Sermon preached at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for the fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time.
May 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.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him.
Several years ago, I was friended by a new co-worker on facebook. I didn’t know Kay* all that well, but since we were going to be working together, I accepted. This was right at the beginning of hashtags as a way to add meaning to a thought, and I soon noticed a pattern to her posts. She wrote things like this:
Sunshine again today. Love being outdoors! #blessed
Family in town. Hitting up Ruby Tuesdays. #blessed
Got a B on my chem test. #blessed
Nail polish 2 for 1 at CVS! #blessed
I have to admit, it confused me. I mean, good weather and family could be blessings, sure, but deals on nail polish? Really? Did God really arrange CVS’ sale price just for Kay’s own benefit?
To be honest, my confusion turned to disapproval, as often happens. We don’t like what we don’t understand. And Kay’s posts struck me as a bit… flippant, throwing these “blesseds” all over the place when what was really going on was just meteorological patterns, or good study habits, or economic forces. It almost felt like Kay was turning God into her own pet genie, there to make her life easier.
Then my disapproval began to swing the other way, hurtling towards me. What right did I have to judge her faith? Maybe I should be hashtagging everything I did with the word blessed. Maybe I should see God’s blessings the way Kay did, be grateful to God for every lucky break that came my way. Maybe she wasn’t too generous. Maybe I was too miserly.
After all, I know I am blessed. I know it down to my toes. I know that God has worked God’s grace in my life, that every breath I take is due to God, that every joy I have comes from God, that every challenge I meet is with God’s help, that every day I face is by God’s side. I know this. And yet I struggle to believe that God made the Breyer’s Ice Cream half off last week.
Part of my problem, I think, is that I am somewhat wary of the word blessed when it is connected with wealth. There is a long history, in almost every culture and creed, of thinking that the primary way God—or gods—bless humans is with money, which says way more about humans than it does about Gods. And money can be used to bless, absolutely, but it is not in and of itself a blessing.
Even more deeply, though, is a lurking division between the sacred and the secular. And I’m not just talking separation of church and state here—this goes back way further than that. Almost since the beginning of Christianity, there has been this undercurrent, this sense that if something isn’t holy—or isn’t under the church’s domain—than God has no part in it. That God’s blessings don’t show up in CVS because CVS ain’t sacred territory.
I don’t think anyone ever told me—in fact, I’m confident my church tried hard to show me that God was everywhere, all the time. But somewhere along the way I’d picked up this duality, this idea that God was for Sundays and holidays, but not for everydays. It wasn’t until I was confirmed into the church, and underwent the process of deepening my faith, that I began to understand how God worked through anything and everything to reach us.
Like I said, Christianity sometimes falls into this distinction between secular and sacred, suggests these limitations for God. They mostly picked it up from the Greek culture they were born in, because Judaism isn’t like that. Judaism does a much better job of seeing that everything is holy; that everything is God’s. All those rules and laws and customs? Most of them are about making the ordinary holy, marking everything—bodies, cookware, doorframes—as under God’s domain.
Which all brings us back to today’s psalm, Psalm 67. It’s an easy one to sort of glaze over, gentle, unobtrusive. Short, too—we read the whole thing together. But for all that, Psalm 67 is also crucial.
We don’t know exactly why this Psalm was written, but it’s easy to see how it might have been a harvest hymn, something for workers to sing as they gathered in crops. It was a working song. We kind of romanticize harvest now, but in the ancient world, that was simply work. And the psalmist knew that work was sacred. She knew it was a blessing. An ordinary, weekday, back-breaking blessing, to be able to sustain ourselves through God’s creation.
I was glad when the CE committee decided to add a blessing of the backpacks to our worship. Over the past decade or so, churches all over the world have started up this tradition. It’s a way of saying in the clearest terms that God is a Wednesday-God as much as a Sunday God; that God is in the classroom and the cafeteria and the gym and the fields the school bus and even in the principal’s office. That right now, school is God’s holy calling for our students, and God is blessing them there.
But here’s the thing about blessings, and it’s the thing that has finally helped me be less gunshy about using the word. They aren’t just for us.
The word blessing shows up all over the Bible. Hundreds of times. And in almost every instance, God wants the blessed to put their blessings to work. It’s not just that God’s people are blessed, and isn’t that nice, and lucky for them. It’s that they’re blessed for a purpose. They’re blessed in order to share that blessing.
I have struggled in my life, to know what is truly God’s blessing and what is just luck or chance or privilege. And I think what I have come to know is that if something feels like a blessing, but I can’t find a way to share it or serve God with it, then it’s probably just luck. And even more strongly—if something feels like a blessing, but it brings a curse to someone else—if there is something good in my life that is denied to someone else, or that I deny to someone else, than that is a curse to me. Any good thing that comes into my life solely because of my wealth, or education level, or skin color, or zip code—that is not a blessing. That is not God’s work. God’s blessings are for all, without discrimination—like the psalm says, God judges the peoples with equity. God’s judgment—and God’s blessing—does not come at the expense of others.
This past week, I was at a presbytery-mandated ethics training. It was good stuff, and I’m glad we have it, but still—about hour six of watching training videos from the 90s, I was going bonkers. Then I noticed our executive presbyter walking towards the snack table—which I happened to be sitting right next to, and I swear I have no idea how that happened—carrying a box of Oreos.
Nancy saw me watching and handed me the box. And I could have eaten the whole thing. You know I could’ve. And it would’ve felt like a blessing to me. Maybe not later, but right then—those oreos could have been my blessing.
But they weren’t mine to keep. They were mine to share.
So I took one—ok, I took two, nobody’s perfect—and then I passed the box around to the other tables. And I don’t know what magic they put in Oreos—actually, I’m not sure what foodstuff they put in Oreos, but that’s a different question—but about ten minutes later, the whole room was a lot happier than it had been. I could have eaten the whole box, and had a happy Carol. But I shared, like my kindergarten teacher taught me, and I had a happy community. And in the long run, being in a happier room made me way happier than the box of Oreos ever could have.
If I had eaten the whole box, it might have been a gift, but not a blessing. And it probably would have been a curse later on. But because we shared those Oreos together, they were a blessing.
Let the peoples praise you; let all the peoples praise you.
Let the peoples eat the Oreos; let all the peoples eat the Oreos.
Let the peoples be blessed; let all the peoples share the blessing.
Which brings me back to my friend Kay. I don’t know whether or not her 2 for 1 nail polish was really a blessing, or just a gift, or just luck. But I do know that her faith is a blessing. Her enthusiasm is a blessing. Her willingness to see God in all things, big and little, transcendant and ordinary, is a blessing. And it’s a blessing she shares with me, and I’m better for it.
May the Lord bless you this week; may the Lord show you how to bless others.
Until, really and truly, all the peoples can say: we are #blessed.
*name changed to protect privacy