January 20, 2019

Psalm 1

In a couple of months, a lot of attention in the sports world will turn to the NFL draft. Teams will be very selective in choosing the best players to fill the positions they need for their team.

Or they might choose a player they don’t need and trade that player for one they do.

A lot of men will be excited about being chosen. Many will be disappointed because they will never get a call.

All of us would like to be chosen for good things, but Henry Nouwen, the author of “Life of the Beloved,” says that more than being chosen, every one of us has a yearning to be blessed.

He says we need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone and who will guide us by love every step of the way. (72)

One of the reasons that we are so hungry for a blessing is that we are people that are filled with self-doubt. We are plagued with an understanding that we are imperfect people.

Some of us have a lot of memories and a lot of voices that remind us that we don’t have it all together.

Some of those voices come from our childhood and teenage years.

Some come from parents, step-parents, bullies, classmates, old boyfriends and girlfriends.

They come from messages we’ve received on Facebook, Instagram, and text messages.

They come from things strangers have said, and even people we thought were our friends.

They have come from x-spouses, our children, and even people that are supposed to love us the most.

So it’s not just voices from the past. It’s voices from the present.

It’s not just voice from our enemies. It’s voices from those that are supposed to love us the most.

We are hungry for a blessing because the world is telling us that we are no good.

Now maybe that’s not you. It’s not everybody.

Maybe you are affirmed. Maybe you drip with self-esteem because you have always had the blessing of others.

But, as sure as you are sitting here, you know someone that needs a blessing. Perhaps you are the person that God will use to bless them.

So even if you don’t need a blessing, someone you know does. That means this sermon is for everyone.

Henry Nouwen was a Catholic priest who spent the last ten years of his life as a pastor to a community of people with severe disabilities.

One day, a member of the L’Arche community he pastored ask Henry for a blessing. As a priest, he quickly performed a ritual sign of the cross on the woman’s forehead and said a few ritualist words. The woman protested and told him she needed a real blessing.

Henry wasn’t sure what she needed or what she was asking for, so he apologized and told her to that he would give her a real blessing when they were all together at the prayer service.

After the service, Janet came forward, and Henry explained to those attending that Janet had asked for a special blessing. Even though Henry wasn’t sure what she wanted, it became evident to him as Janet came forward.

Henry was wearing a long white robe with lots of room around his sleeves. As he held out his arms, Janet placed her arms around him and her head on his chest. When Henry placed his arms around her, she almost vanished in the folds of his robe.

Then he blessed her.

“Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s Beloved Daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house, and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you.” (Ibid)

Janet received the blessing with a broad smile and as she returned to her seat. Then another woman said, “I want a blessing too.” She came forward.

Then, one resident after another, each with their unique disabilities, asked Henry to bless them.

For Henry, the most touching moment came when one of the assistants raised his hand, a young 24-year-old, who said, “And what about me?”

When he came, Henry said, “John, it is so good that you are here. You are God’s Beloved Son. Your presence is a joy for all of us. When things are hard, and life is burdensome, always remember that you are loved with an everlasting love.”

Before the young man sat down, he had tears in his eyes, and he thanked Henry for the blessing. (Ibid)

Long ago, twin boys wrestled in their mother’s womb, and later they wrestled with one another for their father’s blessing.

According to the custom of the day, the oldest son was supposed to receive the father’s blessing, which meant that the leadership of the family and the decisions about what to do with all of his father’s possessions would be passed on to him.

This son’s name was Esau, but he couldn’t have been more than a minute or two older than his twin brother.

When they were born, his brother’s hand had a grasp on Esau’s heel, so he was named Jacob, which means heel grabber.

Now can you understand how Jacob must have felt? Why was it fair that Esau would get his father’s blessing, all of it, just because he was born a minute or so ahead of him? They were both born on the same day. There were two sons but only one blessing. What’s fair about that?

Jacob, along with his mother, believed that all was fair in love and war and so they saw the blessing as a prize to be won and not a gift to be given.

So they devised a plan to trick the aging father into giving away his blessing to the wrong son.

“I am an old man now,” Isaac said, “and I don’t know when I may die.”

Speaking to his son Esau, he said,

“Take your bow and a quiver full of arrows, and go out into the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare my favorite dish, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son before I die.”

But Jacob and his mother cooked up a plan to fool his father. Jacob killed a couple of young goats and prepared a dish.

Jacob put on Esau’s clothes, and he and his mother covered his arms and his neck with the goatskin because apparently, Esau was a hairy guy.

When he served the meal to his father, who had poor vision, his father he questioned whether he was Esau. Of course, Jacob lied. He didn’t sound like Esau, but he smelled like him, and he felt like him, so Isaac he blessed Jacob.

“From the dew of heaven
and the richness of the earth,
may God always give you abundant harvests of grain
and bountiful new wine.
29 May many nations become your servants,
and may they bow down to you.
May you be the master over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
All who curse you will be cursed,
and all who bless you will be blessed.”

When Esau returned and discovered that his father had given the blessing to his brother, he was heartbroken.

Esau said, “No wonder his name is Jacob, for now he has cheated me twice. First, he took my rights as the firstborn, and now he has stolen my blessing. Oh, haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?”

Esau’s question is the question of every person that has longed to be blessed but has not, “Haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?” he asked.

Every one of us wants and need to be blessed. We want a father, mother, teacher, coach, mentor, leader, teacher, instructor, someone in power, with power, with authority to validate our worth, goodness, ability, promise, potential, or value.

