Sermon for Evensong
Sunday 19th February 2012
Blessing and the Shape of Reality
“The Righteous shall live by faith”
This morning I spoke about forgiveness being Necessary – that we needed it – but not purely in some psychological – emotional – or even spiritual sense. ‘Spiritual sense’ always sounds a little vague to me :) No, we needed forgiveness, to forgive and be forgiven in a very Real and indeed, I believe if we Saw its impact, a Very Concrete sense. That in forgiving we are restoring the broken bonds of Love, the bonds which actually hold the whole Universe together. That in forgiving we are engaged in a construction project, the like of which the world has never seen nor comprehended.
St Paul, drawing on the story of Abraham, tells us “the Righteous shall live by faith”, but I suggest we have far too narrow a conception of what faith is, or perhaps to put it better we are content with the seed or content of faith, but seldom do we allow it to flourish and bloom from a set of beliefs into that which it is intended to be, a Perception of the World in which we live and into which we walk. Moses, we are told, By faith left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. This is the Essence of faith – walking in a new reality which God has shown to us in Christ.
As I have said several times over the past few weeks, Jesus is about restoring sight to the blind and the gift of faith is intended to be a gift of sight, to see the world as God has created it and to order our lives in the reality of that vision, one which is clouded or obscure to those amongst whom we live. So we forgive at first because we hear the command of God, but as we grow in faith we begin to see – our eyes are opened to this enthralling work which God has called us to, to Participate in the healing of the very fabric of reality, that is given Concrete expression in the Word made flesh. Love incarnate.
Well tonight I’d like to add to that theme of forgiveness, that of Blessing – That Blessing is the most appropriate of actions for the people of God who pours out his blessings in abundance. Yet how slow we are to see this.
One thing that concerns me Very greatly in contemporary Christian life is the rapidly dwindling practise of Giving thanks before eating – it concerns me because actually it is an act of faith - we come to table and there we SEE God’s blessing – and yet we do not recognize it. Failing to give thanks is a sign that our eyes have grown dim to Reality.
Tonight’s Wonderful story from the Book of Numbers is a beautiful illustration of this practise of Blessing, and throws in a talking donkey to boot for those whose attention is slipping :). Actually it is only about a ¼ of the whole story of Balaam and Balak and Israel.
To put it quickly in context – God has rescued Israel – he has chosen them to be his people and brought them out of Egypt and into a life of Blessing. He has given them daily bread in the wilderness and sustained their life. If you like he has given them a crash course in faith and like any crash course it has been a bit painful at times, but we come to the story as they have come to the plains of moab and the blessing of God means that they are quite a crowd – and as you might imagine, the locals are more than a little nervous – so we read a little earlier on . . .
Now Balak son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. He sent messengers to Balaam son of Beor at Pethor, which is on the Euphrates, in the land of Amaw, to summon him, saying, ‘A people has come out of Egypt; they have spread over the face of the earth, and they have settled next to me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are stronger than I; perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land; for I know that whomsoever you bless is blessed,
and whomsoever you curse is cursed.’ Numbers 22 vss 4-6
And that is the context of our reading tonight. Well the story lasts an entire chapter before Balaam sets off to see Balak. Balak keeps sending messengers to him, but God prevents Balaam from going. Eventually he does let him go but it is clear that this is not Plan A!!
We read from just before tonight’s reading
Certainly there is a degree of ambiguity here and I’m not going to attempt to iron it out – God says to Balaam, OK, Go with the men, but only do what I tell you . . . but it seems clear that he does so with a degree of reluctance and the next morning puts a shot across Balaam’s bows – a warning if you like, against any sense that because this is commanded it is necessarily good – Be on your guard!!
And here we begin to see how there is a greater reality – perhaps Balaam really doesn’t know with whom he is dealing – he is portrayed as blind – unlike the poor donkey!! The donkey sees how things really are. He sees the angel stood in his path with a drawn sword. The donkey’s no ass! He knows what is and isn’t good for him and desperately tries to avoid the Angel.
This story sounds to our ears most fanciful – yet how many of us not only have heard but believe thoroughly in the ability of animals to See far more than we do. Certainly here in New Zealand we know of how they seem to be ahead of the game when it comes to earthquakes – why do we understand ourselves so wise and the animals so foolish? All of Creation suffers through the sin of human kind, but only humans become totally blind, and in our fury lash out, like a frustrated child who cannot have his own way
When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ 29Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a fool of me! I wish I had a sword in my hand! I would kill you right now!’ 30But the donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey, which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I been in the habit of treating you in this way?’ And he said, ‘No.’ 31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face.
Cursing and anger flow form the mouth of Balaam and it is Wrong!! As James tells us :- no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,* this ought not to be so.
Balak, The King of Moab understands the power of the prophetic word – he knows that Words can build up or destroy and he is afraid of the hoard of Israel, and so calls Balaam to Curse them – over the next two chapters there is an almost comedic battle between the King who has called for cursing to destroy and the prophet who Knows that he must Not curse, he can only bless to build up.
We are more than aware of the power of sin to destroy, but we are slow to believe in the Greater power forgiveness which restores the broken bonds of love. We are so aware of how Cursing and false words destroy, we know this. But we are all to blind of the Greater power of Blessing to build up.
Do we have any idea of the Concrete power of Blessing in the Name of the Lord?? As some of you know, I belong to a New monastic order whose mother house is in South Wales, Old South Wales, that is :) One of our disciplines is that of Blessing, not so much Being a blessing, but pronouncing blessing. It comes out of the expereince as a good friend of mine who was called to the place that became the mother house of our order. He went in faith, but VERY reluctantly. He had NO idea of what the call was about and over time became incredibly frustrated with God – and one day made an ultimatum!! ‘I cannot stay here unless you do something!!’
Later that day, as often happened, some folk turned up at the centre, curious to know what it was – Roy took them round and talked about how it was a place where the Living God changed lives – this was more an expression of what he wanted than what he had seen to that point. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the idea came to him to bless them before they left. They responded positively and Roy said to them ‘I bless you in the name of Jesus, to know God, his purpose for your life, and his blessings on you, and you family and the situations of your life. Amen’ – they were immediately overcome with the most profound sense of the presence of God they had never known, with them.
This became a very regular practise – and lives have been changed, healed and restored in many many ways through this. Every Friday, the folk who are resident at the centre stand on the high place overlooking the valley and pronounce blessing upon the whole valley – the life of the whole area has been transformed. Cows give more milk, even in a time of economic hardship, all the local bed and breakfasts are almost continually fully booked, the tiny country school thrives and people’s lives are being dramatically changed for the good.
We are called to a life of blessing – restoring through forgiveness and giving life through blessing. Paul reminds us ‘Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse’
I began reminding by reminding us that The Righteous will live by faith. Abraham is given to us as an example, that he reveals in his life the Blessing that comes through faith ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
If forgiveness is the way in which we heal the bonds of Love that hold the universe together, Blessing is I think the way in which we are called to Breathe the Life of God into those bonds. This is the Reality We are called to inhabit in Faith. Speak Blessing.