I was asked to speak at my friend’s church. It was not the first time I have done that, but each time is special. It’s something I can do for him and I like doing things for friends. Who does not like doing things for friends? It does not cost me anything but some time and effort. And it does not cost him anything. It’s a gift---a gift of talent and friendship.
The theme of the day was Receive My Blessing. I did not have to focus on that, but it seemed like an appropriate thing to do. As I began to think about it, my mind wandered in any number of directions. It was obvious to me that the key idea was the notion of blessing. I laughed when I thought that blessing is not something that plays much of a role in our culture except when someone sneezes!
It always amazes me when someone sneezes, more than one person jumps in with assurance, “Bless you!” Even when I am in a room of twenty-seven students, a sneeze always brings this blessing. I am not sure all the blessers in the room are religious, but I don’t know that that matters any more.
What’s probably the case is the fact that blessing has been secularized along with so much else in our culture. Sadly people bless the sneezes in the world and curse everything else! I know I am much more likely to hear “God damn you” than I am “God bless you!”
So I thought about what I would bring to my message. I figured it would be important once again to locate the idea of blessing in its religious context. That would be fairly easy. I know the religious context was the covenant that God made with certain groups. It has an Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) focus that is, then, carried forward in the New Testament. Let’s look quickly at this.
Perhaps the earliest occurrence is the covenant God made with Abraham (although he was still Abram at the time). God says to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 1:1-3)
The covenant-blessing relationship is clearly portrayed here. Keep the covenant and be blessed is the theme. But then I looked more closely. I realized blessing is used in three different ways. It is a verb, a noun, and a gift.
In the first instance, God indicates that God will bless Abraham. Blessing is a verb. But God is not the only blesser. You and I can also be verbal blessers! My aspiration is to bless more and curse less. In my daily encounters I want to find ways to bless both people and situations. Blessings should bring more peace and joy and cause less strife and sadness. I will seek ways to dissipate anger and inspire awe. I want to help situations be more splendid and less sordid.
The second way blessing happens is as a noun. When verbs become nouns, actions become states of being. In Abraham’s case God made him a blessing. This is powerful. If Abraham or you or, even I, can be a blessing, then we are living in a state of blessedness. I know at one level that sounds saintly, but that is to make it too pompous. I prefer to see it more at the mundane level. To live as a blessing is more like living gracefully instead of grumpily. I want to grow to the place where my simple presence is a blessing to the people and the situations into which I come.
This already anticipates the third way blessing functions. When I can be a blessing to any other person and within any situation, then I come as a gift. I consider blessing always a gift. At its deepest, blessing is always a representation of God. Indeed, it is an incarnation of God’s Presence in the world. With this understanding blessing is a profound way of saying, “See me, see the Holy One!”
That is audacious, but true as I see it. If I can learn to bless, if I can become a blessing and if I can be a blessing in the world I inhabit, then truly I represent and incarnate God’s abiding Presence in the world. I can be a gift that keeps on giving. In my own way I go through my day saying, in effect, “Receive my Blessing.”
And if you, too, opt for this blessed way of living, the world can be transformed. Jesus calls it the Kingdom. If we actually believe it is possible and are willing to actualize the possibility, we become co-creators of that Kingdom. We begin building “heaven on earth.”
I’m willing. Hope you are willing, too. We’d make a good team…indeed, God’s team! That’s nothing to sneeze at!!