January 29, 2017

“A Blessing”
Psalm 15; Matthew 5:1-12

The bible is fairly clear about those things that bring curse. “Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows…” (Deuteronomy 27:19) Jesus said, “…39When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ 40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.…” (Matthew 25:39-41)

The promise of blessings is also there in the bible, just not the way some prosperity gospel preachers would like you to understand it.

For example, the Beatitudes present a list of such promises, but frankly, most of them are not the promises we would prefer. Rather than hearing ‘blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” we would rather hear, “You won’t mourn.” Rather than hearing, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” we would rather hear, “you shan’t be persecuted.”

These are odd promises.

One of the problems is how we generally define the word ‘blessings.” Some translations use the English word “happy” in place of the word “blessed.” The Good News Bible seems a little too cheery for me when it promises, “Happy are those who mourn, for God will comfort them.”

Then there is the French version of the New Jerusalem bible that famously translates this same word, μακάριος (blessed) as debonair. “Debonair are the peacemakers.” This is the French term we usually think of as defining stylish or suave. What it really means, however, is de bon aire, ‘of a good disposition.” We might say “content.”

This same Greek word can also be translated as ‘honored’ or ‘favored.’ It is the same word that the Angel assigns to Mary, Jesus’ mother. It is not always easy to get from one language to another, nor is it easy to determine all that this entails and all that it does not include. Still, we might well wonder, what good it does Mary to be favored if she is without her son?

No matter how you translate μακάριος, happy, ‘a good disposition,’ or honored, the blessing of the beatitudes is God’s promise of something good. That something good is God’s presence.

Let me circle back on this a bit. Psalm 15 is describing this blessing, as present in the kind of community within which God dwells. When the psalms were being collected, many Jews who had been scattered all over Asia minor would never experience Temple worship. Psalm 15 encouraged them that communities of honesty and justice, wherever they may be, were themselves dwelling places of God. In this sense they are blessed.

For Christians, this concept evokes the confidence that it is not merely we who dwell with God but God who has chosen to “tabernacle” to ‘dwell,’ with us (John 1:14).

One story that illustrates what I mean is the story of Jacob and Essau from Genesis. Jacob had a fabricated idea of what blessing meant and he pursued it through deception. Jacob wanted the birthright and the blessing and would do anything to obtain them. Yet, He totally misunderstood both. Jacob quantified the blessing. To him the blessing was a substance. He confused the result of blessing with the reality of blessing. Blessing, however, is living life in covenant relation with God. It is to have and know the presence of God in your life, realizing that God is committed to you and will walk with you and provide for you and care for you.

The problem we have with this is that God may not care for us how we want God to care for us. We are prone to want God to care for us in the way Jacob viewed the birthright and blessing. Jacob wanted stuff and all that came with it. He wanted luck, happiness, and honor…and wealth. It is the height of irony that the man who connived so to get the blessing leaves home empty-handed.

So, understood this way, the idea that God is present with those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and the meek, isn’t all that strange. Throughout the bible, it is made plain that God has a preference for these folks. Which makes it entirely possible that God would rather tabernacle with those folks who were detained at JFK overnight that to sit with all us good folk in church.

See, to be blessed feels like you have someone’s unconditional regard. It feels like you are not and will not be alone, like you will be accompanied wherever you go. Being blessed feels like you have the capacity to rise above present circumstances, like you are more than the sum of your parts or past experiences. Being blessed feels like you have worth — not because of something you did or might do, but simply because of who you are, simply because you deserve it.

Blessing can be observed in our healing ritual today; drawing together as the family of God, seeing each other as God’s beloved children, meeting each other at the points of our brokenness, and conveying to each other our and God’s promises of regard, presence, accompaniment and, above all, worth. You are worthy of blessing, so are refugees and immigrants, for God Almighty has created us and called us so.