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The Content of the Blessing
The Blessing gives us the freedom to live our lives. This morning I am concluding a series of sermons on the Blessing. The Blessing is an ancient ritual, practiced by biblical parents, which needs to be resurrected for us in our day. I have been making the point that much of the searching and seeking of persons today for meaning, direction and satisfaction in their lives might very well be a search for the Blessing. Pat and Neal Yowell shared with me a book by Elizabeth O'Connor of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D. C., called Cry Pain, Cry Hope, in which she discusses the Blessing. She says that we each need the Blessing in order to be set free, free of the nest, free of the dependency on our parents, free to live our lives. She wrote, (pp. 48-51)
We need the blessing of each other to be set free. The parent who has blessed the child leaves that child free to run toward life. The parent who has withheld his or her blessing binds the child in intractable ways. The blessing is integral to the experiencing of our separateness--to being our own persons and going our own ways...Perhaps those who clutch the most and who block our way never felt blessed themselves...Yearning for the blessing never given can keep us forever fixed in the past, forever wanting what was withheld, forever looking to authority figures and significant others for the benediction a parent never gave.
The good news of the gospel is that those who have not received the blessing can overcome, can have a second chance, by receiving the Blessing from God within the context of the church family where we bless each other, and by giving the blessing to the parent who did not give it. I discussed this in the previous sermon. The challenge of this sermon series is for all of us to give the Blessing to those around us: our children, grandchildren, spouse, parents, friends, and our church brothers and sisters in Christ.
What is involved in the Blessing? I am indebted to the book, The Blessing, by Gary Smalley and John Trent. In previous sermons, we learned that the Blessing begins with touching. Embracing and hugging are essential in family relationships. Secondly, the Blessing includes a spoken word. I challenge you husbands to hug your wives at least once a day, and tell them, "I love you." I challenge you parents, and especially you fathers to hug your children, including the boys, including teenage boys, and tell them, "I love you." Because of the way we were raised in our American culture, it is often difficult for fathers to bless their children, especially their sons. We have a golden opportunity to break through the cultural taboos. Glenn has arranged for Alan Javorek, an exceptional counselor who obtained his doctorate in father-son relationships, to lead an overnight retreat, September 23 and 24, for fathers and sons. You are invited to the Wesley Room at 11:50 this morning for more information.
The Blessing includes touching and spoken words. Specifically, what words are said in a Blessing? What are the words we each need to hear in order to be set free to live our lives? What words do we need to say to one another, especially to our children and grandchildren? A Blessing has three parts:
First, commit the recipient of the Blessing to God. In baptism, parents commit their children to God. The Blessing reminds the children that they belong not just to themselves, not just to your family, but to the Lord. In the Old Testament lesson this morning, which is the account of Isaac blessing Jacob (whom he thought was Esau), Isaac began, "May God give you." We close our worship services with a benediction, which means blessing. Usually I say, "May the blessing of God the Father Almighty..." Sometimes I say, "The Lord bless you and keep you." "May God bless you" is the first part of a Blessing. I like the Spanish Blessing. In English, when we bid farewell, we say "Goodbye", which originally meant, "God be with you," and through the years, abbreviated to "Goodbye." In Spanish, however, the bidding of farewell is "Vaya con Dios," which means "Go with God." Rather than "God be with you," with the emphasis on you, it is "Go with God," with the emphasis on God, and your need to be in step with the God who is leading. Do your children and grandchildren know you have committed them to God? Are you telling them, reminding them, that they do not go through life alone, that when they leave the nest, and are given the freedom to live their lives, you are praying the Holy Spirit to go with them, and praying that they will go with the Holy Spirit?
The second part of a Blessing is to express high value. In Hebrew the root meaning of blessing is "to bow the knee." The root word is used of a man who had his camel bend its knees so he could get on. The Bible encourages us to bless God. Psalm 103, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name." To bless the Lord means we attribute high value to God.
When you bless another person, you bend your knee, you bow before them, you express the person's high value. Have you bowed before your children? Have you bowed before your parents? Have you bowed before your spouse? Perhaps what is wrong in your relationships is that you haven't acknowledged the greatness, the uniqueness, the beauty, the special gifts of those around you. When Isaac blessed Jacob, he expressed Jacob's high value and complimented him by saying, "The smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed!" Probably your child will not consider it a great compliment to be told he/she smells like a field! We city folk can't quite relate to rural smells, but let me tell you one of the most delightful fragrances you can have the privilege of smelling, is a new mown crop of alfalfa hay! To an ancient Hebrew who lived off the land, smelling a field was refreshing, renewing, invigorating! Only special people in their lives could smell like fields!
