Blessings


Transcript of my sermon delivered on Sunday 29th January 2017

This sermon uses two passages from the Bible, and questions what are blessings, and how do we recognise blessings in our lives. The passages are Micah 6: 1 – 8  and Matthew 5: 1 – 12and I began my talk by showing this piece of video from “The Life of Brian” – the Sermon on the Mount

It might seem a bit surprising that a clip from an anarchic film such as The Life of Brian could be used in a sermon in church, but I like this clip because it shows us so much about human nature, and the very real way that we can not only fall out over insignificant things, but also how if we’re not careful the Word of God can be misheard and mis-translated. It also ties in with our gospel reading today, where Matthew writes about Jesus’ sermon on the mount. If you know the film, or if you are familiar with parts of it, you will also know that later on, there’s a scene where the elders are all sat round and the conversation goes something like “pah, what have the Romans ever done for us?”. (Aqueduct, sanitation, roads, irrigation, medicine, education, wine, public order, health, peace etc)

The scene that Micah writes about in our first reading is not dissimilar: he speaks of the Israelites who are complaining about “what has the Lord ever done for us”, and Micah points out that God led them out of slavery, he sent great leaders in the shape of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and he saved them from Balak’s plans to have them cursed by the magician Balaam in Moab. Not only that but when they were stuck in the sinful city of Shittim, God led them to safety by crossing them over the river Jordan to the safety of Gilgal. You can almost hear the answer “yeah, well, apart from all that, what has God ever done for us?!”.

How many of us can say, hand on hearts, that we have never said something similar? How many of us have felt that we are hard done-to, or downtrodden, or that we deserve all the misery that is in our lives at the minute? I think it’s fair to say that at some time or another – some probably more than most – we have all failed to see what God has done for us, and we have simply not acknowledged his presence in our lives. Through Micah we are reminded that the Lord has done, and continues to do great things for us.

It’s the same message that we hear from Matthew too. The Beatitudes – a collection of blessings that Jesus is reported as saying in his oft referred to “sermon on the mount”. Scholars now argue that what Matthew wrote here is more of a series of headlines or soundbites rather than a word for word account of a single address given by Jesus on a hillside. I don’t know either way – I’m not a Biblical scholar and I have still got a lot to learn about the teachings of Jesus – but if these are really just headlines, then I feel it’s up to us to put the meat on the story, so to speak.

So what is a blessing then? What does it mean to be blessed? 

It’s perhaps easier to think about what a blessing isn’t. It isn’t the same as being happy, for example. If that were the case, then most of the beatitudes are nonsense. Can you imagine saying “happy are those who mourn?”. Nope, that doesn’t work for me.

Tom Wright says we can understand “blessed” to mean “good news”. That works a little bit better for me – “good news for the poor in spirit…” does feel a little closer, but it’s still not quite right.

We drop the words “blessing” and “bless” into our everyday language and conversations with each other. If I were to sneeze now, how many of you would respond by saying “bless you”? How many times have you heard or said “aw, bless him”, or “that’s a blessing in disguise”? In the words of the Johnson Oatman hymn “Count Your Blessings”, we are encouraged to think about our blessings in terms of what the Lord has done for us and to acknowledge his touch on our lives. For me, this is getting a bit closer to the real meaning of blessing, that when we are blessed, we have received the touch of God.

For those who mourn – the touch of God will comfort them; for the meek, the touch of God means that they will inherit the earth.

You see where I’m going with this?

It doesn’t quite go all the way, and it starts to go awry for me when we hear about those who are merciful, or those who are peacemakers and the righteous because the point is that we can only ever be these things by God’s touch in the first place. Peace-making, showing mercy, righteousness – without the touch of God we cannot be any of those things. We need God’s touch, his presence, throughout all aspect of our lives so we can be those things in his name. It doesn’t come naturally to us to be merciful or righteous – those are gifts from God and we must acknowledge that. We must be honest with ourselves when we claim to be righteous, or humble or any of the things we are called to be, because no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we are only ever at the beginning of a long pathway, and even then, it is only with God’s grace and touch that we can even begin to see the first bend in that pathway that leads to him.

I feel that even though it has a flaw, my interpretation of what it means to be blessed is close enough for us to understand what a blessing is, and in such a way that enables us to be able to share with others the gospel message.

Because after all, what are we doing as Christians if we don’t share the good news with other people? How do we let the meek, the persecuted, the bereaved, those who are poor in spirit know that there is good news for them? How else do we let them know that Jesus Christ lived and died and lives again so that we can be part of God’s kingdom, that we can enjoy fruitful and meaningful lives here and now even though life feels hard and bleak sometimes. That with the touch of God and the blessings of God, even the most dismal and heart-breaking of situations are transformed, if only we take the time and trouble to acknowledge them.

