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

The Light Side of Lent

“Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle.” -James 1.17 (The Message)

Lent came early for me this year, its deep, contemplative shadow absorbing some of the shine of Christmas, Epiphany and Transfiguration, not dimming those shining feasts, exactly, but certainly making them stand out in starker contrast so that I could examine more of their details, looking past the sheer brightness of the revealed Christ to see the very human Jesus who is often overshadowed by all that incandescent divinity, obscured under the heaviness of all that light. You have to look through some pretty dark lenses and filters if you’re going to see what’s happening on the surface of the sun.

What happened was this: on the 5th day of Christmas I learned that in a deep and dark precinct of my body, a place where, literally, the sun don’t shine, a gang of cells had become rebellious, mutating and multiplying according to their own whim instead of according to their ordained function. In other words, cancer. If it had its own way, this gang of cells would take over everything, never realizing that in doing so they would destroy themselves by contaminating and collapsing the little universe in which they live and move and have their being, namely me.

Ah, but even in the valley of the shadow there are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light; even the cross has to stand in the light to throw a shadow. I am blessed to live in a time when there is a potent tool to suppress the cellular rebellion inside me. And get this… that tool is—are you ready?—light! Light is quite literally saving my life. In the 2nd week of Epiphany I began my own little Lent. Every day for 40 days (really, 40 days!) I go to a clinic and lie down on a table under a linear accelerator which bombards me with a stream of photons. Photons. Particles of light! It works like this: the rebellious cells can’t stand the photons, the light. They wither and die. But the healthy cells adapt. “And this is the judgment,” says John 3:19, “that the light has come into the world but some love darkness because they are up to no good.”

Oh, the metaphors! Oh, the analogies! One could riff on all the cancerous business of contemporary culture or personal failings for all 40 days of Lent and still barely scratch the surface. But let’s not. Yes, there are devils and beasts in the dark hollows of our personal wildernesses, but there are also angels. See Mark 1:13 if you don’t believe me.

So here is Lent–forty days to shine a little light on what ails you. Forty days to shine some light into the darkness of your duffle and see if anything slithers away. Forty days to lay out your laundry in the sunshine and maybe dispose of some of those old attitudes and ideas that never did fit quite right on a child of God. Here is Lent—a good gift of a season full of shadows, but shadows that testify to the presence and power of the Light.

Note:  My 40 sessions of radiation therapy will be complete on Tuesday, March 17, the Feast of St. Patrick.