“Blessed” 09/23/2018 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Genesis 39: 6-18 and Matthew 5: 1-12

What a time we are living in! Wherever we look in our public life, things are a mess. Turn on the news and it is all turmoil, complexity and contradiction.  It is confusing and deeply troubling.  It can be hard to know who to believe and what the right thing to do is.  Living in the world right now is exhausting and overwhelming.

But pull the lens back a bit and I believe that things begin to become clearer.  Pull the lens back a bit and the complexity and confusion begins gives way to some greater clarity.  Pull the lens back a bit and we may begin to see a way through the complexities we face.

But before we do, let us pray, God of the Way show us your Way to true belonging and the blessedness that comes through you.  And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

What I’d like to offer this morning is a question that I hope can help pull back the lens in how we see what it is we are facing.  It is a question whose answer can show us, I believe, how we are to make our way in challenging times.

And that question is this:  “does this or will this action lead down a pathway towards to desecrating myself or others or does this or will this action lead down a pathway towards honoring myself or others. In each moment whether in our private or public lives, whether in a small moment or one that has great consequences, if we ask “does this, will this desecrate or honor?  Does it, will it diminish or bless?  Does it lead to dehumanizing otherness or is it a doorway into welcome one home to belonging?”


A few minutes ago, it was little RJ that had the baptismal waters running down his forehead, but I think it is fair to say that all of us gathered here shared in the blessing of that moment.  Baptism, for me, is a sacrament for it makes visible an inner reality.  I understand baptism to be an outward expression of an inward experience and that experience that was made visible just now, that experience that we shared in together was one of blessedness, of true belonging.  We shared in the revelation that before RJ can do much of anything, he is blessed, he belongs to the family of God and we call him sibling in Christ.

It is a powerful experience of homecoming.  Of belonging.  When I walk the newly baptized into the midst of the congregation I see the expression of love on all of your faces.  I see the way you gaze on RJ, I see the love you so generously extend to him.  What I see in your faces is what I believe is on the face of God as God gazes on us.  It is the way we are to gaze not just upon the one with baptismal waters running down their faces but the way we are to gaze upon all of god’s children everywhere.

Gazing and being gazed upon with love is such a blessing for it reminds us who and whose we are.  But unfortunately it is not one we often experience.


There is, I believe in our world today a culture of dismissiveness that leads to indifference and can contribute to the dehumanizing and denigration of others, where whole groups of people are written off or rewritten as objects or commodities.  This is a way that bristles with loneliness and fear and a way that often times leads to violence.  It is, I worry, an increasingly well-worn way in our time.

And not just our time.  Our scripture from Genesis reminds us that this has been going on for a long time, this denigrating of others.  Did you notice it?  The passage opens with the narrator naming Joseph two times by name.  “Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking.” And “although she spoke to Joseph day after day.”  But what happens when “the wife” (interesting that we don’t know her name), does not get what she wants?  What happens is that Joseph is “othered”.  Joseph stops being Joseph and is instead referred to as “a Hebrew” and then “the Hebrew.”  And as the story continues after what we have for today, this Hebrew will be silenced and thrown into prison.

The Hebrew  — We hear this diminishing in our time as well, don’t we?  We hear people reduced to categories or the conditions of their life as if that is all that defines them.

The Homeless

Illegal immigrants or illegals as I sometimes here people called

The poor — Or remember that horrible label of “the welfare queen” the sentiment of which unfortunately seems to be creeping back into our discourse.

I will never forget when I was working for Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, Ellen Daily, was the president of the consumer advisory board at the time.  She was a commanding woman with quite a presence.  I remember her saying to me once.  We are not the homeless.  There is no such thing as the homeless.  All there are are people who are experiencing homelessness.

