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Happy? Try Blessing
January 1, 1995

NUMBERS 6:22-27, LUKE 6:20-26

On this New Year's Day, the first Sunday of a new year, I am beginning a series of sermons on some of the radical teachings of Jesus. I say radical because they are so contrary to what our culture teaches us, radical because some of them have rarely been understood, such as turn the other cheek, radical because living Jesus' teachings is a sign of the new age, the kingdom of God, a new order.

I am using what are called the Beatitudes (which is from the Latin for happy or blessed), primarily from Luke, rather than the familiar Matthew. The teachings in Luke seem to be closer to what Jesus actually said than Matthew, because Matthew has already begun to interpret them.

Beatitude or blessing means happy. In fact, the Good New's English version translates blessed as happy. Happy are you, said Jesus. Because people in our society are possessed with the desire to be happy, I am using the question-- Are you happy?--in the sermon titles. Perhaps the reason people are desperately searching for happiness in the wrong places is that they have no clue what real happiness is. Jesus lived happiness, and Jesus taught happiness. Modeling our lives after Jesus, with the power of the Holy Spirit, will provide happiness.

I'm beginning the series of sermons on happiness with blessing. Are you happy? Would you like to be even happier? Then, try blessing. Blessing is an act of approval, an act of divine favor. To be blessed is to be happy. To bless others is to praise them, and wish happiness for them. Jesus blessed, especially children. Jesus taught us what it is like to be blessed, and what blessing means. Perhaps if you are not completely happy, you have not been blessed, and have not blessed others.

The Bible, especially the Old Testament, knew all about blessing, and the importance of blessing. We moderns can learn a great deal about family relationships and our mental health from the biblical practice of blessing. Jacob stole his father Isaac's blessing which was intended for Esau. When Esau heard about it, he gave a plaintive, poignant, heart-rending plea, "Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father." And then, Genesis 27:38, Esau lifted up his voice and wept. Gary Smalley and John Trent in their book, The Blessing, wrote

No matter your age, the approval of your parents affects how you view yourself and your ability to pass that approval along to your children, spouse and friends. Many people spend a lifetime looking for this acceptance the Bible calls The Blessing.

Brian flew nearly halfway across the country to be at his father's side in the hospital. He leaned over the still form of his father who had lapsed into a coma and pleaded, "Please say that you love me, please!" It was late at night in a large hospital. Only the cold, white walls and the humming of a heart monitor kept Brian company. His tears revealed a deep inner pain and sensitivity that tormented him. For years Brian had been searching for his father's acceptance and approval, but they always seemed just out of reach.

Brian's father had been a career Marine officer. His sole desire for Brian was that he would follow in his footsteps and be a Marine. Brian's father took every opportunity to instill in his son discipline and the backbone he would need when one day he, too, was an officer. Words of love or tenderness were forbidden. Brian was driven by his father to participate in sports and to take elective classes that would best equip him to be an officer. Brian's only praise for scoring a touchdown or doing well in a class was a lecture on how he could and should have done even better.

After graduating from high school, Brian enlisted in the Marine Corps. It was the happiest day of his father's life, but for Brian it was misery. He couldn't handle the Marines, and eventually was dishonorably discharged as incorrigible. Brian's dismissal from the Marines dealt a death blow to his relationship with his father. He was no longer welcome in his father's home.

Brian struggled with feelings of inferiority, and he lacked self-confidence. Even though he was above average in intelligence, he couldn't hold a job. He worked at various jobs far below his abilities. Three times he had been engaged--only to break the engagement just weeks before the wedding. Somehow he just didn't believe that another person could really love him. When he learned of his father's heart attack, Brian rushed to the hospital, hoping to mend the relationship with his father. "Dad, please wake up!" he cried. "Please say you love me." Brian echoed Esau's plaintive cry, "Bless me, even me, O my father."

For children in biblical times, receiving the Blessing was a momentous event. It gave the children a tremendous sense of being highly valued by their parents. At a specific time in their lives, they would hear words of encouragement, love, and acceptance from their parents. Traditional Jewish homes, through the centuries, and even yet today, bestow a blessing on their children. The Bar Mitzvah is a significant time of blessing in a young man's life.

Perhaps some of you, as you reflect on your life, realize you did not receive the Blessing, and are still searching for it. If so, sit down with your parents, and talk to them. Don't wait until they are in a coma. Do it while they are alive. Talk about your feelings, tell them you love them, and let them respond. Many parents don't know how to bless, they don't know how to give their children approval. If your parents have had difficulty being affectionate and affirming, help them do so by talking to them. And, if you are a parent or a grandparent, bless the children. Hug them, tell them how special they are to you, tell them how much you love them, and what you wish for their future.

One of my cherished memories is the blessing I received from my grandfather. 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. That is the Blessing. Don't assume people around you know how you feel about them. Don't assume, because few 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 assurance that I would amount to something. (In Minnesota, it's very important to amount to something!)

Are you happy? As happy as you'd like to be? Try blessing.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris