Matthew 5:1-12


When is the last time someone blessed you?  I don’t mean the hasty “bless you” that we say when someone sneezes or the “well bless your heart” people sometimes say in a way that sounds like what they’re really saying is “well aren’t you a curious little specimen.”

When is the last time that someone spoke a real blessing upon you?

When is the last time you felt like someone had spoken a powerful and prophetic word to tell you that you matter and that you live in the heart of goodness… 

When is the last time that someone told you 

that you are consecrated…  

that your life is sacred…  

that you are holy?

When is the last time someone told you that God sees you and loves you even when you’re not feeling it?  Especially when you’re not feeling it?

When is the last time you spoke that kind of blessing for someone else?

Jesus had been travelling all over the region proclaiming the kingdom of heaven and healing people.  Large crowds had started to follow him.  People came from all over to see him and hear him and be healed by him.  And maybe, just maybe, to be blessed by him.  

Jesus went up the hill to a place where he could see out over the crowd and where they could see and hear him.  His disciples came and sat close to him.  Jesus looked at his rag-tag followers, he looked out over the crowd, and he could see them all.  He could see who they were and what they were.

He saw how life had broken them.  He saw their longing to be made whole again.  He saw their yearning to be told that their lives mattered, that their struggles mattered, that their pain mattered.  He wasn’t recruiting followers, he was just meeting people in the everyday reality of their lives and telling them the truth about themselves.   Just like he does for us.  

He told them who they were, but he also told them who they could be.  His words were not just descriptive, they were transformative.  Just like they are for us.

He looked out at them and told them they were blessed.  Just like he tells us.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.  Blessed are those who doubt.  Blessed are those who struggle with believing.  Blessed are those who wonder if they have enough faith.  Blessed are those who feel spiritually malnourished and spiritually drained.  Blessed are those who are running on empty.  Blessed are those who feel like they have nothing to give.  Blessed are those who are far from certain about who God is and what God does and how it all works.  Blessed are those who find all the old answers unsatisfactory or troubling.  Blessed are those whose minds and hearts are open to new information, new ways of seeing and new ways of thinking.  Blessed are those who sometimes feel lost in the mystery of it all.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  They shall see things others do not see.  They will ask questions others do not dare to ask. They will use their imaginations in ways that others find daunting.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  God sees them.  God walks with them.  Even when they can’t see it or feel it, heaven is all around them and within them.  And they are blessed.

Blessed are those who mourn.  Blessed are those for whom grief is an overwhelming reality.  Blessed are those whose lives have been hollowed out by loss.  Blessed are those who live in the shadow  of death.  Blessed are those who weep.  Blessed are those whose tears have dried up but whose pain has not.  Blessed are those who have learned the hard way that grief is love persevering.  Blessed are the brokenhearted.  Blessed are those who are crumbling inside but hold themselves together to keep everyone around them from falling apart.  Blessed are those who mourn.  Their tears are sacred.  God carries their pain and draws close to them.  Blessed are those who mourn.  They will be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, the meek, the nonviolent.  Blessed are those who look for ways to compromise and cooperate instead of making life a contest or a competition.  Blessed are the strong who restrain themselves. Blessed are those who do not fight back, those who would rather take it than dish it out. Blessed are those who go unnoticed, the ones who sit alone at lunch, the unimpressive, the unemployed.  Blessed are the janitors and sanitation workers and fast food workers.  Blessed are those who struggle with the rent.  Blessed are the people on the street whom we fail to see because we pretend they are invisible.  Blessed are the meek.  God sees them.  God loves them.  The earth is theirs.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed are those who were born with an acute sense of what is fair and what is not, what is right and what is not.  Blessed are those who have a passion for justice.  Blessed are those who work to overcome even when the injustice has nothing to do with them or their lives.  Blessed are those who are wrongly accused.  Blessed are the undocumented.   Blessed are those who stand against the bullies.  Blessed are those who confront racism and work to dismantle it.  Blessed are those who march in the streets and speak truth to power.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. God sees them.  God loves them.  God will nourish them with justice and their cup will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful.  Blessed are those who fill the world around them with kindness.  Blessed are those who are generous with forgiveness.  Blessed are those who are just plain generous.  Blessed are those who are slow to judge and condemn because they understand how much they have been forgiven.  Blessed are the merciful.  God sees them.  God loves them.  They will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart.  Blessed are those who have retained their innocence and are just plain good.  Blessed are those who have recovered their innocence and cling to it.  Blessed are the honest.  Blessed are the truthful.  Blessed are those who love with no agenda.  Blessed are those who are in recovery, who are living out the twelve steps, who are cleansing their bodies and their souls and making amends. Blessed are those who refuse to be cynical.  Blessed are the pure in heart.  God loves them.  God sees them.  And they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers.  Blessed are those who bring food to those who are starving.  Blessed are those who bring medical attention to those who are in peril.  Blessed are those who work to disarm a weaponized world.  Blessed are those who encourage us to seek common ground.  Blessed are those who care for the planet and work to heal the earth.  Blessed are the peacemakers.  God embraces them as God’s own children.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing the right thing.  Blessed are those who are disrespected and taunted for being compassionate.  Blessed are the woke.  Blessed are those who are scorned because they speak out for a better world and work for the shalom of God.  Blessed those who are battered or imprisoned because they protest against all the things that dehumanize people and oppress people.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing the right thing.  The kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of untrue and evil things against you because you have embraced the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Blessed are you when people spread lies about you because your integrity exposes their duplicity.  Blessed are you when people criticize you for being awake to the pain and injustice around you.  If you only knew how great your reward is in heaven, you would be dancing with joy.  God sees you.  God loves you.  And remember, they persecuted the prophets in the same way, so you are in good company.

