Some of you may have heard of Twitter, the social media application which allows you to share your thoughts in 140 character segments to as many people as have determined they are interested in following you. I follow Tweets from 50 entities: primarily news organizations, federal agencies such as FEMA and the National Weather bureau, and a few theologians, but not on a daily basis. I have 144 followers, primarily those who appreciate headlines coming out of the Akron Bugle Facebook page, and not very many by Twitter standards.
There is the ability to collect all comments on a particular subject by adding a hashtag or pound sign in front of a label. It can be used at the scene of an emergency so responders and the public can share critical information such as evacuation, sheltering in place, pick-up zones, etc. Such a hash tag may be #FireMedinaHS.
I have used hash tags only three times that I remember: at a United Methodist Association of Communicators meeting where we were learning about them, during a FEMA training session at which instructors were showing first responders how to use them for on scene communication, and during a hazmat drill at Perry’s Ice Cream Company. But I discovered this week that one of the many hash tags gathering tweets together in one place is the hash tag blessed.
It is interesting to see what people post on Twitter as blessings in their lives :
There are comments about support from parents, answers to prayer, developing relationships, healing, but in large, the comments gathering under the blessed hash tag are about sports, new jobs, new homes, gifts, financial gain, and personal gratification.
Many reflect what our culture lifts as things which are important and only a few reflect an understanding of the blessings which Jesus shares with his disciples in this passage in Matthew.
Jesus has called his disciples away from the crowds gathering in search of a leader who will free them from Roman rule, to a quiet place where he can teach. His lesson – God’s Kingdom is not just one more political kingdom in which those with the power “win”, where those making the rules define success, and those with the most money get what they want at the expense of others.
With this sharing of blessings, Jesus is showing his disciples that God’s Kingdom has a different set of priorities and it affects the here and now as well as what is to come. He shows them that in the Kingdom of God, blessings are not counted by the number of titles we hold or Twitter followers we have, how stress free or healthy our lives are, how many headlines we make, how much better we are at doing a particular thing than anyone else, how much money we have, or how good we are at following the Law.
What matters is finding our identity in true relationship with God and relating to the world through the eyes of God, in lamenting the current state of the world and how far we are from the fullness of God’s kingdom, in addressing our own actions and the actions of our communities which deprive others of the basic needs and rights they need to allow them to function as part of the community.
None of the blessings, that we hear Jesus bestow, reflect that we will never face difficult situations again after accepting God’s grace and direction for our lives, after we follow Jesus.
What is reflected are circumstances which can lead people to lose hope, to become overwhelmed by a life experience filled with anger, violence, destruction, and death; where many forget they are not above God, where actively doing the will of God can cost someone their position in society, job, friends, and family; where putting the needs of others first can subject us to ridicule; where acts of reconciling justice and grace are often misunderstood.
These are circumstances we hear in our prayers and concerns on a regular basis. Circumstances for which we see prayers answered in many different ways, sometimes not in the way or time for which we hoped. Sometimes we are caught up in evaluating our blessings or lack thereof through the lens of cause and effect. We can believe that if we are good people who follow God’s commandments, work hard, and try to do our best in all circumstances, we will be rewarded with good health, food to eat, stable jobs, happy families, and prosperity. When things do not go our way, or someone is suffering, we are drawn to believe God is administering punishment.
The life of a Disciple often gets harder, as following Jesus leads to choices which go in direct opposition of what our culture expects and rewards. The blessings we hear in this passage can prepare us for that reality. They can keep us focused on the right agenda in the midst of situations which tempt us to accept the world view that money, power, beauty, and health are the signs we are blessed.
Scripture tells us that God has promised to never leave or forsake us, and the blessings we hear as Jesus teaches his followers, then and now, affirm the ways He walks with us.
Ours is the kingdom of Heaven throughout time as those living under God’s grace, we can live by Kingdom of God standards even when we recognize and lament that the present condition of the world is far from God’s purposes,.
We can serve one another in humility even when others don’t understand our priorities
We can continue to do acts of mercy, to work to bring reconciliation, to not be discouraged when others seek to demean us because of our decisions which put God and others ahead of our own interests.
We are blessed in the midst of what the world identifies as hopeless situations. We are blessed in the best times and the worst times of our lives. We are blessed in knowing that in Christ everything changes, and joy is possible in the midst of the impossible. We are blessed because God is with us.
We can feel and act and live in these ways because it shows that when it comes to God’s kingdom, we “get it.” These blessings are not a list of entrance requirements for kingdom membership. They are a description of what kingdom living is like after we have been saved by grace. Of our behavior as disciples answering the invitation Jesus extends to “Come and See.”
The crowds gathered around Jesus because his ministry was taking off and his reputation as a healer was spreading quickly. Today he might have several million Twitter followers, many following because they hope to get something from him or want to be part of the success story. Many drawn to this charismatic leader, hoping his kingdom will end Roman occupation and bring Israel back to its previous glory. They are looking for blessing in their life that translates into success as their world defines it.
Spending some time with the disciples away from the demands of the crowd, he shapes the message to let them know what his kingdom is. To introduce them to the reality this is not business as usual. He begins to reveal how disruptive to the status quo his kingdom is. To show he came for everyone, not just for the righteous. He reveals a kingdom that lives out the answer of what the Lord requires of us: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
We are able to meet that requirement through Christ and to recognize that in this world upside down kingdom, God’s blessing does not discriminate. God’s blessing is for all. It means no matter who you are or what you have done, you are blessed and welcomed. You are in God’s presence and held in His Grace through every circumstance you encounter. Your entire life is hash tag blessed.