This sermon was preached February 2, 2020 by our Pastor, Michael Vollbrecht
Blessings to you on this day. Let us take a moment to be in this space together in quiet, listening for God, to feel gratitude for the gift of one hour a week where we can focus on something other than ourselves, something bigger than ourselves, and let us feel peace in this moment. You might breathe in gratitude and breathe out peace. // O God, may we hear your word and know your voice this morning, Amen.
What is a blessing? To some, a blessing is a gift or a state of mind. To some it is a formal word or a ritual like a benediction at the end of church where you’re invited to go “in the love of God, in the grace of Jesus, and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” The word blessing has its roots in Old English and originates with the Germanic speaking countries where it means to be ‘marked with blood.’ A blessing, then, is an experience that marks us, that changes or transforms us. It infuses us with holiness.
In Latin, the word benedicere means to speak well of, to praise, and I like this translation because when we are kind, when we speak from love, when we share goodness with others, we are blessing them. Your kindness towards others is a blessing. In the Bible, one of the first instances of God speaking blessing to God’s people is in Genesis 12 where Abram is told to leave his country and God says, “I will bless you, I will make your name great.” And the priestly blessing, one of my favorites, are words found in the book of Numbers in the 6th chapter: “May the Lord bless you, and guard you; May the Lord’s Face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; May the Lord’s face turn to you, and grant you peace.”
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is with his disciples and those hoping to hear him teach at a place tradition calls “Har Ha’Osher” in the hill country of northern Israel. Here, on the Korazim Plateau, we might imagine Jesus speaking to a sea of people just like us eager to be given a blessing, to be spoken kindly of, to hear a good word. And Jesus does not disappoint them. In the words of the beautitudes that we heard this morning, Jesus speaks to those who are downcast, to those who are marginalized or discriminated against, to those who feel unsure or maybe even unloved. Jesus speaks kindly to those who the authorities of his time rejects, just as he speaks kindly to those in our time who are pushed aside or judged.
These words of blessing speak not only to specific people gathered around him but to the entire human condition, right? To those who mourn, we will be comforted. To those who hunger and thirst, we will be filled. To whole who are pure in heart, we will see God. For those who strive for peace, we will be called children of God. Rejoice and be glad, says Jesus. And that’s really the message that Jesus has come to give us: Rejoice, and be glad, for life is not what it seems. Life is so much bigger, so much better, so much more alive, then it seems.
I want us to take a moment to think about our own Sermons on the Mount. If you were there, who would you bless? Who would you speak kindly to in the world today? Who is on your heart? What do you see around you that makes your heart hurt that you’d want to speak love and light and joy to them? I’d like us to take a moment to write this down. I want to ask the ushers to pass out a piece of paper and a pencil to you and I’d like you to write, in your own words, a beatitude. Blessed are the <blank>, for they <blank>. So, for example, I might say “Blessed are they who care for animals, for they shall see tails wagging.” Or maybe, “blessed are those who are using LED lights, for they are saving energy for the next generation.” Or maybe even “Blessed are the Chiefs, for they shall win.” See, I said it, so you can’t use that one…Take a few minutes to write down your beatitude, and then I’d like to gather them and we’ll read them in just at the end of the sermon.
The great poet Mary Oliver, one of my favorites, says that for her, “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” I think we often miss this because the world that is around us is often too focused on what is going wrong, on what the problems are, on what the mistakes have been, that we forget to live in blessing, that is, to speak kindly of the world, to flip the script, to do it differently, and that’s exactly what Jesus asks us to do. To see the world differently. Don’t you think it’s interesting that Jesus shares these blessings with the world from the top of a mountain? It’s like Moses, right, with the Ten Commandments? Moses gives the people of Israel a new way to live, new commandments that will set them apart and will define who they are as a people.
And Jesus, he stands up on this mountain, and he does the same thing. He tells us who we are. He tells us what it’s all about. He speaks abundance into a world that is lacking. He speaks peace to troubled hearts. He speaks love into a world that hates him and will kill him, but still, he speaks. But I want you today to see that, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, God’s blessing is at work in you. God’s blessing is an invitation to speak kindly, to do justice, to love mercy, to live boldly. To live differently. And you don’t have to wait to get started you can get started right now, this very moment. Choose life, choose abundance, choose blessing.
Before I gather and read our beatitudes that we’ve written I want to share with you these words from pastor and teacher Nadia Bolz-Weber, who wrote a book called Shameless and it’s one I cannot recommend highly enough. A few years ago Nadia wrote a new list of beatitudes, and just a few weeks ago she came out with another. Hear these words of blessing:
Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.
Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted anymore.
Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.”
Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers.
Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted.
Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented.
Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek.
You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like them.
Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.
Blessed are foster kids and special-ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.
Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.
Blessed are the burned-out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.
Blessed are the kindhearted football players and the fundraising trophy wives.
Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed are they who hear that they are forgiven.
Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it.
Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it.
Amen. So let’s take this one step further and read your blessings this morning. Let these be our prayer for the day, as well. // O God we have spoken words of blessing today, words of hope, words of comfort, words that needed to be said. Help us to take these words out into the world today, where we can be a blessing to others, each and every moment of our lives. Amen.
** Here are several of the beatitudes that our congregation created during worship today:
1. Blessed are the lonely and marginalized for their family is in those to whom they share fellowship and attention.
2. Blessed are the farmers who feed us. Blessed are the military who keep us safe. Blessed are animal caretakers who take care of our animals. Blessed are family and friends who are always there.
3. Blessed are the offensive lineman, for they protect Patrick Mahomes.
4. Blessed are the knowledge seekers for they will find answers.
5. Blessed are the people who greet you with a smile.
6. Blessed are those who care for the elderly for they know love.
7. Blessed are the lost and forgotten, for they will always belong to and be loved by God.
8. Blessed are the humble for they give themselves for others.
9. Blessed is my wife for she is my rock.
10. Blessed are those who help others, for they shall be fulfilled.
11. Blessed are those who help to improve climate change for they shall save the earth.
12. Blessed are those with mental illness. They are struggling.
13. Blessed are the Jayhawks for they are exciting to watch.
14. Blessed are grandchildren for they give us love and such joy.
15. Blessed are the emergency workers for they keep us safe and out of harm’s way.
16. Blessed are the members of this congregation as they make me feel inclusion.
17. Blessed is my friend for her love.
18. Blessed are the planters of seeds and bulbs for they shall experience the beauty of flowers in the springtime.
19. Blessed are the caregivers for their hearts are filled with kindness.
20. Blessed are the angry and the frustrated, for they will be the change.