Messiah Lutheran Church :: Don't Tire of Hearing How God Blesses You

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Dear Christian friends,

            Repetition is the mother of learning.  Judy and I have made three moves to three different churches where we have served.  To be able to figure out the road system at first seems daunting.  It takes a while to figure out the roads. One of the laws of being a man is that men can’t ask for directions.  Now we cheat a little.  We have a GPS.  A few years ago we used MapQuest.  But thirty plus years ago made a driver more attentive.  Going over and over the same roads helped to learn the road system faster than just following the GPS.

            Repetition was a philosophy in education when I was growing up.  It was the way we learned math – addition and subtraction tables, multiplication and division tables.  It was the philosophy used in training pastors to learn Greek and Hebrew.  Nearly every day in class we had vocabulary tests.  In doing catechism instruction that has been my philosophy.  I take the students through the catechism from cover to cover each year.  While I use a different format I don’t split the catechism and take on half one year and the second half the next year.  They get all of it each year.  Generally I find that the first year is a struggle for the kids, but as we go over the same material a second time they usually find they learned more than they thought they did.  I learn they learned more than I thought too.  

Luther said that when it comes to the Bible and the teaching of God’s love in Christ, it’s like a good song; we can hear it again and again and never tire of hearing it.  That’s repetition.  Our sermon text that fits both Trinity and Confirmation falls into that category.  This is the blessing that God told Aaron and all his high priest descendants to use again and again.  If we understand it correctly it sounds good every time.  Our sermon theme this morning is: “Don’t Ever Tire of How God Blesses You.” 1)  There is value in hearing the blessing over and over again; 2) there is value in remembering who gave that blessing.

Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. That includes the Book of Numbers.  When I was in the seventh and eighth grade I gave it a shot to read the Bible from cover to cover.  I only had the King James Version.  That was tough.  It was hard to read some of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and a good portion of Numbers and Deuteronomy.  Why?  It contained a lot of the laws forIsraelthat are so foreign to us.  They had to perform sacrifices, we don’t.  They had special days to celebrate like the Festival of Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of the Trumpets. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost seem much easier to celebrate.  There were dietary laws and much more.  

In the middle of all those laws and the census numbers found in the Book of Numbers (that’s why it is called numbers), there is this command to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

Aaron was Moses’ older brother, but he was Moses’ assistant.  He was the one who spoke for Moses.  Apparently he was very eloquent and crowds didn’t shake him so Moses spoke through Aaron.  Most importantly Aaron was also chosen to be the high priest, the spiritual leader.  God told Moses to tell Aaron to bless the people a certain way: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’

Human nature tends to think that when things are repeated all the time whatever is repeated is boring.  when things are repeated people begin to say, “That’s boring!”  When we hear it so often we tend to tune it out instead of taking it all in. But there is a better way.  “Hey this is like a good song; I can listen to this again and again.  I love it when the Lord blesses me.” You see the problem with the blessing is not what is said but the how it is received. God conveys his blessing.   

For a moment I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room.  I love our fellowship hour that takes place after the service; it is good.  What I know the Lord doesn’t like is that people miss his blessing to set up for it.  I heard a sermon based on this Scripture given by a very wise and tested pastor.  He said many times in his ministry young mothers expressed frustration over the fact that their young children were active and noisy in the service and wondered if they should just stay home because they are too busy wrestling with the kids during the service that they just didn’t get much out of it.  He gave them this advice.  He understood their plight because he saw his own wife struggle when their kids were younger, but that gets better.  He said to make sure they are there for the benediction.  The Lord is stating what he promises he is giving to you. The benediction is not a pious wish for everyone but a statement of fact. 

What is the statement of fact? First, remember where it is coming from - The LORD, the LORD, the LORD!  There is a reason why this reading was chosen not only for Confirmation but also for Trinity Sunday.  He is the Triune God.  He is one God but three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is a reason why references to God in the Old Testament is a Hebrew word that is plural. There is a reason we should take not of statements like “Let us make man in our image” or “Let us go down and see…”  

There is something else to take note of.  The word LORD has all four letters capitalized.  The translators want you to know that this is God’s special name in the Old Testament.  In Hebrew this name might have been pronounced ‘Jaweh.’ God told Moses what he and all of Israel were to think when this name was used - “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”  He would rather love than hate.  He would rather enfold us in his grace than to say, “Away from me, sinner.”  But for those who remain indifferent to him, who spite him or mock him, they will indeed be punished.   

