Sermon for Sunday, February 2, 2020 – “Blessed?”

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Who do you picture when you hear the word blessed?

Often, we think about those who have a lot going for them. People are said to be “blessed with good looks, with smarts, with natural abilities.”

On social media, the word blessed often accompanies pictures of extravagant cars and fancy vacations.

In the images and popular speak of our day, blessed are the beautiful people, the lucky people, those on top of their game.

It’d be quite surprising to hear someone say, “I’m really poor in spirit and depressed, what a blessing.” “I’m so meek, people walk all over me, wow am I blessed.”

You’ll rarely see Facebook posts that read, “Feeling blessed to have yet another chance to show mercy to someone who hurt me” or, “Longing for righteousness here, getting pretty hungry and thirsty for it actually – quite a blessing.”

The people that Jesus says are blessed are not who you’d expect in our day or in his day. Jesus calls blessed those who are hurting, long suffering, passionate for righteousness, striving for peace and persecuted for doing the right thing.

Notice – These types of people all have one thing in common. They are all identified by pain – by their own pain or by their engagement with the world’s pain. They are not the well-off, the wealthy, the lucky. They are those marked by pain. And, Jesus says they are blessed.

We are so often uncomfortable with pain. It’s hard to get close to it. We have all sorts of strategies to deal with pain: avoid it, ignore it, sweep it under the rug, explain it away, just put on a happy face.

Yet Jesus doesn’t let us do that. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus directs our attention to the places of pain and struggle, to those wrestling with it all. He says look at them: God has chosen to bless and honor and love them. God has chosen to be identified with the pain of the world.

This is radical – often we think suffering means we have been abandoned by God. People and places scarred by pain are often described as godforsaken. When things are going well, we think God has blessed us; when things fall apart, we don’t know what to think about God. Jesus teaches us that God has chosen to bless and be with those who face suffering, that God has chosen to be in pain. Jesus teaches this and then shows it by his death on the cross.

In the cross we see that God has entered the pain of the world. God has chosen not to avoid or
minimize suffering, but to fully engage it for the healing of all creation. Now, still, we see God most clearly and consistently amidst suffering – in the hospital room, the funeral home, the war zone, the refugee camp, the detention center.

Many of us have found that to be true in our own lives. We’ve known God’s presence most fully in times of grief or when we are walking with people who are in need. We’ve cried out, “Where are you God?” and find, in time, that God is right there with us. God is in the pain working healing and new life.

We can’t always see that, we rarely can feel it, but God is there. God’s presence is the blessing we all need; it is the blessing we are given in Christ Jesus.

When we see that God is in pain, this gives us an important way to view and engage the world.

Rather than seeing the needs of our neighbors as a nuisance or something to be pitied, we can
recognize that need is a place to meet God and join God.

Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the pain of the world, we can trust that God is at work in the suffering and that God gives us what we need to join that work. Rather than offering charity be- cause we are so blessed and should give to those less fortunate, we can be present with people in need, yearning together for the blessing of God’s healing presence.

This is how we become pure in heart, merciful peacemakers who hunger and thirst for righteous- ness. This is how we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. This is how we live out our mission as a congregation – by entering into the pain of the world.

Being present is the most important thing we can do for those who are suffering. It’s how we can offer a blessing to them, how we help make God’s blessing to them known.

Author Jan Richardson makes this clear in words of blessing she wrote after the sudden death of her husband, titled “The Blessing You Should Not Tell Me.” It speaks to what we most need from each other at any time of sorrow and grief. She writes:

Do not tell me
this will make me
more compassionate,
more loving.
more holy.

Do not tell me
this will make me
more grateful for what
I had.

Do not tell me
I was lucky.

Do not even tell me
there will be a blessing.

Give me instead
the blessing
of breathing with me.

Give me instead
the blessing
of sitting with me
when you cannot think
of what to say …

If you could know
what grace lives
in such a blessing
you would never cease to offer it.

If you could glimpse
the solace and sweetness
that abide there,
you would never wonder
if there was a blessing
you could give
that would be better
than this—
the blessing of
your own heart
and beating
with mine.

We can be present for one another and with one another because God is with us, with you, in Christ Jesus.

Because God is with us, we can sing the words of Julian of Norwich who wrote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This past week, the Blairs sang this around their beloved Ben’s deathbed as they awaited the time when Ben would donate his organs to others.

Today, we, too, can join them in singing for ourselves and for all creation. Because we are blessed by God’s presence, all shall be well.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayers.