Pastor Amy opens up the way the world thinks about blessing and the way Jesus thinks about blessing. Hint: they are not the same.
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If Instagram or twitter wrote the beatitudes it might go something like:
Blessed are high-earners, for theirs are the dollar, dollar bills yo.
Blessed are the red-carpet, runway-ready, for they will receive the swag.
Blessed are the star sports-ball players, for theirs are the teams that win.
Blessed are you when you struggle for great abs, yours is the rock hard bod.
Blessed are the all-expense-paid, scholarship receivers, the envy of many will be yours.
Blessed are you, who have children who smile adorably in every photo, you may sigh with relief that you have successfully kept up with the Kardashians.
How very fortunate you are when people like and retweet you and utter every kind of smiley emoji beneath your photo. Likewise, the celebrities before you were lauded in the very same way.
I don’t have to tell you, my friends, about the way that the word ‘blessed’ has been distorted and misused since Jesus preached the words spoken so beautifully before us this morning. The Babylon Bee, an online Christian satire website, does a nice job pointing this out with their article “Study: People Who Use Hashtag ‘#Blessed’ Much More Likely To Be Blessed”
U.S.—According to a recent study by the Barna Group, people who regularly use the hashtag “#blessed” on their social media posts are much more likely to be blessed by God with good health, financial resources, successful relationships, and material prosperity.
“We compared those who routinely use the hashtag ‘#blessed’ against regular Christians who follow Jesus but never use it,” a Barna Group representative told reporters Tuesday. “Those who used the hashtag were much more likely to be miraculously healed from diseases, discover money lying around on the ground, find their way into higher social circles, and even win the lottery,” …
The report also found that of those believers whose net worth was greater than $1 million, over 96% used the “#blessed” hashtag daily, while those living in poverty “never or almost never” appended the hashtag onto their social media posts.
“Our findings indicate that it would make sense for Christians worldwide to start adding the ‘blessed’ hashtag to all of their social media activity, and even sometimes their spoken language,” the representative urged. “Hashtag blessed,” she added.
You all know: blessing has so much more nuance than the world – and even much of the church – attributes to it. I suspect that no one knows this better than a chaplain like Beth, whom we will bless today. She sits with people grappling with the worst that life has to offer every day. Folk who sit with the question of where God is in the struggle and try to understand and experience the goodness of God’s presence and depth of God’s blessing through and in spite of it.
Some translations of the beatitudes, like the Good News Bible, which was my Bible of choice growing up, renders this part of Jesus sermon “Happy are those…” I think to make the language simpler or easier to understand. But I don’t think Jesus really cares about our happiness. I just don’t. That is constitutional language. It’s American language. But it is not biblical language. I do think Jesus wants us to experience joy. And I believe Jesus wants us to experience blessing. And I do not believe that blessing is what the world believes it is. Especially not if you’re looking at social media as your example.
Many of you have become familiar with the spiritual practice of consolation and desolation. You might know it by other names from different contexts: Examen, openings and blocks, lightness and dark, and although it’s falling out of use, for many years of working with youth we used language of oil and sand. What is wonderful about this spiritual practice, is its invitation into thinking about blessing with depth that moves beyond ‘this good thing happened and that makes me happy and therefore I am #blessed.’ I like to challenge the youth (listen to me when I say this, young people) our ‘oil’ – the consolation and blessing – is not the moment I won the soccer game. It might, however, be the experience of camaraderie with teammates, the joy of engaging in a challenge and overcoming it, the satisfaction of growing in a skill, the pleasure of using the body with which God gifted me. The consolation moves from ‘happy’ into an emotional and spiritual understanding of knowing God present in all times and places and further yet, especially in time of mourning, meekness, difficultly and persecution, where there is perhaps a space for a greater knowing of God.
Jesus invites his listeners to understand that there is blessing in moments of vulnerability. The sacred is found when we are stretched to the limit. “Blessed are you when you are at the end of your rope,” translates Eugene Peterson. “With less of you, there is more of God.” Celtic Spirituality has a notion that there are some times and places in life and the world that are ‘thin places’, moments and locations where the veil between the human or the earth and the divine is momentarily lifted or when it is especially transparent. While The Message is often almost cringingly corny in its rendering of scripture into ‘everyday’ English, he begins to get at this idea of states of being, of times of life that make more room for God.
There is most certainly not room for God when Mercedes and dollar bills, swag, winning sports and hot bodies fill up our mental space and force out emotional and spiritual reflection. Force out Jesus. Those things might make us happy but they do not bring us any closer to blessing.
A couple years ago, in the movie Inside Out, which I know many of the children hear have seen (and some adults) the main characters are the emotions Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. And the main thread of the story is Joy’s discovery that to be truly known and understood, she needs the other emotions – and especially Sadness. Our emotional and Spiritual lives are complex. Riley, the possessor of the emotions loses the hockey game – she feels sad. But she also experiences the joy and consolation: the blessing of supportive community, caring friends who let her grieve, let Sadness do her work. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Here’s an awesome, tear-jerking clip of Sadness and Joy working together to help Riley).
Jan Richardson writes about blessing: “I found myself enchanted and compelled by the power of blessing: how, in the space of a few lines, the stuff of pain, grief, and death becomes the very substance of hope.”[i] The stuff of pain, grief and death, the stuff of struggle is not what we post on Instagram with the hashtag #blessed, but these are the moments in which we can truly find the holy.
Beth, blessed are you when you sit with a parent who has lost a child. Blessed are you when walk with women struggling with addiction. Blessed are you by the smudge of smoking sage. Blessed are you when you hold wrinkled hands. Blessed are you, sitting silently at a bedside. Blessed are you when mediate between patients and doctors. Blessed are you when you carry the grief and pain and struggle of others. You will weep but you will laugh. You will be a carry this blessing with you.
[i] Jan Richardson in Circle of Grace: a book of blessings for the seasons.