Blessed: The Lie That Built America

Blessed: The Lie That Built America February 1, 2020

We are so blessed.

Or maybe I should say, we are so “blessed.”

The problem with “blessed” [picture air quotes here] is that we so utterly misunderstand and misinterpret what that means. Here in the richest country in the world, we authors of the prosperity gospel have come to equate “blessing” with the physical and the material. God has blessed us with a really nice house/car/retirement fund… or else, with good health, and access to all of the amenities (gym, healthcare, organic produce section) that help us maintain that health.

Are those things for which to be grateful? Of course. But are they “blessings?” Not if you listen to Jesus. His angle has always been this:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  ~Matthew 5:1-12

I wonder how we got from there to here… from “blessed are the poor in spirit” to “God wants you to be rich so you can bless others!” From “blessed are the peacemakers” to “pretty sure God wants our megachurch pastor to drive a Porche, as a living witness to all the blessings that come from following Jesus!”

How did we go from “blessed are the meek” to “let’s empower the wealthiest, cruelest, most entitled abusers of power we can possibly find, and put them in roles where they can beat up on the poor and marginalized?”

It’s not such a stretch, really.

Wealth and prosperity frequently masquerade as “blessing.” The siren songs of safety and comfort can easily be mistaken for divine favor. And We, The People fall for it hard, every time. We faithfully put our treasure where our heart is– but alas, our hearts are often in all the wrong places. We have built both our Church and our empire on lies about money and power that come straight from the devil’s own self. Inasmuch as I believe in the devil–which is to say, not much– this is his primary incarnation. Luring us to believe that our blessings are tied up in our stuff. When we believe that, we don’t just chase after the wrong things for ourselves– we put all the wrong people in charge.

Lord have mercy, have we ever done that this time.

And when I say “We, The People,” I do not just mean those of a single political party; nor do I mean just those of this particular generation. We can’t “Okay Boomer” our way out of this mess. This particular mess is a couple hundred years in the making. It started with the displacement of all indigenous people; it started with the abomination of slavery that built our first generations of wealth; with the frequent rewrites of history that transform truly appalling men into noble statesmen; and with a grotesque fascination with violence– and what it can yield us– that somehow equates devastating weaponry with “freedom,” to this day.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

I’m reading the news of the week through this text, which is on the lectionary for tomorrow. And while it is not the text I’m preaching, these words of Jesus are preaching to me fiercely. How did we get here? It’s simple, I guess. We, The People– all the people, not just “those people”– are so. very. “Blessed.” We are so placated by safety and comfort, and so turned on by power, that we cannot fathom the truth of real blessing. That those truly blessed by God are the poor, the vulnerable, the peace-loving people who will lay down their guns, their safety, the own lives, for the good of others.

And so the empire will likely die by its own sword. (Or guns, as it were). When Presidents lie and Senators cover; when truth is denied entry at the gates; when justice is a shadow of its former self, cast off for “the greater good“–which is really just code for status quo and white power, at any cost– then it’s only a matter of time before even the illusion of liberty vanishes like a witness in the night.

I can see how we got here. Hell if I know how to fix it.  But what I do know is this: the Church (as we know it) might have been built by the same hands as the empire–but we are not at its mercy. We do not have to keep following the voices of capitalism, patriarchy and rich “blessing” that brought us here. We have another way, a better way. We have the power to move past partisan politics and the accompanying sound bites, and talk instead about how our policies affect the poor and vulnerable. The looming question, the most critical test for Christians of our time, will be whether or not we have the courage to follow that better way. To hear the voices from the margins as the voices of the prophets, the ones with the true power to bring in the kingdom of heaven. And to no longer mistake our comfort and privilege at the expense of another for “blessing” of any kind.

If you, like me, are mourning what feels like lost hope and a lost dream of liberty today, then take comfort, at least, in this– blessed are those who mourn. No air quotes there.

Maybe we who mourn will become the peacemakers. The poor in spirit. The ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness, enough to make it so.

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