We need to be affirmed, accepted, understood and embraced.

I hope you receive a blessing from those people that are significant to you in your life.

But the truth is, some of us will have to learn to live without it.

There will always be a sense of sadness if your father doesn’t bless you, or if your mother doesn’t bless you. Some die too young for that. Others are separated physically or emotionally.

While there may be pain there, I have good news for you. Whatever pain you may have because of any blessing that you may be missing in your life can be overcome by the joy of knowing that you have the blessing of the God who formed you and created you in your mother’s womb.

We can still be whole apart from the blessing of others if we know that we have the blessing of God through Christ our Lord.

Jesus heard God bless him the day he was baptized when God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

One of the great and important questions you need to answer in your life is this: Do you have God’s blessing upon your life?

Are you living in the joy of that blessing?
How do you know?

The Psalmist wrote:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1)

It’s interesting that the Psalmist starts by telling us that God blesses us for not doing something.

We always think about receiving a blessing for things we do.

Think about the medals that are usually pinned on a person in uniform.

An Army Distinguished Service Cross Medal is for extraordinary heroism in action against an enemy.

The Navy/Marine Distinguished Service Medal is for exceptionally meritorious service to the U.S. in a duty of great responsibility.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is for heroism while participating in aerial flight.

These are medals that our soldiers and Marines for awarded for doing something heroic. Even the Purple Heart is a medal for doing something, being injured while in combat.

So it’s interesting that the Psalmist begins by saying that God will bless us for not doing something – for not walking in step with the wicked or standing in the way that sinners or sitting in the company of mockers.

So for all of you who always thought you had to do something to be blessed, to be an overachiever, here’s some good news.

The Bible teaches us you can be blessed, just by not doing some things.

We already know this because every one of us that has ever had a good parent knew there were things we were not supposed to do.

We always thought that we were not supposed to do certain things because we thought our parents were dumb, old fashioned, or that they enjoyed seeing us suffer from not being able to experience the thrills of life like all of our friends.

So, just like Eve and then Adam who thought they knew more than God, we rebelled.
We thumbed our noses at our parents and said, “We don’t want your blessing. We want to do things our way.”  And we did, until like the prodigal son, we ended up eating the slop with the pigs in the far country during a famine. Then we knew that we had missed the blessing because he went our way.

Moses came down from Mt. Carmel with some carved stones of “Thou Shall Nots.”

He told the Hebrews that they would be blessed by not doing some things.

Look at the Ten Commandments and notice how many of them begin with “Do Not.”
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make idols.
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and your mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet.

Only Commandments Four and Five are stated as things to do instead of things not to do.

God will bless us if we refrain from doing things that harm our relationship with him and with others.

Paul has told us that we will all be tempted to do what is wrong but when we are tempted, “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13).

Secondly, the Blessed Road Map is given to us by the Psalmist also includes some things we should do.

The Psalmist said that blessed is the one “whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

Now the Bible cannot give you a blessing that you’d like to receive from your father.

The Bible cannot give you a blessing that you’d like to receive from a mentor.

There are people in your life who could speak truth into you that would be very meaningful to you, but here is the good news.

Your joy in this life; your success in this life; your meaning and your purpose in this life does not depend on whether those people ever speak a blessing into your life or not if you place your trust in God and keep your life firmly planted in the word of God.

I know there are people that you want to bless you in this life, but the most important blessing you will ever receive is a blessing from God because you followed the word of God.

Blessed is the one who meditates on his Law Day and night.

While all of us would like to live up to the words of Psalm 1:1, the reality is that none of us ever do.

Who is guilty of coming to God’s word only for a weekly fill up? Who is guilty of coming to God’s word for a six-month tune up? Who is guilty of not knowing where your Bible is?

It wasn’t like that at all for Peter and the disciples. They were with Jesus nearly every day. You could say that they were planted by the Stream 24/7. If anyone should have been blessed, it should have been that group.

Maybe Peter was looking for a blessing when he told Jesus that he loved him so much that he would lay down his life for him.

But Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:38)
And Peter did.

He denied he knew Jesus the night the Romans arrested Jesus, probably because he felt threatened.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he found Peter on the beach after a night of fishing.

Three times he asked Peter if he loved him. Each time Peter said that he did, Jesus told him to “Feed his lambs,” or to “Take care of his sheep.”

He then said to Peter, just as he did the first time he called him on the beach to be his disciple, “Follow me.”

What Jesus did that day for Peter was nothing short of giving Peter a blessing.  What he did was teach Peter and us something significant about blessings.

Blessings in God’s kingdom are not based on merit. They are based on grace.

Even though some blessings come to us because of things we don’t do, and some blessings come to us because of some things we do, God’s blessing is one that is based on grace and not on merit.

Blessings may come because we keep Jesus’ commandments, but ultimately, we are blessed because God wants us to experience what it feels like to be loved by Him in spite of our failures.

Remember the story of the priest Henri Nouwen and the L’Arche Community. Well, that’s a wonderful metaphor for God and us. We all come to the Lord, disabled and wounded.

But we all need a blessing.

The Lord stands waiting to bless us all.  He wants to envelop us with His love.  God has a blessing for every one of us who come to Him.

Who needs to be blessed this morning? Who needs a word of blessing this morning? We are here to share a word of blessing with you.

Photo Credit: crosscards.com