Every day, on the way out the door, Ms. Lila would stop me and say, “you know preacher, I was fed today. And I don’t mean food. I was blessed by your sermon.” Every Sunday. She would even say this to me on Sundays that I didn’t preach!
After several months at this church in my first appointment, Ms. Lila would stop by, tell me she was fed, tell me she was blessed, and then say, “but when are you going to preach about hell?” I wasn’t really sure how to respond, so I made a noncommittal grunt and she kept walking on.
This continued for several weeks until finally, one week, after she’d made her request for me to preach about hell, I said, “Ms. Lila, who here do you think is going to hell?” She looked surprised, looked around, and said, “well, no one.” I said, “so why would I preach about hell?” She looked around again, thought for a minute, and burst out laughing. Grabbing my shoulder for support with one hand and her cane with the other as she laughed, she said, “you know, we really are blessed, aren’t we?” And off she went, never again to ask me to preach about hell.
That little church struggled the two years I was there. The basement flooded twice, creating a mold problem. The fifteen members of that church had to scrape the money together to repair the building. The matriarch of the church had a stroke one December morning while I was preaching. She was fine, but just a few weeks later the oldest couple in the church, in their late 80s at the time, were in a terrible car accident on the way to church. They survived. Various individuals went through surgeries, health scares of various kinds, cancer diagnoses and victories, all within that two year span and all among the fifteen or so of them.
And yet, they would all tell me just how blessed they were. All the time. Sometimes after complaining about their health or that no one visited their little church in the middle of no where or after telling me I should preach about hell, but they always remarked they were blessed.
They felt blessed and they wanted to share that blessing with me and with anyone who would set foot in the church. They wanted others to know just how blessed they were.
Let’s hear this morning’s scripture that speaks about blessing, Psalm 67.
The Israelites are blessed.
Their requests are for continued blessing. They recognize that “the earth has yielded its increase” because “God, our God, has blessed us.” And so they want that to continue. They want to experience an abundance of blessing, just as they have been for some time.
Don’t we all? This weekend brings its own abundances of blessings. It’s the unofficial beginning of summer! Soon, we will spend lots of time on the beach, an abundance of blessing. Soon, we will spend lots of time with family on vacations; hopefully, an abundance of blessing. And even today, or at least this weekend, we will sit around grilled food with family and friends, celebrating our country and remembering our fallen heroes; a reminder of the abundance of blessing it is to live in the land of the free because of the brave.
Wouldn’t we all like that to continue indefinitely? But, as Game of Thrones made famous, winter is coming. And not just the season; we know that all times of blessing eventually end. Family will go away and vacations will end. Friends will get busy and our social calendar will grow empty. Our time at the beach will give way to more time at home as the days grow darker.
All blessings seem to come to an end. And so, we echo with the Psalm, “May God be gracious to us and bless us!”
It’s wonderful when we’re blessed. Sometimes, we even wear that around town with our “blessed girl” t-shirts and the like. We declare that we recognize that we’re blessed. For some of us, that includes the recognition that we’re blessed even when it doesn’t feel like it; that we’re blessed because God loves us, even if the rest of life is abysmal. We recognize blessing even in the midst of times that don’t feel very happy. And that, itself, is a blessing!
The Israelites know that in this Psalm. They experience that blessing that transcends their circumstances. They know that God has blessed them and they are grateful for that. The Psalm hints that they know this blessing to be true even when life doesn’t feel that way. They’re grateful for that blessing and return thanks to God.
They are blessed. They praise God for that and ask that it continue. Just like us. Most of us know we’re blessed, even when it doesn’t feel that way, and we’re grateful for that. And that’s where our thoughts about blessing ends.
But not for the Psalm.
“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon the earth.” The Israelites go to temple, singing this Psalm, praising God for their blessings and asking for more so that “the nations” can “be glad and sing for joy;” so that, “the nations” will know that Yahweh, God, “judge[s] the peoples with equity and guide[s] [them] on the earth.” They want an increase of blessing so more people will know that God is their God.
