A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: “Blessed”


January 29, 2023


I am blessed. (Said with attitude) I am blessed to live in Annisquam. I am blessed to live on beautiful Cape Ann.  I am blessed to be healthy.  I am blessed to have this wonderful family.  And all these friends.  I have so many good things in my life at 60 years of age.

#Blessed. “Look at me” the proud Instagrammer boasts of her good fortune. (Just a little fun.)

So often when we think about what it is to be blessed we (rightly so) consider all the wonderful things in our lives… things we ought to be grateful for, but too often take for granted, ignore, don’t take to heart. 

But this is NOT what Jesus means when he says “Blessed are you.” The blessing that Jesus conveys isn’t about what we have, but about who we are and who we can become through a relationship with God, and sharing our blessings with others.

In each of the four gospels, the author has a particular lens through which he sees Jesus.  (My former seminary teacher, and good friend, Sr. Meg Guider, is here. So it makes it a little difficult for me to speak theologically in front of an ace. But, I’m going to try. Sr. Meg, you can correct me later, if I get anything wrong.)

In Matthew, the primary emphasis is on Jesus as teacher.  Today’s passage – which is also the very first public event in Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s gospel  – begins, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples (his students) gathered around. Then he began to speak, and taught them.”

These words of Jesus are meant for our instruction.

Any good teacher – and Jesus was a master teacher (and so is Sr. Meg) – knows that if you want your students to learn what you have to teach them, you begin with where they are, with what they know.  Understanding your students goes a long way in effectively conveying a message. And, if your students sense you understand them, that you “get” them, they are more likely to listen.

Jesus begin his lesson with a recognition that he knows and understands who his students are (the very first thing he says): they are poor in spirit. Seekers. People who recognize their need for God. All those of us who know we are not going to make it through this world simply by our own efforts.  Who know that life can be overwhelming.  That sometimes we can’t see the way ahead. 

This may be one reason why people in recovery programs tend to be so spiritual.  They know their need. (They know their need.)

Jesus teaches  “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” Blessed. This statement not only defines the seeker as blessed, but conveys the blessing.  People at the time of Jesus had a very different understanding about the power of words than we do.  They had a greater respect for and appreciation of the spoken word.  They understood that speaking a blessing has the power to create a new reality and can allow people to see themselves or a situation illuminated in a completely new way.

Here’s an example. I’ve been given permission to use it. A few days ago, my dear friend – Rev. Brigid was (“catawampus”) feeling depleted and off kilter. She had worked three 13 hour days in a row.  At the end of one of those days, about an hour and a half into a Church Board meeting on Zoom, she has a meltdown.  “How did I not see this problem? How did I not do anything about it? How can I keep all the balls in the air? (I understand that feeling.) I feel overwhelmed.  This is terrible.” 

What happened next was inspired.  The Board president (who is as wonderful as ours) gently interrupted Brigid and said, “Let’s pause this conversation.  Our friend is clearly exhausted and stressed out. Let’s all take a deep breath and offer a blessing to Brigid.” They raised their hands in the Zoom meeting: “May Brigid get some rest. May she know she has our support.  May she know how much we appreciate her.” 

Brigid took it all in. The whole energy of the meeting was reset.  She came back to herself – at ease and transformed.  From that point forward, the group was able to come up with creative ideas together to address the concerns that only a few moments before had my dear friend unglued. That’s the power of blessing.

(We should do it more often.  John O’Donohue reminds us of this in his book, “To Bless the Space Between Us.”  We can recover the power of blessing.  It is something any of us can do. You don’t have to have an M.Div. or be ordained to bless someone. Any of us can do it!)

What Jesus teaches – which his first disciples struggled to understand and many who call ourselves his followers still struggle to understand – is how to build a life. (These were poor fisherman, backed into a corner, who were never going to be able to take care of their families and pay taxes to the Roman empire.  Their lives were a mess. ) What Jesus was trying to team them and teach us is how to build a life not based on any of our possessions or achievements, not money, not power, not even health or well-being, but how to build a life rooted and grounded in blessing – in love – in a relationship with God that is available no matter how much or how little you have of any of these things. 

