January 29, 2023 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed.  It’s a complicated word.  It can be used to indicate that the speaker believes that the good things in his or her life are a gift from God – as in, I am blessed to have a good job, a nice house, a close family.  And we can’t deny that all good gifts are from God.  But what happens if you don’t have a good job?  What does it mean if you don’t have adequate housing?  And what if your family is dysfunctional – or not around?  Does that mean you’re not blessed?  Does it mean you’re cursed?  Blessed is a complicated word.

Some biblical translations render the word blessed as happy . . . but I’m not really thrilled with that definition, either.  For one thing, it feels sort of shallow.  And for another, it doesn’t really make sense, especially in the context of Jesus’ words today, the passage I just read, which is known as the Beatitudes.  Take, for example, the second Beatitude.  If we substitute happy for blessed, it reads, “Happy are those who mourn.”  By very definition, those who mourn are not happy.  Blessed is a complicated word.

But Jesus points out that it’s exactly those whom others might assume are unfortunate who are truly blessed – the ones who know their spiritual life is not in good shape, the ones who are grieving, the ones who are humble and who can’t find justice, the ones who put others’ needs in front of their own and advocate for peace rather than getting their own way, the ones who are persecuted – those are the ones whom to whom God gives an abiding sense of God’s love and presence.  Those are the ones who are blessed.  I like that definition much better:  blessed = having an abiding sense of God’s love and presence.

And here’s something else I noticed about the Beatitudes this time around:  they’re not about individual people; all the people Jesus says are blessed are groups of people.  Take a look for yourself.  Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  He doesn’t say, “Blessed is the man who is poor in spirit,” or “Blessed is the one,” he says, “Blessed are,” [that’s a plural verb, meaning there’s more than one}, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” [meaning a whole class of people.]  And, he says “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and please realize that in Jesus’ day, “theirs” was only a plural pronoun.  I know things have gotten a little tricky lately with non-binary people preferring gender-neutral pronouns – but that’s not what this is.  Jesus is referring to a community of people who are poor in spirit.  And as you read on, you’ll see he’s consistent in this.  “Blessed are those who mourn;” “Blessed are the meek,” all of them; “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst;” “Blessed are the merciful – they will receive mercy;” “Blessed are the pure in heart – they will see God;” “Blessed are the peacemakers” with an “s;” “Blessed are those who are persecuted;” and the final one, “Blessed are you,” and you might think this one is ambiguous because you can be singular or plural.  But I looked it up, and the Greek here is plural.  In all of these sayings, Jesus is not talking about a person who is blessed, but rather, a group of people:  a blessed community.

If you’ve read my report in the annual report, or if you’ve listened to any of my sermons this month, or even if you’ve just had any conversation with me recently, you will not be surprised to know that I am leaning into the word community again today.  And in fact, this won’t be the end of it.  We’re actually just getting started in our 2023 Vision:  deepening our relationships with God and one another to enhance our service to the world in Christ’s name.  This is the lens through which we hope to view all of our ministry this year, always asking the question:  How is the work that we’re doing strengthening our community – this community, within these walls, and also our community beyond these walls?  Are we going deeper and wider in our commitment to Christ and his church?

We – that is, your Parish Council and I – we believe that this vision is a timely one because there has been so much strain on community life, both here in this place and also in society.  The strains have come through COVID, conflict, and change.

  • COVID caused, and in some ways, is still causing, profound isolation, the effects of which we may feel for generations. We certainly felt the effects of that isolation in our parish.  But through it all, in this community, we have been blessed – that is, we have had an abiding sense of God’s love and presence.  Whether communicated through a screen or through careful in-person interactions, it is through each other that we have sensed God with us.


  • Conflict feels like it’s front and center in every news cycle, and it increasingly feels like we can’t talk to people with whom we disagree anymore. Here in this place, we were not immune to conflict in the last year, which you will have seen reflected in the minutes from the last annual meeting.  But I truly believe that we were able to persevere because this is a blessed community – one which affirms God’s love and presence in spite of differences of opinion.


  • And, at the risk of sounding like an old person, it seems to me that everything changes so quickly these days. And change stresses community, even good change, like welcoming more people into our midst and electing new members to our Parish Council.  But just like Christians for two thousand years before us, we know that it is God’s love and presence, particularly as expressed and experienced in this blessed community, which has gotten us through, and will continue to do so.

We are a blessed community.  And blessed communities share their blessings.  Our annual report is full of the evidence.  We’ve given money away and we’ve given things away:  household items and baby items, undergraments and hats and scarves.  We’ve prepared meals and purchased canned food.  We’ve cared for our earthly home and cared for those who are between homes.  We’ve donated the use of our property for rehearsals and concerts and craft shows and races.  We have paid our blessings forward.

Blessed may well be a complicated word.  We’re not the most fortunate of congregations, and we’re not always happy all the time.  But we are blessed for one simple reason:  in this community, we know the love and presence of God.  As we gather today to review a year’s worth of congregational life and to look forward with hope and prayer and a pledge of hard work for what is to come, I pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire you to join us in our work of deepening our relationships with God and each other.  Doing so, I am quite sure that we will see even more clearly how God is with us every step of the way.  And as a blessed community, we are in a fantastic position to follow in the way of Jesus, loving the world by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will also inspire you to continue this work of passing on the blessings we have received.

Thank you for the role each of you plays in this blessed community.  Thank God for you.


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