May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Who said AMEN ? No we havent finished yet!!!! But when we say those words at the end of the service – what do we think happens? Do we believe they make any difference to anybody??? Or are they just a ritual, a religious way of saying goodbye?
Back in 1970s the Synod of the Church of England was writing its new Alternative Service Book. One draft version brought a service to a close by the priest saying “the service is over” and the congregation responding “thanks be to God”. Does ending our services with “THE GRACE” or any similar “blessing” actually do anything??
The word BLESS / blessing is a very biblical word – more than 400 times in Bible. A blessing is a “bestowal of some good” which can be any form of material or spiritual well-being. Most of the time it is God who gives the blessing. So just in Genesis alone we read 65 times about the LORD blessing Adam and Eve, and the whole creation, and Noah, and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and a few other people as well. Throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy we read another 64 promises of God’s blessing on His chosen people Israel. And Psalms and Proverbs especially speak another 81 times of the blessings God has for those who seek and trust and obey Him.
When God speaks words of blessing, when God makes a promise that someone will be blessed, things happen! Because God’s words are an expression, and even an extension of His personality and His authority. When God speaks, things happen. God said let there be light – and it happened!!! When God speaks words of blessing, the person gets blessed. Because God’s word always accomplishes that for which He sends it
Isaiah 55:10-11 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
God speaks – and people are blessed! But especially in the early books of the Bible we find the idea that other people can give THEIR blessing to others, can pass on material and spiritual well-being to others. So back in Genesis, we read that the priest of Salem Melchizedek blessed Abraham, Abraham blessed his children, and Isaac blessed his children. In Deuteronomy, Moses gave his words of blessing to the nation of Israel. Remember the lengths Jacob went to in Genesis 27 to trick his father Isaac into giving HIM the special words of blessing which should have been reserved for his older brother Esau. And how angry Esau was when he found out that his special blessing had been stolen!
The first Israelites really believed that “giving a blessing” and “receiving a blessing” in this way made a difference! So back in Genesis 48 we find Jacob giving his blessing to Joseph’s sons. Manasseh and Ephraim. And our reading today Genesis 49 is a record of the 12 separate blessings Jacob gave to his 12 sons.
Gen 49:28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.
And here just by way of example are the special blessings Jacob pronounced for Joseph in Genesis 49:22-26
“Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed supple, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
But what has Jacob blessing his sons got to do with us almost 4000 years later? The people in the Bible believed in giving blessings. Is that just some obscure part of ancient history? Or should we still be doing the same today? It is significant that throughout those 4000 years, worship services in Jewish synagogues and Christian churches have always included words of “blessings”. But when WE pronounce a blessing, like saying the words called “the grace” at the end of a service, what happens?? Is it just a polite pious way of saying goodbye? Or do we believe that when we ask God to bless people, it really works? It makes a difference.
If somebody sneezes people often say “God bless you” – This phrase is said to have been originated by the devout Pope St. Gregory the Great, who in the year 750 appointed a form of prayer to be said by persons sneezing. At that time it was believed that many people who sneezed violently were in danger of expelling their souls, and that this danger could be counteracted by a proper prayer or phrase. But if we say “bless you” when somebody sneezes today, is it just empty superstition, or do those words carry any spiritual power?
When we say “Goodbye, God bless” – to somebody as we are parting, or write “every blessing / God bless you” on a letter, do we really believe that our words will make any difference to their lives?
We all know the power of words
In the second world war there was a slogan, “Careless talk costs lives” – meaning that secret information casually discovered by an enemy could compromise the war effort and put lives at risk. We all know how powerful and dangerous and potentially damaging OUR words can be. Criticism can be so hurtful and painful, whether it is justified or not. Gossip and backbiting so often leads to division. The old proverb says, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me.” But in this day and age more people are hurt and more lives are wrecked by verbal assaults and social media as are hurt by physical violence. As Christians it is only proper that we always think before we speak, that we do our very best to make sure that our words do not hurt others.
Words have power to do harm, but they also have the power to do great good. Our words can really help other people. We all know just how powerful and uplifting words of praise and encouragement can be. But in the Bible giving a blessing means much more than just saying some encouraging and inspiring words.
