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The snow was falling in New York City as the hungry people gathered around the church doorsteps at West End Collegiate Church. About 75 people were waiting outside, some wearing newly donated coats and some obviously not ready for the cold winter ahead.
I opened the doors, dressed in black with my clerical collar and my bright yellow rain boots. With a loud voice I proclaimed to the people gathered on West 77th Street, “The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ is yours today.”
I reached out my hands to welcome our honored guests to this holiday dinner. Some shake my hands. Others just nod. And two people responded at different times saying, “Pastor Jes, I’m blessed and highly favored!”
I was on the phone for a meeting with a few people. Phone meetings can be awkward. You can’t see each other which means you can’t read each other’s body language which makes it difficult to know exactly how people are saying what they are saying – not my favorite!
We were beginning the phone conversation by checking in and seeing how we are doing. After the typical response someone then said, “I’m blessed and highly favored.” Immediate joy was brought to our phone conversation from this person’s response. Yes, I suppose he is blessed and highly favored.
Away in a Manger
A long, long time ago there was a young woman who was visited by an angel that God sent to her. The angel really liked her because he greeted her by saying “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” The wild thing about being favored is that this young woman (who was not having sex) was going to somehow miraculously conceive the savior of the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
She goes on to sing a song and declares generations will call her blessed because God found favor with her. Fast-forward thirty years and this child she gives birth to is at the River Jordan seeking to be baptized. When he comes up out of the water a voice from heaven said “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” He is blessed and highly favored.
Let’s Deconstruct This
Blessed and highly favored. This is such an interesting way to respond to the question, “How are you?” It is not (yet) common to my tongue but I know many who respond this way. I’m so quick to deconstruct what people really mean when they say something, which brings me to this post today. Three things I want to note:
- What if we thought of ourselves as blessed and highly favored? Now, dear Reformed people, this may be very counterintuitive to our Calvinist guilty conscious, but stay with me. I’m not saying we negate sin and I’m not saying that things aren’t “totally depraved” but last time I checked we don’t live from guilt; we live from our gratitude because the grace of Christ has reconciled us to God. As the Gospel singer Israel Houghton reminds us, we are friends of God. Being friends of God is quite a blessing and what a favor that is indeed!
- What if we thought of others as blessed and highly favored? The Rule of Saint Benedict says, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: ‘I was a stranger and you took Me in’ (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those ‘of the household of the faith (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers.” I love those Benedictine monks! I don’t think this hospitality is too far off from our Reformed understanding of hospitality. As we see at Jesus’ baptism, he was blessed and highly favored. Perhaps the people we meet have this blessing and favor upon them, too.
- What if this posture of “blessed and highly favor” led us to see gratitude in a new way? Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer we ever pray is thank you, that will suffice.” What if saying, “I’m blessed and highly favored” is a way of saying “thank you” to God? What if when we say this we are able to recognize that the earth is full of the steadfast love of God and God’s steadfast love has been apparent in our life? What if this phrase is actually a prayer of thanksgiving? “How are you?” “Oh me? I’m blessed an highly favored!” Can you hear the gratitude behind these words?
I’m curious about this phrase. It still feels clumsy to my tongue but I really love how it welcomes us to view others. It is a radical way of contemplating the family of humanity that could radically and wonderfully change the way we treat one another.
We are a chosen people, blessed and highly favored, called by God to love the world in the same way Christ Jesus has loved us.