I wonder if that’s the case for us this morning?
Most of the time, we want blessings to make life easier. If we’re honest, we usually want to be blessed because life is hard and we just want relief from whatever troubles surround us. We want blessings so that we can experience God’s goodness and get a reprieve from the hardships of life. We think we’re blessed to use those blessings.
But not the Israelites. Not as they go to temple and praise God. They’re not blessed to use those blessings. They’re blessed to be a blessing. They want their blessings to testify to the world that their God is a gracious, loving, merciful, God who will give equitably to all peoples.
This goes all the way back to Abraham at the beginning of their status as the people of God. To Abraham, in Genesis 12, 15, and again in 18, God promises to make of Abraham a great nation, as numerous as the stars, and to prosper the people. God makes that promise and here, some hundreds if not a thousand years later, the people remember that promise to Abraham, they believe they are experiencing the fulfillment of that promise, and they ask for it to continue so that there can be more brought into the fold of the nation of Abraham.
They are blessed to be a blessing. They are blessed so that their blessings may testify to who Yahweh, their God, and our God, is.
Most ancient gods weren’t like Yahweh. They were selfish, stealing from the people for their own benefit. Most ancient gods were perceived to be vindictive beings whom you had to keep happy, lest they take revenge upon you. Most ancient gods were thought to be harsh, vengeful, disinterested in their people so long as they got what they wanted and lived luxurious lifestyles.
Yahweh, their God and our God, reverses that. God gives blessings out of God’s abundant love for the people. Full of mercy and grace, God continues to give even when the people are undeserving. And the people recognize this. Their God has reversed the formula of gods, such that they are confident in the famous words of David in Psalm 23 that “goodness and mercy shall follow them all the days of their lives.” This fact is such a blessing, they want it to be shared with others.
And so they see their blessings as witnessing, as testifying, to who God is. Their blessings aren’t for them. Yes, they get to reap the benefits, but blessings aren’t just for them to enjoy; they’re to testify, to witness, to who God is. Do you see your blessings that way?
If we’re blessed, and indeed we are, we have those blessings so that we might be a blessing to others. They are not given to us so that we can simply enjoy them and feast upon them and rest in them. We are given blessings to share with others. Like our forebears who wrote this Psalm, we are blessed to be a blessing.
This morning, are you a blessing to others?
In your attitudes and demeanor, are you gracious, loving, and kind? For that’s the blessing of God’s attitude toward you.
When someone wrongs you, are you merciful? For God has given you the blessing of mercy.
When you receive a gift, do you share that with others? For God has shared abundantly with you.
With your finances, do you practice generosity? For any funds you have are God’s generous blessing to you.
In your relationships, are you loving? For God loves you, unconditionally; and that is perhaps the greatest blessing you have received.
Are you a blessing to others?
Or is your life marked by complaining? By noting what you don’t have? By telling others what they should be doing but doing nothing to help them?
Is your life marked by bitterness? By noting what others have that you think you deserve? By believing that others are more blessed than you when it should be you who is blessed?
Would you fairly be described as a grump? Does the room get lighter or darker when you walk in?
In your demeanor, are you difficult, demeaning, and rude?
This morning, are you a blessing to others?
We should be, because we have been blessed by God, not solely for our benefit, but so that we can be a blessing to others that they, too, may know God. We are blessed to be a blessing.
We are all blessed because we have received of the grace, mercy, and love of our God. We are blessed with those gifts to be a blessing to others. A life marked by selflessness, by sharing of our “increase,” by giving of our time, by generosity with our funds, by an attitude of joy and peace; these are the signs of a blessed life. And when we share those blessings with others, we give them the opportunity to know God.
For the blessings we have received are meant to testify to others about who God is, that they, too, may know God. We are blessed to be a blessing.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.