Friday 31 January 2014

You are blessed.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)

I've always had a "love/slightly-less-love" kind of relationship with The Beatitudes.  And I'm referring to Matthew 5:3-12.   Luke 6:20-22 is okay in its own way as Luke tells it, but Matthew's is "The Beatitudes" for me.

That being said, I've also been around long enough to hear (probably) too many sermons about it, read too many columns, articles or blogs, all of which have left me feeling somewhat confused about a focused understanding of it.  That's not a bad thing.  Jesus speaks to us how Jesus speaks to each of us and I think there are a number of ways into his words here.  (Hence my "love/slightly-less-love" relationship, rather than love/hate.)  The Beatitudes are words of comfort and hope sometimes, a challenge at other times, an outline of gospel themes, a way of living, about the spirit, about life, about living God's Kingdom now and about living into the Kingdom to come.  They are variously about blessing, happiness, fortune and honour.  And how Jesus, as he so often does, turns those things upside down.

I should clarify that: Jesus turns things upside down from how we've made them.  We may even know that they're not right.  We just don't always live them the way we should.  And we're not just talking about the "spiritual" things.

God's blessing, for example, is for all.  We are all blessed.  Not in the future, if we do a certain thing, but now.  I don't believe we earn it or attract it (remember "The Secret?") or make it greater with "positive" thinking.  It is always freely given, as is grace and love.  It is our openness - or lack thereof - that determines how we receive it into our lives.

We don't receive God's blessing by seizing it with power.  We open ourselves to it by giving power away.  Those who have nothing, who are empty, are open to being filled.  Those who are kind to others, loving of others, forgiving of others, all open themselves to receiving kindness and love and forgiveness: those who open their hearts to others will receive as they give.  Those who seek peace by sharing peace will find peace, not those who impose "peace" through force or control.

I know: we don't always receive as we give.  Sometimes love is rejected.  Sometimes love receives hate and kindness receives anger and an offer of peace is crushed with force.  "Relationship" is both hard work and dynamic opportunity.

That's why these Beatitudes are such a challenge: they call us to vulnerability.  To be truly blessed, to be open to receiving God's blessing, we must be willing to make ourselves vulnerable, both spiritually with God and in reality with each other.

But we've learned that vulnerability is weakness.  We feel helpless when we're vulnerable and we need to be in control.  We establish our sense of worth and worthiness based on our power and how much stuff we have and we've learned that equality is something we allow rather than embrace, as if our value depends on superiority to another.

It doesn't.  You are blessed.  Already.  As am I and everyone around us.  Blessed with God's presence, God's grace, God's unconditional (if we can truly understand that) love.  To be blessed by God isn't as narrow and specific as we make "blessings" in our daily language, but an all inclusive gift: life.  Life that we share in relationship with each other.  To know that, we open ourselves to it.  To share it with others, we open ourselves to them.  We become vulnerable with them as God is vulnerable with us.

Risky.  Unsafe.  Dangerous.  Uncertain.  Sure, being vulnerable is those things.  It's also daring, fearless, courageous and bold.  Go and be that kind of vulnerable.  You are blessed.  Already.