Too often we find comfort in being down, and miserable. Sounds daft, but we do. We would rather put up with a poor situation, or a hurtful relationship, or stick with the old, destructive patterns of thinking because we take comfort from their familiarity. We know where we’re up to with that friend who always puts us down, and we know that if we always have the same reaction to situations in the news – immigration, poverty, injustice for persecuted groups – we don’t have to think too hard or put too much effort in to speaking out against them and those who inflict them.

I’m not just talking about straightforward pessimism and optimism here; people are far more complicated to be labelled either a pessimist or an optimist.

[Hold up glass half filled with water]

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Your answer shows if you have a pessimistic view of life, or an optimistic one depending on whether you see the glass as being filled or emptied; but as a Christian, you should have a third answer up your sleeve; that with God’s touch on your life, with his grace, his love and with his blessings, this glass is infinitely refillable.

Are you in mourning? Do you grieve for someone, or something you have lost? You are blessed by God! [Fill up the glass to the brim/overflowing]

Do you show mercy to others? Do you let compassion and love for others flow out of you? [Emptying glass part way]

You are blessed by God – Jesus told us so! – and you will receive more mercy than you will ever need [fill glass to overflowing].

Do you feel pure in heart? [hold up full glass]. With God’s touch you will see him in everything you do! And if you see him in everything you do, then others will see it in everything you do too.

And for this grace, these blessings, this full glass, these touches of God which transform our lives, what does God ask of us in return? How on earth can we ever say thank you enough to him for his blessings? How can we ever repay him?

As Micah says, it won’t take the sacrifice of your first-born, nor ten thousand rivers of oil, nor the masses of calves and rams as burnt offerings, nothing like that. All God asks of us in return is that we act justly, that we love mercy, and that we walk humbly with him.

So as we go from here today, let’s think about what it means to be blessed by God, to have his touch on our lives in the darkest and bleakest places as well as in the joyful and bright ones. Think about how your lives are blessed by him every step of the way, and how those headlines on that mountainside are as alive and meaningful to us today as they were to those who heard them two thousand years ago. But more to the point, think about what God asks in return from us; not a lot really – simply that we act justly, that we love mercy, and that we walk humbly with him.

Amen

Blessings: The Update


You may know from yesterday’s post that I had a bit of a difficult day yesterday, and part of the difficulty was due to a sudden onset weird sore throat. The update is that I have been extremely ill today with it too. I don’t usually suffer with sore throats – don’t get me wrong, I do get them and I do get them quite severely from time to time, with spots and plaques on my tonsils and the whole malarkey – but I have only ever been this ill with it once before and that was probably about 8 or 9 years ago now.

I won’t bore you with the details, but if you can imagine a body riddled with flu pains (and I do mean RIDDLED) and a throat that has all but closed up with swollen tonsils which even swallowing my own spit is like gargling razor blades then you’re just about there with how I’ve been today.

I have spent the day today lying down and alternately crying or sleeping (yes, I am a mardy arse) and I have just tried to take two cocodamol tablets for my temperature and the pain, couldn’t get them down and so choked on them and made a mess on the duvet. Not good!

So here are today’s blessings:

1. My Dad brought me some Strepsils and they have helped a little.

2. The painkillers are working a little too, and they help me have some respite by making me sleep.

3. I have got two wonderful big squishy pillows that have travelled upstairs and downstairs with me all day today.

4. Kevin brought me some kid’s ice-lollies which are brilliant and cold.

5. I have been wearing my new dressing gown all day – it’s like a polar fleece blanket that is wearable!

Hoping for more cheery news tomorrow, but for now that’s all. Fare thee well fellow blog peeps.

Wednesday Hodgepodge – 26th November


 
1. Besides U.S. Thanksgiving it’s also National Game and Puzzle week…what game have you played most recently, and who were you with? Have you worked a puzzle of any kind in the past week?

I love puzzles and games, and word games are my favourite. I have recently discovered Scrabble on Facebook…watch out world!

2. What is one place you were thankful for this year?

I am so thankful for the holiday time we spent as a family in the Northeast this year. My favourite time and place during that holiday was when Kevin and I got up before sunrise one morning and spent about three hours taking photos and watching the sun come up from Bamburgh beach. A few days later we went back to the same spot on the beach with the kids and while they played with the kite and went paddling in the rock pools I sat on a big rock and sketched Bamburgh Castle. It is a magical place and it was a wonderful time spent there.

3. Take a nap, watch football, go for an after dinner walk, or hit the stores…which ONE is on your must-do list for Thanksgiving day? If you aren’t in the US answer as it relates to any big holiday meal.

