Epiphany IV – January 29, 2017
Annual Meeting Sunday
To Bless and To Make Blessing
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
“Blessed are” proclaims Jesus from the mountaintop…. “Blessed are” and we want to know who is blessed because we want to be among them. We are hungry to be named as the beloved. We are hungry to receive blessing. The word “blessedness” that we hear in the Gospels comes from the Latin word for “happiness.” Happiness isn’t simply a light hearted, clap your hands kind of feeling. It seeks to address some of the most basic needs and meanings of life. According to the dictionary “happiness” can mean “good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.” Happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers “good.” 1 …and goodness falls into the realm of moral virtue, moral excellence, kindness, generosity, the best part of anything, strength. The word “goodness” can also be a euphemism for God as in “thank goodness,” “thank God,” “gracias Dios.”
Who wouldn’t want such blessing? …though it is sometimes difficult to reconcile “exalted happiness” being paired with mourning, or meekness, or persecution… but that is what Jesus does. Amidst some of the hardest experiences a human can know, Jesus tells us that God blesses with kindness and generosity and even strength. Each of the beatitudes offers room to welcome God to enter into the places where we are hurt and challenged, and in those places where we seek to be “merciful”… “pure in heart”… “peacemakers”…. There is room to explore the meaning of God’s blessing… and of God’s desire for our true happiness… In the beatitudes we are told that in our darkest hour, and in the hardest times, there is blessing. In his book Jesus’ Plan for the New World, Richard Rohr says:
The Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3 – 12) offer us a more spacious world, a world where I do not have to explain everything, fix everything, or control anything beyond myself, a world where we can allow a Larger Mystery to work itself out through us and in us. These things are done to us more than anything we can do. The Beatitudes are about changing me, not about changing other people. [In the Beatitudes] Wonderfully, it is not about being right anymore. For who can fully do the Beatitudes “right”? It is about being in right relationship, which is a very different agenda.
From another perspective, or maybe a similar one, T. Denise Anderson says:
God is the God of the destitute. God is the God of the poor. God is the God of the wronged… In a culture that celebrated wealth and military might, Jesus lifted up those on the opposite end of the spectrum as blessed…. They were blessed because in a unique and profound way God was near to them…2
God was near to those who were seemingly unimpressive, and often overlooked by the privileged…
“Aren’t we blessed to have a God who doesn’t tell us not to cry but says instead, ‘I am here?’ To even the most ostracized and invisible in our society, God says, “I am here. I bless you.”
The Beatitudes in Matthew, are a record of Jesus’ first teaching. Nine conditions and nine specific results are named. When Jesus goes down the list… it is easy enough to think of nine separate and distinct categories… those who are grieving are over there, the meek over there, the persecuted in another place… and so forth. But that is not how I experience these blessings. I yearn to have the blessings flow over me… the more the better… and I can see myself, at least at one time or another, in one or more places on that list… yes, “poor in spirit” or maybe feeling a bit persecuted. And I want to be merciful… I yearn to be a peacemaker. And the good news is that we don’t have to place ourselves in one box or another. There is more than enough blessing to go around. This supreme blessedness gathers us into a beloved community… and in hearing the blessing… we receive it… and in receiving and feeling God’s blessing… we are changed. The Beatitudes are not about asking God to bless our food, or our home, or our day. Without asking we are blessed… and the blessings sink in to the places where we need them most. When Jesus utters these statements of blessing… we feel it. Beyond ourselves we see that there is blessing enough for all. In all of our hungering and blessed imperfections, the Beatitudes, the blessings, God’s desire for “happiness”… point us to the blessing that God wants for all humankind. Jesus’ teaching shows us that we are in this life together as the whole of humanity. We don’t need to prove that we are stronger, more powerful, more successful because there is blessing enough for each and every one of God’s beloved… and that means everyone… family, friends, neighbors, enemies, strangers and foreigners alike. God pours out blessing even on those who don’t realize they are being blessed, even if their layers of self-imposed shielding and isolation prevent them from experiencing the blessing… they, too, are blessed even in their poverty of disconnection.
As a community we, like the original disciples, are a gathering of the delightfully gifted, broken and imperfect. We are drawn here to be fed and strengthened and sent forth into the world to share God’s blessing of which there can be no shortage, no stockpiling, no hoarding… in God’s abundance there is more than enough blessing to welcome individuals and groups to share the blessing with the whole world. Blessings are not limited. There is not a finite quantity. There is more than enough for everyone.
