It is November and Thanksgiving will soon be upon us. We will gather around a table and, hopefully, someone will “say a blessing.”
I want us to key in on that word, “blessing” this morning. We normally think of thanking God for all the “blessings” God has given us. Whether we are at the table or saying our prayers at night we are “counting our blessings” … things God has given us: Our homes, our families, or the bounty on the Thanksgiving table. Or we may ask God for blessings. As a pastor I have blessed new homes, marriages, and crosses and Bibles. In Ohio I once even blessed a bar that one of our members had purchased. In each case we understand it to be a way of conveying God’s favor upon the home or marriage or Bible or, ahem, bar.
But I’d like for us to think about the process in reverse this morning…. about how wecan bless God. In our reading from Revelation the heavenly host sing, “Blessing … be to God forever and ever.” One of the prayers in our liturgy begins with the phrase, “Let us bless God for all the gifts in which we rejoice today.”
Sometimes we need to think about the words we say in the liturgy. How do we bless God for the gifts in which we rejoice? A blessing is a good thing or a good word which somehow makes a person better. But how do you give a blessing to God who is the very one who IS blessed? How do you make God better? God is perfect. Just what does it mean to bless God?
Now, if “bless” is simply a synonym for “thanks,” then we are home free. Let us “thank” God for all the gifts in which we rejoice today. That’s how we usually think of it. But I think there is a richer meaning for us.
I’ve come to understand “blessing” as a very special and holy word. Today’s gospel is what we call the “beatitudes” which revolves around the word “blessed.” A “beatitude” is a word which means supreme blessing. Some want to substitute the word “happy.” One prosperity gospel televangelist, in his slick and grinning way, referred to them, not as the Beatitudes, but as the “Be-happy Attitudes.” But this is not only wrong, it is almost blasphemous. Happy is what you get on New Year’s Eve. People who win the lottery are happy. Puppies are happy. But those who have been poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted – the down-and-outers who have found God to be on their side –these people are not “happy.” They are blessed. Blessed is a richer word.
A blessing is an unexpected gift. A blessing is a gift you don’t even deserve. A blessing is a gift which is so great that it is almost impossible to return enough thanks. Blessings aren’t just good things. Blessings are life-savers.
So, how do WE go about blessing God? Maybe a story would help:
A traveler wandering in the desert became faint with heat, hunger, and thirst. Suddenly he spied a large, shady tree laden with luscious fruit. Nearby flowed a clear, sparkling stream. The weary man hungrily devoured the fruit, quenched his thirst with the fresh flowing water, and reclined in the shade of the tree. When he prepared to set out again , he turned to the tree and said, “Benevolent tree, how can I thank you? Shall I bless you so that your fruit be sweet? Your fruit IS sweet! Shall I bless you so that your shade be soothing? It IS soothing! Shall I wish for water to flow through and nourish your roots? You already have a stream at your feet. There is just one blessing that I can give you. May the twigs which are cut from you and planted in other soil flourish and blossom like you.”
Today is All Saints Sunday. It is a Sunday in which we customarily remember those who have formed and shaped our own lives. All of us are twigs from larger trees. Usually our parents. But many times also grandparents, aunts, and uncles who have shaped our lives. We don’t just have ourselves to thank for the way we are. We have a host of saints who have gone before us, many who have become part of the company of heaven. These saints have modeled a faithful life. They have shown us and taught us what citizens in God’s kingdom do and say. They have passed the faith down to us, through generation to generation. We pause and remember them today.
But All Saints Sunday isn’t an ecclesiastical Memorial Day. Following closely on the heels of Reformation, it is a time in which we remember that it is by the grace of God that we have been given salvation. We have been washed in the blood of the lamb. Clean. Pure. Without spot. Through no effort of our own. But because of the blood of Jesus, God’s dear son, what makes us saints is not the good works and deeds we do, but the faith we have in this greatest of all blessings God has given us through the cross.
The way in which we bless God, then is to become saints to others. Are you forgiven? Let your forgiveness extend to others? Have you been delivered from a place you shouldn’t have been? Then help deliver others from places they shouldn’t be. Have you been given life everlasting? Then bring others here so that they may hear the same life-giving word and drink from the same life-giving cup.
Shall we bless God for all the gifts in which we rejoice today? Yes, by being a blessing to others. By passing the sainthood on from generation to generation. When we hear the Beatitudes say “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the persecuted,” can we hear them as a command for us to be a blessing to these people. How can we be a blessing to those who morn and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness? It doesn’t have anything to do with making people “happy.” It has to do with making them well, making them whole, with nourishing them into flourishing. How can we be a blessing to God? By being a blessing to others!