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, one of the three 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.
Isn’t that a blessing in and of itself?
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? Even though it’s been warm, in the air is the promise of cooler weather and the arrival of fall. Soon, we will enjoy some fall color, maybe escape to the mountains, and above all be blessed from release of the heat. Soon, there will be fall break at schools and thus time for family vacations; hopefully, an abundance of blessing.
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 in the mountains or on vacation 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 end.
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 sometimes 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 sometimes 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. They ask for it to continue so that there can be more people can know the blessing that it is to know God.
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.
They are blessed by God to be a blessing for others.
That is remarkable. 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 others 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.
They are blessed by God to be a blessing to others.
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 only for enjoyment and rest, although we are invited to do those things. After we have enjoyed our blessings and thanked God for their presence in our lives, we are to share our blessings with others. Like our forebears who wrote this Psalm, we are blessed to be a blessing.
This morning, are we a blessing to others?
In your attitudes and demeanor, are you gracious, loving, and kind? For that’s sharing with others the blessing of God’s attitude toward us.
When someone wrongs us, are we merciful? For God has given us the blessing of mercy.
When we receive a gift, do we share that with others? For God has shared abundantly with us.
With our finances, do we practice generosity? For any wealth we have are God’s generous blessing to us.
In our relationships, are we loving? For God loves us, unconditionally; and that is perhaps the greatest blessing we have received.
Are we a blessing to others?
Or is our life marked by complaining? By noting what we don’t have? By telling others what they should be doing but doing nothing to help them?
Are our lives marked by bitterness? By noting what others have that we think we deserve? By believing that others are more blessed than we are when it should be we who are blessed?
In these ways and others, let us consider: are we a blessing to those around us?
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, and by giving others grace and mercy; these are the signs of a blessed life. And when we share those blessings with others, we give them the opportunity to know God.
That’s the point of this Psalm. When we share with others the blessings we have received, we share with them the opportunity to know God better. It’s a powerful way to witness to our faith and to spread the love, peace, joy, and hope of God in our lives.
We are blessed to be a blessing to others.
Go this day, and bless everyone in your life.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.