Today the last Sunday in the Season of Creation, celebrating with the Church ecumenical and concluding on Wednesday with St. Francis. Our theme this morning is bless. “God bless you” is a simple or serious request. When we bless with words, we ask for God’s provision, favor, kindness, goodness to be evident. To bless is to pray for others, to intercede and act on behalf of others. We pray not to inform God of needs but we Brothers speak of in our Rule of Life, to join God in loving solidarity which God uses “for healing and transformation.”[i] God is not dependent on us. God invites our loving action including prayer.
God instructed Moses and Aaron to say: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”[ii] When another’s face lights up at seeing ours, we feel loved. In other words: “May God be good to you and protect you. May God turn toward you. May God’s face light up at seeing you. May you feel the love and receive peace or wholeness.”
Hearing another bless reminds us both of their love and God’s love. To be blessed is to experience blessing, God’s favor. When Mary visits Elizabeth, they see the light of each other’s countenance. They exclaim and sing: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” “My soul magnifies the Lord …” because God has looked “with favor” on me. Everyone “will call me blessed.”
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!” exclaims the psalmist,[iii] To bless is also to praise and thank God for all manner of goodness. We conclude many liturgies, meals and gatherings with: “Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God!” However, this sermon is not over. With those words we praise and give thanks to God.
God blesses making us like Mary blessed. We receive kindness, favor, wellness, and healing—we are blessed—to order share blessing. This is part of how God saves. After creating everything good and the crisis from Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God began salvation by calling Abraham and Sarah, using people to create a family to bless and help save the world. As we heard in Genesis, they will be a blessing.
But it’s at a cost. Go from your land, people, and family to a land I will show you. Leave everything you know. I will provide for you. I will make your family into a great nation. I will show you favor, my goodness. You will be a blessing. Everyone will be blessed through you.
From the start, there is an invitation to let go. Let go of security, possession, familiarity, doing it all on your own. God says: rely on me to provide and enable. Abram went, and he still clung to possessions and doing it on his own. God kept calling. It’s a great story because of the back and forth. Through seven-episodes, we watch Abraham slowly changing, slowing letting go, from striving to make a name for himself at others’ expense to a loving generosity.[iv] Through it, Abraham learns to love like God, letting go in order to bless others.
Paul Borgman wrote: “Relinquishment is letting go of an anxiety about what I might lose; it is letting go of the desire for what I might gain. Relinquishment is one side of a coin whose other and shining face is God’s concern for blessing. Relinquishment is the necessary condition toward and embrace of blessing for all peoples everywhere and at all times.”[v]
Relinquishment is doing “nothing from selfish ambition … but regarding others as better than ourselves.” It is being like Jesus, who though “in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” something to be grasped, clung, and held onto, but he let go being “born in human likeness. And … he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” So that he could draw the whole world to himself, to love, redeem, and bless everyone and every created thing.
We are children of Abraham and Sarah, invited to leave for a new kind of life, invited over and over to let go. We are followers of Jesus Christ, invited to take up our cross. We are blessed by God, recipients of divine favor and provision. We are blessed and healed, to help save the world, all peoples, all creation.
We are blessed to be a blessing. What does that look like? Praying. Interceding for the earth and all peoples with loving solidarity. Relinquishing. Consider what personal, familial, and communal practices are sharing in destruction and what builds up the whole created community? What are we doing for self-promoting and self-preservation? What are you called to give up or reduce for the whole? How might we seek global health and equity? It is humbling considering our actions, asking for and receiving help.
Children of God, may we have faith like Abraham in God’s promises. May we follow Jesus humbly embracing our human limitations and loving wildly. God keeps saving and invites our help in restoring all creation, all peoples, all plants and animals, oceans. Be a blessing.
[i] SSJE Rule, Chapter 24: The Mystery of Intercession
[ii] Numbers 6:22-26
[iii] Psalm 104:1
[iv] Paul Borgman (2001) Genesis: the story we haven’t heard. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, p103
[v] Borgman, p107
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