I love to say to people: “Blessings.”
It’s a comfort word, just like meatloaf and mashed potatoes are comfort foods. I’ve been saying it so long that it has become a part of my language and sometimes I might not even know that I am saying it.
I was taken aback at Christmas time when I was at a party and one of my friends pulled me aside and asked to talk for a moment. So we went to a corner and sat down, away from the frenzied crowd.
He said, “I’m sick of people saying how blessed they are and how blessed I am. I don’t feel blessed. I lost my son two years ago and it still hurts. Saying how blessed I am makes me feel like they don’t care about what happened to us.”
We had a long discussion that was part grief talk and part friendship. When it was over I spent along time thinking about the blessedness, and blessings, and what it means when you say that word to someone.
As I thought about the word it struck me that it means different things to different people. If you look it up in the original Greek it means many different things, everything from happy, to fortunate, well-off and more.
But “blessed” or “blessing” aren’t about what it means so much, as what it feels like when we hear it or say it.
I hear people saying, all the time, “I’m so blessed.” Baseball players, football players (hockey players, not so much) are always talking about what a blessing a victory is. We watch football players kneel in the end zone pointing heavenward when they score a touch down. Baseball players point and make the sign of the cross when they hit a home run. After the game they confess to having been blessed.
So I want to go back to the beginning of this sermon: saying, you are “blessed” or “blessings”, is a theological comfort word.
I remembered a scene at a county fair in Dougherty County Georgia in the 1970’s. I used to go to the county fair early in the morning to have breakfast. I went with a member of my congregation who was a health inspector. (That was a mixed blessing if you pardon my use of the word.)
All of the food vendors were scared stiff of the health inspector. I’ll never forget the day that I went to breakfast at the county fair grounds wearing my clerical collar. After about ten minutes of walking the fair grounds (that were empty except for the “carney folks”), I was overwhelmed by people asking me for a blessing. Some wanted me to bless crosses. Some wanted me to bless them. I must have spent the better part of an hour, sitting at a picnic table blessing things and people.
As I look back on that day now, I think I provided to these folks a sense of comfort, an anchor that harkened back, in their lives to a time and place, when a priest (because that is what they thought I was) placed his hand on their head, held a cross in their hand, and said “Blessed are you child of God.”
Two years ago, I had completed a fairly long workday; it was Ash Wednesday. I had conducted two services. I had visited a half dozen or more shut-ins and placed ashes on their foreheads and said the words: “Remember dust you are and to dust you shall return,” the liturgical blessing for Ash Wednesday. I stopped off to grab my wife a late dinner. As I stood in the restaurant that was nearly empty, one of the guys making pizzas came over and said, “Father, will you bless me.” I was tired, so I explained that I wasn’t Catholic. He said it didn’t matter. So I asked his name. He leaned toward me from the other said of the counter. I put my hand on his head and had a prayer of blessing. He thanked me profusely. Blessing is a comfort word.
Many theologians have said that the Sermon on the Mount – the Beatitudes – define Jesus ministry. They say that the people listed are the people that Jesus came to serve.
Hear those words again, from Matthew 5:1-12:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Blessed and Blessing are words that remind us of the presence of God. They should be used to celebrate that incredible wonder of being blessed by God, not with stuff, but with the presence of God. It is the wonder that we all share when we place our hand on the head of someone and say those words:
“Blessed are you child of God.”