Happy Father’s Day, men! Now pull out your grills and start cooking! That’s what Father’s Day is all about, right? Hunting, bringing home the prey, and grilling, preferably with the ball game on in the background. Life is good.
That might be a pretty good description of Father’s Day, but being a father is a bit more complex. Being a father means forming and nurturing another human being. Today we’re exploring a powerful tool for shaping another’s being. It is the Blessing.
When I was ordained into the Christian ministry, I was given an extraordinary gift by my parents. They stood up before the whole congregation, and they blessed me. Not a “God bless you” after a sneeze kind of a blessing; No, they blessed me by speaking over me the word of God.
They had prayed for weeks beforehand: What is it that they wished to impart to me as God’s servant? My Dad chose his blessing from Proverbs 3: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge God, and God will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
This is what he wanted for me, above all other blessings: He wanted me to trust God, and let my feet be led in God’s paths. He had put his whole heart into asking God what was the greatest good he could ask for his child. And this is what he came up with: “Trust God, Nansi, and let your feet be led in God’s paths.”
In Scripture, a blessing is the greatest gift a parent can give their child. It defines who that child will be when they grow up. In the 49th chapter of Genesis, it says, “The blessings of your parents are mighty beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills.” (Genesis 49:26)
People of courage, faith and integrity don’t just come out of nowhere, you know. St. Paul was like a father to the church in Ephesus. When he writes to them, this is how he begins his letter: “I pray, according to the riches of God’s glory, that God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Holy Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love…” (Ephesians 3:16-17)
Do you hear the power of that prayer? Can you imagine what a difference it could make in our children and grandchildren’s lives if every night as they drift off to sleep, they feel our hand upon their head, and they hear our voice praying that God would strengthen them, that God would dwell within them, that God would fill them beyond all fullness with the love of Christ.
This isn’t a prayer we say just once and call it good. Some blessings take time to take root. When Rachel Naomi Remen was 4 years old, her beloved grandfather brought her a present. It was a little paper cup. She looked inside it, expecting something special, but it was just full of dirt. And when he told her that she wasn’t allowed to play with the dirt, she was disappointed and she told him so.
But, she writes, “he picked up the little teapot from my dolls’ tea set and took me to the kitchen where he filled it with water. Back in the nursery, he put the little cup on the windowsill and handed me the teapot. ‘If you promise to put some water in the cup every day, something may happen,’ he told me… I looked at him dubiously. He nodded with encouragement. “Every day, Neshume-le,’ he told me.
And so I promised. At first, curious to see what would happen, I did not mind doing this. But as the days went by and nothing changed, it got harder and harder to remember to put water in the cup. After a week, I asked my grandfather if it was time to stop yet. Shaking his head no, he said, ‘Every day, Neshume-le.’
The second week was even harder and I became resentful of my promise to put water in the cup. When my grandfather came again, I tried to give it back to him, but he refused to take it, saying simply, ‘Every day, Neshume-le.’
By the third week, I began to forget to put water in the cup. Often I would remember only after I had been put to bed and would have to get out of bed and water it in the dark. But I did not miss a single day. And one morning, there were two little green leaves that had not been there the night before.
I was completely astonished. Day by day they got bigger. I could not wait to tell my grandfather, certain that he would be a surprised as I was. But of course he was not. Carefully he explained to me that life is everywhere, hidden in the most ordinary and unlikely places. I was delighted. ‘And all it needs is water, Grandpa?’ I asked him. Gently he placed his hand on the top of my head. ‘No, Neshume-le; all it needs is your faithfulness… When we remember we can bless life, we can repair the world.” (1)
“I pray that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Holy Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love…” (Ephesians 3:16-17)
Rooted and grounded in love. All it needs is our faithfulness; when we remember we can bless life, we can repair the world. We can nurture broadness of heart, and depth of spirit.
This isn’t a prayer that they’ll understand right off. The green leaves of a growing soul don’t appear all at once. This is a prayer that sinks into them, waters their spirit, grows inside of them: a prayer that they will understand in time as it forms their very character and expectation of life.
Can we imagine what a difference it would make in our children, our step-children, our grandchildren’s lives to know that we love them enough to pray for them like that. Not praying that she would be a good little girl, but that she would be filled with the power and love of God. Not praying that he will do well in school, but that he will come to know the breath and length and height and depth, and to know that love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that he may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Expansive. Powerful. A prayer worth molding your life around. A prayer faithfully reinforced every day and every night. That is a prayer of blessing. That is what Genesis claims is mightier than the eternal mountains, more bountiful than the everlasting hills. Your blessing.
In Scripture, the blessing is always spoken aloud as the parent’s hands are on the head of their child. This is not the time for subtlety, saying, “oh, they’ll pick up my faith from my actions”. No, we say the words out loud, clearly, powerfully, so they can hear every syllable.
And we don’t say it from across the room. No, a blessing is a profoundly intimate, physical type of prayer. We lay our whole hand on the child’s head- both hands- gentle, firm, strong. This is an action of incredible authority. As an adult, we don’t put our hands on another person’s head unless we have a really good reason to. Pat someone on the head, it’s patronizing. Put your hand on someone’s head, and it says “I have power over you.” It is not an insignificant gesture. It is a gesture of power, and we don’t do it unless we’re doing it appropriately, to strengthen, to bless.
Holding our children and grandchildren, the words we speak are a vision, a glimpse of what God is creating inside them. A woman of courage and compassion. A man of integrity and hope. God’s children and God’s people, formed by our continual prayer of blessing.
Would you repeat Paul’s blessing with me, and as we say it together, try to imagine one person you’d like to pray it for: I pray… by riches of God’s glory… that God will strengthen you… in your inner being… that Christ may dwell in your heart… as you are being rooted… and grounded… in love. (Ephesians 3:16-17)
This prayer in Ephesians ends with these words:“Now to God, who by the power at work within us, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Far more abundantly that all we can ask or imagine… Amen. And what Amen means- it’s a Hebrew word that means, “Let it be.” Let it be, child. Let it be.
May our desires be wide and true and faithful enough to be worth praying. May our blessings extend beyond even our own understanding. And may our own souls be broadened in the speaking, in the nurturing, in the creation of the world through the blessing of another person.
In the Name of the One whose blessing will never let us go, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
(1) My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, Riverhead Books, NY ©2000, pp. 1,2
Scripture for June 18, 2017 EPHESIANS 3:14-4:3
I pray that, according to the riches of Christ’s glory, you will be strengthened in your inmost being with power through the Spirit. I pray that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power with all of God’s saints to experience the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love- a love that surpasses all understanding. I pray that you may be filled with all the fullness of God…
And now I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.… Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.