My name is Paul Hedworth and I am the Chaplain at Bromsgrove School.
In Jeremiah chapter 17 and verse 5 it says: Cursed is the man who trusts in man… whose heart turns away from the Lord; and in verse 7 it says: Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord… whose confidence is in Him.
Cursed AND Blessed
I do not care for the cursed bit and I am also challenged by the blessed bit – wondering whether I really trust in God as I should - and whether my confidence is in Him.
I can honestly say that I have never wished or prayed that anyone should be Cursed. However, I often find myself saying in my prayers, ‘Lord, bless so-and-so.’ And, as a Priest, I often pronounce THE Blessing or a blessing of some kind. For example, I often use the words, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you.’
Bless – what does that mean? What is a blessing? And to use the word bless seems on one level not to be specific – such as Lord, please do this or that, BUT then on another level I’m leaving it to God as to how He should bless them.
The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel has the words of the Beatitudes – a number of Bless-eds or as some translations have it – Happy are those who….. And there is much for us to be happy about, despite the problems of Covid and rising home bills. And we are encouraged in an old hymn at least, if not in Scripture, to ‘Count our blessings one by one.’
William Ward said – ‘The more we count the blessings we have, the less we crave the luxuries we haven’t.’
When I sought a definition on-line of the word ‘Bless’ – it was defined with relation to the word ‘blessing’ – that’s helpful, I thought – thank you. I often tell my students to explain a word with other indirectly related words – not ones that are part of the same verb – but I did find this definition online - ‘a blessing is a prayer for divine favour and protection.’
‘The Lord bless you AND keep you – and make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you and give you His peace.’
In 2 Corinthians chapter 9 and verse 8 Paul writes that, ‘God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.’
So, a blessing is not something just for us – but something to be shared, or so that we might do God’s work. He gives to us, so that we can give to others. He blesses us, so that we might bless one another.
One of the problems with the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’ that some preach, is that we might see that, when we are blessed, it is because we are doing God’s Will and that those who are not blessed, as far as they can see, think that they are being cursed by God or punished for their sin.
When Jesus preached in his hometown of Nazareth and read from the Book of Isaiah, (as we may have considered a few weeks ago in our Gospel reading on Sunday 23rd January, from Luke chapter 4,) he proclaimed that he had come to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind and to release the oppressed.’ Jesus challenged the order of the day, the values of the day - The religious people of his day thought that blessings came to those who were considered righteous – and those who were rich, were well, were married and had children were being rewarded by God,…. But Jesus said I have come to the poor, the sick, the widows and the barren women, those who were considered unrighteous, sinners …. Blessed are you!
Luke 6 verse 20 says:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Luke’s version of the Beatitudes is very different from Matthew’s, because it has a series of Bless-eds and this is followed by a series of woes. In Matthew’s version of Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the mount’ there are no curses or woes – in Luke’s version, which is sometimes called the ‘Sermon on the Plain’, although it doesn’t actually say that – it says there they were on a level place – which could have been on a mountain side still – it includes both blessings and woes. But both ‘The Beatitudes’ in Matthew’s Gospel AND the blessings and woes in Luke’s Gospel make a mockery of the world’s values. Leon Morris says that ‘They exalt what the world despises and rejects what the world admires.’
The Poor are often equated with the pious, those who are seriously dedicated to their faith. The rich are often those who are self-reliant – the poor not so – they need others – the disciples needed Jesus. Wealth pre-disposes people to think that they need nothing else – they rely on what they’ve got, NOT on God. I am reminded of the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The outcome of that story could have been so different IF the rich man had been grateful for what he had got and shared it with others, in particular Lazarus, who he could not have failed to see, who sat begging at his gate.
When Luke goes on in verse 22 to say, ‘Blessed are you when men hate you, exclude, insult and reject you’ – then here the suffering of people is not for something in general, but it is often the outcome for those who suffer on account of the son of man – Jesus - because of him and for him. If, like Jesus, we do the Will of God then at times we will not seem to be blessed but cursed for it – and how hard that is.
Leon Morris says, ‘A true prophet is too uncomfortable, to be too popular’.
If that is the case – if everyone spoke well of me, then I must be doing something wrong. ‘Woe to you’, Luke says, ‘when everyone speaks well of you.’ I remind myself regularly, that what I say as a preacher will not be acceptable sometimes to those who listen – even in the Church, as when I preach, I endeavour to share the Word of God with people – and the Word of God is like a two-edged sword – that comforts the troubled BUT also troubles the comfortable. And it speaks of both blessings and woes.
But before I finish, when we look at the woes in Luke’s Gospel – a Woe is not a threat but a realisation – a warning perhaps to look at what we are doing and WHY we are doing it – do we put our trust in Man or do we put our trust in God? Let us not be too comfortable with those blessings that we count one by one OR be too disturbed by the Woes. May God bless us – yes – but those blessings are not so that we might be rich in this world but so that we might serve God and help others AND we should not seek to store up treasures on earth but treasures in heaven.
And when things are really hard going and we think that there are NO blessings – but just woes – there may still be so many blessings for us to count and to be thankful for, as well as the realisation that we may need to do something different in our lives. Perhaps we may need to re-align our view of the world and our values with those of God.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace. Amen.
- Do we think that when God appears to bless some and not others that it is because He blesses those who are righteous and punishes those who are not? Is it that simple?
- What are some of the values of this world that are not God’s values and how easy is it to become self-reliant, rather than reliant upon God? Do we trust in man or in God?
- Do we call what we have our own? Or is it given to us by God to share?