“Grateful. Thankful. & Blessed.”

Contributing Writer
Pastor Shawn Hannon

Hope Lutheran Church, Arcade, NY

“Grateful. Thankful. & Blessed.” The words hung over the dining room table of the family I was visiting in cursive letters and beautiful fall colors of orange and brown and teal. But while they served as a reminder to the family of how fortunate or lucky or gifted (choose your own adjective) they were, to me they were another reminder of how frequently we misunderstand what it means to be blessed.

I’m going to say something unpopular, but since (as we will discover) Jesus said it first, I suppose I’m in good company. Your gifts are not blessings. Your health and the health of your loved ones are not your blessings. Your riches, your income, your stuff, your home, all of it; none of those things make you blessed.

Chances are you already think I’m wrong, and why not? It’s what we’ve told ourselves. “We’re so blessed.” We have our houses and our cars. We have life styles our forbearers could never have imagined. We have healthy kids who are on the honor roll and run track. We are so blessed.

That’s what we say. It’s how we talk. We pick up after our girl Hannah Montana who said, “God wants my life to be about being successful, and being happy, and blessing other people and being blessed.” Success equals blessing. Happiness equals blessing. Our blessedness is measured by our wealth, by our relationships, and by whether or not we are having a good time. We sit on beaches in Florida with our toes in the sand and say “I’m so blessed.”

But where does that come from? The Bible? I’m afraid not. Last week at my church we read from Luke 6. It resonates with the beatitudes of Matthew, but it is ever so different. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor… Blessed are the hungry… Blessed are the weeping… Blessed are the alone…” (Luke 6:20-26). The really unfortunate part is that Jesus did not stop there. He went on to a series of ‘woes’ or warnings. Woes to the rich… to the full… to the laughing… to the famous…” If you’re paying attention at home, essentially what Jesus is saying is that the truly blessed are not those with the wealth and relationships and having fun, as we would presume, but those without. Meanwhile, while we “count our blessings,” Jesus’ woes might be speaking directly to us.

Our blessedness is not measured in our things, our relationships, or our mood. But before you stop reading, in case you haven’t stopped already, let me ask, Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t it good news that our blessedness isn’t dependent on how much money we have or how big our house is or how new of a car we drive? Isn’t it good news that God doesn’t measure our blessedness by how many people like us and how many friends we have? Isn’t it a relief to know that we are not only blessed in the joyful seasons of our life, but in the sorrowful ones as well? AND EVEN MORE, isn’t it a miracle, that when our life appears the least blessed of all to our friends, that God calls us most blessed of all because it is there—in moments of poverty, loneliness, and despair—that God shows up.

Here’s where we go astray. We confuse gifts with blessings. Gratitude with being blessed. Sometimes the two overlap, but they are not synonymous the way “grateful, thankful, and blessed” implies. We are called to be grateful for the gifts God has given us and for the good things in our lives, but we are not called to measure our blessedness by them. We are blessed because we belong to God. We are blessed not by our circumstance, but by the reality that whatever our circumstance God is with us, especially when times are at their worst.

When we limit our acclamations of blessedness to times when our life resembles capitalistic and societal ideals, we end neglecting to see how God is at work blessing us all along. We end up letting scarcity, hunger, fear, sadness, and hate dictate our reality instead of God’s promise to see us through.

So here is what we are called to remember: That we are blessed when we are working paycheck to paycheck. We are blessed when we are rocked by the death of a loved one. We are blessed when we feel all alone. We are blessed not by the good things in our lives, but by God’s presence in our lives. We are grateful for God’s gifts, but we are blessed by God’s presence.

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Pastor Shawn is a 2010 graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, and he began his call at Hope Lutheran Church, Arcade NY that summer. While he spent four years learning and serving churches in South and North Carolina, as a Jamestown, NY native, Western New York has always been home. He is glad to be here. Pastor Shawn and his wife Carol Hannon met while attending SUNY Geneseo in the mid-2000s. They have enjoyed making their home together in Arcade with their daughters Quinn and Perry.   Pastor Shawn has a background in youth and outdoor ministry. He is a former camper and staff person at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center in Bemus Point, NY. He has also served camps in urban settings and oversees in Madagascar. In seminary he was recognized for gifts in Greek and New Testament, and in his senior year was recognized with awards in both Preaching and Biblical Studies. Pastor Shawn continues to emphasize the youth in his ministry, but not simply because they are the future church, but because they are the church of today.  He also enjoys working on service projects, and takes the role of planning meaningful and engaging worship seriously.  He loves helping people find ways to put their passion and energy to work making their community and other people’s worlds a better place. When he is not working at church, Shawn enjoys remodeling and construction projects around his family’s home.  But as busy as he gets, PS always has time for a quick nine (okay, 18) on the golf course. He enjoys playing sports of all kinds and fiddling with his guitar.