2nd Sunday in Lent
March 20, 2011
“Jesus, Tender Shepherd, hear me, bless thy little lamb tonight;through the darkness be thou near me, keep me safe ‘til morning light.”
“I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
“I will bless the LORD at all times, God’s praise shall continually be in my mouth…Taste and see that the LORD is good, blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God; Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted….”
“….these mercies bless and grant that we, may feast in paradise with Thee.”
Blessings everywhere in the Bible. The Psalms are filled with blessings. The stories of our ancestors are filled with blessings given and received. Jesus put his hands on the little children and blessed them, and earlier pronounced blessings on those who seemed the least worthy of them, and the most in need of them.
What about you? Have you ever blessed anyone, or anything?
Well, if you have said grace before a meal, you have most likely blessed the food before you, recognized the blessing that it already is, or asked for it to be a blessing for those who are about to eat it. Or if you’ve said bedtime prayers, you’ve asked for the blessing of peace and safety while you slept.
We’ve all been taught that there are various forms for prayers and that the best ones have the confession and praise parts first before the intercessions. It’s just intimidating enough to convince us that we could never pray right – certainly not out loud.
Anyone here bless their children before they go to sleep? Anyone bless their loved ones before you leave them for a long time? Or bless your grandma our aged aunt before you leave, knowing that it may be the last time you see her? What a shame. As someone who gets paid to say blessings, I have come to believe that it is a practice which everyone ought to enjoy.
Blessing is an extension of waking up to God’s presence. Because when you bless things or people, you don’t make them holy; you merely recognize the holiness they already possess by being what God made them to be. In blessing, you are stopping long enough to notice the uniqueness of the person or thing which is right before you, filling the spot that God created for it to fill. So you could begin by practicing pronouncing blessings on something silly, like a stick: you notice that it used to be part of a tree, part of it’s arterial system, as it were, drawing moisture from the ground to feed the leaves which are turning sunlight into oxygen for humans to breathe. You can pronounce blessings on the people in the bookstore, realizing that they carry a story which has brought them into this place beside you today; they might need a blessing more than you know, or they might be thinking that you need a blessing, and be blessing you. The most ordinary things are drenched in blessing, pronouncing blessing upon them is waking up to their divine possibility. Once you begin to throw blessings around, says Barbara Brown Taylor, you begin to notice all kinds of things. It can really slow you down.
The other gift of learning to bless is that you realize that you cannot always draw a clear line between what is a good thing and what is a bad thing. You give up thinking that you are smart enough to know how things are going to turn out. The more I sit at the bedsides of those who are close to their journey home to Jesus, the more I have come to realize that the richness of people’s lives is built out of joys and sorrows, and that it is all a blessing which has brought them to the place they are this minute. It is not so easy to draw the line between good and bad over a lifetime, and offering a blessing both covers your ignorance about how things will turn out and pricks your curiosity? What will you make of this, how will this blessing change your life?
The last gift of blessing is that it brings you close to seeing what God sees. You learn to look with compassion, to see past the terrifying demons to the hungry hearts within, you make the first move toward another, not waiting for that one to meet your qualifications to be accepted. “To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity,” says Taylor. Maybe that’s why blessing prayers make people so uncomfortable.
Make no mistake. Blessing prayers are not a way to earn enough extra credit to get you into heaven. Your eternal life has already been won for you in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as keeping God’s commandments doesn’t save you, you keep God’s commandments because you are saved, you are God’s people and that is how God’s people act. So with blessing. You learn the art of practicing blessing because you know you have been blessed. You know that you are part of God’s work in the world, and you want to be an active part of it. You bless because you have been blessed. You bless because it wakes you up to where God is at work in your life and in the life of the world. You bless because you are Abraham’s descendant, Jesus’ own, and you are one of the promised ones through whom God blesses.
Now may the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord’s face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen.
This series is inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor, “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.” (New York, HarperCollins, 2009).