You are blessed.  

You are consecrated.  

You are holy.

You are set apart to bring a blessing and to be a blessing in a world that thinks it is cursed.

You are consecrated to help others see the beauty and sacredness of our life together in this amazing God-made world.

With all your faults—and God knows them better than you know them yourself—you are loved by God more than you can begin to imagine so that you can spread the love of God to others.

God is blessing you.  God is loving you.  God is transforming you.    

You live in the heart of goodness.

Blessed are you.

Image © Jorge Cocco

From Broken Heart to Blessing

Matthew 14:13-21

There is no shortage of horrible in the world.  There is disease and hunger, destruction and violence, accidents and natural disasters, greed, corruption, injustice, and just plain stupidity. Perhaps worst of all, there are people who feel a need to affirm their power by victimizing others.  There is no shortage of horrible.  There is no shortage of need.  Sometimes even when you try to get away from it all it seems to follow you.

Jesus had been moving from town to town, teaching in synagogues, teaching by the seashore, telling stories—parables–to help people understand what the kin-dom of heaven is like, to help them learn how to see it, and everywhere he went he ran smack into people’s needs and expectations.  He poured out his power healing people.  He was constantly challenged by the inflexible piety of the Pharisees.  He stretched his patience explaining things to obtuse disciples.  When he went to Nazareth, the town he grew up in, he was so walled in by the odd double-whammy of doubt and familiarity that he was unable to accomplish anything.  

And that’s when he learned that his cousin, his partner in ministry, John the Baptizer had been executed by Herod.  

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.

Jesus needed to retreat from the horrible.  He needed a break to mend his broken heart.  So he told his disciples where to meet him then got in a boat and set off for some alone time.

Somehow the crowds found out where he was going and when he stepped ashore they were waiting there to meet him.  So much for alone time.

The text says that when he saw the crowd he had compassion on them and cured their sick. There’s both urgency and intimacy in the language here.  The word compassion, especially in the Greek, sounds as if his heart is spilling over with a mixture of anguish and love for all these people, as if he is reaching out his healing hands to touch them even before his boat has ground itself against the pebbles on the shore.  

And then suddenly it’s evening.  The disciples, expressing a practicality that feels more than a little anxious, see a problem.  We’re in the middle of nowhere.  It’s getting late.  Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy something to eat.  

Their suggestion sounds reasonable enough at first glance, but it raises a lot of questions.  Where, exactly, are these villages?  How far away?  Do these hypothetical villages have enough spare food that they could afford to sell some to a battalion of unexpected visitors who show up suddenly at the dark edge of dusk?  

For the disciples, the crowd is a problem.  It’s been a long day, people are getting hungry.  Hungry crowds are potentially dangerous.  Solution?  Send the crowd away.  The nameless, faceless, we-don’t-really-see-them crowd.  Send them away.  

