Words of Blessing

The Lord BlessWhen did you last receive a word of blessing? When did you last give one? As a new pastor, I am often asked to offer words of blessing over food or an event or a person. A few weekends ago, for example, I said a prayer of blessing for a couple at their wedding. I asked for God to bless them and their new life together. More frequently, at the end of every Sunday worship service, I say the ancient words from Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine on you with grace and mercy. The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” It’s a privilege to proclaim God’s blessing.

Our lives are often filled with cursing words, and I’m talking about something more than words spelled with four letters. There are words of gossip, prejudice, fear, violence, and hatred. There are the calculated words of political campaigns and advertisements. There are targeted words meant to tear down a person’s reputation or self-worth. There are words meant to conceal the truth. As human beings, we can curse one another in more ways than one.

I wonder if our families and communities could use more words of blessing, if God’s blessing can overcome the ways we curse each other and this world. That seems to be our calling from Scripture. As St. Paul says in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” And later, in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (NRSV). How might we make the time to bless our families, neighbors, and even our enemies?

Reverend Rich Melheim, who founded an organization for churches and families called Faith Inkubators, recommends that parents and children take a moment to bless each other each night before bed. It could be as simple as, “I love you. God loves you. God bless and keep you.” There are several instances of parents blessing children in the Bible (e.g., Isaac blesses Jacob in Genesis 27), but those aren’t the only examples. Jonathan blesses David before they part (1 Samuel 20:13). Boaz, in the book of Ruth, calls to the workers in the field “The Lord be with you,” and they call back “The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:3-5). We can pray for God’s blessing when we rise for the morning or lay down for the night, when we say goodbye to a cherished friend, when we greet a stranger on the sidewalk. All are moments we can proclaim God’s blessing.

In some ways, the language of blessing is already present in our everyday language. We say “God bless you” when someone sneezes, for instance. Or sometimes we will talk about our money or possessions as blessings. Or maybe you’ve seen a post on Facebook that says “Share and God will bless you.”

In other ways, these cultural understandings of blessing don’t seem to capture the depth, richness, and unmerited nature of God’s blessing. In the United States, there’s a tendency to think of blessing in individualistic and material ways. But the blessing of the God we meet in Jesus has a different logic to it. Christ emptied himself of blessing for our sakes, taking even our curses upon himself. Likewise, whenever God blesses us, our blessings are not our private possession but are meant to be a blessing for others. As God said to Abraham, “I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Every blessing we receive is both a gift and a call, a privilege and a responsibility to use our blessing for the good of our neighbors. May God bless you.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.

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