But for his people there is confidence when he makes the statement “The LORD bless you keep you.”  I find it interesting the word ‘bless’ in Hebrew and the word for “knee” are directly related.  When we get on our knees, we get into a prayer position.  Getting on the knees means humility.  We are undeserving.  We are beggars before God.  Beggars - yes – but God blesses beggars with undeserved gifts.  He specializes in that.  Confirmands, look what God has given you through your parents.  Parents, look what the good Lord has given you by giving you these children.  Luther explained the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God the Father maker of heaven and earth.  I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason, and all my senses.  I believe he still preserves me providing, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, cattle, and all my goods.” Catechumens, you memorized that. The intent was not just to make you do some work, it was to help you to say, “Oh yeah!  Does he ever!”

He not only blesses us undeservedly, he also keeps us.  He takes care of us and guards us.  He sends his holy angels to keep you in all your ways. He answers us when we pray “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  He blesses and keeps us; it’s a fact.    

“The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”  This promise is needed by all of us. This promise is to sinners like we all are.  The only hope that sinners have is that Jesus is gracious to us.  Nothing is more clear in Scripture than that Jesus is gracious to us.  “He redeemed us lost and condemned creatures, purchased and won us from sin, death and the power of the devil.”  Luther wrote those words in explanation to the Second Article.  If our sins had not been forgiven, Isaiah says they would “separate us from God so that he would not hear us.” But they are gone!  Not simply by God saying, “Voila,” and poof they are gone!  They are gone through the suffering, the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus Christ.  They have been removed from us through his death and burial.  That was no Voila!  Jesus descended to the depths for us.  But he didn’t stay there.  He arose!  Victory was accomplished for all.  God’s face is shining on us. . 

I had a very difficult teacher in high school. Since then I found out he had a medical condition that caused him to take some very strong medicine.  One of the side affects was that he was incredibly moody.  I wish I had known that because it would have been easier to understand and empathize with him.  We always had him second hour.  The class before us would leave and you could always tell what kind of mood he was in.   We didn’t need to ask. If their faces were down and solemn and somber, the next fifty minutes of our lives was walking on eggs.    

Because Jesus lived, and died and rose again, we know the face of God.  He is smiling.  He has forgiven and loves.  “The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.  Not a wish but an accomplished and established fact!

“The LORD turn his face toward you and give you his peace.”  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  God lifts his face toward us.  Anyone experience this?  When someone is mad at you, they don’t look you in the eye but have their faces to the ground.  I had coaches that did that.  If we didn’t play a good football game on Saturday afternoon, Monday practice began with a talk.  If we got beat pretty bad they didn’t look at us but chewed us out looking at the ground.  They sure didn’t look us in the eye.  That came when we won.

Because of the work of the Holy Spirit it is as if the Lord looks us right in the eye and is proud to call us his children.  How is that possible?  The Spirit connects us with Jesus.  The Spirit gives us faith in Christ.  Through faith in Christ we receive the righteousness that Jesus lived for us.  Through his death, the punishment we deserved was laid on and endured by him.  He sees the life of Jesus on us.  He is able to say to us Forgiven and not guilty.  We are at peace. 

We face trials in life.  God is who allows them to happen, but promises he is making them work for good.  We face death. Through Christ we are facing only the much better things of heaven.  If we live or if we die, we are the Lord’s.  We have the peace that surpasses all understanding. 

The LORD concludes with this promise, “So they (the high priest) will put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.”  They were the people of God.  You are Christians.  In Baptism God claimed us as his own.  Through his Word and sacraments we are kept as his own.  

Confirmands and all who have gathered here today, when you hear this blessing, don’t ever think again that pastor is finally done and next is coffee and doughnuts.  No, the Lord has promised again he will bless us and keep us; he promises to make his face shine on you and be gracious to us; he promises to turn his face toward us and give us peace.”’  “Don’t Ever Tire of How God Blesses You.”        

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