*You might have been a little confused when the Scripture lesson for today was read. Because we have been marching our way through the gospel of Matthew—and last week we were in the 22nd chapter—we were nearing the end of Jesus’ ministry. But this week, we are back at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, back at the Beatitudes, back at chapter 5!
*Fear not, this is by design. It seems that our liturgical friends at Seasons of the Spirit have deviated from the chronological for a reason. Today, we remember how Jesus began his ministry. And then, for the next few weeks, we will be looking at the last parables that make up Matthew 25: the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, the Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.
*It is almost as if we need to think back to where we started—that we must put before our eyes, and into our minds, the BluePrint that Jesus sketched out in that first address. God’s BluePrint for Blessing.
*It is interesting to be considering Blessings in the midst of a global pandemic.
*It is challenging to be lifting up the idea of Blessings in the midst of a contentious, anxiety-producing, high stakes election season.
*But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed, this time, this place, is exactly when we should be listening once again to Jesus tell us who is Blessed, who is Beloved, in God’s sight.
*Yesterday was not just Halloween, not just the day that we have to “fall back” into Standard time, but was also the anniversary of a key action of the Reformation. Of course, I’m thinking of a young monk named Martin Luther, who made his case for changes that were needed in the church. He wrote up 95 theses (suggestions) and nailed it to the front door of the church in Wittenberg on All Hallowed’s Eve, probably because the next day was All Saint’s Day, a day when all the faithful would show up for mass and thus, they were bound to see his comments.
*I wonder, could Martin Luther have been thinking about Jesus’ Beatitudes when he decided to set down his critique of the church he loved and served? Of course, the Beatitudes, the Blessing of various people, can be seen as Jesus looking at those gathered around him, and spelling out that you, and you, and you, are important. In God’s eyes. The rich, the well-connected, the powerful, the famous, they were the ones who got mentioned as being blessed by God in synagogue (I’m sure). We still have some who are confused in that way today.
*Jesus starts his ministry, not by thanking all the dignitaries of the town, or naming names that might elevate him in anyone’s eyes—No, Jesus starts his ministry by proclaiming a BluePrint for Blessing. I’m sure people’s ears perked up. For everyone wants to receive God’s Blessing. Everyone wants to be in that wonderful status—to be Blessed of God.
*And then Jesus lists: Poverty (real or in spirit); Mourning; Meekness; Hungering and Thirsting for righteousness; Being Merciful; Having a Pure Heart; Working for Peace; and Being Persecuted. I think we can assume that in Jesus’ time, just as in our own, these are not usually on the top ten list of Blessings.
*I can imagine the shock and then the pleasure that must have rippled through the crowd as one, and then another, and then the multitude, heard that something they were struggling with, something that they were acting on (quietly and without fanfare), was being recognized by God—and made them Blessed! I am pretty sure it was the first time ANYONE had ever suggested such a thing.
Blessed, Blessed, Blessed are you, and you, and, yes, YOU.
*But it isn’t just a personal revelation. What Jesus is describing is the overturning of the religious norms of his time. The idea that the poor in spirit (much less the poor in anything) might possess the kingdom of heaven…the idea that those who were grieving in body and soul, could be sure of God’s comfort…the idea that the meek, those who live so much in the shadows, those who are bullied and ridiculed, will inherit the earth…the idea that those who feel injustice and can’t let the urgency of it go, might be filled (might find relief for their ache)…the idea that those who are merciful (and scorned by the world for being so) will receive mercy from God…the idea that the pure in heart, those who aren’t “with it,” those who see the good in others, those who come off as possibly childlike, they might be the ones who truly see God…the idea that the peacemakers, the reconcilers, the workers for a better world, a world of Shalom, would be the ones to be called children of God…the idea that being persecuted (for righteousness sake), is a ticket to living in God’s kingdom—this was groundbreaking.
*Because it flipped everything on its head. The high and mighty, the ones who were assumed to be Blessed of God, aren’t even mentioned. And God’s Blessing is showered on the low, the downtrodden, the ordinary—on people like those we know, on people like us.
*The Beatitudes are a BluePrint—but like every Blueprint they are a rendering, a drawing, a two-dimensional imprint. A blueprint isn’t the final step. It is intended to be a map, a vision, a signpost leading to a completed, “in the flesh,” construction. Jesus painted a picture of who is Blessed. We are the ones who are tasked with accepting the job, gathering the materials and the crew, and building the kingdom, with our lives, with each other, with our world.
*And so, because we are still in the throes of Covid-19, we need to hear about Blessings.
*Because we are days away from a momentous decision in our country, we need to focus on what real Blessings are.
*And because this is All Saints Day, we need to stop for a moment and acknowledge the blessings we have received from those who have gone before, even as we steel ourselves for the work we still have to do.
*At this time, we’re going to play a song called “All the Angels” performed by some of Judy Hahn’s Threshold Choir members. This work of singing by the bedside of those who are on the “threshold” of life and death, is one way Judy shares her blessings of music and ministry with others. It is because of her hard work that there is a Threshold choir in New Jersey.
*While the song is played, I invite you to think of one or more people who are no longer with us who have been a blessing in your life. Hold them in your mind. Say their name out loud (in your quiet space). Or if you can or desire, post their name in the zoom chat.
*The song is short, just over a minute. And the words are:
“All the angels around me, holding me in their love.
All the angels around you, holding you in their love.
All the angels around us, holding us in their love.”
(play song “All the Angels”)
*Blessed are … you,” says Jesus.
And so strengthened by God’s blessing
Sure of angels all around,
Wrapped in love,
We are sent out--
Blessed and called to be a blessing to others.
May it be so. Alleluia, Amen.