4 Epiphany – January 29, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

See if you can finish this sentence: “I’ll be happy when….”
There must be a thousand possible endings for that sentence. “I’ll be happy when….”

  • I’ll be happy when I grow up and move away from home.
  • I’ll be happy when summer comes and I don’t have to go to school.
  • I’ll be happy when I fall in love and get married.
  • I’ll be happy when I can buy a new car.
  • I’ll be happy when I get promoted.
  • I’ll be happy when I retire.
  • I’ll be happy–when they lay me to rest.

So, when will you be happy? What will it take? What are the chances that it’s going to happen? How long will it be? One year? Five years? Fifty years? When will you be happy?

Jesus has some wisdom on the subject. And what he has to say today may not make much sense to us. Let’s look at it. Jesus went up the mountain and he began to speak to his disciples…Matthew says that he taught them. Jesus teaches them how to recognize blessedness – not happiness, but blessedness.

We often talk about being blessed as if it is a reward, as if good fortune comes to us as just desserts. Much of Christian culture equates blessing with prosperity, with health, with satisfaction and obvious abundance. Material things. Things that supposedly make us happy.

While it’s tempting to equate these gifts with the favor of God, this notion comes with a corresponding fallacy that says that those who are sick, those who are not prosperous, those whom misfortune has visited:  that these are not blessed.

With the beatitudes, Jesus utterly disrupts this line of thinking. Being blessed is not a reward for a job well done or for the accident of being born into fortunate circumstances. It is also not an accomplishment, an end goal, or a state of completion that allows us to coast along. And although the Greek makarios can be translated also as happy, being blessed does not rest solely upon an emotion: blessing does not depend on our finding or forcing ourselves into a particular mood.

Here in the beatitudes and throughout his ministry, Jesus proclaims that blessing happens in seeing the presence of Christ, in hearing him, in receiving him, in responding to him. And because Christ so often chooses places of desperate lack—those spaces where people are without comfort or health or strength or freedom, those places where they hunger for food or mercy or peace or safety—it is when we go into those places, when we seek and serve those who dwell there, that we find the presence of Christ. And, finding, then carry him with us. Perhaps the ability to recognize blessing is easier when we are not wrapped up in the material things of this world.

Life is not difficult now so that we will more greatly appreciate being rewarded someday in heaven. Life is difficult now simply because it is difficult now. And the reward is to see it, to feel it, to let it in. When we refuse to accept that life is not to be continually altered, continually tweaked for our pleasure, we miss a simple truth: Life is what it is, and what it is, is Life. A mixed up muddle of sorrow and peace and joy and poverty and longing. We miss it if we spend all our time trying to shut the doors, bar the windows, before Life can get to us, before God can show us how good the awful parts can be. When we let the difficulties be what they are, then we can be who we are—cherished and able to live through whatever comes.

We are not in control of life, the difficulties or the blessings. But we can learn to expect them and to receive them as guests, as guides, as friends who come to show us the blessing path.

To be blessed is not a static state. There is a dynamism within the word blessed: it implies an ability to be in the ongoing process of recognizing, receiving, and responding. To be blessed is to enter a kind of pregnancy: to take Christ in, to let him grow in us, to bear him forth, then to receive him and bear him yet again in our acts of mercy, of compassion, of solidarity, of love.

And you? Who or what do you name as blessed? Where do you encounter the blessing of Christ in this world? How do you seek to embody the blessing of God in your own life—to see and to hear Christ, to recognize him and bear him? Do you think of yourself as blessed? Who has given you this name? Who have you named as blessed?

Rather than tally up your “good fortune” and weigh it against the bad, base your answer on what Jesus said in the Beatitudes.  Here is what a wounded warrior chose to do. He was a Confederate soldier struck down in battle. Over the course of his rehabilitation, he wrote:

“I asked God for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for,
but everything I hoped for.

Almost despite myself,
my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear, and may Christ have cause to say to us:

Blessed are you.
Blessed are you.
Blessed are you.