I take irrational joy in sneezing in places like dressing rooms, where I cannot be seen only heard.  Why?  I love that moment when some unseen person offers those lovely words, “Bless you.”  I love that my totally involuntary bodily response evokes a blessing. Yes, I know the words are often uttered without thought, but these thoughtless words offer me hope, compassion, and more, “God be with you, right here, right now.”  Not a bad response to a sneeze.

And yet, I find myself equally irrationally angry when someone defines my experience as blessing.  Sometimes, in the midst of some difficult, painful experience, some well- intentioned person will offer, “It’s really a blessing in disguise,” or some similar sentiment.  Ever been there?  I don’t know about you but when I’m struggling, that is not helpful to me.  In the middle of the heartache, at best it feels irrelevant, but at worst it feels thoughtless, minimizing, unkind, and patronizing. At my best, I can recognize an attempt to help.  At my worst, I wonder if the sentiment is meant to comfort me, or the speaker.

Looking back, with the clarity of hindsight, I can see there were blessings in the midst of pain, heartache, suffering.  But, these are blessings I need to discover for myself.  I can’t take your word for it.  The hard things in my life weren’t blessings in and of themselves.  They were a part of life, part of my story.  And in experiencing the things that hurt, I have also experience things that heal, blessings along the journey.

So how did the followers of Jesus hear his beatitudes, his blessings as he began the sermon on the mount?  Did they hear them as affirmation and compassion?  Certainly he didn’t offer them to make himself feel better in the midst of an uncomfortable situation.  Did they find them comforting, challenging, provoking, or something else all together?

This Sunday we’ll hear the beatitudes, the blessings of Jesus.  If you read them carefully, I think you’ll find they’re as challenging as they are comforting.  They don’t minimize pain but rather offer the promise that God is with us, through it all, whether we’re ready to recognize it or not. They challenge us to reconsider what it means to be blessed: not lucky, not content, not well off, but holy, worthy, loved and beloved child of God.  Bless me.  Bless you.  Blessed.

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