Sermon delivered by Heather Entrekin, pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, K.S., on Mar. 8 2009.
Mark 8: 31-38
Last week, at the spiritual retreat participants, it was my job to talk about blessing. After I explained what a blessing is and how important a blessing is, I asked them to think of a blessing they had longed to hear as a child or a young person. I’ll pause now for a moment and ask you to do that. Think of a blessing you wished you had heard from a parent, a friend, a sister or brother. Once you have thought of this blessing, write it on the yellow card in the pew. This will be for you, only.
This is what the spiritual retreat people did – they thought of a blessing. Then I asked them to say those blessings, standing, moving around a circle, one by one to others and for others to answer with the blessing they had wanted to hear.
I gave the directions several times, I demonstrated, but we discovered that it was not easy to imagine, form and speak those words of blessing without explanation, background, interpretation, even apology. Why? It made us vulnerable. To bless another, one must first feel blessed oneself.
But we live in a culture of judgment, blame, competition, accusation. We turn on our TVs to be entertained by people trashing, bullying, eliminating one another for sport. But no one is brought to life by accusation and blame.
Henri Nouwen was moved at a bar mitzvah when parents blessed their 13 year old son with these words: Son, whatever will happen to you in your life, whether you will have success or not, become important or not, will be healthy or not, always remember how much your mother and I love you” (Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, pp. 55,56). All our lives we need to hear this blessing. We discovered in our circle at the retreat that, no matter what words we used, this was essentially the blessing we all said.
We all need this deep affirmation of the good within us. Each time we bless another in this way it is a little human expression of the profound blessing of God that rests on us from all eternity. To bless one another is actually to convey God’s blessing. It carries the power of God’s grace to another through the mysterious, wonderful action of the Holy Spirit. God says it out loud as Jesus comes up out of the baptismal waters: You are my beloved, no matter what happens, no matter what you do or do not do and I am not going to change my mind about you – ever!
My parents forgot to say that, somehow. My father, especially. They were awfully busy raising four kids on a small town minister’s salary, trying to help their kids always to do better, best, right, and they didn’t hear much blessing themselves to know how to say it and the church didn’t how to bless them and help them to bless others.
We all need to hear a great big unqualified YES to our belovedness and we need to hear it again and again in as many ways possible.
I received such a blessing unexpectedly when I went to Conception Abbey for a week with the Benedictine Spirituality class from Central Baptist Seminary. When it came time to receive communion, I joined the line working its way toward Father Gregory. As a Baptist, I wouldn’t be receiving the bread and cup but we were instructed that we could indicate that we wished to receive a blessing by crossing our arms. Father Gregory was in a rhythm of reaching for wafers and offering the cup but when he looked up and saw me before him, he stopped, said words of blessing, but more wonderfully, his whole face lit up with joy to see me standing there. I am not famous. I doubt that he remembered me from his visit to our church several years before. He may have guessed that I was part of the seminary class but it was no accomplishment or ability of mine that prompted that response. He simply saw someone new, a stranger, asking for blessing and he received me as Christ, the Benedictine tradition. He, himself, became the blessing.
It’s good news, isn’t it? You are beloved! That is the message you ought to receive every time you walk in these doors from everybody you meet. You belong in this family. This would be no kind of family without you.
That’s one definition of blessing. It comes from the Greek eulogeo – to speak well of, the root of “eulogy.” In Latin is it dictio – speaking and bene – well, the root of “benediction.” When Jesus comes out of the water this is what he hears. But blessing does not wait for the beautiful moments, the baptismal moments, the days when the sun is shining and the stock market is rising.
Joyce Rupp notes that blessing is anyone or anything that brings good or God-ness in our lives. Anyone. Anything. And so it is possible for Jesus to come to the table, days before his death, in the darkest, most difficult time of his life, and take the bread and bless it, bread that is about to be broken. His own body, his own life, broken and blessing.
The story in the gospel of Mark this morning describes a broken relationship. Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus rebukes Peter right back. It doesn’t look much like blessing, but if it is true that a blessing is anything and anyone that brings good or God-ness in our lives, then even this conflict between two dear friends, is blessing. Jesus invites the disciples to see that life is coming through death and calls them to give and receive this life. He challenges them to set their minds on divine, not human things. Jesus trusts them to join him in becoming good news.
Let us receive the blessing of the good days and let us not fail to receive the blessing of the broken ones. My parents did not always bless in the way I wanted or needed, but they blessed as they were able and if I pay attention, I can see it and receive it.
At General Board meetings for American Baptist Churches last week, General Secretary Roy Medley said, “There may be a global recession in the economy, but there is no global recession of human need.” Economic distress gives us an opportunity to recognize the true blessings of our lives, the abundance of them, and to become the blessings for others that bring good and God into their lives, into this world.
Isaiah puts it this way: This is the kind of fast – blessing – I’m after:
To break the chains of injustice
Get rid of exploitation in the workplace
Free the oppressed
What I’m interested in seeing you do is
Sharing your food with the hungry
Inviting the homeless poor into your homes
Putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad
Being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on….you will be blessed.