SERMON TEXT (Scroll down for New Video Format)
At the end of this sermon,
I am going to ask you to light a candle
and share in a communal moment of lighting
even though we are separated by time and space.
So please stop the video
and go find a candle or two
and something to light them with.
Really, I don’t mind being turned off,
so go ahead and find a candle.
Jesus sits down.
In our world if someone is going to speak –
to speechify, pontificate, or preach –
they stand up.
In Jesus’ day,
the rabbi sat down to speak.
I don’t know if it means anything for us,
I just think it is interesting how things change.
Perhaps I noticed it
because in the midst of this pandemic
and delivering sermons via video,
I am now sitting for sermons as well.
But there are always changes,
especially in language.
Take the word “Blessing” or “Blessed.”
It does not come from Greek or Hebrew,
it comes from Latin, benedictus.
It is an example of the Romanization
of our Semitic religion.
The Hebrew word, translated in English as “blessed,”
meant “to bend the knee.”
Hmm, that’s interesting.
In Greek, that same word meant
”to worship and adore”
But in English “blessed” or “blessing”
has come to mean rewarded.
When we hear someone say, “I’m blessed”
what we may be hearing is: “I have something.”
And sometimes, in the way it is said,
it can also mean: “I have something…
and you don’t.”
When we hear someone say,
they know somebody else who is “blessed”
it often means: “they got something.”
“Blessings” have come to mean commodities.
Blessings seem to become Godly commodities
that God bestows invisibly on some
but not on others.
Even if they are not material commodities
they are something God sprinkles somehow
on those who have “got them”
and not on others.
We never say that somebody is “Unblessed,”
because we don’t have to –
if some are “blessed”
then it follows
that there are others who don’t have the blessings.
And if blessings are commodities,
either material or spiritual commodities,
then we are talking about a divine economy
that operates on the principle of scarcity.
But that is just wrong.
Our economy operates on the principle of scarcity.
The economy of God
operates on the principle of abundance.
In the economy of God,
abundance is the invisible hand that guides the market
so that if we are talking about blessings,
they are universally available
and there is no shortage of them.
So to think of
and speak about blessings
as something somebody gets,
and by implication,
that other people do not get,
is an example of how effortlessly
we translate abundance
The commoditization of God’s love
is something we do
without even thinking about it
because we are so well trained as consumers
and we see everything as products
for which there is a potential shortage.
Indeed, we are nursed on the idea
of reward and punishment,
of haves and have nots,
and veritably nursed with the anxiety
that there simply is not enough
so we better get ours
before it is all gone.
This probably will not change our thinking much
because we do not take Jesus all that seriously,
but it is instructive to listen to his most famous sermon.
Now if you don’t know anything else
or about the Bible,
you probably have heard
or read a reference to
Jesus’ so-called “Beatitudes.”
Even that word, “beatitude”
comes from Latin not Aramaic or Hebrew,
and it means “blessing.”
Jesus announcing blessings
is a core bit of his spiritual wisdom.
I prefer Luke’s rendition of the Beatitudes
because it is more direct.
Where Matthew says, “Blessed are the poor…”
Luke says, “Blessed are you who are poor…”
The Gospel of Thomas doesn’t have the whole list
but he has a few of the beatitudes scattered throughout, too.
But either way, the poor are “blessed.”
The grief-stricken are blessed.
The meek, who are defined in Psalm 37
as those without land, are blessed.
The violated or wronged
who themselves practice mercy anyway, are blessed.
Those who are authentic and void of cynicism,
Those who promote peace are blessed.
Those who are persecuted are blessed.
If we go back to the Hebrew
this can only mean one of two things:
either all the blessed people
are to be worshiped,
as intimated by “a bended knee,”
or they are to be “adored.”
But since worship
is only rendered to God in the Bible
it likely means that all these blessed people are adored.
How is it though, that the sorts of folks who Jesus names,
who are generally citizens of the margin,
are to be adored?
Well first of all, lets just get honest:
there is class warfare going on in the Bible.
Unlike American culture that likes to deny
the existence of class struggle,
the Bible is unselfish-conscious about class warfare.
From Joseph sold into slavery
to Moses leading the slaves out of Egypt
to Isaiah calling the exiles to home,
the Bible is a book about God’s special love
of those on the margin.
Jesus, while he had some pals
and benefactors in the 1%,
was a peasant whose audience were peasants
and whose followers were peasants.
His enemies were people who had power
But the fact is, even those of us
who are highly privileged,
know grief and sorrow,
have likely experienced some kind of disrespect
and live within the radiance
of God’s adoration.
If for no other reason
than God created us.
Any normal mother or father,
seeing their newborn infant for the first time,
all slimy and red-faced,
and not beautiful at that moment,
absolutely adores that precious new life.
So too, God’s adoration of us –
whoever or whatever we are.
Whoever you are listening to this –
if you are poor in pocket-book
or poor in spirit,
if you are grieving
or without property,
if you have in some way been violated,
bruised or abused,
or you are just one of the earnest and authentic,
Jesus says you are doing your dang best
to give peace a chance.
And because of that, Jesus says, you are adored.
You are adored by God.
Now take that in – you are adored.
That is what Jesus is saying to his audience.
The most unadorned people in the world –
esteemed as worthless peasants
living under the jackboot of an empire…
all of them, nonetheless adored. Hmm.
It is not too far of an imaginative leap
to think that if they adored
we might be also.
Even you…even me.
We are adored.
I know this may sound mushy, gooshy
but it is shocking
how much depends upon
our really getting this idea
of being adored.
You see, knowing – feeling, actually experiencing
God’s adoration of us –
is the source of gratitude.
It is simply impossible
when we touch that place i
n which we can feel
and even accept
that God adores us,
as if we are God’s very own,
and not experience gratitude.
And when we experience gratitude, we are moved,
to care for, nurture,
that which we have been given.
When that happens,
when enough human beings
live and move and have their being
in that kind of gratitude,
well…it changes the world.
Gratitude like that
is the antidote to cynicism
the cure for self-hatred
Within the realm of gratitude
we are propelled toward hope
and moved into action
because it is a mode of healing.
This is really big.
If you want to see
and experience a miracle,
then start digging for the source of gratitude
that pulsates somewhere inside of you.
The closer we are able to live
in the presence of our gratitude
the more potent and powerful we will be
of God’s love.
The passageway to gratitude
is the experience
in God’s adoration of us…
To be blessed
is to understand
and to hold
that God adores us.
It is not a commodity to be gotten,
God adores us period.
When we can touch that
then we will know truly profound gratitude.
And now I want to ask you
to light a candle of gratitude –
however powerful or meager it is right now.
In the knowledge that you are adored
by the creator of all that is,
please light a candle in thanksgiving.
I am going to do the same thing.
Thank you for doing that with me.
Thank you for listening
and for opening yourself to this moment.
I hope that it contributed somehow
to a kind of growth,
in you this day.
The peace of God be with you.