I listen, regularly to the podcast “On Being.” A couple of years back the host Krista Tippet facilitated a discussion on the topic of “happiness” with the Dalai Lama, Katharine Jefferts-Schori who was the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church at the time, the Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi in the United Kingdom. In the discussion about happiness Rabbi Sacks made the observation about our consumer society, and about how it tempts us at all times. It tempts us “to spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, for the sake of a happiness that won’t last…By constantly making us aware of what we don’t have, instead of reminding us what we do have, [our consumer culture] has become the most efficient system yet devised for the manufacture and distribution of unhappiness. ”4 God’s economy and the economics of our world are vastly different in the sense that… as Rabbi Sacks shares: “If I have money and give some to you, I have less money…. If I have power and I give some to you, I have less power… But if I have a certain amount of love, or friendship or trust… I don’t have less… I have more… the more we share, the more we have… spiritual happiness is the greatest renewable source of energy that we have…”5 God’s economy is strengthened when we share. There is more than enough blessing to go around. In community, blessing is less about “I feel blessed” than “we make blessing and we bless one another and others.” Such communities are bound in fellowship and love that magnifies and overflows over and beyond… and out into the world… and that is, what I believe… who we are as a people of Christ at St. Paul’s… a community who is blessed and who is called to a blessing. Each one of us comes here with a unique life story and faith journey… each comes with gifts to offer and wounds that need healing. Together we create a tapestry of beloved community that is organic… as the tapestry continues to change, as people come and as they go, and as we share the blessings and challenges of our lives…together, we share the love of God, and we share the blessings one day, one week, one year at a time.
On this Sunday we come together to do the business of our annual meeting. We will new vestry members and delegates to diocesan convention. We will have hear about the state of the congregation, and we will celebrate milestones, and the health that we are continuing to know financially, and as an organization. But as a people of Christ, as a parish… we are far more than a building, or a bank account. We come together to be fed and to feed one another, to be strengthened as Christ’s body, and to be blessed… that we may go forth into the world to feed and bless others and to build up God’s economy that is overflowing beyond our capacity to comprehend. We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers… to welcome the stranger and stand up for righteousness even in the face of persecution. We are called to build bridges of welcome, hope and reconciliation. In our brokenness we come to be broken open… to be challenged, and be reminded that we are blessed so that we may witness to God’s abundant blessing.
When I was a child we delighted in the little hand game, “here is the church, here is the people, open the doors and see all the people.” And though we have a quaint historic church with a steeple and a lovely, freshly painted red door at the corner of Jefferson and Tyler, our purpose is not simply to gather in this place, for the sake of our individual comfort and needs. Our purpose as a people of Christ at St. Paul’s is to show up. Our purpose is to lift our hearts to receive God’s abundance and blessing as members of Christ’s body in the world… and then we are to live the Good News, or as I have shared before with you, go out into the world be “Doers” of the Good News that calls us and the whole world to life. In the words of Kent Ira Groff that I have quoted before… we are to “Do Good News”:
Doing Good News
How do you share Good News?
How do you spread Light?
Make friends. Do Good. Break bread.
Risk and pray until others ask the Source.6
May we continue the good work that is God’s joy and happiness. You are blessed. we are blessed. God blesses the world, especially the poor and disenfranchised. May we continue to grow in the knowledge of our belovedness…. That we may go forth, whole heartedly, to bless and be a blessing in the world, and to continue the work of co-creating with God the building up of God’s Reign on earth.
Peace and blessings to you…
Micah 6:1-8 – Psalm 151 – Corinthians 1:18-35 – Matthew 5:1-23
1 Definiton of “happiness” from
2 T. Denise Anderson, “Reflections on the lectionary,” Christian Century, January 4, 2017, pg. 21.
4 http://www.onbeing.org/programs/his-holiness-the-14th-dalai-lama-of-tibet-jonathan-sacks-katharine- jefferts-schori-and-seyyed-hossein-nasr-pursuing-happiness/
5 This quotation is found in the “unedited” version of the interview.
6 Kent Ira Groff, The Soul of Tomorrow’s Church, Upper Room Books: Nashville, 2000, pg. 143.