We also know the power of prayer
We believe in a God who answers prayer – an all-powerful Father God who lovingly grants the requests of his children. We believe that time spent making those requests is not time wasted. On the contrary, in many situations the very best thing we can possibly do to help ourselves or others in need is to pray, because our God answers prayer and those prayers can change the world!
Our prayers are often very material – concerned with health or deliverance from adversity. But listen to some of the wonderful things the apostle Paul prayed for others.
Ephesians 1:17-20 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Ephesians 3:16-19 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
Colossians 1:9-12 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
Do we pray for these kinds of glorious blessings for others? Or do we get bogged down with the mundane? If we only spent five minutes more a week praying these kinds of prayers for each other, what a difference that could make to the church!
We know the power of prayer. But let’s be clear, in the Bible pronouncing a blessing on someone is distinctly different to praying for them.
So what IS the power in blessings?
In Bible terms, declaring a blessing on another person is not what we PRAY for them, but what we SAY directly TO them. I suspect we don’t actually DECLARE God’s blessings to each other very much. Most Christians don’t believe or realise that they CAN bestow material and spiritual good on others by speaking words of blessing to each other? We can see the point of prayer – asking God to bless. But here in 21st century Europe we don’t go a bundle on declaring blessings for each other.
But remember how Jesus blessed the little children when they came to Him. Those mothers who brought their children to Jesus certainly believed that His saying a blessing on them would make a difference to their lives. And Jesus encouraged them! And listen to some curious words Jesus said as he sent out his disciples to preach the gospel and teach and hear and minister deliverance in Luke 10:5-6, 9-12
6 “When you enter a house, first say, `Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your
peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. ….
9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, `The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
Jesus was teaching that the words His disciples spoke would convey blessing – God’s peace – or equally God’s judgement to the people they spoke to. In the same vein Jesus said to his disciples
Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
And in case they had missed the point, Jesus repeated exactly the same words two chapters later: Matthew 18: 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
And in John 20:23 the Risen Christ tells his disciples, If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus was delegating HIS authority to his disciples and to his church. So Christians have the power to pronounce God’s blessing – to declare how God will bless. And when we do this, it will not just be empty words, nor even an optimistic prayer. Those words will in some senses be authoritative, declarative, even performative!! Because we speak on behalf the Lord Jesus Christ, representing God, the blessings we command WILL happen.
God himself gave Moses and Aaron a formula for pronouncing blessing on the Israelites.
Num 6:22-27 The LORD said 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 upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face towards you and give you peace.” ‘ “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
All Christians share in the priesthood of all believers. So we can ALL pronounce God’s blessing as the Old Testament priests did, on each other and on a needy world.
We also share in the prophet-hood of all believers. The same Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets will inspire US, so that we can declare God’s blessings, as the OT prophets were called to do.
The apostle Paul ended most of his letters with some words of blessing. So “the grace” actually comes from the end of 2nd Corinthians in 2 Cor 13:14,
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Of course, our words can bring harm as well as good. The Old Testament frequently contrasts blessings with curses –
Jesus said in Luke 6:28 Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.
So also apostle Paul wrote Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
And Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 4:12 When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;
And the apostle Peter wrote 1Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called.
The Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul, and Peter, clearly thought and taught that our words either pronouncing a blessing or a curse really would have an effect on the other person! We can either speak well to another person and that will prosper them, or speak against someone and that will bring God’s judgement on them. The bible teaches us that as Christians we should be concerned with declaring blessings and not curses.
So what are we going to do about all this? When a Minister visits people, even folk who are not Christians usually expect the Minister to pronounce a blessing on them and on their house. But Ministers aren’t the only Christians who are allowed to pronounce blessings. ALL Christians can pronounce blessings!!!! Those blessings aren’t just encouraging words or optimistic wishful thinking. And those blessings are something different again from prayers of faith, although faith has a place in giving blessings. A blessing declared in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit WILL BRING good on others!
We know the power of words, and the power of prayer. Let’s try to discover the power of blessings together. I want to invite you this morning to begin to share in this Biblical practice – of speaking words of blessing, of actually declaring God’s blessing on each other and on a needy world.
What difference will it make? LET’S TRY IT AND FIND OUT!!!
END OF SERVICE – “PASSING THE PEACE”