Here is the passage from the Bible that prompted this reflection.
Do you ever remember saying this? Or, hearing someone else say it?
Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.
If you don’t already know it, let me break the news to you. It’s a lie.
The only time I ever said this or heard someone else say it was when the words which were hurled at me or at them hurt. Often, really hurt. Their words which prompted this response were meant to pin a label or a stereotype on me. To define who you were and who you were not. To make sure you knew you were out and not in.
And, how we use them matters.
At least I think so.
Enough so that when our children were growing up Shodie and I paid attention to how our sons spoke to each other and about other people. As we remember it, there were only two words we did not allow our sons to use without our stepping in and saying something. The first word they were not allowed to use was the word stupid. They were not allowed to say:
The second word was hate. They were not allowed to say:
I hate you.
I hate her.
I hate them.
I hate myself.
They were allowed to express their anger and frustration and disappointment which they did, they were just not allowed to use those two words which were not allowed in our home.
Evidently, I am not the only one who thinks that the words we use matter. In doing some reading about the power of the words we use, I found this. A blog piece written by Susan Smalley, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA and published in the Huffington Post. She writes:
The power of words to affect your emotions and actions are well demonstrated in science. For example, scientists have found that just hearing sentences about elderly people led research subjects to walk more slowly. In other research, individuals read words of ‘loving kindness’ showed increases in self-compassion, improved mood, and reduced anxiety.
(Susan Smalley, Phd. Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA)
All of that is the long way around to get around to this. To our thinking together for a few minutes this morning about the word blessing or blessings. Think about how you most often use the word or hear it used. Isn’t it something like….
The blessings of life we enjoy.
Thank you God for these blessings.
God bless America.
By which we mean thank you that we have enough food to eat. Enough money to spend. Wonderful homes. Good health. Or, that we are better. Stronger. More special than…
Blessing has something to do with…
Being approved by God.
Being rewarded by God.
Being in a right relationship with God.
Doing and being the way God wants you to be.
And, blessing is one of the words I mentally stumble over when I hear it used.
Not so much for what is meant when you use it.
I understand what you are saying.
But for what or who is left out when we use it the way we do.
If having enough food to eat is being blessed then if your family does not have enough to eat does that mean God has refused to bless you? If good health is God’s blessing, then if or when you struggle with an illness, physical or emotional or mental, does that mean God has unblesssed you? Or forgotten you? Or even cursed you? Is God’s intent to make one person..one household…one nation…better than the next? Is that how we understand the dream of God? And yet, because of who we are and how we try to live, the idea of God’s blessing or being blessed by God means something to us.
Please don’t hear this as my saying you should not be grateful.
For food. For homes. For good health. For freedom.
I hope and trust you know me better than that.
But, the passage we read this morning from the Bible…
These words of Jesus…
Maybe as close to his actual words as we will ever get
Reframe our understanding of blessing.
And what it means to be right with God
And close to God
And doing and being who and how God wants you to be.
What Jesus says and how he says it tells us that if we really want to know or experience or to understand God’s blessing we need to rethink the way we often use that word. God’s blessing looks like this.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Those who know, deeply know, their dependence on and their relationship to God.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Those who hearts are broken. Those who cry not only for their family, but over the injustice experienced by so many.
Blessed are the meek.
Those who are gentle in their dealings with others.
Those who treat others with respect and with kindness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Not my personal righteousness. Not my piety. Not, my being better or more holy than you. But, the righteousness of God and of God’s Kingdom come.
Blessed are the merciful.
Those who practice compassion and extend forgiveness.
This is an action more than an attitude. What you do more than what you think or feel.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Those whose devotion to the Dream of God inspires their living.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Those who work to bring about the shalom/salam/the promised peace of God’s Kingdom.
Blessed are those who are persecuted.
Blessed are you when others revile you.
When your faith and the values of your faith puts you at odds with others around you.
Blessed are you when you stand in those places.
When you stand among those people.
On Wednesday night, the Westchester Youth Alliance, the interfaith program for high school students begun by this congregation four years ago, hosted a screening of the documentary Of Many which chronicled the relationship and the work and the partnership of Rabbi Sarna and Iman Latif, both Chaplains at NYU. 265 people attended the screening. On of the scenes in the documentary was about Rabbi Sarna talking about being at Ground Zero shortly after 9/11. He relates the story of the Senior Rabbi of the synagogue where he was an Intern going each day to Ground Zero and looking for those who were most distressed or most broken and simply going up to them, giving them a hug and saying, “I am a Rabbi. God bless you.”
That is something of what blessing looks like, I think.
So, with that understanding, this prayer.
May you intentionally stand in those places and so know God’s blessing so you, in turn, might be a blessing to others.