category: Musings, Sermon Starter

Mistaken Blessings

By Rachael Keefe

At 3:03 am I woke with these words in my head, “Holy S***! We have been so wrong about what it means to be blessed!” Before these words, I had been dreaming about walking on a beach in the midst of an intense winter storm. I was dressed warmly and …

Mistaken Blessings

At 3:03 am I woke with these words in my head, “Holy S***! We have been so wrong about what it means to be blessed!” Before these words, I had been dreaming about walking on a beach in the midst of an intense winter storm. I was dressed warmly and could walk through the winds, the ice and snow, and crashing waves without distress or discomfort. I was desperately searching for someone or something. Then I woke up with a revelation echoing through my head.

As long as there has been human beings, we’ve associated prosperity or success with God’s blessing. Our accumulation of wealth and power, individually or communally or nationally, is proclaimed as evidence of living in a way that pleases God. I think this is wrong, misguided, though understandable. God does not hand out rewards or punishments to the chosen few (or many). God really cannot work that way or the wealthiest, most power-centered people would be the ones God most favors. If that were the case, God would be on the side of empire-building oppressors. How have we not seen that we have attributed the things that this world values as a sign of God’s favor? God does not value these things.

In fact, God values the very opposite. In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes we are told what God’s blessings look like. We are also told that woe will come to those who ignore those whom God views as blessed. While Jesus is clear about who is blessed and who is not, we have embraced the opposite point of view. We have fooled ourselves and created a breach between popular Christianity and God’s holy ways.

Jesus tells us that the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the reviled (for the sake of the Gospel) are blessed. Yet, we tend to blame them for their situations. We see poverty as a failure to work hard. We see hunger as a failure to use resources well. We see weeping as a character flaw. Most startlingly, we see anyone who might be persecuted for faith as lacking a fundamental degree of sanity. It’s as if we have not heard a word Jesus said.

How is it that we have come to seek after riches, full bellies, easy laughter, and the approval of those around us above other, more essential, things? According to Jesus, these things are met with woe. These are not the blessings God hands out. Yet, we repeated live as if this were the truth. How many times do we hear folks saying, “I am so blessed” because they have achieved something culture has determined is good and worthy?

It’s important to note that Jesus was speaking to his disciples when he called out the blessedness of those we would rather ignore. Because the blessedness comes when we are active in service to our neighbors. The blessedness comes through relationship that results from building the Realm of God. As followers of Christ, we are blessed when we are poor because we have used our financial resources in service to our neighbors. We are blessed when we are hungry because we have shared our food with our neighbors. We are blessed when we are weeping because we are merciful and compassionate in relationship with our neighbors. We are blessed when we are reviled because we have sought to bring Divine Love into the world above all else. Blessing comes in the hardships wrought through embodying Christ in the world today.

On the other hand, if we are rich it is because we have not shared our resources to the fullest extent possible. If our stomachs and cabinets are full, then we have not added enough seats to our table. If we are laughing, then we have not risked depth of relationship with our neighbors. And if we are not reviled or ridiculed for the sake of the Gospel, then we have failed to build the Realm of God.

We really have been wrong about being blessed. Individual, communal, or national prosperity is not a gift from God if it leaves out any of our neighbors. As followers of Christ we have no business being rich if anyone around us is poor. We have no right to be full if any of our neighbors are hungry. We have no right to easy laughter if any of our neighbors feels unloved, unwanted, or unseen. We ought not seek the approval of others before we seek to bring Love into the world. All these things will bring distress, if not to us then to our neighbors.

May we adjust our understanding of what it means to be blessed by God. Prosperity, wealth, power, success mean nothing if our neighbors have so little. God does not choose one person over another. Human beings have set up kyriarchy. Let us find the blessing in dismantling it and repairing the breach that we have made between what we value and what God values. Let us all seek to be blessed in the ways that Jesus indicated.

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 17, 2019
Jeremiah 17:5–10
Psalm 1
1 Corinthians 15:12–20
Luke 6:17–26

Photo: CC0 image by Anja

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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