The Priestly Benediction
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
~ Numbers 6:22-27
Growing up here in Oldtown, I have fond memories being part of the Oldtown family. My parents ran most of the ham and bean suppers when I was young, and I remember spending countless days down in the vestry getting ready for, serving, and cleaning up after meals. I remember helping at the Fall Fair, visiting shut-ins and singing in the children’s choir. And I remember Sunday after Sunday, spending mornings across the street in the schoolhouse or down in the vestry for
Though Sunday School was at the same time as worship, there were the occasional Sundays when kids attended worship with their families. On those special Sundays when I got to be in the sanctuary, I was expected to be dressed appropriately, to sit still, and to follow along with the service. When it came to communion, I would always watch with big eyes as Rev. Singley broke the bread and lifted the cup high for all to see. I was enamored by the mystery of it all, even though I knew that I was not able to partake. You see, kids weren’t welcome at the table back then. You needed to go through confirmation before you were officially invited.
The two parts of the service that I remember fondly, however, were the “warm fuzzies,” which was what they called the passing of the peace and the benediction. Now you might think that I liked the benediction because that meant that the service was almost over, but that wasn’t it at all. I loved the benediction because that is when Rev. Singley would walk to the back of the church, raise his hands, and in his loud warm pastoral voice say, “May the LORD bless you and keep you. May the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Now I always got a little caught on the “lift up his countenance upon you,” because I didn’t know what a countenance was, but besides that, I felt like Rev. Singley was talking to me, blessing me. It felt like I was important, that I mattered, and most importantly, that I was loved by God. My favorite line was the one that says, “May the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” To be honest, I can’t even say it without smiling myself, because I imagine a huge smiling face, full of love and compassion, reaching out to hold me, keeping me safe from whatever bad things might come my way. What a blessing to feel so blessed! But I knew because I had learned in Sunday School that a blessing was not something to keep for myself. Because a blessing doesn’t belong to any one person. It can’t be owned; it can only be shared. And that’s what we were called out during the week to do for others, sharing what we had and teaching others about God’s love and grace.
In our scripture reading today from the book of Numbers, we hear those words again, but this time God has commanded Moses to tell Aaron to share them with the Israelites as they were wandering in the wilderness. I wonder if they felt the same peace from the blessing as I did. I wonder if they imagined that big smiling face full of love and the warm safe arms embracing them. I hope they did because it would have made those forty years in the wilderness a little bit easier.
Friends, blessings are like grace. They are gifts that are given to us. We can’t earn them or demand them; we can only receive them. And part of truly receiving them is sharing them with others. As the picture on our bulletin cover says, “We are blessed to be a blessing!”
In a few minutes, we are going to have our “blessing of the backpacks” which is really a blessing of our students, teachers, and school staff. When we get to that point, I’m going to ask everyone in the congregation to hold up their hands as an act of blessing as we ask God to be with our students and school staff as they all start this new school year, giving them the courage to try new things, the patience to be a good friend, and filling them with excitement to wonder and learn and grow.
In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us even more about blessings, because Jesus blessed things all the time! He blessed the bread and the cup. He blessed children. He blessed the poor, the hungry, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the ones who mourn, the ones who were persecuted, and the peacemakers.
I always think that there should be another line in there that says, “Jesus blessed the good, the bad, and the ugly,” because it didn’t matter who or what Jesus was blessing. It was his blessing that mattered, and that ultimately changed the recipient for the good. Jesus blessed his disciples even though they were far from perfect, giving them the courage and strength to go out and bless others. And Jesus blesses us too, though, like the disciples, we are far from perfect, and he calls us to do the same.
But Jesus also warned us to be careful, because in blessing someone or something, we become connected to it. Our blessing forms a bond, not only between God and the person or things being blessed, but it connects us too. Because by our blessing, we are working to bring God’s love and light to the one that is blessed.
Folks, a blessing is far more than just words. Did you really think you could bless something and not be changed yourself? Did you really think that you could bless something or someone and just walkway? That God wouldn’t need you to reach out to them with love and peace and comfort, and a smiling face? Friends, each person we baptize here in Oldtown, each prayer shawl and student and teacher we bless, every collection of canned goods we pray over, and each offering we dedicate, we are asking God to help us to make a difference within it. A blessing is not merely words. It’s not an empty act. It’s a promise and connection to the greater good. So, be careful what you bless, and don’t ever think that you can bless and leave, because your blessing is your promise that you will do your best to have God work through you to make the world a better place.
Last week, we talked about the fact that words can be sweet, but they can also be empty. Make sure that yours aren’t. Make sure that when you open your heart and mind and hands to be a conduit of God’s love and grace, blessing others, that you mean it. Folks, God is sending us as the church and us as individuals out into the world to bless, to bring that smiling face and that warm embrace. Because as the Body of Christ, we are all blessed that we might be a blessing to
others. Sure, we can bless all kinds of things here in the church, but to be honest, blessings work even better out in the world.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, go and be who God made you to be, knowing that you are blessed so that you might go out and bless others!
Friends, may it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!