I start with a simple question to which I would deem there is no simple answer. The question is, ‘what is a blessing”? Or perhaps more specifically ‘what is it to be blessed’? The Webster’s Dictionary defines a blessing as, “God’s favour and protection and further suggests a blessing is the infusion of something with holiness, with spiritual growth, with divine will, or one's hope or approval”. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we heard in the Gospel reading for today is of course also referred to as the Beatitudes, which in Latin means ‘blessings’. As Christians I think it is very important to consider at length what a blessing is and what it means to us, and I also think we should on occasion revisit our notions of blessing as we mature. For me a blessing is an authoritative pronouncement of God’s unqualified and unconditional grace – a blessing, in whatever form it takes, is a tangible, palpable and substantial confirmation that God loves us as His very own children and that we are indeed family to one another. When we receive a blessing we are accepting the fact that it is God’s divine will, that God is with us on our journey, and that we will grow as human beings into the light and love that is our destiny.
As I have mentioned here before the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus fascinates me. While I think we all need to ponder God’s blessings, for Christians the Beatitudes represent, I believe, something much more than just a list of blessings, it is much more than an inventory of those who are and should be blessed by God. I believe the Beatitudes represent in a perceivable and discernable way the actual core of what makes us Christians, the actual building blocks that should define us as followers of Christ. Let me put it this way, if for us the Golden Rule of loving our neighbours as our selves is our Christian mission statement and the Ten Commandments are our Charter from which we decode our overarching principles and precepts, then I believe the Beatitudes are our spiritual DNA, they represent the metaphysical strands that connect us to God and in their understanding we are drawn closer to the truth and the freedom and the joy Jesus promises for us as human beings. The Beatitudes, as much as we can understand them, as much as we can live them and as much as we can fulfill them, connect us to what God’s kingdom is and what God would like us to recreate here on earth.
What strikes me every time I read the Beatitudes is the radical teaching Jesus is trying to convey to His followers. Imagine a world leader today, any world leader, standing in front of the television and pronouncing the following, as the way things would be from now on. To a worldwide audience try to envisage how this message would be received.
“From now on the poor and the marginalized, those who have been left out of privilege, hope, stability and happiness will be taken care of for they are truly special and important. From now on those who carry the burden of sorrow and those who are lonely to the point of despair will be comforted by a legion of caring professionals who will help them see the light of hope. From now on those who have been put aside, those who have bean beaten up by the system and those who have been trampled upon because they are deemed weak in our political economy and our cultural sociology that only rewards the strong will take over. You heard me right; starting tomorrow the manifestly imperfect and the delicately compassionate will be running things. Speaking of tomorrow, all those who have had the dream of a world where human rights are recognized and followed will be very pleased as there will be no more prisoners of conscience, no more torture, no more cruelty to animals, and all crimes against humanity will be swiftly prosecuted. From now on those who ask for forgiveness and mercy will receive it in full and those who -day in and day out - do the best they can do will finally be rewarded. From now on those who have advocated an end to war will be in charge of the military industrial complex and those who have been falsely persecuted will be thoroughly vindicated. Finally – the world leader says – those who thought this day would never come may now rejoice for this is the new way and this new way starts tomorrow”.
This is the message Jesus gave to his followers. If you take away the modern vernacular, this is virtually what he said. Jesus believed these blessings to be true and a part of God’s plan for us here on earth. Jesus didn’t say “one distant day”, or, “Only in heaven”, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”. Period. It is radical and uncompromising because it is what Jesus believed to be true and what he would have us believe to be true, despite all contemporary logic and politics to the contrary. War can end, the marginalized can be brought into the family of love, the poor need not suffer, the sorrowful do need our protection and encouragement, human rights do matter more than money, the weak can and should and must have a voice, and those who fight for justice should be our heroes. Believing in these truths with our whole heart, working for these truths piece-by-piece, and never letting them go is a fundamental part of being Christian. Blessed are the poor in spirit, Jesus is saying, because God will bless them and so should we. Blessed are those who mourn because God will comfort them and so should we. Blessed are the peacemakers because God will inspire them and so should we. Jesus is saying we to, each and every one of us are vessels of blessing and as we are blessed by the very fact of our creation, so we should bless those who are in need and those who work for a better world. I doubt you will ever hear a politician give the speech I just articulated, but the collective power of individual acts of care, compassion and concern must never be underestimated. As the Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
But now I come back to my not so simple, simple question, ‘what is a blessing’? At the end of the Beatitudes Jesus I believe answers this in a most amazing way. After going over all these blessings Jesus turns to the gathered crowd and says to them, says to each one of them, you are the light of the world and let your light shine brightly because there is and never will be anyone like you and you are therefore a blessing from God to the world. As I said earlier the Beatitudes are our Christian DNA, their message connects us to God, but the ultimate lesson for us here, Jesus is saying, is our own recognition that we are a blessing to others and that we should let that light shine always and brightly. God illuminated our soul and God wants us to be generous with the brilliance of that light.
And so, what is a blessing? You are. I am. We all are. I have a request for you today. When we get to the Prayers of the People, list aloud or in the silence of your heart those people present and past who have been a blessing to you. Think of those people who were a blessing to you and a light that shined upon you and others. Think of those people who in one way or another inspired you and still do. My Grandmother, Helen Blaney, (Who is in the picture above) back in the 1960’s started a small daycare in her own home for children with autism. Back then little was know about this developmental challenge in children and there were very few places parents could go for help. Having raised five children herself and a fierce believer in the power of patience and love and gathering together all the information she could, she started this small school and had amazing results. The autistic children in her care made progress in communicating with others and she did it because she loved to do it, rarely charging parents anything. Loving children who were in difficulty was her light, caring for children was her brilliance and the story of that blessing carries on in our family today.
An important part of the blessing that is us is very much the light that continues to shine in us from all the souls who we love today and those we see no more. Each one of these people in our lives has a biography that we hold deeply in our hearts and a love that makes us a part of who we are and helps guide how we will proceed on our journey.
In the beatitudes Jesus lays out the framework, the configuration of what is and what should be true in our world; count the weak as blessed because that is the way of love, count the peacemakers as blessed because that is the way forward, and count those who thirst for what is right and just as blessed because that is the way of God. But in order to get there, we must find the light that is in us and let our blessing be a part of the world. And in order to do that, let us remember today in the Prayers of the People those who inspire us, those who love us, those who care for us and for others because their blessing to us is a part of our framework, a part of who we are. The names of those you remember in the Prayers of the People are a convincing reminder that God blesses us all, and blesses us abundantly. Let us be thankful to God for the souls we cherish and remember this day, for the many blessings that they continue to give to us, and for the light that is within each and everyone of us so that we may be a blessing to others. Thank you God for these simple and powerful blessings. Amen.
The Rev. Patrick Blaney