Saturday, February 4, 2017

Living into the Comma

Last week at the children’s sermon, I asked the kids what it meant to be blessed. None of them could put it into words, even though I got the sense they had some idea of the definition. To help them out, I showed them a series of pictures of people and asked them whether or not they thought the people in those pictures were blessed.

Unsurprisingly, they recognized right away that the family with the nice, big house, the family at Disney World, and the older couple toasting wine glasses on a yacht were blessed. How did they know? Well, they had “stuff.” And they looked happy. So that’s what it means to be blessed.

When I showed them pictures of a homeless family, a woman grieving, a Muslim woman in front of a mosque that had been vandalized, and a man in jail, they were emphatic. These people were not blessed.

Maybe it was a little bit of a dirty trick—the gospel lesson for the day was the Beatitudes, after all, and of course I was going to challenge the kids’ notions of what it meant to be blessed. But at the same time, these kids had just come from a Sunday School lesson in which they had been discussing this very story, so I was a little surprised that none of them smelled a rat in my questions about blessing.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Because as adults, many of us lifelong practicing Lutherans, we’ve read the Beatitudes and heard them preached on countless times. We know that Jesus turns what was the accepted understanding of blessing in his time on its head. And yet somehow, we still haven’t gotten the message. We still—and I mean all of us at some time or another—fall into the belief that blessings are material things bestowed upon us or the presence of positivity (people, situations and things) in our lives. We still look at those who are suffering and cannot fathom how to see them as blessed.

Of course, all those wonderful things in our lives, material and otherwise are blessings. All that we have comes from God. And if we have good things, those good things come from God! So we are, in that very culturally-defined way, blessed.

The problem is that that’s where most of us stop. We live as though we are blessed-period. Blessed. But the truth is that God’s blessings don’t end in a period. They end in a comma. We are blessed-comma. Blessed, and… Blessed, to... Blessed, so that…

God said to Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…  and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2, 3b

If we are ever to get unstuck in our inability to recognize God’s blessings beyond just the positive material things in our lives, we have to live into the comma. If we are ever to fathom how to see the suffering as blessed by God, we have to move past the comma into the calling.

Luther wrote of God as “the God of the preposition:” God’s work through us. Now I would never suggest that God is unable to work outside of human agency—that the suffering aren’t blessed unless we work to bring them blessing. That being said, I do believe that God calls us—in no uncertain terms—to be a blessing to those who are poor, who grieve, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who experience persecution. God calls us to take action on their behalf, to reach God’s arms around them in love and healing, to work to change systems that continue to do them harm.

This is not simply an admonition, but an invitation. When we live into the comma, suddenly our own blessings seem less hollow. When we stop counting our blessings and start sharing them, life takes on real meaning and purpose. We get “a foretaste of the feast to come” when we will live in joyful community with God’s people (which is all people!) Isn’t that exciting? So go forth! And remember that you are blessed,

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