We Are Simply Blessed
Today we are sponges that soak up every drop of good news God sends our way that we might drip with confidence and see life simply and speak it simply saying, “We are simply blessed.” June 16, 2019.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Dear children of the heavenly Father, body of Christ, God's only Son, and temple of the Holy Spirit.
Tell me about your car? Is the car rusted to the bone, a few dents and scratches, or mint condition? Are the kiddy clothes shredded to rags by our toddler, gently used, or brand new? How about sickness, incurable, getting worse, on the mend, or cured? Is your Craigslist item’s condition category “salvage, good or like new”?
We are very used to making these sort of status checks and evaluation markers, not just for Craigslist but also for life. Think of just how many status feeds we have silently operating in the background of our lives: physical, social, mental, emotional, spiritual health - that’s a long list! Living with a constant alert system to the quality of all these areas of your life is a very fatiguing way to live.
And that’s just the start. One you hear the alarm, then you have to figure out what to do...can we afford a new car? Which medication will work, and what about my liver complications? Endless power players and contributing factors for what makes a situation good, better, bad or worse. No wonder it’s impossible to answer the question “How are you?” and feel satisfied. No wonder people from all walks of life are overstressed and underjoyed.
What we often seem to forget is that life itself was never to be measured or assessed and given a value simply by quality. But by its Caretaker. God wants us to learn how to move out of judging life based on appearances and into the simple room of faith and trust in him. Where you don’t ask the typical: Is this good or bad? About everything according to our own judgment. But all that asked is “is it God’s?”
I wonder for us if we get stuck in the distinction between this world and the next - the fact that we’re still here in time, one earth, longing for “then and there”. But the key distinction for life with God, living in peace, in strength, in victory has never been “are you still in this broken world?” or “are you in your heavenly home?” The key to living wholly and fully is whether or not the Lord is gracious to you, smiles on you, blesses you!
Never fails that by God’s Spirit when we review who God is and what he has done for us, we are strengthened for that walk that never faints and that run that does not grow weary - and Holy Trinity Sunday is just such a time. Today we are sponges that soak up every drop of good news God sends our way that we might drip with confidence and see life simply and speak it simply saying, “We are simply blessed.”
Numbers 6 may sound like a random chapter of the Bible, but you know these words well. We’re still at Mt. Sinai, where God gave his law to the people before they set out into the desert for the Promised Land. Imagine all that could have been - and often was - going through their minds: “what will we eat tomorrow” “I’m thirsty” “how long until we’re done with the desert?” “what if another foreign army attacks?” “should we really trust Moses and do this?”
But all God wanted them to do was focus on his promises. God had said that Abraham would become a nation and made a blessing to all nations, and here is this great nation - continuing for the sake of the promise, with God’s blessing. And at Sinai God gave them his word, not just commandments for civil life and social relationships, but also and foremost for worship, that they would always know the answer to how their relationship with the Lord was and why. It was a special script of sacrificial lambs and gracious, substitutionary blood, shed between you and God for your sake. And so, at the center of their life were the Levites, the priests.
The Levites were designated by God to serve as priests as intermediaries and communication go-betweens. And so, what makes all this special is that here God gives direct words for the priests’ mouths, words chosen specifically for the priests to bless the people, what is called the Benediction. When God speaks, he simply leaves no room for worry; in his promises fear has no wiggle room, no oxygen, it suffocates! Far cry from a recess bell benediction...where as soon as the pastor raises his arms, you’re thinking “kids grab your coats, church is done - pick up your purse and put the hymnal away - time to go! What’s for lunch?” It’s the taste God wanted them to have in their mouths - rich words they could use to face life in the desert, enemy armies and temptation to be divided people.
This blessing was to be a ritual, in a good way! Just like you will always remember standing for the national anthem and removing your hat at a Brewer game, singing “roll out the barrel” and the “7th inning stretch” and watching Bernie slide down the yellow slide for a home run. Same things every time, cultural staples for memories at a Brewer game with family or friends.
The words aren’t memorized just to memorize them - but they become a part of your fabric of faith, the words you use and rely on, they tell you about the LORD you look to and solidify, rehearse and refresh you in his ongoing power for you. If we had time, we could talk about all parts of our worship service and how we want their routine and regularity not to make robotic faith in our hearts but to with repetition and remembering, we always have “this” with us. One of the pastor’s first public acts in ministry is saying the benediction - and one of his last - and all the time in between - yes, our shepherds lead us always with “this” LORD with us, these good words re-given to us regularly.
