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May 22, 2022
What do we often say when someone sneezes? We say “Bless you!” or “God bless you!” In ancient times, people believed that sneezing would allow evil spirits to enter your body, and saying “God bless you” kept out those evil spirits.[i]
Sneezes were also thought historically to be a warning from the gods. For European Christians, in the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great believed that a sneeze was an early warning sign that someone had been infected with the plague, so he ordered Christians to respond to a sneeze with a blessing.[ii]
Today it’s probably more of a reflex. We say it, often without thinking. And not just to friends or family. We say it to the person in the grocery store. The stranger on the train. Maybe even to the dog.
Words of blessing have been powerful parts of faith communities for centuries. I learned this week that the oldest scraps of the Bible that archeologists have ever found are small scrolls of hammered-out silver with these words from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 6: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up the Lord’s countenance upon you, and give you peace.”[iii] Those fragments date back to the 7th or 8th century BCE. The largest piece is about 3.5 inches by one inch, and we have no idea what their function might have been. Were they worn like a necklace? Given a special place in someone’s home? Carried in a pouch during a dangerous journey? We don’t know.
God promises to bless many people throughout the Bible – and does. God blesses Abraham and promises that Abraham will have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky and that through Abraham all nations will be blessed. We hear that grand and glorious vision echoed in the middle of today’s psalm: Let all the peoples praise you, O God. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you…guide all the nations on earth.
God’s blessing is not a private possession held exclusively by any one of us alone, nor is it limited to one country or one part of the world. Did you notice that this psalm begins with a slightly different version of that old blessing from Numbers? The psalmist writes: May God be merciful to us and bless us; may the light of God’s face shine upon us.
The blessing is for more than an individual “you.” It’s for an “us.” An “us” that includes everyone – the people across the street and the people across the globe, the people we can’t live without and the people we can’t stand, the people who challenge us and the people who change us. All the peoples, all the nations, held together in God’s loving embrace.
The psalmist uses that “us,” that plural language, much in the same way that we begin the Lord’s Prayer with Our Father…The “our” reminds us that we don’t possess God. We share a belonging in God’s kingdom together, and we pray together, especially when there is too much to pray for alone – which seems true all the time these days.
The “us” also includes Lydia and the other women we hear about in the book of Acts, sitting down by the river. They’re outside the gate, which suggests that they do not have a place in the centers of power within the city. The women may be outside those halls of traditional power in the ancient world, but they gather beside the water to pray. The early church is still figuring out what to do with the people who don’t fit its expected categories, but Lydia becomes a follower of the faith, and in doing so, she expands the meaning of “us.” Lydia and her household are baptized, and then she extends hospitality to others, welcoming them into her home. The “us” keeps getting bigger as people gather and pray and eat together.
This morning Teddy becomes part of that “us” – the “us” that is the family of God. It’s a family that includes the people gathered here today, the people of this congregation from the youngest to the oldest. It’s a family that includes the followers of Jesus around the world, each with unique ways of sharing the love of Jesus in word and deed. It’s a family that encompasses all generations, including those beloved people who have died and whom we miss this morning.
Today God blesses Teddy, says to him You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. There is nothing that Teddy has to do in order to hold on to that blessing throughout his life. That blessing does not depend on the grades he makes, the sports he plays, or the way he dresses. Teddy doesn’t have to do anything to be loved and claimed by God. He is already loved and claimed by God. Nothing – nothing – can change that.
We also rejoice as we imagine all the ways that Teddy will share the love of Jesus in his life. He already has. When John presented the baptismal candle, he said those words we always say from the Gospel of Matthew: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” We don’t shine our lights in the world because it’s a condition of receiving God’s blessing. We shine our lights in the world because we have already received that blessing and can’t imagine keeping it to ourselves.
Today we remember that we all carry God’s blessings with us. We commit to helping Teddy discover and share his own special ways of blessing the world.
We ask God to continue to bless us and keep us in the trials and tumults of this life.
May God be merciful to us and bless us; may the light of God’s face shine upon us. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[iii] I am indebted to The Rev. James Howell for his commentary on Psalm 67, found here: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sixth-sunday-of-easter-3/commentary-on-psalm-67-5
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Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.
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