Sermon for All Saints’ 2014
“Blessed” Matthew 5:3
Are we blessed? Are we a blessing?
Being a Christian is to be blessed and to be a blessing. The Hebrew word, barak, means “to bless” but also “to kneel” – which sounds like the opposite of blessing, but is about bringing a gift and kneeling out of respect, and so blessing the other person. So we have this sense that God blesses us and that we bless God.
As Christians we trust we are blessed by God, that, as the Gospel reading says, we enjoy his happiness, but we are also called to be a blessing. How often do we expect the former while neglecting the latter? How often do we expect blessing without being a blessing?
Asking for a blessing demands a conscious decision; sometimes, though, we can be a blessing without even being conscious of it. How many stories might we tell of those who have brought blessing to our lives without being aware of it?
When we look at Saint Paul, we see that being a blessing is something he expects of Christians; he is concerned that the Christians in Galatia have gone astray and he asks them in Galatians Chapter 4 Verse 15, “Where, then, is your blessing of me now?” Within the church, we are to be a blessing to each other, how often do we come along on a Sunday and look around and think, “I am to be a blessing to all the people here?” I know, when I’m in England that I go along to Holy Communion at 8 o’clock in the morning so as to avoid having to speak to people; I don’t like services where you have to shake hands with the people around you at the Peace; and yet I also know that being a Christian is not something private and personal—how can I be a blessing to people if I try to avoid them?
Saint Peter takes the expectation that we be a blessing a step further; it’s not just that we are expected to be a blessing to other Christians, Peter instructs that we should be a blessing even to those who would do us evil. “Repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing”, he writes in the First Letter of Peter Chapter 3 Verse 9.
To inherit God’s blessing, we are to bless those who hurt us—it’s not easy stuff, but it is in accordance with Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. When we read Saint Matthew Chapter 5 Verses 38-48, we encounter Jesus saying to us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”. The similar teaching in Saint Luke’s Gospel reads, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you”.
Most of us will be happy in trying to be a blessing to people who are nice, but, if you are like me, we are not so certain about blessing those who curse us.
I think Saint Paul tries to appeal to the more hard-headed side of our nature in Romans Chapter 12 Verse 20, pointing out that being a blessing was a clever piece of psychology, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
But being a blessing to those who hate us draws on something much deeper: it brings us to the difference between Law and grace.
Do you remember the story we were told in childhood days about the contest between the sun and the wind as to which was the strongest?
If people could have been compelled to be righteous, if they could have been changed by force, then Jesus need never have died; it is by God’s grace that we are changed. Grace is freely given to us, yet it is also costly; because we know of God’s blessing to us, because we know what he has done, then, out of gratitude we should be a blessing to others, even to others who treat us with contempt. In the First Letter of John Chapter 4 Verse 19, John writes, “We love because he first loved us”.
If you are like me, you probably listen to all of this stuff and nod politely and disagree; if I was listening, I would disagree. Studying the history of the 1930s and the 1940s, I would find it very hard to believe that Jesus’ teaching would have worked if they had been applied to those violent times. But perhaps the problem lies on the fact that the situations arose in the first place; had there been more blessing and less cursing, perhaps the situations would not have developed as they did.
How do we respond? The idea that the word “barak” is associated with both blessing and kneeling has a lesson for us—it reminds us that blessing sometimes means that we have the upper hand and sometimes means that we are humbled. We are blessed by God and through a sense of what he has done for us we bless God. Our challenge is to take the blessing we have received out to the people we meet, even the ones we don’t like.
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