Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sermon for 31 December 2010, New Year's Eve

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Numbers 6:22-27
Six Blessings for the New Year
New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, 31 December 2010/ 01 January 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
For a lay reader

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Six blessings for the New Year. That is what tonight’s sermon text has in store for you. At the heart of the text is the Aaronic Benediction, the blessing the Lord gave to Moses for Aaron and the Levites to say to give the Lord’s blessing to the people of Israel. There are six blessings in three couplets. The Lord is called by name three times, hinting at the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the two blessings in each couplet are connected. The second is a special application of the first. Each of the three lines shows an increase in emphasis, to drive the blessing home. God’s Words here bestow what they say.
            Even though the book of numbers may not be familiar to you, this text will be. In the Lutheran tradition, pastors are given to bless the new Israel, the Holy Christian Church, at the end of every Divine Service. And the congregation regularly sings, “Amen, amen, amen.” A threefold “yes” of faith to blessing given by one God in three persons.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,  "Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel:
The author behind these words is the Lord Himself. Therefore, He is the authority behind them. They are given to Moses, who entrusts them to his brother Aaron and his sons, the priests of the tribe of Levi. Aaron and his sons are blesses so that they will be a blessing to the rest of the nation. “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel,” the Lord says.
When the Lord blesses, He doesn’t mess around. His Words are not the mere wish of a blessing, like “Have a happy New Year,” but His Words have power. They are backed up by the work of the Holy Spirit, God Himself acting in His Word to create faith and deliver the blessings that are spoken of. God’s Words and blessings are different than human words. The Words of God carry with them the very blessings.

The Lord continues, “you shall say to them…” meaning that proclaiming and bestowing these blessings are not to be an optional thing. Yes, a pastor is called to withhold forgiveness from those who do not repent until they do repent, but paired with that is the divine command to forgive sins and bless the Lord’s people. The gifts go forth. This is, after all, the [seventh/eighth] day of Christmas.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
            Psalm 134:3 (ESV) informs us about the Lord’s blessing: May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth! God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth continues to give you everything that you need or ever will need to support this body and life, not because of any merit or worthiness in you, but solely out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy. He gives you your daily bread. Worry not about what the new year will bring. God will give you your daily bread daily. Each day comes in 24 hour segments—no less, no more.
            Every good thing comes from the Lord. The Lord has blessed you with blessings you may not even realize. He has also promised to keep you. Again, the Psalmist: Psalm 121:3-8 (ESV)  He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121 elaborates nicely on what the Lord means when He says, “I will bless you and keep you.”

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The manifestation of the grace and favor of God is heard clearly in this couplet. Psalm 31:16 (ESV)  Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! Psalm 119:135 (ESV)  Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. You hear both of the Lord’s steadfast, never-failing love, and He Himself teaching His Word. In this place you will regularly hear of God’s love for you in Christ, the second person of the Trinity, and you will hear the Word in the lessons, the sermon, and the Liturgy. And Bible Study! In some countries people risk arrest or death to hear more about the Lord’s Word. How can you find time in the coming year for the Lord to bless you hearing of His Word?
            The Lord is truly gracious, in that He gives us what we do not deserve—eternal life and a restored relationship with Him. What we deserved—temporal and eternal punishment—has been dealt with according to God’s mercy. There are no eternal consequences for sins forgiven in Jesus’ Name. There may well be temporal consequences, disease, loss, lack of trust, disappointment, etc., but by God’s grace, you are given forgiveness of sins and remission of guilt now, and the promise of eternity with Him where His face will shine upon you.

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
The liturgical revisions of the 1970’s gave us “the Lord look upon you with favor” instead of “the Lord lift up His countenance.” Here we see the manifestation of God’s power. It is not bearing down upon you in wrath, but for you, in grace and favor. The warmth of the love of God penetrates your every pore. Psalm 4:6 (ESV)  There are many who say, "Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!" Now, as you prepare to depart and live out the vocations given you by God, His light radiates from you.
The goal of all of these blessings? Peace. Perhaps you’ve even heard the Hebrew word, Shalom. This isn’t just peace for the Middle East. This is far more. It is that peace which the world cannot give. It’s even more than a peace that would end the War on Terror and prevent war in Iraq or North Korea. It is peace between you and God.
At heart, all of us human beings are sinners, at war with God and our parents and siblings and neighbors since birth. Human beings could not put together their own peace treaty with God, even by living as good as you can. Jesus is the Lord’s Prince of Peace, His ambassador, who negotiated the treaty and signed it in His own blood. You now have peace with God. That abiding peace is the last word of the blessing until you, in faith say, “Yes, yes, it shall be so. Amen, amen, amen.”

"So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them."
No ambiguity here. “So they shall put My name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” The Words of the Lord will be said. By them the Lord’s name will be placed upon the people, you, and the Lord says, “I will bless them.” I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. If you wake up late on Sunday for whatever reason, and can still make it in time for the Benediction, come. Certainly, the Lord has many blessings for you in the Divine Service, and the Lord would love you to apprehend them all, by faith. But, even if you come in time for just the closing hymn and the Benediction, this Aaronic blessing, the Lord will once again place His name upon you as He did at your baptism, and He will bless you. Where He has placed His name, there He has promised to be. And to bless. Amen.

The Lord bless us and keep us; the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious to us; the Lord lift up his countenance upon us and give us peace. [Numbers 6:24-26] Amen.