Napping!!

4. Besides Thanksgiving, what’s your favourite home cooked meal?

A proper Sunday roast – which here in the UK is a traditional meal of roast meat (pork, beef, lamb or chicken – my favourite is beef) with roast potatoes, peas, carrots, Yorkshire puddings, boiled potatoes, stuffing, gravy…. Delish!

5. What product from an infomercial would you most like to own?

I would have a steam mop. We have lots of uncarpeted floors in my house (laminate flooring and lino mainly) and I love the idea that I can just steam everywhere clean without the use of chemicals.

6. Christmas shopping? Have you begun? Finished? Will you shop on Black Friday? How do you feel about stores opening on Thanksgiving Day? What percentage of your Christmas shopping is done online?

ARGH!!!!!! The whole “Christmas shopping” thing drives me mad. To my mind, Christmas is far too overblown and it has become obscene just how much money people are expected to spend on it. For some reason, this year we seem to be celebrating Black Friday here in the UK. Why? WHY??? As if we need any more invitations to spend money that we don’t have! As for the question of have I started yet, no, I haven’t. Most of my gift shopping will be done online this year as we are on a very tight budget…VERY tight…and it is easier to control spending when it’s clickable and not pickable.

7. What are you most grateful for that adds beauty to your everyday life?

My garden. It isn’t very big, but it is lovely and green and we are visited by birds and squirrels most of the day. I love the colours of the sunshine on it, and I love it when it rains. I love looking at it and I love sitting in it. It is a lovely place and really does add beauty to my everyday life.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I found this video yesterday and thought it was absolutely beautiful. I haven’t heard of the group before, but I am familiar with the song as we used it in our Experience Christmas at church last year. We used the Ceelo Green version, and this is very different. Still just as moving though. It tears at my heartstrings. Let me know what you think.

 

Daybook Entry 22nd June


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FOR TODAY

Outside my window… my beautiful green, lush garden is bathing in glorious sunshine and I am feeling lucky to be alive.

I am thinking… that even though I am lucky to be alive, this headache from hell which has hung around since Friday night has hung around long enough now and I wish it would do one and disappear!

I am thankful… that this weekend has gone better than expected. I was anticipating it to be a disaster in certain areas but I am so glad we sailed through the choppy waters and have reached the shore.

In the kitchen… are the leftover fairy cakes I made for Messy Church yesterday and which I forgot to take to church this morning, and are now going to be heading to Stay and Play in the morning.

I am wearing… shorts and t-shirt. It’s a bit warm today!

I am creating… my crocheted cardigan is almost finished and I can’t wait to be able to wear it. It has been a bit of a labour of love but it’s shaping up nicely.

I am going… to go for a bike ride tomorrow.

I am wondering… how my Mum and Dad got on down at my brother’s house this weekend. They have been looking after my two nieces as both my brother and my sister-in-law were working away this weekend so grandma and granddad have been to the rescue. I know my Dad loves reading to them and playing daft games with them, and he said they were going to a wildlife sanctuary yesterday so it would seem that no matter what the weather was like they will have had a good time.

I am reading… “Secrets of the Sea House” by Elizabeth Gifford.

I am hoping… for a financial miracle soon. But then again, aren’t we all?!

I am praying for… my mother- and father-in-law who have multiple health problems; my friend Rita who is finally on the right side of chemotherapy; my husband who is struggling with a few things at the moment; my family.

I am looking forward to… trying out some photography experiments when we go on holiday.

I am learning… how to do some new photography techniques to take on holiday with me

Around the house… we have a half decorated landing and staircase, a quite tidy living room, a clean bathroom and kitchen and a messy hallway. All in all, it’s quite normal really.

I am pondering… cheese on toast, or cheese and crackers?

A favourite quote for today:

everything-happens-for-a-reason
One of my favourite things… is looking out onto my sun-soaked garden.

A few plans for the rest of the week: Stay and Play tomorrow morning, bike ride in the afternoon and then…….the world’s my oyster.

A peek into my day… got up at 7am, went to open up church for our early morning service at 8am, attended the service which was in a very old and archaic language and which skipped about all over the place in the prayer book but was a different experience and not altogether a bad one, then I locked up church while that congregation left and before the next congregation arrived and got the service slides and hymns ready, put the numbers up, folded 30 service sheets for Thursday and opened up church again, did all the audio-visual stuff for the service at 11am, administered communion, cleared away the AV stuff after the service then went straight home so that we could go to a family lunch for my father-in-law’s birthday. Got to the restaurant at 1pm, met the family, had lunch, went back to their house for cake and photographs (it was his 80th birthday) and then headed back home. Fell asleep watching the football and woke up with this headache that has been murdering me since Friday being ratcheted up a notch and is now hurting the whole of my face and neck. It’s been a busy one today and I’m looking forward to going to bed!!