Then Isaac continued to bless Jacob and told him that he was of such high value people would serve him, and nations would bow down to him. Jacob did become an influential patriarch, father of ten sons, master of a large important family. The words of the blessing are equally applicable to you and your own. We today would not speak of bowing down and serving one another, but when we bless each other, we can express high value like: Never consider anyone else better than you; you are as capable, as intelligent, as blessed as anyone else. Don't put yourself down, don't deny your gifts, for you have been created by God, loved by Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. You are a son or daughter in this family, you have a name of which you can be proud. You have been given many privileges of birth, education, nationality. You are an important person on the face of this earth. Hold your head high, not proudly, not as if you are better than anyone else, but not as if you are less than anyone else either. Hold your head high in confidence and humility.
The authors of The Blessing encourage us to use word pictures when expressing high value. Jacob blessed his ten sons, and used word pictures with each. Each blessing was different, for each son was a unique individual. Jacob pictured Judah as a lion, portraying strength and leadership qualities. He pictured Naphtali as a doe; his son's artistic qualities were like the grace and beauty of a doe. Word pictures help the recipient of the Blessing to accept the Blessing. When an insecure girl is told she is pretty, she might become self-conscious and reject the compliment by saying, "That's not true;" or, "So and So is much prettier than I;" or, "Do you need glasses?" It is easier for an insecure person to accept a word picture, like "You're my princess," or "You are like a diamond: you sparkle, you radiate, there are so many wonderful facets to your character, you are a precious diamond." We are more apt to accept the Blessing when it is expressed in a word picture.
The third part of a Blessing is to picture a special future. The biblical patriarchs told their children they had a special future; they would become great leaders, or father of an influential family. In some Jewish homes today, girls are told, "May God richly bless you, and may you grow to be like Rebekah and Sarah." Marcia was a slow learner. Rather than pushing her to "hurry up" or read faster, her parents would point out how methodical she was, and rejoice with her for staying with an assignment until she finished it. They also noticed how Marcia encouraged her younger sisters and had a gift for explaining things to them so they could understand. One day Marcia announced that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. Her parents did not put her down by saying, "Next week you'll change your mind." Nor did they discourage her by pointing out that she was at the bottom of her class. They looked beyond her low grades. They looked beyond her slowness and painted a picture of a teacher for her future. It took her six and a half years to complete her college education; but when she graduated, she did not have to look for work like most of her classmates. She had done such a magnificent job as a student teacher, the principal asked her to stay at the school and become a first grade teacher. Sometimes the slow learners become the best teachers because they know what the struggling student is going through. Marcia's parents painted her a picture of a special future. They blessed her.
Receiving the Blessing is such a significant event, I imagine most of us can remember times in our lives when we were blessed. I'll never forget the Blessing my grandfather gave me. I was in seminary, some 400 miles from home, when he died of cancer. I can still vividly see him sitting in his chair, aching with pain. I was returning to school. We both knew we probably would never see each other again. I was given the beautiful gift of being able to say "goodbye," and he in turn blessed me. Neither of us knew it was a blessing; our culture has not taught us to give blessings. But, he took my hands, told me how proud he was of me, and that he knew I would do good in this world. I'll never forget his Blessing. It has sustained me when I have doubted my abilities, and encouraged me when I've been discouraged. You see, I know my grandfather believed in me. I am not just sure, or hope, I know. I know because he told me. Don't assume people around you know how you feel about them. Don't assume, because none of us are mind readers. My grandfather told me, and I'll never forget his pride in me, his belief in my high value, and his picture of my future in which I would do good in this world.
Would you like to receive a Blessing? I give you a Blessing every Sunday at the close of the service, but let's make it very special this morning. Please hold hands, so you receive the Blessing of touch. As I bless you now, may you receive the Blessing for yourself, and through your hands pass the Blessing on to those beside you.
The Lord bless you and keep you. God made you, created you, and placed you here on this earth at this time, because God needs you. You are a very special person, uniquely created, uniquely endowed with talents, abilities, skills that this world needs. There is no one else on this earth like you. You are called by God to serve. Jesus calls you his friend. You have a very brilliant, bright future in the service of God, called to do good. Take your life, pick up your life, live it boldly in the confidence of your goodness, your worthwhileness, for you are a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.
How does it feel to be Blessed? When you give the Blessing to those around you, let it be more specific, with word pictures that fit them.
We will now worship God with our tithes and offerings. Consider how richly God has blessed you. Out of the bounty with which you have been blessed, in thankfulness for all you have received, will you now give abundantly, generously, to the work of God through the ministry of this church, that others may be blessed?
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris