Psalm 67

This sermon was preached by Rev Caroline on Wednesday 10 May 2017.

PSALM 67

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.”blessing-1261935_960_720

These are the iconic words of benediction that sometimes close worship services and are found in the book of Numbers. Some of these words are slightly adjusted to open psalm 67 with the words:

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.”

Let us listen to the psalmist’s words in full:

God be gracious to us and bless us •
and make his face to shine upon us,
That your way may be known upon earth, •
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; •
let all the peoples praise you.

O let the nations rejoice and be glad, •
for you will judge the peoples righteously
and govern the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; •
let all the peoples praise you.
Then shall the earth bring forth her increase, •
and God, our own God, will bless us.
God will bless us, •
and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.

This is a psalm of blessing. There are two strands to God’s merciful acts towards humanity – there is his saving action (that we heard about in today’s gospel passage) and in today’s psalm there is the reminder of God’s action of blessing.

The emphasis on his saving action is the foundation of our Christian beliefs that can be traced from rescuing the oppressed in the Old Testament through to the Good News that our salvation has been won through Christ’s death and resurrection in the gospels.

The Old Testament, however, also places a particular emphasis on the blessing activity of God—bountiful harvests, the gift of longed for children and numerous offspring, health, prosperity.  Psalm 67 strongly emphasises the psalmist’s longing request for God’s blessing.

Both God’s saving action and God’s blessing action are gifts of God offered only by grace. Even God’s law itself was a gift to his people so that they might live lives of wholeness and close relationship with God with all the grace that a close walk with God offered to them.

The word “blessing” is one that trips off the tongue so easily in everyday parlance. “Bless you” we say to the person who sneezes. “Bless him/her” we might say dotingly about an adult or child. “Every blessing” some of us might sign a letter or email to someone. What is our yearning for that person that we ask God to bless? What are we hoping and praying for in their lives? There is something in the use of the words around blessing that acknowledge something good and God given is already amongst us and we yearn for that person or project to receive that continued blessing.

God’s blessings are gracious, surprising, unexpected gifts – sent when and how God chooses for his purposes. In Genesis we hear God announcing that Abraham will have a child by Sarah.  A free gift of grace. Or, we might think of Mary. The unsuspected maiden whom all generations now called, “Blessed.” In more everyday terms it may be that moment of joy in time spent with someone we love, it may be the beauty of creation revealed stunningly on a beautiful day, it may be a chance encounter that left us with a glow, an unexpected opportunity and so on. I’m sure that we can think of many more.

A couple of months ago the children at Messy Church made “Count your blessings” jars. When I bought some fabric to decorate the jars with the fabric seller asked me what the variety of small pieces of fabric were for. When I explained, he looked delighted and said that he had kept just such a jar for two years now and every time God blessed him he wrote it down and put it in the jar – then, if he had a difficult day, he would go to the jar and open it to read and count the many blessings that God had given him and get back in touch with his sense of of being God’s child who has been and will continue to be blessed. That unexpected conversation was a blessing and encouragement to me that day and one that I think back to from time to time.

In Psalm 67, the poet talks about the blessings of God that are known now as well as praying that God will continue to bless. As a Christian community it is important that we do announce God’s blessing in our own lives, the community and in the lives of others. Our psalmist stands amongst the people announcing that “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us” (verse 6) whilst at the same time seeking God’s ongoing blessing. This is just as the priest’s blessing at the end of the communion service is worded….often it will remind us of the blessings already received before praying for God’s ongoing blessing upon each of us.

There are so many blessings that we could be seeking in our prayers. In Our psalm, the writer is thinking more in terms of harvests being bountiful. But we could just as easily add images of different blessings: the beauty of nature, the safe birth of a new generation, the existence of good government and public servants, the love of parents and friends, good health and good medical care, music and joy and so on.  We need to constantly hold before ourselves the rich blessings that God has already given us as well our reliance upon his ongoing blessings.

And it is important to remember that God loves to bless us for its intrinsic value because he loves each and every one of us. However, the psalmist teaches us that God ultimately blesses us as part of his mission: “that your way be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (verse 2). So that the peoples and nations might praise God.

For example, God chose Abraham and Sarah and promised them descendants and also promised that “you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (verses 2b-3). Abraham’s descendants were told that they would be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation when God renewed his covenant with them in the book of Exodus. Israel was not blessed for their own intrinsic value but so that all the families of the earth may be blessed through them.

When we pray with Psalm 67 that “God continue to bless us” or when we end the end of the worship service with the wish that “the Lord’s face shine upon you,” we do so for the sake of God’s mission. In order that through God’s people, all of the world might experience God’s saving help. As God’s blessing shines in our own lives, we share that light in the lives of others drawing them to the gift of his grace and blessing too, for his kingdoms sake. Amen.

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