(Matthew 5:1-12) By Rev. Rick King–The last few years, the word “blessed (blest)” has come into wide use, not just among religious people, but among all types. A quarterback is said to be “blessed” with good receivers; someone says they’ve had a good year in their business or the stock market by saying, “We’ve been blessed;” and recently a female celebrity said she’d been “blessed” not to have experienced sexual harassment in the movie industry. Heck, there’s even a hashtag for #BLESSED.
But using “blessed” as a substitute for “lucky,” or “fortunate,” is rightly being questioned these days for being just a pious way of bragging about being privileged. (And my apologies to anybody who might be offended here this morning for using the word “blessed” indiscriminately—I was caught using it myself several months ago, in the South, of all places, and a member of the church brought me up short by calling it to my attention! Bless my heart.)
Blessing comes in all forms: When we feel gratitude for good things coming into our life, we may feel blessed, and BLESSed can describe an event such as Elliott’s baptism today, or in some parts of the Church, the Communion we will receive together shortly is referred to as “the Blessed Sacrament.”
But in the Beatitudes from Matthew’s gospel today, Jesus is using “BLESSed” to mean something different, something very appropriate to the Feast of All Saints, which we celebrate today. The Roman Catholic Church’s recent beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and of a priest in Oklahoma named Fr. Stanley Rother—in which they were given the honorific title, “BLESSed”—illustrates that “BLESSed” has a meaning not just associated with good fortune. It’s more along the lines of the original, root meaning of blessed—“To hurt or wound; to mark with blood; also, to consecrate.” Those two men, who are now beatified and on the path to sainthood, died as martyrs, killed for their faithful witness.
The Feast of All Saints in the Christian calendar is a celebration not just of famous, holy people whose legacy seems out of reach for normal, everyday, ordinary people like you and me, but of normal, everyday, ordinary people we know who bring a sense of the holy into ordinary life. Their lives embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, humility and self-control as the fruit of their life lived with God in community. Not that they’re perfect; self-acceptance is also one of their virtues.
You know people like this. In this church. Just take a moment to remember people who are no longer with us… And now, look around you. Ordinary saints. BLESSed saints. Salt of the earth saints. They look ordinary, and you would probably not find a big “S” on their chest underneath their shirt, if you asked them to show you.
You see, the Beatitudes are a description of what “BLESSed” looks like in real life, not as a prescription for how to claim notoriety or “blessings.” Because the Beatitudes describe a whole bunch of things that can go both ways, be seen as “lucky,” but also marked as something very different from lucky. Here we see the humble, earth-bound, brokenhearted, de-voiced, passionate and compassionate, nonviolent seekers of justice and reconciliation, who know deep-down from experience that only truth-telling and truth-hearing will set us free.
This is the Cloud of Witnesses, the Communion of Saints that we celebrate today. And because we have promised, as a congregation, to be Elliott’s “extended family,” we know that for him, as for us, growing up will mean facing situations where “blessed” looks very lucky indeed, and he will experience them as a “blessing,” as obvious good coming to him. But he will also face situations where blessing looks more like what Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes—the poverty of a spirit that knows it needs God; times of grief and mourning; discovering the way of nonviolence to match a hunger for justice; true-heartedness, mercy, and peace—a life that can look very unlucky, but which can hold in store the greatest blessings any of us can ever experience.
As a congregation of the “BLESSed” in Elliott’s life, we get to live a life that knows blessedness comes not from seeking everything from God, but from seeking God in everything. Amen.