told to “count our blessings” when we’re down as a reminder to be thankful, we feel blessed when we consider the gift of family and friendship and community, or when we think about living in such a beautiful place.
People in Jesus’ day would have had similar ideas of what it means to be blessed - there was a prevalent understanding that those who had wealth and power were those who had been blessed by God, and those who were on the bottom of the societal food chain - the lepers, the poor, the outsiders - were not the recipients of God’s favor.
So what Jesus is doing in this passage here is taking those notions of who is and isn’t blessed by God -- and complicating that idea for the crowds - much like he does in the next few chapters (where he says, “You have heard it said this….but I say to you...something a great deal more complicated and nuanced”)
What Jesus focuses on here in this passage called the Beatitudes isn’t blessing as it pertains to stuff or as it relates to a state of gratitude or emotional well-being. It’s a statement of God’s nearness or presence - that God is near to the meek, to the poor, to those who mourn, that God is near to the merciful and the hungry, that God is near to the peacemakers and the pure in heart and the persecuted. God’s presence is revealed in those who are these things - it’s a statement of reality...not a statement of how you should be or how you need to act to get in to heaven.
I can imagine Jesus looking out on the crowd...people who were mostly from the edges of society...those for whom life was hard and demanding, who were close to the daily struggle of life...and handing out blessings upon those he sees around him. (Maybe a bit like Oprah...instead of saying, “and you get a chariot and you get a chariot and everyone gets chariots,” it’s “and you get a blessing and you get a blessing!”)
Author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber has this to say about the Beatitudes:
“What if the beatitudes aren’t about a list of conditions we should try and meet to be blessed. What if these are not virtues we should aspire to but what if Jesus saying blessed are the meek is not instructive –what if it’s performative? …meaning the pronouncement of blessing is actually what confers the blessing itself. Maybe the sermon on the mount is all about Jesus’ seemingly lavish blessing of the world around him especially that which society doesn’t seem to have much time for, people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance. So maybe Jesus is actually just blessing people, especially the people who never seem to receive blessings otherwise. I mean, come on, doesn’t that just sound like something Jesus would do? Extravagantly throwing around blessings as though they grew on trees?”
Because those for whom life is hard now - the nearness of God’s kingdom brings hope for a different reality, a different way of being, and a different way of relating to one another...and that’s good news...the call for us is to recognize what God is doing among those who our culture has written off.
Nadia Bolz-Weber continues - and reimagines what the Beatitudes might look like if Jesus were here today - who might God be especially near to in our day and age...who might be the blessed ones? And here’s what she has to offer:
Let’s take this one step further. What about here...among us...among those on our island? Who are those that God is especially present with? Who are those who are blessed as we think about our friends and neighbors here on Chebeague? The ones that Jesus would point out and notice if he were walking around today?
Get into groups of 4, take some paper and pens, and make a list...take a few minutes...and we’re going to write our own interpretation of the Beatitudes for our island.
Let’s say these Beatitudes together.
Blessed are those who work for a kinder way
Blessed are those who can’t ask for help
Blessed are those who volunteer tirelessly
Blessed are those who keep our town moving
Blessed are those who keep moving in the face of mourning
Blessed are those who feel lonely
Blessed are those who have a serious, chronic, or invisible illness
Blessed are the soup servers
Blessed are the commuters, young and old
Blessed are our children
Blessed are those who serve our town
Blessed is the church family
Blessed are those who keep quiet
Blessed are the troublemakers
Blessed are those who keep it all together
Blessed are those who are hungry
Blessed are those who struggle with addiction
For God is near to them all.
Now here’s the Spoiler alert - Jesus is walking around today -- Jesus walks around in us as the church...Body of Christ isn’t just a metaphor we use, and we’ll talk a bit more about that next week. Jesus didn’t just speak these blessings, he embodied them - feeding those who were hungry, lifting up the lowly, restoring humanity and dignity to women and those who sold out to the empire and those who were segregated from society because of disease. We’re invited to embody that same way of living in the world. We are a blessed people because we understand God’s nearness to us, that love and grace are ours without reservation, without having to do anything to earn it, that we are already participants in the kingdom Jesus came to proclaim. The invitation for us is to let others know that they are blessed too. That God is near to them, too. That God is near to those we’ve mentioned - - .
So this day, remember that you are blessed. Maybe even #blessed. You are...and so are you...and you. And so are those who are out in our community right now. Go forth this week to live a blessed life - one aware of God’s nearness and presence with you - and to share the news of God’s nearness and presence with others. Go forth to be a blessing...because the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.