Heart Prayers: Blessing the World

Psalm 103:1-18

Psalm 103

Of David.

103 Let my whole being bless the Lord!
    Let everything inside me bless his holy name!
2 Let my whole being bless the Lord
    and never forget all his good deeds:
3     how God forgives all your sins,
    heals all your sickness,
4     saves your life from the pit,
    crowns you with faithful love and compassion,
5     and satisfies you with plenty of good things
        so that your youth is made fresh like an eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness;
    does justice for all who are oppressed.
7 God made his ways known to Moses;
    made his deeds known to the Israelites.
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
    very patient, and full of faithful love.
9 God won’t always play the judge;
    he won’t be angry forever.
10 He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin
    or repay us according to our wrongdoing,
11     because as high as heaven is above the earth,
    that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him.
12 As far as east is from west—
    that’s how far God has removed our sin from us.
13 Like a parent feels compassion for their children—
    that’s how the Lord feels compassion for those who honor him.
14 Because God knows how we’re made,
    God remembers we’re just dust.

15 The days of a human life are like grass:
    they bloom like a wildflower;
16     but when the wind blows through it, it’s gone;
    even the ground where it stood doesn’t remember it.
17 But the Lord’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from now
        for those who honor him.
    And God’s righteousness reaches to the grandchildren
18         of those who keep his covenant
        and remember to keep his commands.

 

Matthew 5:1-12

5 1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. 2 He taught them, saying:

Happy people

3 “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

4 “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.

5 “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.

6 “Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.

7 “Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.

8 “Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God.

9 “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.

10 “Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

11 “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. 12 Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

When I was in seminary, I had a bumper sticker on my car that read “God bless the whole world, no exceptions.” One day, when I came back to my car I was surprised to see I had a new bumper sticker that read, “God blessed America.” The bumper sticker had been carefully applied to cover my sticker. Fortunately, my car had a protective layer of dirt on it and the new sticker was easily removed. The event however remains a mystery to me to this day.

What was this person thinking when they added their sticker to my car? Did they feel hurt that I wanted God to bless the whole world? Did they take it as an affront to their own view that parts of the world were not deserving of blessing? Should I read something into the fact that their bumper sticker was in the past tense? Were they trying to say that God HAD blessed America but was no longer blessing America? Did they just walk around parking lots looking for cars to tag with their bumper stickers?

It is easy to want to play the part of the victim in this story. It was my car that was vandalized, for lack of a better word. My statement was the one that was edited over with an opposing sentiment. If I am honest with myself however, my bumper sticker was there to be provocative. I put it on my car to push back against a sentiment of American exceptionalism and divine favor that offended me. I was not totally innocent in all of this, in many ways I had fired the first shot in the fight by making my statement.

I share this story because I think it gives us some helpful insights about what it means to be blessed. First, in the “God blessed America” bumper sticker I hear a sentiment that thinks of blessings in terms of something that is carefully rationed. God has blessed us and not other people and in fact if other people were blessed it might mean that we would not be blessed. It is easy to think of blessings like a finite resource, like there is only so much blessing to go around in the world. If God is blessing the whole world, then we are getting less blessing than if God just blessed us.

Another aspect of being blessed that is revealed is the idea of blessing as a response to righteousness. We could see this in a couple of ways, one would be the idea that God blesses America because we are a great nation. I believe we are a great country that has done amazing things. I do not believe that God blesses us because we are great. Rather, I believe that God blesses us because God loves us. I also believe that God loves the people of China, and Australia, and Tanzania, and Lichtenstein, and so forth. Lest you think this is just about me attacking the other person in the story, I think it also applies to myself. There is an inescapable tendency to self-righteous and self-justifying actions. We believe what we do is right (or we would not do it). In turn we believe we are blessed by God, and it is only naturally to connect the two in our head. In this story, I would see myself as the enlightened one who knows that God blesses the whole world, and the person who placed the other bumper sticker is the one in need of blessing since they are in the wrong.

Unfortunately for me, our text today reminds me how wrong I am. Over and over in Matthew 5 we are reminded that our sense of blessing does not correspond to how God acts in the world. Jesus tells the crowds that people are blessed (or happy) who most people would assume were not blessed. We associate blessings and happiness with things like money, good health, privilege and power, or many other positive attributes. Instead, Jesus reminds us how other people are blessed. People who are sad, people who are struggling, people who are weak, they are all blessed too. It is comforting to think that we are blessed, but we need to remember that others are blessed to.

God’s blessings are not a reward for good actions, but rather an expression of love, “like a parent for a child,” as the Psalmist says. We have a choice to reflect that blessing and love or seek to hoard it. God has blessed us, and God has blessed America, but God wants to bless the whole world and each of us in it. There is an old children’s song, “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.” Blessings, are signs of love, the more we give them away, the more in turn we are blessed.

Today, we are challenged to not just think of ourselves, our church, our family that is in need of blessings, but to think of all those people who might be in need. Who are the people who mourn, and need to be blessed? Who are those who are poor in spirit and need to be blessed? Who are the meek, the sick, the hurting, the persecuted? Who is God calling us to pray for today? Who is God asking us to bless?

What if instead of trading verbal jabs with bumper stickers, or tweets, or snide remarks, we tried to learn and love from our neighbors? What if we let love rule our hearts instead of a need to be right? What if we humbled ourselves to remember that we are like grass or a wildflower, that withers in the sun and is blown in the wind? Would that change how we thought about ourselves and the world? Would that change how we praised and asked for God’s blessings, not because of how great we are, but because of how great God is. Praise be to God!

Questions to Ponder:

How do you experience God’s blessings in your life?

Who is someone in your life that needs blessing that you can be praying for?

What can we do to see the people in our life that we are excluding or forgetting about?

What can you do to reflect God’s blessing to others?

Prayer:

Ever-loving God, despite our sins and our failings you still love us. Forgive us, we pray when we stray. Open our lips that they might praise your name. Open our hearts that we might love others as you love us. Bless those who we want to curse and lift up those who we cast down. Help us to live our lives in harmony with your will and your way. Amen