Now all of this can sound just like semantics, but we know it is more than just words.  We know that our language shapes how we view the world and when we use “othering” language, when we see others as distinctly different and less than ourselves, it is no surprise that we also begin to see them as objects to be used —  and abused:

1 in 3 women over the age of 18 have experienced sexual assault.[1]

Othering turns people into objects that can even be or even bought and sold:

There are an estimated 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide,[2] of whom 20% are children. [3]

Othering turns people into objects upon whose plight lucrative industries are built:

ICE spends more than $2 billion a year on immigrant detention provide by private prison companies. [4]

This way of denigrating, dismissing and othering is the dominate way in the world right now it seems, but there is another way, of course.  There always has been and always will be another Way.

It is the Way that Jesus made explicit in his living.  In the Gospel passage for today, Jesus goes up a hill really on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.  He sits down and looks out over the waters and the surrounding shoreline.  Not far in the distance is the Tiberius, a Roman town, built in great splendor which was the headquarters of the Herodian dynasty, essentially the headquarters of the Roman rule in the land. An extension of Empire that was essentially marginalizing the local Galileans and making what was already a hard life now nearly impossible.  Jesus announces with his word and being that there is another way of ordering the world, a way other than greed, and violence.  He announces with his word and his living a way of Love, generosity and justice.  A way that leads us home to belonging and blessing.

This blessedness  (and It is instructive to know that the Greek word that we translate as “blessed” in our Gospel passage for today, has at its root the meaning “to become large”),  This blessedness, this largeness is the corrective that Jesus  speaks on that hillside.  It is what he reminds this disciples of for it is what they desperate need to hold onto and remember.

The passage from Matthew’s Gospel opens with the words “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them.”  I find it interesting that the teaching that Jesus offers comes in direct response to Jesus seeing the crowds. And that it is a teaching that is directed not to the crowd, but to the disciples.  It is as if Jesus knows that his disciples are in need of a corrective.  I wonder, if the disciples were looking at the gathering crowds, were starting to think quite highly of themselves.  With more and more and more people following them, were they starting to think that they were something special, maybe even thinking that they were better than those around them?    It would not surprise me if Jesus had caught them whispering disparagingly at or even looking down on the downtrodden around them.  It would not surprise me if they had starting to fall into this dismissive and diminishing way of being and that that is why Jesus took a time out and went up the mountain to a place away from the crowd to teach and remind his disciples of his Way.  The disciples were simply human just like the rest of us and no more immune than we are to getting caught up in misguided ways.

So Jesus makes it explicit.  He makes explicit that it is the very ones that others have diminished or dismissed that God sees and calls blessed.  Why?  I think because those that have been marginalized by a cultural way of being that diminishes and dismisses, are not caught up in it.  They are free in a way that those wielding the power and privilege within the dominate culture often are not.  And what Jesus is pointing to is that that freedom creates space to come home to the blessing of our true belonging to each other and to God.

Every Sunday, week after week, we come into this place to remember and to experience anew that we belong to each other and to God, that nothing can diminish our essential worthiness as children of God and that we too are made large by God’s blessing.  We do this so that when we leave this place we can extend that blessing of belonging by walking in the way of Jesus, and also extending the corrective of his teaching by calling out that which leads to the dehumanizing or diminishment of others.

So in this week, I wonder if you would join me in bringing this lens to your living.  When we find ourselves confused or conflicted or overwhelmed, can we ask what is it that would lead to honoring, blessing and belonging?  What is needed from us to enable such a move to be made?  And could you join me, in bringing the gaze which you looked upon RJ out into the world, gazing upon others with that same love.

We do this so that we who have been diminished and pushed to the margins may realize that we are in the center of God’s love and we do this so that we who have pushed others to the margins may come home and realize that is we who have been diminished by our actions.  We do this so that we all find the courage and clarity to walk in this new way, a Way that is as old as creation itself — The Way of belonging to our truest selves, to each other and to God.  And as we do may we too feel the largeness of God’s blessing upon us.   Thanks be to God, Amen.

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/how-sex-trafficking-goes-unnoticed-in-america/470166/


[4] https://www.npr.org/2017/11/21/565318778/big-money-as-private-immigrant-jails-boom