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Strange Blessings

I have to confess that my reading schedule has been off for the past few weeks because I’m following the Tour de France. For those of you who think the Super Bowl lasts too long, the Tour lasts for three weeks. Most stages are over one hundred miles, and many of them go up, over, and down the Pyrenees and the Alps. Part of what fascinates me about the Tour is how heartbreak and triumph are linked. A rider from team Ineos has won the Tour for 7 of the past 8 years. Egan Bernal, their 23 year old defending champion from last year, started the Tour with high hopes and expectations. On last Sunday’s mountain stage he cracked and lost precious minutes to the top two riders. Not only would he not win, he would not be on the podium. After finishing the next stage he withdrew from the Tour, leaving his team without a leader and leaving their hopes for Tour success dashed. This past Wednesday’s stage through the Alps two riders from the team, Richard Carapaz and Michal Kwiatkowski, broke away from the main pack, crossing the finish line in first place together, minutes ahead of the top contenders, with their arms over each other’s shoulders. It was Kwiatkowski’s first stage win, and Carapaz took the lead in the King of the Mountains competition. After the heartbreak of losing the tour the riders rebounded and tasted triumph, and the triumph was made all the more sweet by their struggles.

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus offers what we call the Beatitudes, a series of blessings. Before we get to Jesus’ blessings, it is good to ask who are those who seem blessed in the eyes of the world? Who would the world declare to be happy and favored?

Jesus blessings are strange blessings, where struggle and joy are linked to each other. Blessed/happy are the unassuming, the heartbroken, and those who lack? Those who relinquish power will inherit the earth? Happy are those who know from experience that no good deed goes unpunished? We are tempted to declare as blessed those whose life is untouched by suffering, for calm seas make for pleasant travels.

But there is a proverb: Calm seas do not make skillful sailors. We can’t help others through their dark valleys unless we are willing to travel our own. At the core of discipleship is sharing in Christ’s death so we can also share in his resurrection. There is no rising with Christ without mourning, without humility, without meekness, without knowing what it is like for our longing for justice, for peace, for mercy to seemingly go unfulfilled. These strange blessings reveal to us there is no lasting blessedness or happiness unless our protective shells are broken open. As Leonard Cohen put it, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” How have we been broken open in a way that allows us to share more fully in God’s grace and God’s mission?

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