Summary: You mightg not get a t-shirt every time you come to worship. That's OK, God gives you something even better with the Blessing.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are attending the annual Rainmaker Rodeo this weekend in St. Albert. I wonder what they’ll have to show for it when it’s all said and done? Those of you who made it to the Rainmaker parade may have scored some free candy. If you went to the fairgrounds and won at a carnival game, you probably went home with a big stuffed animal. And if you volunteered and helped with rodeo parking, you may have gotten to keep your official “Rainmaker Volunteer” t-shirt.
Well you won’t be getting any of those things for coming to church this morning. What you will receive is much better than candy or even a souvenir t-shirt. You’ll receive the Lord’s blessing when I speak the words, “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.” Let’s find out how receiving the Blessing is much better than getting a souvenir t-shirt.
“The Lord bless you and keep you…” You’ve heard those words spoken countless times but where do they come from? It’s not a formula that theologians thought a fitting way to say “The End” to a worship service like closing credits at a movie do. These words are from God himself. Through Moses, God directed the priests to speak these words over the Israelites so that they would put God’s name on his people and in this way bless them (Numbers 6:27). How is it a blessing to have God’s name “put on” you? When you buy a book or a ball you’ll often put your name on the object with magic marker. By doing so you’re declaring ownership. In the same way, God wanted his name put on the Israelites and on us to show that we belong to him.
You know what Satan wants you to think of that, don’t you? He wants you to think that this makes you God’s slave. “Well, you don’t have to put up with that,” Satan intones. “Rebel. Ignore this ogre of a God.” Satan lies of course and the wording of the blessing makes it clear that belonging to God is indeed a blessing and not a curse!
The Blessing begins, “The Lord bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24). What you don’t see from the English translation is that the word “you” is singular. Although Aaron, the High Priest, was to speak this blessing to the whole Israelite nation, all two million of them, God thought of them as individuals. This is why I work hard to make eye contact with everyone in church when I speak the Blessing. I want you to know that God is speaking directly to you.
So how exactly does God want to bless you? One way is by “keeping” you. If I were to say, “I keep a garden,” it means more than I have a garden. It means (or at least it should mean) that I care for a garden. Now if you live on Pender Island over in British Columbia as do former members, Marshall and Leona Luchkow, keeping a garden means building a high fence around it so the deer can’t get at the tasty plants within. In the same way through the Blessing, God promises to build a fence around you to guard and protect you. We know of course that this doesn’t mean we’ll never scrape our knee or have to undergo radiation treatment some day. It does mean that the Lord will never leave our side. It means that he is always moderating the hurt that comes our way – and that includes death. Through death God brings us to his side in heaven.
But “keeping” a garden doesn’t just mean shutting pests out, it also means getting rid of pests within like weeds. And just as a gardener will use a sharp spade to attack weeds, God sometimes uses sharp tools like hardships to dig below the surface and to get at our self-sufficiency and pride. He does this because he loves us and wants to weed out that which would choke our trust in Jesus.
But when God let’s hardship into our lives it’s easy to think that he’s mad at us. That’s why it’s worth calling to mind the second part of the Blessing: “the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Numbers 6:25). God does not glower at his people; he flashes a big toothy grin. This may have surprised Moses. After all, God had told him that no one may see his face and live. It’s true. We sinners can never stand in the righteous light of God any more than the average Canadian can hit the beaches of Mexico without first slathering sunscreen on. Skip the sunscreen and you’ll end up with a sunburn that needs to be treated in hospital. So why would we want God’s face to shine on us if we are sinners? How can God grin when he sees and knows all the rotten things we do in a week? Our loved ones certainly wouldn’t crack half a smile if they knew of the sinful thoughts we entertain in a day! Like what we really thought about coming to church cleanup yesterday, or what we really thought of the supper served us. But God does smile when he looks at us. He smiles because standing at our side he sees his Son, Jesus, who paid for our sins. It’s a little like how the restaurant owner of a five-star establishment would smile at the shabbily dressed man standin in his foyer because he’s with a glamorous movie star who has come to buy the scruffy man lunch. Of course most restaurant owners might only smile once at the shabbily dressed man and then spend the rest of the time talking to the movie star. Not God. That truth is brought out in the third part of the Blessing: “the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26). God doesn’t just tolerate us for Jesus’ sake. He really loves us and so he turns his face, his full attention to us. The result is that we have peace just as a child is at peace when Mom and Dad give her their full attention.