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Season of Pentecost, week 20, Common Lectionary year A

All Saints

“Blessed”
(Matthew 5:1-12)

Audio version

by Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Today in our Church we’ve created a rather peculiar combination:
we begin our annual stewardship campaign on the day
we’ve also chosen to celebrate as the Festival of “All Saints.”
Stewardship campaigns, with Bill’s brown pouches,
tend to be focussed on programme, activity, and gritty things like time and money,
and the present and future,
whereas “All Saints” has a very different mood,
of reflection, poignancy, and memory.
“Bit of a stretch”, and “strange combination” ?
Yes to both.
But then again, this crazy life is sometimes like this,
the mixture of past with present, earthy with holy,
memory with hope, sadness with anticipation, pain and joy.
And this crazy Christian life we try to lead,
following the Rabbi Jesus is every bit as
full of stretchy combinations.
Jesus was a master at bringing the most unlikely things together,
alliances that somehow resulted in new life-giving possibilities.
As our Gospel reading for today shows.

It’s one of those Top Ten Scripture passages,
one that many people recognize…
“ Blessed are the….. for they shall be….”
If we can’t list off all the blessings, we recognize the rhythm.
We settle in, waiting to be comforted by this Good News.
As we listen, we even hear the connection between the text and
this ancient Christian festival of All Saints – the day when we remember
loved ones who have died.
We need to hear on a day like this that those who mourn will be comforted.

There’s nothing too strange about the connection between Mourning and comfort,
the strangeness comes when we add the word
“Blessed.”
Nine times, mantra like, Jesus says
“Blessed”
“Blessed are those who mourn”
“Blessed are you when others persecute and revile you”
“Blessed are you who suffer”
“Blessed are you who work for peace”
“Blessed are you who are downtrodden”
Blessed? Really?
If, as one group of Biblical scholars has proposed,
the Greek “Makarios”
might be better translated as “Congratulations!”
this preacher feels like she’s landed in a mess of trouble
that no amount of word parsing and commentary reading will solve.

I left the commentaries aside on Friday,
stumped and half-buried by a failed attempt to write a sermon
called “the grammar of blessedness” – be grateful, it was dry!!
Instead I found myself energized by the sheer physicality of
walking among fallen leaves, under a blue sky,
with crisp air nipping my nose,
listening and watching the scurry and scuffle of hoarding squirrels,
so that step by step, my life, life itself
slipped into a perspective of blessedness
that no book could have shown me.

“Blessed” to have lived this particular autumn day,
with its hints of decay
making life all the more precious.
Blessed to have that walking interlude
where my imagination rather than my brain
‘played with’ these strange combinations that Jesus sets before us.

What was it about his experience of the world that made him say
“Blessed” in combination with persecution, or sadness, or hunger?
What happened in his life to think that ‘blessed’ belonged in times of trouble?

Jesus, the child whose parentage was ‘doubtful’
within a religious culture where purity of blood meant everything.
Jesus, just a young boy when his father Joseph was buried.
Jesus, the Galileean in a culture where Jerusalem was “the epicentre.”
Jesus, the prayerful mystic, teacher and healer in a world of rules, and order.
His was not a silver-spoon fed life.
He had experienced more than a fair share of hard times,
yet “blessed” is the word he connects to such hard times in everyone’s life, not just his own.
How? Why?

I wondered, perhaps he’s painting a picture of an idealized world,
in some far off future, when perhaps if we get everything squared away,
mourners might not have to grieve, and maybe no one will have to suffer persecution….

But, even without the books I realized Jesus’ grammar
was ‘indicative’ not conditional.
He was telling it like it is.
These nine “Blesseds” are snapshots,
sound-bites, word pictures of what is,
at least of what it is that he saw, and sees.

let me see if I can show you… (leave pulpit)
Blessed are you… who mourn…. you shall be comforted.
Blessed are you… who hunger and thirst for justice…..
Blessed are you…. when others revile you for the things you do…

Jesus sees blessedness in the midst of the mess.
I saw blessedness in a red-gold maple, and a blue sky,
but Jesus sees blessedness within the pain on your face,
or the ache in your heart.

I think we need to find out what
“Blessed” means to Jesus.

Simply put, it means
“To be touched by God.”

It’s not difficult, after 2000 years of Christian Tradition
which has tried to show us a mighty Saviour,
Son of God, judge of living and dead,
to have forgotten that the human life of
Jesus, Mary’s barely legitimate son from Nazareth
was hard, poor, painful,
filled with misunderstanding, persecution, hunger, sickness,
fractured family, marginalization.
And yet, he saw this life of his,
as ‘Blessed’
touched by God.
Jesus knew the healing touch of God in his most wounded places.

More to the point,
Jesus’ whole life was spent in the attempt to tell us
to convince us, to promise us, to help us experience for ourselves,
that our life is also touched by God.
Touched where God’s touch is most needed.

“Blessed” is not a reward, but a life preserver.
We are “blessed”
Not because we deserve it,
not because our skin colour,
or sexual orientation,
or religion fits some encoded list of acceptability,
nor yet because we’ve suffered, or learned enough and deserve a break.

We are blessed because we are alive.
We are blessed by God so we can live.
To have lived is to have been blessed by God.
All of us. All Saints. (It’s what that means) All . Touched by God.

Today, we will light candles for brothers, aunts, fathers, children,
neighbours, brothers and sisters of this community of faith,
whose lives have been touched by God,
blessed with healing,
blessed with comfort,
blessed with forgiveness,
blessed with belonging,
blessed with love, with fulfilment.
Our lives have been blessed by theirs.
All our lives, lived and yet to be lived, are blessed.

As these candles are lit, they will become our silent
reflection of the image of God and of ourselves that
Jesus has given us in this Gospel:
We are all touched by the loving healing hand of God,
and we are all
“Blessed.”

God Bless.

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