August 17, 2011

Proper 15a - Homily

In many ways we use the Psalms in the same way the ancient Israelites did, and in many ways we don't. For starters, the Psalms were sung, but as far as I know, there is no extant music for us, modern day worshipers to follow. The Psalms were used during worship to lift up the prayers of the gather community. They echoed the words of David as they cried out in lament, asked for forgiveness, or praised God for his loving kindness. If we take seriously that we are praying the Psalms during worship instead of reading them, or hearing them be read to us, then we too take part in that ancient practice of joining with King David to call upon the Lord.
Today's Psalm, number 67, we join with David in doing something we rarely do as a community of faith: we ask God for his blessing. Sure, Keith or I pronounce God's blessing at the end of each service, but most of the time, when we come before the Lord, we ask for everything but his blessing. I tend to think of God's blessing being the stuff of prosperity preachers – God wants you to be rich, so send me ten-grand and I will be – but Rolf Jacobson from Luther Seminary really got me thinking this week in his reflection on this Psalm. You might want to open your prayer book to page 675 again as we walk through this poem, verse by verse.
The Psalm begins at the end of the traditional worship service. The blessing of Aaron from the book of Numbers gets tweaked by the Psalmist, and opens this liturgy of blessing by asking God simply to bless his people. “May God be merciful to us an bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.” The poet then goes on to deal with the crux of God's blessing – something you've heard me say a lot over the years – we are blessed to be a blessing to others. This blessing for which Israel is asking, isn't just for them, but it is to fulfill the promise of God to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12, “You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” After the Exodus, God reiterates his promise, “You will be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (19.6) “And what did the priest do in ancient Israel? Channel the divine blessing upon the people. Israel was the conduit through which God's blessing flowed to all the earth. When God blessed Israel, God blessed all of creation.
“Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health 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 all the nations upon the earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.” Three times the Psalmist uses the word all – all the peoples, all the nations, all the peoples. God's blessing was not, is not, reserved just for a few, but is the free gift of all. It is given to us so that we might give it away.
And blessed we have been. The Psalmist won't let the congregation get away with only asking for future blessing, but instead reminds them, and us, that we have already been blessed. “The earth has brought forth her increase” and here I agree with Jacobson (and almost every other translator) over our Prayer Book Psalter, “God, our God, has blessed us.” As we read stories of children starving to death in Africa or the poverty rate in America increasing, it might be hard to see where the earth is bringing forth her increase, but if we look around, there are plenty of places to find God's blessing in our world, this very day: low humidity, sun shine, health, loving friends and family, the list goes on and on. It is helpful, as we ask God to bless us, to remember that he has and is blessing us already. It runs through my mind time I celebrate that I've already announced that God will bless you for ever more, but I also know it is always helpful to have that constant reminder.
The Psalm ends by asking God, once again, to bless us so that the ends of the earth might be blessed, “May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.” We have been blessed to bless others. We are being blessed to bless others. We ask God to continue to bless us so that we might be a blessing to others. Pour it out upon us Father, make us overflow with blessing, to the honor and glory of your name. Amen.

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