Let’s look at the blessing itself. We have a three-fold (not two or four) use of God’s covenant name, the LORD. He ties this blessing to his full saving work for us used three times with two verbs following. Each seem to have this promised orientation and position the LORD has toward us with results.
The LORD bless you and keep you. Blessing - God bless it - relying on God not if he’ll do something, but that he will, his way. Blessed - ongoing effect - like a place you enter that either has oxygen or it doesn’t, the light is either on or off...so here the LORD, our Savior God, is giving and guaranteeing his blessing on you, not just some aspect of your life - one status update at least is “blessed” - no, but “the LORD bless you”. He is giving his activity and power for your well-being. For the LORD to bless you is to do things that are effective for your good.
This is God at work - constantly; contemporize this, see it in place now. Paul and suffering in Romans 5 - believers live seeing and boasting in this truth that constant blessing of God, even suffering is put to work for me!
And so it is he keeps me - not just bodily, but in every way, especially spiritually. To say he will keep me reminds me not one can take me, hurt me steal me, for the LORD keeps me. He is King of all, God almighty, who answers to no one. He guarded, protected and defended me from all evil.
“The LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you” is as real as it comes. It “gets it” - God gets it. The darkness of our sin is so bad it has no light at all, it calls out to the LORD in the midst of total spiritual poverty, nothing to give and the cry for mercy as from one an inch away from the flames they deserve. Lord, you get it - I’m freezing cold in sinful shame, the dark night I deserve falls over me in the sentence of your holy law. I am cursed. You must do it. Make your face shine, let there be a warm light from you upon me by your grace.
God had made a buffer zone of Levites around the tabernacle, the dwelling place of God. Why? So, my wrath will not fall on the Israelite community. One thin line away from God’s anger; that thin line wasn’t good behavior...but God put the Levites between them, the worship life that called for spotless sacrifices and pointed to the Lamb who was slain, in whom the wrath of God was satisfied - yes, by God the Son, before God the Father, your deliverance from wrath was given in Jesus - and God had no reason to curse a community under his wrath when the curse was already placed on the head of a substitute. God would not cross that thin line - for it was the perfect life to him of obedience and the precious blood of God’s Son shed for all sins - all so that the warm light of his love would shine on us.
It’s as real a phrase as it comes - warts and all that’s worse than warts - this “be gracious to us” - and yet it’s here as God’s repeated good word to you. To deny this good news is to deny the one true God himself, who is Father Son and Spirit.
This is as good a time as any to point out that the Benediction is spoken over the people in the singular. In English I can say “you” and mean one person and I can say “you” and mean a whole group or “you all”. The Hebrew here is singular. Each of us is invited to put your name in here. Just as we have an individual accounting for sin, individual “put your name here” under the law’s accusation, and under the weight of being subject to eternal imprisonment of punishment and never-ending suffering - by my fault, my own fault, my own grievous fault, and know guilt as our own, so we are to know the light of God’s own face turned just to me, and be certain of his forgiving grace in Christ as my own.
The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. Our blessing to end the service has a translation a little different, but only to help give the sense of what’s here. To turn his face toward you is a looking on you with favor. We give a lot of looks to people, we know what unfavorable eyes are and what favorable ones are. This confirms that through Jesus, the LORD has but one way to look at you. Face: To give confidence of God’s personal warm attentiveness to us. You see him smile at his Son so he smiles at you. If there were any second thoughts or relationship issues between you and God, these words couldn’t be said. Just like we couldn’t say the LORD give you peace if there were even the slightest ripple in the water.
And so, you will put my name on them and I will bless them. He ceases to be who he is if he doesn't do these things. This is his unchanging guarantee to us. My name is here or I am not who I say I am. I will.
Priest, and say it again. This is how the Lord seeks to feed, nurture and develop the people of God, reaffirming and solidifying us and our position in a timeless continuum as heirs of eternal life, that we may walk and never faint, run and not grow weary.
And so, Jesus raises his hands and blessed them - the last sight, final taste in the mouth, not frozen in time, but every minute of every day, this is the unchanging, ongoing, ever-true benediction of our Lord, and we are simply blessed. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on June 16, 2019