And then Jesus says something that just stuns them:  There’s no need to send them away.  You give them something to eat.

But… but… but…  how are we supposed to do that?  All we have here are five loaves and two fish!  That’s our dinner!  

Jesus tells his disciples to bring him the five loaves and two fish.  He orders the crowds to sit down, which is as good as telling them to pipe down and pay attention, then he looks up to heaven and blesses the bread and the fish.

We’re not told exactly what Jesus prayed, but I like to think that maybe he prayed the traditional Hebrew blessings for bread and meat or fish.  These blessings are different from the mealtime prayers we usually pray.  Most of the time when we say a blessing over a meal, we are asking God to endow the meal with some special grace or benefit, or to bless us by way of the meal.  The Hebrew blessings, though, assume that the meal is already blessed by God, that it already a gift from God for our benefit, and so these mealtime blessings offer to God the blessing of praise.

This is the blessing for the bread: Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.  

For the fish: Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, at whose word all things came to be.

You know what happened next.  Jesus broke the bread and ordered the disciples to start handing out food.  Five loaves and two fish.  It couldn’t possibly be enough.  Yet somehow five thousand men plus women and children who had tagged along were fed, and twelve baskets of food were left over.  

I want to say right here and now that I believe it is entirely possible that when Jesus lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed something transformative happened to those loaves and fish that enabled them to somehow stretch to feed five thousand plus.  With God all things are possible.  Miracles can and do happen.

I also believe, however, that every bit as important as whatever may or may not have happened to the bread and fish, something transformative happened in the hearts of all those people sitting on the grass.   When they heard the voice of Jesus intone the blessing they all knew, they were reminded that all bread is a gift brought forth from the earth by God so that it may be broken and shared.  I suspect that when they heard “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, at whose word all things came to be” they were reminded that they were a people bound together with God and with each other in a relationship inherited from their forebears and passed on to their children in an ancient covenant of love and mutual protection.  They were transformed by the voice of Jesus praying the blessing they all knew.  They were reminded that they were bound by kinship in the kindom of heaven.  So now, that loaf that had been tucked up a sleeve and saved for the walk home, that loaf, too, was brought out and broken and shared.  The dried fish that had been wrapped in a cloth, stuffed in a pocket and saved for later, that, too was added to the feast.  Jesus had prayed the family prayer, so now this was a family meal and everything was brought out to be shared.

Transformation of the bread and fish or transformation of the people. One way or another, or maybe both, there were 12 baskets of leftovers.  Which, by the way, indicates that someone had brought baskets.

You give them something to eat.  When Jesus said that to the disciples all they could think of were all the reasons why it simply wasn’t possible.

We seem to have a built-in tendency to want to kick the can down the road when we are confronted with a situation that feels overwhelming.  We do it with healthcare.  We do it with food insufficiency.  We do it with homelessness.  We do it with systemic racism and injustice.  

There’s a universal hunger in the human soul to make the world a better place, a place where no child goes to bed hungry, a place where everyone has a roof over their head, a place where we truly have equality and equity and liberty and justice for all.  Too many of us, though, have been waiting for someone else to come fix everything.  We’ve been kicking the can down the road.

Well, we’ve run out of road.

Jesus says, “You feed them. You house them. You educate them. You build a more perfect union.”

And if you think the resources you have on hand aren’t enough to do the job, then look up to heaven, praise God for the goodness you do have in your hands and acknowledge where it came from, then start handing things out.  You might be amazed to find someone else has brought along baskets.

John Lewis, the great Civil Rights leader, Christian pastor, and  U.S. Congressman, didn’t have anything to give to the struggle for Civil Rights except for his body, his mind and his heart.  But he trusted that was enough.    

Lewis gave everything and suffered great abuse as he walked a path of nonviolence calling this country to live up to its own ideals, to continue becoming a more perfect union.  In his last hours, he took time to write a loving farewell to us all to encourage us to keep getting into “good trouble, necessary trouble” for the sake of what’s right.  

Toward the close of that letter, Lewis wrote,  “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way… So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

Sometimes it seems as if there is no shortage of horrible in the world.  But there is also no shortage of the goodness that sustains us if we will bless it and share it.  In Jesus’ name.