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit” is the starting point, the foundation, the conceptual anchor for this way of life.  To internalize this message is to understand that you are blessed no matter what is happening in your life or in the world. Period. And it is realizing that we have the power to bless each other, to convey the presence of God to each other, in word and in deed. 

As some of you know, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on what it means to turn 60.  I think I’m driving my poor husband crazy over it! (He’s too good to admit it.)  In recent weeks, I’ve thought back to other thresholds: graduating from high school and college, becoming a mother, marrying David, ordination, job beginnings and endings, moving to Cape Ann, becoming your pastor.

In this deeply reflective mood, looking back, I recognize that perhaps the greatest spiritual gifts I have received along the way, have come through the hardships I’ve faced – the growing realization over time that God’s blessing is always present and can be counted on. As I have matured, the way I am able to look at moments of disappointment, sadness, and loss has evolved – from “What did I do wrong?” and “What do I need to do to fix this problem?”  to “What will God do to help bring something good out of this challenge?” and  “What is this challenge trying to teach me that I need to learn?” Totally different perspective over time. (And who knows how wise I will be when I reach 70, 80, or 90.  I imagine some of you can tell me.)

Slowly over time, as one door closed – a relationship ended, a job didn’t work out, the finances wore thin – I have leaned more heavily into trusting the goodness and faithfulness of God, trusting that God (not Sue) would open doors that I didn’t even know were there. To believe that God has my back. I have learned to wonder, to be curious about, what blessing God would make of the low moments in my life and it has made all the difference.

If there is one spiritual gift I could give to the people in my life and in yours whose first and repeated response to life challenges is “I must have done something wrong”  or worse, “I am destined for failure”  it would be to suggest they try a new approach… to believe and act with the conviction that God really has our backs, to be radically open to the blessings that can come at life’s most uncertain and distressing moments.

Each of the blessings in the Beatitudes is God’s promise to be with us in times of challenge – when we are mourning, when we are struggling for justice, when we are in need of mercy.   At the same time, each Beatitude is a challenge for us to be that grace, that blessing of God for others, especially at times of need. 

One of my favorite theologians, David Lose, writes,  “To be human is to be inescapably fragile and vulnerable, and it turns out that the surprising character of God isn’t to reject these things but rather to gather them all into a divine embrace. And blessed are those…who see the blessings of God in their neighbor’s need and give thanks they (are) privileged to meet them.” (I’m going to say that again: And blessed are those…who see the blessings of God in their neighbor’s need and give thanks they (are) privileged to meet them.”)

Following the way of Jesus is not easy.  We receive the blessing of God not merely for our own satisfaction, but because God needs our help in this (catawampus) world right now.  God needs us to show up as a blessing for those who mourn, who are persecuted, who seek mercy and justice. Following the way of Jesus isn’t just about how God #blesses us; it’s an invitation into a life where we consciously and intentionally prioritize blessing others by our words and our deeds.

Today we are fortunate that three people – Clare Byrne, Patty Hock, and Randy Hock – are choosing to become members of our church.  We will not ask them to adhere to particular set of beliefs or doctrines. We will ask them to live in the flow of blessing: through receiving the grace that comes from gathering regularly in community for worship and making a commitment to grow spiritually; and then to share that blessing through service to others and stewardship of creation. To embrace a life of contemplation and action. Of an inner journey and an outer journey. Living a blessed life isn’t merely about what we are fortunate to have, but how we are transformed through what we give.

This is the sacred alchemy – (something I know at 60, that I didn’t quite grasp at 20 or 30), when we do this … when we evolve from being those who are blessed to those who choose to bless others, we discover what it is to live a grace-filled life. Amen.