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Blessed vs. Lucky

Each month, I preach a short sermon at a nursing home to a lovely group of people I have grown to treasure over the past year. One or more of my little guys helps with me with getting props ready or being involved in the message. Because of the varying levels of cognition–and to tap into that childlike place that stays accessible to a degree even when folks have memory impairment–I always add in some sort of creative, interactive, or seasonal element.  I thought it would be fun to share this month’s message with you about what it means to be blessed versus lucky. Here it is!

Around this time of year we see lots of green, joke about pots of gold, and hope to harness the “luck of the Irish”.  Now, what that saying even means isn’t clear, but it does have a nice ring to it. Some say that the luck of the Irish refers to Irish settlers striking is rich by finding gold in the American West. There’s a real pot of gold story! Some say the Irish had bad luck with the potato famine and other hardships, so referring to the luck of the Irish means you have no luck or bad luck. Some say that Irish people maintain good cheer despite so many hard times so the luck of the Irish is all about that perseverance quality, the glass half-full view of life. Whatever the saying really means, the good news is that Irish or not, we don’t have to rely on the whim of mere luck.  Instead, we can rely on God, the father; Jesus, our savior; and the Holy Spirit.

This is the point when my 4-year-old who has been proudly holding the up the glittery shamrock up for all to see flips it over to show everyone the surprise words on the back.

Matthew 5:1-12 Beatitudes

There is a legend that the real St. Patrick used shamrocks to help people understand the trinity since they have three leaves.  See, God,  Jesus , and the Holy Spirit—the three-in-one.

Today I want to talk about luck versus God’s blessings. The world tells us to value “lucky” sorts of things like wealth and fame, but God considers “the good life” to be something quite different. One word the Bible uses for the kind of life God wants us to seek is “blessed”. Often, people use the word blessed as a synonym for lucky or having material items, but when we look at the Beatitudes (a list of blessings that Jesus gave during a famous sermon), we realize that blessed and lucky are very different. Here is Matthew 5, 1-12:

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Poor in spirit, sad, humble, longing…those are not lucky words at all! But, God does say those are conditions where we can be blessed. So, what does blessed even mean? The dictionary definition of blessed is this: blessed means to be made holy. I love that simplicity. That works well in some of those verses we just read. Let me switch around some words based on that definition and we’ll try it out:

 3 You can be made holy when you are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

 4 You can be made holy when you mourn, for you will be comforted.

 If we want to keep going down this path of understanding what blessed means, we need to take our definition even one step further. If blessed means to be made holy, what does being holy mean? Being holy means dedicated to God. So, let’s rework those verses a bit more…

 3 You can be more dedicated to God when you are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

 4 You can be more dedicated to God when you mourn, for you will be comforted.

Wow, that rings true to me! As I have been mourning my mom’s death, my faith is something I cling to so strongly right now! I bought the cross necklace I now always wear while I was in South Dakota getting ready for the memorial service.  Every time I think of my mom, I like to reach up and just touch the cross. It reminds me that she is with Jesus, and that comforts me. It also reminds me that God is with me giving me comfort and strength in this life  filled with hard things.

Black Hills Gold Cross

This necklace also is an amazing example of God’s presence. See, right after I was ordained as a pastor, I decided I wanted to buy a cross necklace that was made of Black Hills Gold, a special kind jewelry made in the area where I was born in South Dakota. I wanted something small that I could wear every day as a reminder of my calling as a pastor. Black Hills Gold features pink and green leaves and little dots that represent grapes. The story of the design is something like this: there was a gold prospector named Henri LeBeau was who was hungry and lost as he journeyed west. One night, as he neared starvation, he dreamed of a mountain stream and lush grapevines. The next day, as he pressed forward, he found that very scene from his dream and was nourished.  Pretty cool, right?

I connected with a vintage and antique dealer online and found just  the right thing. But, it didn’t work out; something happened. He had to refund my money, and I didn’t get the necklace. Bummer!

Now, fast-forward to this past January. A couple days before my mom’s memorial service, I took my kids out for dinner in this fun, utterly unique blocks-huge store called Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota that sells all sorts of things from hot dogs made of buffalo meat to…tada…Black Hills Gold cross necklaces. It was exactly like one that I had missed out of from the vintage dealer. God brought it to me just at the right time, as my mom was one of my biggest encouragers in my pastoral calling.

As Matthew said: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Such a blessing can come in the form of a necklace or a friend, hug, memory, or just a peace that passes all human understanding. These verses show me that when we are unlucky in the world’s eyes our hearts can be especially open to gifts and signs from God and open to faith in a way that we might not be if everything was going smoothly.  

As much as blessing can come in the “unlucky” moments, it can also come in the “lucky” ones. When we have good our lives, be it things we’ve worked hard for or things we’ve happened upon, blessing versus not comes down to what you do with what you have. Are you using that thing, experience, job, relationship, etc. to become more holy– more dedicated to God–or to become more focused on something else? A big house, for example, is a sign of wealth and accomplishment. But, whether it is a blessing or burden depends entirely on how you use that house. The same is true of our jobs, relationships, possessions, activities, money.

I’ve enjoyed putting a tiny bit of the Beatitudes into contemporary language here, but there is an amazing pastor and scholar named Eugene Peterson who has done this way better than I ever could. Peterson is the man behind The Message translation of the Bible—the entire Bible taken from its original languages and put into modern-speak—and I want to share his translation of Matthew 5. It is just so beautiful!

Matthew 5: 1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

I love those words of blessing!  What hope to know that we need not live life based on the whim of luck but rather we can be empowered to grow in blessing–in holiness–on both our best and worst days. What hope we have to know that God redeems the struggle, pain, and sin of this world. 

It is amazing how differently Bible versus read when you think about holiness as blessing rather than that I-get-good-things/luck quality. This morning, the kids and I worked on memorizing Proverbs 12:2a from the NIrV translation* which says, “The Lord blesses anyone who does good.” If we think of blessing as luckiness, this verse sounds like good things come to good people. It’s a common adage, but it begs a closer look because this reflects a “prosperity gospel” mindset which leads us to believe that those who have material things, health, etc. are good people who are pleasing the Lord. The flip side of this logic is pretty horrible: people who are in need, lacking, lonely, hungry, sick, etc. aren’t chosen by God for good things. That is the complete opposite of what the Bible teaches, of Jesus’ own example, of what the Beatitudes teach. No, blessing does not mean earthly luck.

Instead, when we insert holiness into this translation of Proverbs 12:2a, it comes out as “The Lord increases the holiness of anyone who does good,”  or–if we take it even further–”The Lord makes you more like God when you do good.” (The 6 year old then wanted to know if I was more like God, and he got introduced to the idea sanctification. Whew on that one! It’s something I struggle to comprehend myself, let alone putting it simply enough for a child.) This holiness interpretation is much more in-line with other parts of Scripture as well as other translations of this verse.  

I encourage you to try it out. Whenever you are tempted to use “blessed” or “blessing” in conversation (or hear those words come up), mentally try out the holiness/more like God phrasing instead. What does it change for you? May you be blessed by the answer!

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About More Green for Less Green

Hi, I’m Pamm. Welcome to my little slice of the web! As a progressive Evangelical female pastor and crunchy homeschooling mom, I’m never quite what anyone expects of me. But, hey, that’s what makes blogging interesting, right? Join me as I try to wholeheartedly parent my three little boys, slowly fix up the trashed foreclosure we bought in 2009, and live simply.

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