Blessed vs. Successful

Blessed vs. Successful November 5, 2014

If only the Kansas City Royals would have hit it out of the park as often as our pastor does in his sermons, week after week.  On All Saints’ Sunday, with the text of the Beatitudes, he talked about how we confuse being “blessed” with being “successful,” and how the Bible gives us a very different picture.

From Rev. James Douthwaite,  St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: All Saints Sermon:

Blessed. Jesus used that word nine times in the Holy Gospel we heard today. But what does it mean . . . really? It’s not a word that has much currency in our world today. Occasionally you’ll hear someone say “I’m so blessed” – usually when something good happens. And a form of the word gets trotted out every Thanksgiving with the admonition to “count your blessings” – as if we could. So it’s good, I think, to take some time today to think about this. What does it mean to be blessed?

I find it helpful when wondering about the meaning of words to pick out their opposite and think about the contrast. So what is the opposite of blessed? Well, the first word that comes to mind would be cursed – and I think that’s true. But I think there’s another one, another word that is the opposite of blessed in a very practical sense, and therefore one that is better able to help us understand the readings for today and to understand the day that we celebrate today, All Saints Day. And I think that word is: success.

Now at first, those two words may seem the same. And I think it true that the word success has replaced the word blessed in our world today and, honestly, even in many churches today. We want to have success. We want to be successful – however you define that, whether it’s in terms of money, or career advancement, or the number of people you have in your church, the number of people who friend or follow you, or this week, being elected – whatever you think it is for you. That’s the focus for many, what defines them, and what they put all their effort and energy into, doing whatever it takes to be a success. And if they achieve it, they think they are blessed.

But that brings me to the reason why I think success is the opposite of blessed – because the doer is different. Success is what I do, what I accomplish, what I achieve. But blessed is what God does and gives to me. To be a success or a failure is to be defined by the world’s standards; to be blessed or cursed is to be defined by God’s standards. And those are vastly different things – for God sees things quite differently than we.

And if you need a demonstration of that, just very quickly run down the list of who is blessed from the words of Jesus we heard today. These are not those we would normally think of as blessed.

Being poor in spirit, beggars before God.

Mourning, sorrowful over sin and death.

Meek, humble – that’s somebody who gets walked on and taken advantage of, isn’t it?

Hunger and thirst for righteousness, yearning for that right-ness with God that no, we do not have by ourselves.

Being merciful – when you have to stop what you’re doing, go out of your way, and give of yourself and what you have to help somebody else out – somebody who may not even deserve it anyway! Mercy is hard work.

Being pure in heart – purity is scoffed at today, the bondage of the past rather than the “freedom” to follow your own heart.

Peacemakers – yeah, right! Ever try to do that?

Those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for Jesus’ sake. Really, do I even need to talk about this one?

If your mind is set on success and thinks in those terms, this list really is quite the opposite of that, isn’t it? To our world, and even to us who are bombarded with the thinking of the world everyday, this isn’t blessed. Some might even think that being these things is being cursed. . . .

So what about you? Are you blessed? And how do you know?

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