WORD FROM THE PASTOR:
I bless lots of stuff.
Often I bless places. Over the past year or two, I’ve frequently been asked to bless homes where there have been spiritual disturbances. Not demonic manifestations exactly–just places where there seem to be “bad vibes”, where there seems to be some sort of spiritual oppression. At such times, I often will go room to room in a home, asking God to fill each room with His presence. Just a few days ago, I was visiting a hospital, and a nurse asked me to bless a room where the staff had suffered “a lot of bad luck”. So I spoke a number of prayers in the room asking God’s healing upon all those who are treated there, and beseeching God to help the staff use their skills for the patients’ benefit.
I bless things, too. At a baptism, I am often asked to speak a word of blessing over a cross that the baby has been given. I usually pray that the cross will remind the baby, as he or she grows up, of the love of God poured out on the cross when Jesus shed His blood to bring us forgiveness. Just a month or two ago, at the St. Paul’s On the Water party, I did a boat blessing. I asked the Christ who calmed the sea, the Christ who walked on the water, to watch over those who travel on the boats present at the party. I’ve also blessed automobiles, asking God to send His holy angels to watch over the driver and the vehicle. I notice that one of our sister congregations is doing the “Blessing of the Animals” for the Festival of St. Francis in October. I’ve never done that as a public event, but in private I’ve occasionally said a blessing over a pet.
And certainly I bless people. When a young child comes to the communion rail, I place my hand upon the child’s head and invoke the blessing of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At the end of the service, I speak the benediction that God gave to Aaron in the Scriptures: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24). I sometimes use this same blessing when I’m visiting someone in the hospital.
Every year, too, I bless the Christmas tree on the Amityville village triangle. I ask that its lights remind us of God’s beauty, and its evergreen leaves speak to us of God’s unchanging faithfulness. I also bless the trees that stand by our altar at Christmastime. Actually, at the church I served in Illinois, I introduced the Christmas tree blessing. This led to an interesting question from one of the church’s elders: “You blessed a Christmas tree. Is that...kosher?” In his mind, blessing something like a tree was “Catholic”–not something that “Protestants” do. (Frankly, when someone refers to me as a Protestant, I’m tempted to respond with those immortal words from Owen Wister’s The Virginian: “When you call me that, smile.”) The “Protestant” tradition tends to be a little stand-offish when it comes to physical reality–it can’t imagine, for instance, that Jesus could be truly present in a piece of bread and a sip of wine. So if God isn’t involved in physical reality, then how can you “bless” a tree? But Lutherans are different animals altogether. We believe that Christ is truly present in the sacrament. That gives us a much friendlier attitude toward the physical world–God can use visible, tangible things to touch us. So blessing a tree actually is kind of “kosher”.
What is a blessing, though? It’s not a magical incantation. It doesn’t automatically “protect” something. If I bless my car, I still need to drive responsibly. If I crank it up to 90 miles an hour, I can’t depend on the blessing to protect me. I’m sure the prayers I said in the hospital room will help the staff, but they still need to conscientiously use their skills for the patients. I blessed the Amityville Christmas tree innumerable times–it still fell over in a windstorm and had to be replaced. A blessing isn’t some magic spell that wards off all danger.
A blessing is basically a form of prayer. It’s asking God to attach His presence, His favor, to a person, place or thing. It’s asking God to be at work in this person, place or thing. Really, no human being can “bless” something. Ultimately, only God can truly bless. All blessings, all good gifts, come from God. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” we sing. When we “bless” a person, place, or thing, we are not using some power that we have. Rather, we are beseeching God for His power.
Do I, as a clergyman, have some unique power to bless? Not really. Blessings are pronounced in the Bible by Isaac and Jacob–not clergymen. Balaam was a pagan sorcerer, yet God caused him to speak words of blessing over Israel. The only thing that might give my blessing more “oomph” is that, as a pastor, I am a representative of the entire Christian community. But the power of a blessing always comes from God, not from me personally.
In the Bible’s greatest blessing scene, the blessing comes straight from God:
God said to Abram, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will
be a blessing...in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2,3)
This blessing is not just for Abraham but for all people–because Abraham was the great ancestor of Jesus the Saviour. From Abraham, the blessings of life and peace and forgiveness flow to the whole world through the crucified and risen Christ. That’s the greatest blessing of all, and it was spoken directly by God.
But really, every blessing comes from God. I’m not a magician with special powers to speak magic words. I’m just a guy who prays and invokes God’s favor on homes, hospital rooms,
trees, boats, cars, crosses, and people. I’m confident that the blessing is real–but the confidence is
not in any “power” that I have, but rather in God’s faithfulness and His promise to hear His people’s prayers. The power and the blessing belong to God!
He loves you and so do I!