 

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Daybook Entry – 8th June 2014


021114_2314_DaybookEntr1.jpgFOR TODAY

Outside my window… it’s getting on to 11pm and there is still a lot of light left in the sky. It feels like early evening, and feels wrong to be getting ready for bed. I can hear the drum-bass beat of the music in Heaton Park too and I live about 3 miles away. Thanks Parklife…

I am thinking… what a horrible week it has been this past week.

I am thankful… for my husband – especially his listening ears and his remarkable circus-skilled decorating demonstration today using leftover wallpaper from a couple of years ago.

In the kitchen… we had good old spaghetti bolognese tonight. From scratch, by moi, tasty and filling and using up ingredients from the freezer and the cupboard. Get in!!

I am wearing… my favourite green baggy sleep t-shirt.

I am creating… a cardigan for myself and I’m STILL working on the blanket for the caravan.

I am going… to Huddersfield bandroom tomorrow night with Ethan as he is playing with them on Whit Friday and needs a rehearsal with them.

I am wondering… if I should take my cornet too…

I am reading… I’ve just started Elizabeth Haynes’ “Human Remains”. I can’t get into it at the minute so I can’t really offer an opinion on how it’s going yet.

I am hoping… for a trouble-free sleep tonight. I’ve been plagued with night-terrors recently and those coupled with agonising stomach pain and shoulder pain have meant I have had very little sleep for about a week.

I am praying for… there are a lot of people I know and love who are facing some really serious health problems at the moment, and one in particular who is coming to the end of his earthly journey so I would like to pray first of all for Arthur and his family who are coming to terms with his impending departure; I am also praying for Rita who is really suffering with her chemo treatment, and Jane who has had a serious operation recently; I am praying also for Maisie and her parents, may God give them strength and patience and the calmness to deal with the stuff life is throwing at them just now; I am praying too for my own Grandma, who lost the third one of her daughters last week and whose funeral it was on Friday; and I’m am praying for those closest to me who are still in pain after losing loved ones.

I am looking forward to… starting my new modules with the OU in October. Yes I know that’s a long way away but really, it’s the only thing on the horizon I am looking forward to at the moment.

I am learning… that God really does provide just what you need and no more. You may know that I have had a couple of hours working for a couple of weeks. Just invigilating exams, but it’s a little money to go towards the cost of a camping holiday in the summer. Well, on Saturday our washing machine broke and we have had to replace it. And the cost of a new machine? Yup, that’s right. Our wages/holiday pot has been wiped out with replacing it. The money we had wasn’t an awful lot to start with, but even the £300 that we did have would have meant the difference to going away and having some rest and refreshment and having to stay at home. I am upset about the holiday – of course I am! – but I am so glad that we had the option there in the first place because I dread to think what we would have done if we hadn’t.

Around the house… Kevin has started papering the landing today after about 6 weeks of preparation in his spare time and waiting for the paint to (finally) go hard enough for him to stand on the bannisters to reach the ceiling. The rest of the house is still in need of a bit of a clean that it has been waiting for while I have been studying for my exam.

I am pondering… which kidney to sell to make some money. I need clothes (desperately), we need to replace the bed, I would LOVE a holiday, I am desperate for a hair cut, and some food shopping would be nice. Sigh…

A favourite quote for today:… “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habbakuk 3:19.

It’s a great quote and something I need to be reminded of now and again.

One of my favourite things… is having both my children under my roof for the night.

A few plans for the rest of the week: invigilating tomorrow morning, Tuesday afternoon, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning; band rehearsal in Huddersfield tomorrow night; Whit Friday on Friday night in Saddleworth (either spectating on the Huddersfield coach, playing with Huddersfield or spectating in Delph or Greenfield) and a band concert next Sunday in Burnley.

A peek into my day… 

bamburgh castle
This is Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast, and it’s where I want to go on holiday this summer in our little caravan. I’ve been dreaming about being here – the whole area is loaded with spirituality and a sense of peace, and as you can see from this photograph it is rather special at sunrise too. To say it is beautiful is to understate the drama and the sense of wonder about the place. It has been on my mind a lot today, partly because of the fact that our holiday money has just gone on replacing the washing machine, and partly because I seem to be surrounded by people who can just put their hand in their pocket and go out and simply DO stuff – meals out, weekends away, holidays on the coast. Bamburgh and Northumberland seem an awful long way away at the moment but for now, this photo will do until I can get there myself and take my own pictures. Maybe not at sunrise though…I draw the line at that!

 

 

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