The trouble with preaching on the beatitudes (as they are called) is that scripture like this is so well known. Sometimes too well known. You may hear scripture like this and wonder “what is new? What is Pastor going to tell me that I haven’t already heard about this scripture before?” Well, I think that if Jesus were running for President and he made a stop at the Iowa State Fair (as they all do) and then read the beatitudes as his stump speech that he would be booed, run out of town, or worse…all before he could pick up a corn-dog or one of those buckets of fresh, hot, chocolate-chip cookies. Unfortunately, our definition of blessed is quite different from what Jesus says it means.
Jesus gathers his disciples for a time of teaching on the mountain top. If this were a class, it might be called “discipleship 101.” Remember, one of the names that Jesus is often called is “Rabbi” or teacher. He gathers his students, his pupils, his anxious evangelists to teach them one of the most important lessons: how to recognize those that are blessed. That is so important to remember. This is not a how-to list. This is not a to-do list. Jesus is teaching the disciples how to recognize those who are already blessed. And I have to wonder if the disciples were as confused as I am. Do you think that the disciples sat there, listening and processing, all while thinking “that doesn’t sound like being blessed at all”?
I got curious this week of what our definition of “blessed” would look like. I went to my favorite place, the internet. Actually, I went to Instagram to start. If you don’t know much about Instagram, I’m not going to go too much into it. But, it’s a social media site where people share pictures. With those pictures, you can add captions and hashtags (also known as the pound or number sign). This is handy to find other pictures with common themes. For example #ELCA or #dogsofinstagram. So, I looked up #blessed. And here is a small amount of the pictures I found.
I tried to select a nice mix. As you can see, I found this couple kissing on the subway or train, a man with a monkey on his shoulder, in the middle is a picture of a journal and a blender bottle, a Houston jersey and shoes, and then on the right hand side is a picture of a couple announcing that they are pregnant with a boy and finally, the last picture is (of course) Indian food. I wondered what made the picture takers (or picture posters) use the word blessed. Maybe the pregnant couple suffered through years of infertility like we did and they mourned for years. And now, surprise! It’s a boy. Maybe the kissing couple had just gotten over a huge argument and this is a kiss of peace? Maybe the person journaling is trying to discern what God wants from his or her life and striving for peace of heart. I can’t figure out the Indian food or monkey picture.
But, sadly, most of these pictures and many more like them on social media and other places isn’t the kind of blessed that Jesus talked about. You don’t usually hear people say “well, I just lost my job, my house burned down, my spouse left me, and I haven’t eaten in 4 days, but at least I’m blessed.” It’s usually “just bought my new car. I’m so blessed.” Or “I’m headed to the caribbean for vacation. #blessed.” Because the truth is that when we think of someone who is blessed, it is usually equated to wealth, status, power, fame, success, and even beauty.
At the same time, God is not in the shaming business; we usually do fine enough shaming ourselves. It’s not like these beatitudes are meant to make us feel bad. It isn’t as if Jesus wants us to be poor in spirit, or in a state of mourning, or even meek. What I don’t want for any of you is to hear these beatitudes and get down on yourself. I don’t want you to hear these and think that God has forgotten you. The challenge of the beatitudes is that God blesses the things in us that no one else (including us) can see as a blessing. Remember that Jesus was teaching the disciples how to recognize that someone was blessed. I wonder if they were being taught so that they could remind those that seemed downtrodden that they are blessed and therefore, loved? Or perhaps they needed to be taught what being blessed looks like so that those who claimed to be blessed would be invited to see the things they hide as a blessing instead?
Blessed are you who fight mental demons, who curse the darkness by lighting a candle. Blessed are you who wake up daily and keep fighting. Blessed are you who doubt God’s existence, who question, who struggle, but keep showing up. Blessed are you whose every breath is a battle. Blessed are you whose biggest battles are internal. For God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.
Blessed are you who sit at empty tables. Blessed are you who still reach for hands that are no longer present. Blessed are you who loved hard and now hurt much. Blessed are you for who tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are you who “shouldda, couldda, wouldda,” and “if only” for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.
Blessed are you who are overworked and underpaid. Blessed are you who are underappreciated. Blessed are you who have to make difficult business decisions. Blessed are you who want to feed the world but just can’t. Blessed are you who get frustrated by regulations, rules, and the weather. Blessed are you who keep others working even if you may not need them; for God see you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.
Blessed are you who draw blood and clean up disgusting things. Blessed are you who study until your brain leaks out your ears. Blessed are you who work while others sleep. Blessed are you who teach. Blessed are you who parent or grandparent. Blessed are you who share your crayons, playdoh or class notes. Blessed are you who feel invisible, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.
Blessed are you who love without boundaries. Blessed are you who love someone others don’t approve of. Blessed are you who stay only for the children. Blessed are you who keep fighting because you know it’s worth it. Blessed are you who feel like you sleep next to strangers. Blessed are you who sleep alone. Blessed are you who struggle just to love yourself, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.
Blessed are you who love and support our President. Blessed are you who are scared and engaged in resistance. Blessed are you who can have a civil disagreement on Facebook. Blessed are you who want to register as a Muslim. Blessed are you who are patriotic. Blessed are you who stopped paying attention because it’s all just too much, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.
Blessed are you who hunger for something different. Blessed are you who are comforted by routine. Blessed are you who want all the answers and blessed are you who know all the answers. Blessed are you who hunger for something more than food. Blessed are you who are full and overflowing, for God sees you (all of you), holds you, and loves you.
The darkest parts of you? The parts you try and hide or cover up? Those are the things that God sees and blesses. Blessings are not of human doing, they are of God’s doing; and that means they rarely look like we think they will. What a blessing.