May God be merciful to us and bless us.
The opening words of our Psalm invoke God’s mercy and blessing. May God be merciful to us and bless us. In preparing to speak today, as I read the lectionary texts from Acts, Psalms, John, and Revelation, I found in them a commonality concerning both the target and the nature of God’s blessing. I’m not claiming some profound or original discovery, but over the next few moments I would like to share with you what I’ve learned.
We have likely all heard someone say, “I’ve been blessed. [or] God has blessed me.” And it’s possible at one time or another, each of us has said those words ourselves—and when we do, it’s often in relation to our perception of some sort of positive event or situation—a success, health, family, finances, employment. When we associate the source of a blessing so defined with a divine God, what we’re really saying or thinking is God has favored me and given me something good.
When we view God’s blessing as his favor, we begin to convince ourselves and behave as though we are in a competition to win that favor...as though God’s favor were finite, and if others are getting more, then I must be getting less. If it’s a competition, then there needs to be rules, so we get caught up defining the criteria by which we think God awards favor. We then begin to apply these rules and measures to ourselves and to others—especially to others—eventually mostly to others. We start thinking that those lacking God’s favor as we define it are cursed rather than blessed. And we allow our fighting over such rules to divide us. That doesn’t sound to me like the prayer of the psalmist in our lectionary this morning. Notice with me again from your bulletin insert the number of times the psalmist’s prayer for blessing targets all of humanity. “Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations…let all the peoples praise you…let the nations be glad…guide all the nations…let all the peoples praise you…may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of God.” God’s merciful blessing is meant to unite us, not divide us.
5 girls and a deacon walk into a biker bar. This may sound like the beginning to a bad joke, but no, it’s just youth group. This is one of the many events that I have experienced during my time at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church. I have never been a very religious person, but during my time here, I have found a community.
Because of my age, the youth have become my community and the group with which I share some of my fondest memories. A lot of my favorite memories come from acolyting, like the time I was going to hit the bell and the mallet head flew off and almost hit Father Caleb. But the memories that stand out the most come from the great times I have had in youth group.
We had our weekly meetings that consisted of lots of different activities. Activities like Chopped. If you have ever seen the Food Network show Chopped, you know it is about cooking with difficult, random ingredients, so of course, that did not result in good food from groups of high schoolers, sorry to Deacon Chris and Jeff Dobrik who both got sick from the expired Ensure.
I’ve never really been very religious. When I was little, I thought church was a thing that kids were dragged to, and then it just became a habit. I still would not call myself outwardly religious, but over the years I have realized that the church provides my community. It was not really until a few weeks ago at Ridley Brown’s funeral that I realized how much of a community this church actually is for me. For those of you who do not know, I acolyted at Mr. Brown’s funeral because his family remembers my family - my mom, my aunt, my grandparents - and asked if someone from our family would acolyte. It was the fact that a family that I had never met before cared enough about my family that they wanted me to be part of the service. At the funeral I heard how much this church had meant to his family, and I realized how much I had taken what I have learned from this church for granted. This church has taught me so many things that I never realized until now.
This church has taught me patience, like when I was young and thought that the church service was the multiple hours long. I have learned compassion and acceptance for everyone no matter their background - something I am proud that Episcopal Church promotes and does well. Years of serving as an acolyte has taught me responsibility and to appreciate the ritual of the church service.