Blessed Wisdom by Dr. Alydia Smith – Manor Road United Church Blessed Wisdom by Dr. Alydia Smith – Manor Road United Church

February 2, 2020

Blessed Wisdom by Dr. Alydia Smith

Passage: Matthew 5:1-12
Service Type:

Bible Text: Matthew 5:1-12 | 1
Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness,
for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful,
for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’
sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute
you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my
account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were
before you.
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Blessed Wisdom
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our
hearts be acceptable to you, our Lord, Rock and Redeemer.
“Blessed is the church service, makes me nervous”
Paul Simon said it first, but I gotta agree with him on this
passage. First: In church, from a pulpit, talking about blessings
makes me nervous because our various understandings of
blessings are so fraught. And second: I am also hesitant about
preaching a sermon on a sermon by the king of sermons …
seems redundant. Jesus said it best, and yet, foolishly here I am
recycling his sermon, to his faithful followers.
First Blessings: There are many contradictory
understandings for the word blessing. Someone comes up to
you and says “I am Blessed”, depending on who they are this
could mean many different things.
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They could be saying “I am blessed” with things like:
fortune, riches, possessions, food and opportunities. Or I am
blessed with people like: descendants, children, family
members, partners, and colleagues. In this case, blessed is a
shorthand way of saying “I am thankful to God for these people
and things in my life”. Here blessed is synonymous with
gratitude.
Or they could be saying “I am blessed” through righteous
living. They could be sharing how they have earned blessings
because of their generosity and faithfulness to a particular
belief, doctrine or teaching. Here blessed is synonymous with
good favour and sometimes prosperity.
Or they could be saying “I am blessed” with happiness.
Here blessed is synonymous with a feeling of contentment.
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Each of these understandings create very different
sermons. Today though, I invite us to focus on the sermon were
blessed is a bubbly, effervescent-type of emotion that grows.
Imagine what feeling blessed is like for you and hold onto it.
For me, blessed feels like, love, acceptance and being at
the centre of somebodies heart. It feels like a shield of
protection, a cloud of witnesses, a super power, and the
warmest hug. This is the sort of blessedness that I think Jesus is
preaching about: “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit
the earth”.
Think of Black parents sending their children to school
with words of encouragement, affirmations and songs to
counteract the hateful, demeaning and harmful messages that
they are not as smart, not as innocent and not as beautiful as
the other lighter skinned children in their class. Parents shield
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their children with blessings to protect them from a system
designed to other.
Think of Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy, positive
hashtags designed to help Black folks feel blessed by reminding
us that there is joy and magic in who we are, despite an
overwhelming amount of media designed to other and
commodify our beauty and our culture.
Think of Womanist theologians who empower and bless
people with their scholarship. Womanist comes from the very
common colloquial term used by many Black cultures in the
Americas, ‘womanish’. Black girls are often called ‘womanish’
when they act in a way that is: courageous audacious
overly curious willful bold or stubborn.
A womanist is someone who loves people, who loves life, who
loves herself and who loves love – regardless. Alice Walker
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famously said: Womanist is to feminist as purple is to
lavender. Womanist theologians (like Black, Queer and
Liberation theologians) provide spaces for people to place
themselves in the centre of Gods story, despite historical
interpretations that attempt to marginalize, other, and oppress.
Womanist, who love love, believe we are our best selves
and thrive when we feel loved, cherished and blessed. Just as
hurt people tend to hurt people, blessed people tend to bless
people.
And in order to bless people, we must be in some sort of
active relationship with them. That would mean that we would
need to know the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who are in
mourning.
Many interpretations of Jesus’ sermon make this passage
more about comfort than about actively blessing. While the
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sermon is comforting, we cannot forget that it is also a passage
of instruction and challenge.
Remember, Jesus is preaching to a group of people ready
to start a revolution, and one of the first thing he says is
“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit”. Did the word ‘blessed’ have
similar cultural and emotional baggage then? Shouldn’t those
who are literally and figuratively poor cry out, as Jesus, Simon
and Garfunkel did, “O Lord, why have you forsaken me?”
Surely Jesus understands what it feels like to be
persecuted, mistreated and poor; it feels like the exact opposite
of being blessed. Does Jesus really mean to say to those who
are poor, and the poor in Spirit, (the sat upon and spat upon)
“chin up, your reward’s in heaven, you will be in good
company there”.
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It might just get better in heaven, but what are we who
are poor in spirit, we who are grieving for our lives, our families,
our countries and our climate, suppose to do in the interim?
Are we to just faithfully wait?
The more I learn about Jesus, his disciples and his ministry, the
more such an interpretation seems out of character.
Delores S. Williams a womanist theologian teaches us that
Jesus, his words, and his actions are to help all people flourish.
And a womanist way to help all people flourish as Keisha
McKenzie explains, is to place “the experiences of minoritized
and excluded people at the center” ultimately seeking
“engagement not withdrawal”.
Jesus in his sermon, is not inviting us to withdraw and
faithfully wait for the kingdom to come while our world
implodes. Jesus is inviting his disciples, which includes us, to
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engage with those who are poor in spirit, persecuted, meek,
mournful, broken and downtrodden. In other words, those
people who may feel ‘othered’, the people who feel anything
but blessed, until everyone is able to flourish equally.
If we listen carefully enough from the perspective of the
disciples, and remove some of our inherited baggage around
the text, Jesus’ sermon still preaches itself. We are no better
than that first audience who came centuries before us, and yet
we hope that the prophets and saints who will come after us
will be all the better from our learnings.
This is how we start to seek the welfare of the city and
build God’s kingdom in 2020, uptown Toronto. We attempt to
bless the people, with our words, actions and deeds so that
they may say:
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I was pour in spirit and the kingdom of God blessed me
through your care.
I was mourning and God’s people comforted me
through your ministry.
I was meek and God lent me the courage of the earth
through your loving-kindness.
I was hungry and thirsty and God’s people filled me
through your fight for justice.
I was spiteful, and God blessed me with merciful friends
that taught me forgiveness.
I was greedy, and God blessed me with pure-hearted
companions
that taught me compassion.
I was a trouble-rouser, and God blessed me with the teachings
of a peace-maker
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that taught me blessed wisdom.
I was persecuted, reviled, and falsely accused and God blessed
me with your faithful discipleship
that taught me resilience and resistance.
Rejoice and be glad, because together, with those past Saints,
with each other, and with the Spirit’s help we will build God’s
Kingdom, breaking down barriers and helping all Gods people
to flourish.
And God’s people said:
Amen.

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