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The Lord Bless and Keep You!


The LORD bless you and keep you!

The LORD let his face shine upon

you, and be gracious to you!

The LORD look upon you kindly and

give you peace!

The blessing we heard proclaimed today is from the Book of Numbers, which is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible and the fourth of five books of the Jewish Torah. The book has a long and complex history. The name of the book comes from the two censuses taken of the Israelites.


Numbers begins at Mount Sinai, where the Israelites have received their laws and covenant from God. God has taken up residence among them in the sanctuary. The task now before them is to take possession of the Promised Land.


The people are counted, and preparations are made for resuming their march. The Israelites begin the journey, but they "grumble" at the hardships along the way and about the authority of Moses and Aaron. They arrive at the borders of Canaan and send twelve spies into the land. Upon hearing the spies' fearful report concerning the conditions in Canaan, the Israelites refuse to take possession of it. They did not fulfill their part of the promise, leaving it for

another generation to do.


God blesses people in countless ways—spiritual, mental, emotional, and material. But the focus here is on blessing people with words. Our good words become the moment of God’s grace in the lives of people.


The words we use in our lives have the power either to bless or curse, to build up others or to tear them down, to help or to hurt those around us we know and love, and even those we do not know at all. Our choice of words often has more power than we realize. The blessings in Numbers declare that God will “keep” you, be “gracious” to you and give you “peace.”

  • In life, our words can “keep” another person—that is, reassure, protect, and support them.

  • Our words can be full of grace, making the situation better than it otherwise would be.

  • Our words can bring peace by restoring relationships that have been broken or opening the way to new ones.


Of course, there are times we have to object, critique, correct, and perhaps even disagree with others, but in those circumstances, the way we choose to do so also counts … and counts very much. Conversely, when others do positive things that inspire or help, we can choose to praise instead of keeping silent too.


There’s been a lot of talk these days in our Church and in news circles about “blessings.” And regardless of where you are on the issue it may be important to put the whole matter in context, and to re-visit our scriptural roots.


I think that regardless of one’s faith, almost all people know the term, “original sin”. Although original sin is not used in our everyday vocabulary, it looms in our unconscious minds. The notion of original sin can affect our understanding of ourselves, our fellow human beings, and even of God. Somehow our belief in the power of original sin is such that we can become the victim of original sin and live under its spell. Our biggest problem can be that most of us are not even aware of it because it happens in the unconscious dimension of our life.


People in our world, perhaps even in our congregation, suffer from a strong sense of guilt and unworthiness. As a result, they see themselves as terrible sinners, with a very distorted vision of God. Christians can also suffer from the heavy burden of a punishing notion of original sin. The longer I am ordained, the more I become aware of this position of suffering, guilt, and scrupulosity that some suffer from.


Surprisingly, there is no such a term as “original sin” in the Bible. It came into Western Christianity only after the fourth century by Augustine of Hippo, who believed that Adam’s sin is transmitted and continued through human lust. Indeed, when it comes to human nature and sin, somehow Western Christianity seems to have been more influenced by Augustine than by the Bible.


But let’s go back to the beginning before Augustine … to the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. It is God’s “original blessing” that is clearly found in the creation stories in Genesis. The scripture says, God saw that what he created was good.


From God’s perspective, the light, land and ocean, all kinds of vegetation, and all living creatures were “good.” Finally, God created humans in His image and saw that all His creation was “very good!” God saw goodness in each and every bit of creation including and especially in you and me … and all of our brothers and sisters in this life. And while any of us can, and probably has done some bad things, God’s love abounds. Because of those things, some of us still feel guilty, and sinful, and ashamed, and worse have become so harshly judgmental not only of ourselves, but also of one another, even of people we do not know.


Listen again to the words of the Psalm: May God bless us in his mercy. May God bless us in his mercy.


God's intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. A blessing in the Old Testament was a public declaration of a favored status with God. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing … a guide and a motivation … to live a good life. The Old Testament uses terms for blessing over 600 times, so we know that this is a big concept for God.


The institutions of society — the family, government, and religion were the means by which ceremonial blessings were received. Within the family the father blessed his wife and children. In the government context, the ruler blessed his subjects. Those who possessed a priestly role were bestowed with the privilege of blessing. The tribe of Levi was set apart to pronounce

blessings in the Lord's name.


The New Testament parallels between the Old and New Testament usages of blessing are striking. To be blessed is to be granted special favor by God with resulting joy and prosperity. In the New Testament, however, the emphasis is more on spiritual rather than on material blessings.


God's promise to Abraham serves as a foundation for blessings. The pledge that all peoples on earth shall be blessed is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has borne the consequences of the curse for believers and blessed them with the forgiveness of sins. Believers are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ and now inherit the blessings promised through the patriarchs. As a result of receiving God's blessings in Christ, believers are

called to be a source of blessing to the world.


In our time, when so many feel judged, unwelcome, and marginalized, the Church challenges us as the Christian community and those of us who are pastors to welcome with respect and sensitivity all persons. We are challenged to find the most appropriate ways, consistent with Church teaching, to proclaim the Gospel in its fullness. At the same time, by our words, attitudes and actions, all people should recognize the genuine nearness of the Church – which prays for them, accompanies them, and shares their journey of Christian faith.


At the same time, as members of the Church we recall that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him we are more important to God than all of the sins that we could ever commit. God takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are ... our encounters with God change us.


As we begin this new year, I pray again:

The LORD bless us and keep us!

The LORD let his face shine upon

us, and be gracious to us!

The LORD look upon us kindly and

give us peace!


And may the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, pray for us now and always, that every day we may become more and more like her Son Jesus.


Amen.


RSM

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