(Video of this sermon is available here.)
The act of blessing one another can be very powerful. There is healing power to it, a way of praying for one another that calls on our deepest wishes for one another and calls us to be aware of the presence of God in those deepest wishes.
The act of blessing is an embodied way of praying. If you’re giving someone a blessing or receiving a blessing, don’t you just naturally want to put your hand on your heart? Feel that warmth. Blessing calls us to feel the union of body and soul, the communion between heaven and earth, in this act of being present in this moment of communion between two people.
The act of blessing is a good way to get out of being self-absorbed. If we’re invited to bless one another it calls on our better selves, it calls on us to see more deeply into the true needs of the person we’re blessing.
What do you really truly wish for this person?
Of course, we could say to someone, “Beloved of God, may you become less annoying.”
But even there, there’s an invitation to go deeper: do they have some unmet needs that give rise to whatever it is we find annoying? Is there something about ourselves that could change so that we no longer react in annoyance. Be careful what you pray for, right? It may come true. If we pray for someone to become less annoying, God may use that to change us so that we find them less annoying. The act of blessing, even if we don’t do it so well, the act of blessing increases the activity of divine love in our hearts.
This is why Jesus and his disciples and the apostle Paul direct us to bless those who curse us. The call to bless begins to free us from hurt and hate.
Now, we can give a kind of blessing like,
“May you be blessed with long life in a home that is always full of happy bedbugs.”
“May your belly always be full and your stomach acids always rise into your esophagus.”
There’s a whole tradition of these kinds of “blessings” that are actually curses, in Yiddish culture. Clever. Wicked. It’s worth looking up.
Anyway, the challenge to bless our enemies, to actually bless them, is a very wise practice. Yes, we may feel like we wish for our enemies to spontaneously combust, or at the very least to go crawl back under the rock they came from – whatever will get them out of our lives. But when we invite God into the mix, which happens when we are challenged to bless, we can see that there can be a deeper wish we can have for our enemies, which in no way makes us a long-suffering push over. This is not blessing them for victory in their evil pursuits. This is truly praying for their transformation, their repentance and embrace of grace, for the sake of the wellness of their souls.
If they become free of the meanness that has gripped their hearts, then we would become free of the meanness they direct at us. And in fact, we can become free of the effects of that meanness on us, in simply the act of imagining them receiving what they truly need for the wellness of their souls, and praying for that.
Blessing our enemies is the advanced course.
Start with blessing those whom we care about, and to allow ourselves to receive blessings. Even: what blessing could you give yourself?
So, let me give you some homework:
In the course of this week, find at least one person in your life to offer a blessing to. Pray on what that blessing could be, that expresses your deepest wishes for them, for the wellness of their souls. And then find a way to give them that blessing. Whether that’s in a letter, or a message, or over the phone, or safely in person. Or maybe circumstances are that you can only pray that blessing for them between you and God.
Let’s all endeavor to do this at least once this week. And then notice what happens. We may find we want to keep doing it. We find more people to bless, more ways to bless them. We can pray on what blessings we would wish for ourselves. We may then experiment with blessing our enemies.
Alright? Let me know how that practice goes for you.
Now, all that said, allow me, if you like, to offer you a blessing:
Beloved of God
May you know, more and more, your beloved-ness before your Creator
May you grow in knowing the beloved-ness of each and all, before the Eternal Source of all Life
Beloved of God
May you grow in knowing the blessing you have to offer others
May you grow in your openness to receive the blessings that others have to give you.
May the cycles of these blessings free your heart, and strengthen it.
Beloved of God
May you know that is not by your virtue that you are saved or by its lack that you are condemned
But that you are surrounded and filled at all times by the abundant Grace God freely offers.
May you say Yes to this Grace, and keep saying Yes. May your moments of No not deter you from always returning to the eternal invitation. And as you return and return to your true home in the embrace of God’s Grace, may those voices of “No” diminish in their power over you. May you become free from the judgment you suffer, and the judgment you inflict.
Beloved of God
May your souls awaken
May you arise as embodied souls
Embracing the powers and potentials to which God has entrusted you
Hearkening to your Call to use those powers and potentials in whatever station of life you are in, in your special role in our beloved community tasked with serving and uplifting all on behalf of the Realm of God.
Beloved of God,
May you be blessed, head to toe,
body to soul,
as individuals, and as a community, within this interconnected world.
In the Name of the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit,
To Whom I give thanks and praise.
(Delivered Sunday, August 23, 2020, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg, with the community of faith at First Congregational United Church of Christ of Walla Walla)