Sermon for July 5th, 2020

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Psalm 67:1-7

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known upon earth,
    your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you judge the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
    let all the peoples praise you.

6 The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, has blessed us.
7 May God continue to bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Psummer of Psalms - Psalm 67

Independence Day was fast approaching last week, and so the preschool teacher took the opportunity to teach her class all about patriotism. She said to them, “You know, we live in a great country. And one of the best things about it is that we are all free.” At this, a little boy marched up to her from the back of the class, put his hands on his hips and said angrily, “I’m not free. I’m four.”

Twelve years ago, when my oldest son, Grady, was free--I mean, three--and liked to run at top speed through the house, we put a thick blanket over the brick fireplace in the living room so he wouldn't fall on it and hurt himself. He quickly decided that this was his personal stage for concerts and performances. One day we managed to record him doing his thing:

To Grady (and most kids that age) birthdays were a really big deal, the best thing ever. And so I love how in that moment, when he imagined all the world was watching, his wish--his blessing--to his audience was for a happy birthday. Not just for mommy and daddy (those closest to him), but happy birthday with outstretched arms to "all of them." To everyone. Period.

That's the prevailing sentiment behind Psalm 67, a joyful psalm that celebrates God's goodness, God's justice, and God's favor -- and then extends a wish for that blessing and joy to be shared by all nations, and all people, everywhere. Period.

Psalm 67 begins with a blessing in verse 1: "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us." If that sounds familiar, it's because it's part of what I say at the end of every worship service when I give the benediction. Those words would have been familiar to the Ancient Jewish people, too -- they are from an older blessing in the Book of Numbers: "May the Lord Bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you, may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."

But there's one subtle difference: The older blessing says "May the Lord bless YOU, be gracious to YOU and make his face to shine upon YOU. And the you, in Hebrew, is in the second person singular (just you, not y'all). Here in Psalm 67, though, it's in the first person plural: "May God bless US, be gracious to US, and make his face to shine upon US...All of us.

It's a small change but a very important one. Because there's another, opposite thread that also weaves through the Old Testament and the Psalms--its the one that says "God, please bless my nation (Israel) and smash all those other countries--the bad ones--into tiny bits." We've heard that in the Psalms we've talked about just in the past few weeks. It shows up in the book of Judges and Nehemiah, where "other nations" are to be fought against, kept out with walls, excluded from God's blessing and favor.

But here in Psalm 67, there are no enemies, no us vs. them. Instead, verse 4: "Let the nations (all of them) be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples (all of them) with equity and guide the nations (all of them) upon earth.

This is "we" and "us" in the largest possible sense of the word. And I think it's a timely message for us today, in the United States of America.

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day, the birth of our nation. It is right and fitting that we should set aside a day to celebrate our country, our land, our heritage and all that is good about it, all the ways in which God has blessed us with freedom and prosperity, even (perhaps especially) in a time of crisis and division.

But, having sung all of our patriotic anthems, having enjoyed all of our back-yard (socially distant) barbecues... Today, July 5th, is a good time to remember (and to celebrate!) the fact that we are also part of an even larger family, a larger tribe than just the United States of America. We (all of us) are part of the human race, God's children, God's beautiful, diverse creations in every nation, every land and culture.

The ancient Israelites had room in their worship book for both kinds of prayers, and so should we.

All of this blessing and favor, however, comes with a bit of a catch. A requirement. Strings attached. At least, it did for the ancient people of Israel, and I suspect the same is true for us today.

To read the fine print at the bottom of God's blessing and favor, we have to flip back in our Bibles to the place where it was first granted. The place where God first promised that Israel would someday become a great nation, back when it was just one small family, consisting of an old man and an old woman with no children.

Genesis 12: Now the Lord said to Abram, “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. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Did you hear the catch? Father Abraham, and all of his descendants, and everyone to whom God has shown favor, was blessed for one reason alone, and all of the blessing and favor is contingent upon this one thing: I will bless you, SO THAT you may be a blessing to others. SO THAT in you, all the families of all the earth may also be blessed.

When we are simply content to sit back and count our blessings and do nothing more, we are not living up to our part of the bargain. If you are blessed as an individual, in your life, in your career, in your endeavors... If your family is blessed, if your community is blessed, if your nation is blessed, then it is because God wants you to DO something with that blessing--not just be thankful (although that is important). God wants you to take that blessing and bless others, to help others, to extend that favor until all the world and every nation has reason to say, along with you, and with the Psalmist:

"The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us." All of us. To the ends of the earth.