Encountering God in our Blessings

I preached the following at Grace Mennonite on March 16, 2014.  I kind of felt like I was preaching to the choir…

____________

The word “blessing” is used a lot in the Bible.

At the very beginning of the Bible, When God creates human beings in God’s own image, God blesses them.

God also blessed the day of rest.

The Psalms are full of blessings for those who take refuge in the Lord.

In the beatitudes, Jesus has many blessings for people whom we normally wouldn’t associate as being blessed:  those of us who are meek, mourning, poor in spirit…  And then later he tells us to bless those who curse us.

Henri Nouwen simply defines blessing like this,

“Speaking well, or saying good things of someone.” (Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen 68).

And then he goes on.

“To give someone a blessing is the most significant affirmation we can offer.  It is more than a word of praise or appreciation;  it is more than pointing out someone’s talents or good deeds; it is more than putting someone in the light.  To give a blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness.  And more than that:  To give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks.  A blessing goes beyond the distinction between admiration or condemnation, between virtues and vices, between good deeds or evil deeds.  A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth his or her Belovedness.” (Nouwen, 68-69).

I’ve heard someone else describe it simply as being ‘for’ someone.  To give your blessing means that you are for them.

And we all need this.  We all have moment of fear and anxiety and insecurity.  We all need each other’s blessings.

We see this in little children, “Daddy!  Look at me!  Look at my new trick!”

We see this when our kids are on the soccer pitch and they see their parents sitting in their lawn chairs on their sidelines.  Heck, I’m 30 and I still love it when my parents come and watch me play ultimate.

In family relationships, between partners or siblings or cousins, we all long to hear the words:  I appreciate you.  You are not alone.  I am here for you.  I want you to succeed.  You’re important.  You matter.

Have you been to a wedding lately?  It’s one big blessing ceremony.  I often tell couples to stop and look around at all the people who are here to support them.  People drove from far away, they bring you presents, your uncle even put on a suit! They’re all here to bless you.

We hear parents give their blessing, and then at the speech at the reception they say:  We love you.  And welcome to the family.  And we know our kid really well, so good luck.

To receive a blessing touches the deep parts of our souls.

In our scripture reading this morning, we read about God going to Abraham and saying, “I will make you into a great nation.  I will bless you.”

God telling him I will make you a great nation?  That probably touched his soul.  God was definitely for him.

There’s something worth noting about this blessing on Abraham.  He didn’t do anything to deserve it.  When the blessing comes, Abraham hasn’t done anything yet.  He’s just a dude.  And then as the story unfolds, we find there are moments where he is great and has a lot of faith, and then there are other moments where he isn’t so great and doesn’t have a lot of faith.  And he tells some lies.

But the blessing came first.  God was “for” Abraham, without Abraham ever doing something significant.

I often find that to best understand God, we need to look at Jesus.  In the gospel of Matthew, who are the very first people Jesus blesses?

Blessed are the poor in spirit.  “The ones who are lacking, who don’t have it together, who are acutely aware of how they don’t measure up.  The nobodies, the pathetic, the lame, the has beens, the not-good-enough.”  God is on their side.

We often think of our lives as a bunch of “if’s.”

If I do this, then I’ll be happy.  If I get a better job, if I pray more, if I lose some weight, if I quite smoking, if I am more loving, if I come to church more, if I give more money, then God will be on my side.

But that’s not true.  Because God is already on your side. God doesn’t work according to the merit or point system.

The good news of God is that in your moments of greatest despair, failure, sin, weakness, losing, failing, frustration, inability, helplessness, wandering, and falling short, God meets you there – right there, in that place, and announces, I am on your side.  (What We Talk About When We Talk About God – Rob Bell 133-136)

This gospel, this good news, is grace.  It’s a gift.  That God blessing us isn’t dependant on who we are or what we’ve done.

Twice a year, about 20 young adults from our church gather for a Young Adult Sabbath retreat.  We pray, we sit in silence, we go for walks, we rest our souls, we laugh, we eat good food.  I’ve been hosting them for about 8 years now, and they have become not only one of the highlights of my job, but of my entire faith experience.

And at the end of each retreat, we’ve developed a tradition that I learned from the nuns at St. Benedict’s Monastery in the city.

After communion on the last evening, you give everyone a hug!  And what I do is I pull them close to me, and I whisper in their ears really great things about how much I appreciate them and how much God loves them and how they have awesome gifts to share with the world.  Now obviously, some people don’t like hugs, or don’t like hugging strangers, but on every retreat I know everyone, and I like hugs, and so I live in anticipation all weekend of giving hugs to my friends where I can bless them and remind them that God is for them.

God blesses Abraham.  God is for Abraham.  God blesses us. God is for us.    This is blessing.

Go

Abraham was told to simply go.

To leave his land, his home, his people, and go to the land that God was going to show him.  That’s kind of crazy, isn’t it?  Just go.  Where?  Trust me.  But, no I want answers!  I want to know where I’m going! Is it safe?  And is there running water?  Who’s going to be there?  Is it warm?  And when I am coming back!? And most importantly, is there WIFI?

Just go.

Most of us wouldn’t go, would we?  We’d need more answers.  Sure, it’s nice to see know that God is blessing us and for us, but really, we’d all want a bit more than that.

Brennan Manning tells the following story in his book, Ruthless Trust.

“A brilliant ethicist went to work for three months at the “house of the dying” in Calcutta, as he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life.  On the first morning there, we went to Mother Teresa.  She asked, “And what can I do for you?”  He asked her to pray for him.

“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked.   He voiced the request that he had brought thousands of miles from the US.  “Pray that I have clarity.”

She said firmly, “No.  I will not do that.”  When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”

“But YOU always seem to have clarity.”

She laughed.  “I’ve never had clarity.  What I have always is trust.  So I will pray that you trust God.” (Manning 5)

We often come to church, to faith, to the Bible looking for clarity, a new insight, a new thought, something to ponder.  Maybe, we should come learning to trust more.  To trust that God is for us.  To trust that we are blessed.  And to trust that God is sending us somewhere.

But where is God sending us?

Blessing

There’s an expression we hear in the world. We hear it from athletes and politicians and artists and pastors.

God bless Canada.  God bless America.  Thank you God for the blessing.  I just want to thank God for this award.  Thanks God for our church.

They’re expressing the following.  God bless me.  God has blessed me.  Thanks for the blessing.

Which isn’t bad.  But it’s remarkably incomplete.  Because it gives the appearance that God blessing us, that God being on our side, that God being for us, is selfish.  And static.  And the point of it all.

“…and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”  Gen 12:3

Thanking God for being on our side, for the blessings, for the Grammy or salvation or the Oscar or for our country or for the Grey Cup or the victory or for answering prayers or our jobs or our health or our church is all vain and meaningless unless the blessings lead to blessing others.

“Being blessed leads to a deep desire to bless others. The characteristic of the blessed one is that they are always speaking words of blessing.  It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness.  The blessed one always blesses.  And people want to be blessed!”  (Nouwen 82)

This is the reason why I believe that the church is really, really important.  Because we, at our best, are in the business of blessing others.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  The church should be the only institution that doesn’t exist for itself.  It should exist for the benefit of others.

It’s not about us.  It’s about us blessing the world.  It’s about coming together as Jesus followers to grow as communities of grace and peace so that God’s hope and healing flow through us to the world (a big thanks to Mennonite Church Canada’s mission statement).

God calling Abraham those thousands of years ago is still relevant to us today.

We encounter God in our blessings when we can name that God is for us, and trust that God is leading us places where we are able to bless others.

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