The text of the sermon, based on Jeremiah 17.5-10 with references to Psalm 1 and Luke 6.17-26, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, February 13, 2022.
“Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength…Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”
Thus, saith the Lord through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah. A word, at first hearing, that strikes my ear strangely. For it seems to suggest that we have a choice of being cursed or blessed. Yet, as I reflect on life in this world, much, most of it that has a bearing on whether I feel cursed or blessed is beyond my control.
The patterns and movements of natural events. The weather. The climate. My aging.
And the polities and policies of societies, governments, and institutions.
And everyone around me. Family and friends. Acquaintances and strangers. You, my beloved church community. All of them, all of you whose attitudes and actions can and do affect me greatly.
All of this is beyond my power to command. And as all of this is true, all of the time, my being, feeling blessed or cursed, it seems to me, is less a matter of choice and more of circumstance.
Again, reflecting on life in this world, I tend to think that when I have material abundance and social acceptance, when I’m well fed or when I’m in a good mood, or all of the above, then I’m blessed. And when I don’t or when I’m not, then I’m not. Simple!
But my definitions are not the Bible’s definitions. Jeremiah speaks of blessedness and cursedness. Psalm 1 of righteousness and wickedness. Both turn my definitions upside down. And Jesus, speaking of blessings and woes, disregards my definitions entirely. For those whom I call blessed are the ones to whom Jesus declares: “Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full, woe to you who are laughing, woe to you when all speak well of you.”
Jesus challenges not only my perspective, but also, more painfully, my preferences. Truth is, I’ve yet to attain the lifestyle to which I’d love already to have become accustomed. (And nearing seventy years of age, I’m running out of time!) I’d rather be “rich” with enough money for necessities and all the luxuries my heart desires. I’d rather be “full,” having my hungers, physical and emotional, always completely satisfied. I’d rather be “laughing,” knowing only pleasure, never pain. I’d rather have “all speak well” of me, enjoying the fullest measure of a good reputation. But, in response to all of my craving (sometimes, I confess, coveting; for if you have something I want, it’s not that I don’t want you to have it, but I want it, too!), Jesus, repeatedly, relentlessly, says, “Woe!”
The more I read and reflect on, wrestle with these scriptures, it seems to me that Jesus and Jeremiah and the psalmist are talking about values. Our values.
If that’s true, then their words are more than pious declarations, more than holier-than-thou denunciations of the world’s bankrupt value system in which material possessions, personal gratification, and public adulation are the standard measures of worth. Rather the subject, their subject is our inward spiritual condition. Is it a state or existence of cursedness of which a false value system is an outward symptom? Or is it a state or existence of blessedness of which a true value system, sacramentally-speaking, is an outward, visible sign of inward, spiritual grace?
If that’s their point, then what is this true value system? A question I will answer with a question. A question at the heart of the teaching of Jesus, Jeremiah, and the psalmist: Who or what do we call “God”? Who is the one to whom, what is that thing to which we accord ultimate worth, supreme value?
Is it the God to whom we pray, paraphrasing today’s Collect?
The God, who is our strength?
The God in whom we trust because, in our weakness, without whom we can do nothing good?
The God through whose grace, keeping the commandments, we may please in will and deed?
Or is it someone or something else? Someone or something less?
If this is a legitimate question, then the answer, our answer, which determines whether we are cursed or blessed, is a matter of our choice.
© 2022 PRA
 Full text of the Collect for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany: O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.