June 29, 2011

Sermons I am Proud Of-Pt2

Today marks the second installment of sermons I am proud of. This sermon is one that I have had the opportunity to refine and reuse a few times over the past 3 years. I first wrote it hastily when my intern-pastor walked in to my office and asked me to write a sermon for a trip to St. Vincent's nursing home.

We were leaving in two hours.

Our area Baptist churches share the responsibility of conducting a Baptist service at that facility and my pastor had forgotten that it was our turn. He was busy, so the responsibility fell to me. I am proud of this sermon for two reasons. One I have never written one so quickly. And second a mentor of mine, my former now mostly retired pastor asked for a copy so he could add it to his repertoire of sermons for nursing home visits. Since he more then anyone I personally know is my preaching 'role model' that was a high honour. Without further ado here is my sermon first given in June of 2008 refined twice and last used in 2010.

“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them” Numbers 6:22b-27

When someone sneezes we say “bless you”. When someone leaves the room we tend to say “goodbye” or if it was still in the old English “godbwye” short for God be with you. When a loved one visits we call it a blessing. 

Blessings are all around us, they are part of how we talk, part of how we think, part of who we view the people and the world around us. Blessings are a wonderful and special way that God interacts with us, and a beautiful way he commands us to interact with others. So today we are going to spend a little time looking at one of the most significant blessings in the bible, the Hebrew blessing. I

n 1979, two small silver scrolls from the seventh century bc were found in Jerusalem with this verse inscribed on it; making these words the oldest documented piece of scripture in the entire bible. I think that this tells us something very special and very wonderful about God. The oldest words God preserved for us is a blessing. It is a blessing that God gives to us and it is a blessing that God wants us to know how to give to each other. God loves each one of us individually so much he gave us a special blessing, but he also loves all of us so much he wants us to bless each other as well. So let’s take a closer look at this blessing. 

This is the visual representation of the Priestly Blessing.
The shape of the hands is how the Priests are meant to hold there hands during the prayer

The Lord Bless Thee and Keep thee. Parents in this time blessed their children. Children would expect a blessing from their parents at different points in their lives. And blessings were special they were more than just a simple well wishing, people thought something tangible was transferred from the blesser to the blessie. Blessings often meant giving items as well, like land, and livestock. But these things were just the icing on the cake, the real special part of the blessing is the relationship formed between the parent and the child. They are closer now than they had ever been the parents gave their child their most precious gift, their love and affirmation. 

And this is what God offers each of us when he blesses us, his love given to us as our heavenly father, and his affirmation that we are his beloved children. We can also take such a great comfort that God will “keep us”. That he is our keeper, our protector and that no matter what he will never leave us. He loves us enough to bless us, and he loves us so much he has decided to keep us.

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. To have God’s face shining on you is a wonderful thought. It is wonderful to me because I realized something some time ago having God’s face shining on you means first that he is looking out for you. This is another way that God is telling us he will keep us. But more than that having God’s face shine on us tells us that God likes us. It caught me off guard, I mean I knew God loved me, I sort of thought he had too, like it was his job, God is love after all. Lots of people have told me that God loves me, but the first time I heard that God liked me really made me think. 

There is a big difference, there are a lot of people in our lives that we love, but that we don’t really like. Family members that you would pray for but you wouldn’t spent your vacation with them. But God shines his face on the people he takes pleasure in, and for him to take pleasure in us he must like us. 

The outcome of his pleasure in us, that he both likes and loves us is that he is gracious in our lives. This grace he gives us is in no way earned, it is unmerited favour and love. His grace is always in our lives, it spans everything from saving us through Jesus, to the enjoyment of a sunny day. God loves us and likes us so much he smiles at us, and is gracious to us.

The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee. Asking God to lift his countenance upon us is asking God to show us special attention. This phrase has a lot to do with Israel being a special chosen people. This is asking that God, while being the creator and ruler of the universe, give them a special place in his heart. A place that he has for no one else. 

Asking this might seem strange, even a little selfish, if we don’t remember that it is God himself that is teaching this blessing. I can only assume that God is not setting us up for a “no” for asking this part of the blessing. God loves the whole world, he really does. But there is a special place in his heart for his followers that is different than the love he shows everyone else. We love our children typically more than we love our nephews and nieces, this is not to say that we don’t love our extended family, we do, but our love for them is different than our love for our own children. But one of the best things about God’s special love for his followers is that anyone and everyone can become a follower and receive that love.

The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace. The type of peace that God is offering is to be complete. It is a sense of fullness that only he can give. This is language of belonging, belonging to God, finally getting that sense of home, and sense of rest that we all try so hard to have. This is a peace that we can get nowhere else. It comes from being connected to God, and Jesus the prince of peace. God loves us so much that he keeps a special place in his heart available for us, and he gives us peace, a sense of home beyond anything we can get anywhere else.

Lastly … and they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them. God wants to put his name us each of us. He wants to point to us from heaven telling angels, see her she’s mine, see him he has my name on him. He seals us with this name, so the world, and everyone and everything in the heavens know that we are his children, and that he loves us. 

How many times have we gone somewhere with someone and they have embarrassed us? They did or said something so out of place that people stared and wondered; what is going on? Times like that we want to shrink away, pretend we don’t know the person, definitely not out and out claim them as ours. But that is not what God does. I am not sure if we ever can embarrass God or not, but we sure can make him sad and angry. And yet he loves us so much that he places his name on us. He seals us as his. He wants everyone to know we are his.

“ The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.'
Let us pray.