First United Methodist Church
January 29, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Living the Epiphany: #Blessed
Let’s pray: Loving God, you have always been good to us. You guide us and lead us when we are lost. As we prepare to listen to your word, give us the wisdom to follow all we are taught. Help us live according to your will. Open our ears, so we can listen and learn. Grant us the spirit of understanding as we hear the message you have for us today. Amen.
A quick look at Facebook and Twitter shows how many people today feel #blessed. In our social-media world, saying you’re blessed can be a way of boasting while trying to sound humble.
College scholarship? #Blessed. Unexpected raise? #Blessed. Wonderful family? #Blessed. A good cup of coffee? #Blessed
We even have one from the Upper Room! Be a blessing each and every day. #blessed
Lots of stars are feeling #blessed by their opportunities to be in movies, on television, and in concert. There are families starting vacations and ending them, all feeling #Blessed. #Blessed appears for babies being born, for the Starbucks’ drive-through, and for getting an extra McNugget at McDonalds. I think it’s great that so many people are able to feel blessed in so many different circumstances, but this is not exactly what Jesus meant when he used the word “Blessed” as the opening word of his teaching ministry.
As we move into the fourth week after Epiphany, our scriptures have made it very clear that Jesus has issued an invitation. Just as Jesus calls his first disciples to “come and see” who Jesus is, Jesus calls us, and as we respond to that invitation, the training period begins. For the next few weeks, we will be hearing Jesus’ first lesson for his followers, better known as the Sermon on the Mount. We will listen as Jesus instructs his disciples and the growing crowd of people who are coming out to hear him speak and to receive healing. As we listen to his teaching for those first disciples, he will be teaching us too.
When Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he isn’t making a statement of cause and effect. He isn’t saying you are blessed with the kingdom of heaven because you are poor in spirit. He isn’t saying you are blessed with comfort because you are in mourning. What Jesus is doing here is pronouncing a blessing on the people who have gathered as he begins to teach. He is giving a blessing to all the people who have come to hear him.
He is saying, “Blessed are you and you and you. Why? Because you are standing in the presence of Jesus Christ – Emmanuel – God with us – and I am inviting you into the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is blessing them for a purpose. He is blessing them to think differently about the way the world works because of what he is teaching and doing. He is describing how we are to live as God’s people in this world – not simply by calling attention to all the many ways God has #blessed us personally – but by, as the Upper Room’s tweet put it so succinctly, “being a blessing for others.”
This was a radically new teaching for the people in Jesus’ day. In the ancient world, just like today, many people believed strongly in cause and effect. They believed that if they were good people who followed God’s commandments, worked hard, and tried to do their best in all circumstances, God would reward them with good health, food to eat, stable jobs, happy families and prosperity. Likewise, they believed that God punished the sinful with illness, poverty, imprisonment, blindness, divorce and other personal tragedy. Many believed that God even punished entire sinful populations through war, famine, droughts and other disasters. If a man was sick, or mourning, or poor in spirit, or starving, or persecuted, it was his own fault for sinning. A woman who suffered did so as the consequence of her own bad behavior because suffering was understood as punishment for sin.
But Jesus is saying it doesn’t work like that in the kingdom of God. It isn’t that we are wrong to feel #Blessed when something goes our way. But when things do not go our way, that doesn’t mean God is punishing us either. God’s kingdom is a whole different playing field. Jesus blesses everyone who has gathered, no matter who they are and no matter what they have done. God’s blessing in Christ is not just for the righteous ones. God’s blessing is not just for certain religious groups, or certain genders, or certain cultural or racial groups. God’s blessing is not just for those who are pure, who go to church and give to charities and treat people with kindness. And God’s blessing is not evidenced by a big bank account or a fancy title or a luxury home.
In this new kingdom that Jesus is showing us, God blesses the saints and sinners alike. Jesus offers a blessing on the poor in spirit and the poor in wallet. He blesses the blind, the lame, the imprisoned, the outcast. He blesses the leper and the prostitute. He blesses the murderer and the thief and the adulterer. He blesses the Jews and the Christians, the Muslims and the Hindus, the Buddhists and the Ba’hai. He blesses the Democrats and the Republicans and the Independents alike. In Christ, God’s blessing does not discriminate. God’s blessing is for all. God’s blessing is for you. God’s blessing is for me.
That’s good news. That’s something to get excited about, don’t you think? It means that no matter who you are or what you have done, you are blessed and you are welcomed into God’s family, and there is nothing you can do, ever, to lose God’s love, affirmation, and blessing.
· #blessed is our identity
· #blessed is our condition
· #blessed is who we are because of God’s saving love shown in Jesus Christ
So in this first teaching for his followers, his disciples, in his first teaching for you and for me, Jesus is telling us as clearly as he can that these people – “look around you,” he says to his disciples – these people in the crowd that gathered that day near the shores of the Galilean lake – these people who live down the street and let their kids run wild, these people who don’t work and are collecting welfare, these people who are in jail for dealing drugs, these people who got pregnant out of wedlock and are seeking a solution, these people who are members of a gang, these people who are members of a white supremacist group, these people who are chanting #blacklivesmatter, these people who sit in judgment, these people who pray to Allah, these people who carry guns into Walmart, these people who are crazy feminists, these people who are pro-life, these people who are pro-choice…well, you get the idea…Jesus is telling his disciples that ALL THESE PEOPLE are #blessed.
And we who call ourselves disciples, followers of Jesus Christ, need to not just understand this, but we need to live it out by our words and our actions. We are #blessed in order that we may be a blessing to others, says the tweet from the Upper Room.
Well. There is really no other way to say it. This is a tough opening line for these folks, and for us, whether we are already disciples or we are here at the invitation of someone from this congregation to “come and see” for ourselves who this man Jesus is and what he has to say.
So, do you hear him? Can you hear him speaking to you? Can you hear him saying, “YOU ARE BLESSED”?
Blessed are YOU. Blessed are YOU. Blessed are YOU.
[Take a moment and look at the person beside you and say to them, “Blessed are you!”]
So when I think about what this means for the church, I have to think about Martin Luther, who got so upset with the church’s practices and exclusivity. I have to think about John Wesley and his practice of preaching on street corners in order to reach those who couldn’t afford to rent their pew and I have to think about Bishop Coke and Bishop Asbury, who came to America to ensure that the people of this newly established country would have a church to attend – a church that was free of government influence and available to everyone, no matter where they lived. Those first Methodist preachers traveled around on horseback, meeting in homes and barns in order to share Jesus’ love with struggling settlers. The Methodist Church grew because it shared the message of love and grace and forgiveness – to everyone.
Our world is a mess right now. It’s broken. Something happened somewhere, and people stopped valuing love and respect and dignity. People think that they are blessed. The question is whether what others call blessed is what Jesus calls blessed. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not. And sometimes it’s hard to tell. Today is about making it less hard to tell.
If you really think about Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins teaching and he says, “Blessed are you! And this means that you don’t have to live as the world lives. The world says this, but I say…”
We are called to love. We can’t live as the world lives. We need to be the church that loves people. How can we do that? We start by making a commitment to be a blessing. Let us pray…
Forgive us, Lord, for neglecting our work for so long. Forgive us for allowing our world to become so broken. Help us today Lord to reclaim our world. Teach us to Tweet. Teach us to love. Teach us to do as Jesus did and transform the world with your love. Amen.