Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage (Matthew 5:1-16) transports me to the Washington Hilton Ballroom, Groundhog Day 2006, where an American President, a Middle Eastern King, and an Irish rock star all gathered to pray. It sounds like the start of a joke, but it was no joke, as the 54th Annual National Prayer Breakfast included remarks and prayers from George W. Bush, King Abdullah of Jordan, and U2’s Bono. Having Christians, Jews, and Muslims all praying together and calling for unity certainly stirred up some attention in our deeply divided world. But what captivated me most was something in Bono’s keynote address. In the midst of a morning where many were invoking God’s blessings – bless this food, bless our time together, God bless America, bless our world – Bono shared a startling testimony of a conversation about blessing with an un-named wise man who changed his life. Here’s what Bono said: In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it?. I have a family, please look after them? I have this crazy idea. . . And this wise man said: “Stop.” He said, “stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God is doing – because it’s already blessed.” For Bono, this meant joining God’s continuing work alongside the poor of the world, because that’s where he understood God’s blessings to be.
I’ve thought about that testimony a lot, especially every time I’m in a worship service and we sing the doxology – praise God from whom all blessings flow. I no longer solely think about where those blessings come from, but I ponder the direction of their flow. One of the Christmas carols we sang over the past few weeks, Joy to the World, gives us a hint at that direction in its third verse – Jesus comes to make his blessings known far as the curse is found. The directions flow in the direction of the accursed of our world. That’s the same message we read in the introduction of Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes, where he essentially draws a flow chart of God’s blessings. Where do the blessings flow? Who receives them? Those who are have experienced great loss and are grieving, those who are experiencing a deep poverty of spirit (a good description of depression), those who are starving for some goodness in their lives, those who live such an alternate life of faith that they get abused and reviled and bullied and persecuted on a regular basis.
If Bono were to set Jesus’ lyrical beatitudes to music, I imagine it would have a blues feel. Blessings on those suffering from the blues. I was just listening this morning to one of my favorite blues artists, Maria Muldaur. You might remember her from her short stint in pop music in the 70s, with her hit, Midnight at the Oasis. But she is a blues singer at heart, and her CD Richland Woman Blues showcases her talents well. My favorite cut off that CD is a duet with Bonnie Raitt, called It’s a Blessing. It has a haunting slide guitar riff, with lyrics that fit today’s passage well: If misfortune got to break my heart, I just take it for my part. It’s a blessing just to call my Savior’s name. The blessed of the world are those with hearts broken by misfortune. These are the folks Bono decided to get involved with, so he would be in close proximity to God’s blessing. Folks with AIDS, poor folks, hungry folks, folks suffering from discrimination, folks victimized by violence, folks living in lands where thorns infest the ground. All evidence may seem to the contrary, but these are folks in the flow, and the blessing of God’s presence and God’s liberating work is known to them, far as the curse is found.
If you want to hear a good cover of It’s a Blessing, you can click here for the Dre’s Awakening live version. And as always, your feedback and comments are welcome.