Blessed to be a Blessing, Psalm 67
First United Methodist Church, May 26, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
When I was working on sermon planning and read this Psalm as one of the lectionary texts, I immediately chose it as our focus today, because it is filled with praise and blessing.
It seems to me that so often we notice and focus on the negative things in life and we lose track of the blessings. But today I want us to intentionally focus on blessings, and to give thanks for them. I think we too often take our blessings for granted, but let’s not do that today. Let’s talk about our blessings and where being blessed might lead us.
Psalm 67 begins with the request for a blessing. We can see that there’s not a thing wrong with asking for a blessing; to ask God for wisdom and guidance, open eyes and an open heart. It’s a great way to start and end our day, and to ask a few times in between. Asking for God to bless us keeps our focus on God, and is a good reminder of who we are. Seems even more important than cup of coffee that so many of us appreciate at the beginning of the day.
The opening words of this Psalm may be familiar to us. I first became acquainted with them as we spoke the words together as a benediction at United Methodist Youth Fellowship each week. I didn’t attend UMYF as a teenager, but I married this guy who was a youth pastor, so I made up for lost time. We’d cross our arms in front of us and hold each other’s hands and say them together: May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.… Then somehow we’d unwind ourselves, giggle and hug and go home.
These words are written first in Numbers 6 (v. 24-26); this is a blessing given by God to Moses to pass on to Aaron and his sons. As priests they are to offer this blessing to the people of Israel.
In Psalm 67, the words are tweaked just a bit, but the request is for God’s gracious activity in the lives of God’s people. In the Old Testament, God’s grace-filled activity was both saving and blessing, each of which remains important in our lives today.
We are in the 6th week of the season of Easter, a time when we celebrate God’s saving activity in our lives through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God’s giving of Jesus demonstrates God’s desire to be in relationship with us, God’s commitment to not let go of us, but to offer—again and again—love, grace and mercy. God’s persistence with the people of Israel as we recall all those times when they turned away, reflects God’s same attitude and desire for us in the world today. Though we may turn away, though we may think we can do our own thing—ultimately we discover we can’t, we fall short—but God’s grace is available and offered to us. With Christ’s death on the cross, the price has been paid.
God’s saving activity continues to work through the power of the Holy Spirit.
My faith story was formed by people who were a part of my life from the very beginning. My parents were believers but not church goers, but all of my grandparents were, and each of them, particularly my mom’s mom, were intentional in teaching me about our faith. I have beautiful memories of church sitting with my grandma and listening to her sing (she had kind of a funny voice but wasn’t afraid to project it. Every time we sing “He Lives,” I think of her. It was her favorite and she sang it with particular gusto!) I learned stories from the Bible and I learned how Christians love and care for one another through their words and their actions. As a teenager I made the decision for myself to be a Christian, but the path had been well made for me and there wasn’t an abrupt change of behavior or attitude. For me it was a confirmation of who I was formed to be, even as an infant when I was baptized in my mother’s arms.
This past week I spent time with some pastors who are working through the process of ordination and I’m blessed to have been asked to be a facilitator of one of the groups in the RIM program, which stands for Residents in Ministry. I think what they’re doing is similar to a medical residency: they’ve all completed college and seminary and they’re working full time in churches throughout the conference, some in smaller churches where they’re the lead pastor and some in large churches where they’re working on a staff. For years, the church basically dropped a new pastor off at the parsonage with all their stuff and the church with all their books and said, “go for it, you’re a big kid now and you’re on your own.” And obviously that “worked” for some, but not for others. We’ve “lost” a lot of good pastors over the years who became overwhelmed with ministry because they didn’t have the support they needed. So now, through these three years of being a part of the Residents in Ministry group, we as the church are doing our best to help retain good souls who will continue to bless congregations long after a lot of us have taken our place in glory.
I’ve listened to stories of God’s saving grace in the lives of some of these pastors, whose memories now make even their own hair stand on end. But for each one of them, one person, one experience, one chance encounter with a man or woman who offered a word of love and grace not only turned around a life that had been spiraling downward quickly, but eventually led them to a call to ministry. As I listen to them, I can see how their previous life chapters will be used by God to speak to others who might find it hard to believe that God’s saving grace is available for them…but it is. It’s available for all people, as God indeed has been gracious to us, blessing us, and making his light to shine upon us.
God’s grace, both saving and blessing, shines down through the cracks and crevices where we stop looking, where we lose hope, where we think, not a chance! But God sees and blesses and offers new life.
Verse 4 of our Psalm reads: Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? To think that God’s blessings reach out and beyond ourselves to all people? We can see that God has a robust expectation for mission, that those of us who know Jesus are called/expected to share the good news. It’s not an “us” and “them” kind of thing, rather, it’s a “we’re all in” “we’re better together,” “let’s do our best to share so that everyone knows, so everyone has the opportunity, so all people can know the love and grace of Jesus Christ.”
I think of how God has blessed us in our plans for Rebuilding First Church. God has blessed us and has made his face known. God has shown us that our mission and ministry is important, that we have work to do, that there are people right here in this community who need to hear who Jesus is, who need to be loved, who need to be embraced by a circle of care because they’re doing life on their own. We’re not Rebuilding First Church for ourselves. We’re Rebuilding First Church for God and for mission, that we can increase what God has begun in our midst, that we can make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We can do that together because God has blessed us. God has shined His face upon us.
There’s a story about a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it would be a long trip so he packed his backpack with Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer and he started his journey. When he had gone about 3 blocks he met an elderly man sitting in the park, just feeding some pigeons. The boy sat down next to him and opened his backpack. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed the man looked hungry, so he offered him a Twinkie.
The man gratefully accepted it and smiled at the boy. His smile was so pleasant that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered him a root beer. The man smiled at him again. The boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word to one another.
As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the man, and gave him a hug. The man gave him his biggest smile ever.
When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised at the look of joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” He replied, “I had lunch with God.” But before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? God’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen.”
Meanwhile, the elderly man, also radiant with joy, returned to his home. His son was stunned by the look of peace on his face and he asked, “Dad, what did you do today that make you so happy?” He replied, “I ate Twinkies in the park with God.” However, before his son responded, he added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”
Too often we minimize what we can do, the impact we can make, as a church, as Christians who are called to reach out and to make a difference. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. People come into our lives, some hurting, some lost, some alone. People not so far away from us are hurting, lost and alone. We have been blessed to be a blessing to others. Let’s see what we have and how we’ve been blessed. Let’s give thanks, and let’s share: that God may continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him. We pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.