A Prayer For This Day · Bible · faith · Prayer · Worship

Your Blessing On Our Lips

I’ve been reading a passage from Ecclesiasticus for the last few weeks. Here is today’s passage, from chapter 50. It describes the worship in the newly restored Temple in Jerusalem. As the worship came to an end ….

Then the singers praised Him with their voices in sweet and full-toned melody.

And the people of the Lord Most High offered their prayers before the Merciful One,
until the order of worship of the Lord was ended, and they completed his ritual.

Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation of Israelites,
to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips, and to glory in his name;
and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing from the Most High.

A Benediction

And now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders,
who fosters our growth from birth, and deals with us according to his mercy.
May he give us gladness of heart, and may there be peace in our days in Israel, as in the days of old.
May he entrust to us his mercy, and may he deliver us in our days!

The words that struck me today were these:
Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation to pronounce the blessing.

It reminded me most powerfully of the times when I have done exactly that. At the end of our worship – in the places where I have served as curate and as vicar – in Hull, Beverley, and Hoddesdon … and wherever I have had the privilege of leading God’s people in worship, I have raised my hands to pronounce the Benediction, the Blessing, using words like this:
May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His son Jesus Christ. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, remain with you, this day and always. Amen.

Or it might be those moments at the communion rail, as someone bows their head to indicate that they are here to receive a blessing – maybe not yet ready to take the bread and the wine. And I place my hands lightly on their head and pray a prayer of blessing over them. Some times I will use the ancient prayer of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel –
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Sometimes, I might say word of blessing that I know will speak to their immediate situation – maybe for healing, for guidance, for a particular need.

But as I reflect on this part of my experience as a minister God’s church, I know that this privilege is not one that is set aside for a special group – for the ordained minister or those with some special power. Why should God’s blessing be contained within the confines of gathered worship ? Is a church building the only place to receive the peace, mercy and deliverance that come from God ? It might be reassuring to be in such a setting, receiving God’s blessing, but we must never restrict God’s blessing to such ‘Liturgical niceties.’ * The gift to bless another is a gift for us all to give and to receive.

We may simply say ‘God bless’ as we say goodbye to a friend, or ‘bless you,’ as we are aware of a need of another.
Sometimes we may use the words too easily, without much thought, but the faith of Israel teaches us that these words of blessing have power. So we use them prayerfully.

I have a prayer that I use most Fridays:

God of earth, sea, and sky;
God of bread, wine, and story;
God of wind, fire, and water;
God who shaped us,
God who remade us,
God who fills us.
Take our lives, body, heart and soul –
make us one with you and with each other.
Give us your word on our lips,
and your blessing in our hands,
that the world may see and know,
and give you glory.

May God bless you, and those whom you love and pray for; and may you be given words of blessing to give to someone this day.

* A phrase from Walter Brueggemann that I must acknowledge !

Activism · Bible · Climate Change · community · Ecology · Political · World Affairs

Ben Sira and the Psalms

For the past few days, my reading has taken me to the book of Ecclesiasticus, in the Apocrypha. This book, also known as the Wisdom of Sirach , was written by the Jewish Scribe, Ben Sira, in the period between the Old and New Testaments.

I must admit to not being familiar with the book, which is full of great advice to live a godly life.

Today’s reading in chapter 31 had these words:

Are you seated at the table of the great?
Do not be greedy at it,
and do not say, ‘How much food there is here!’

Do not reach out your hand for everything you see,
and do not crowd your neighbour at the dish.
Judge your neighbour’s feelings by your own,
and in every matter be thoughtful.

Eat what is set before you like a well-bred person,
and do not chew greedily, or you will give offence.
Be the first to stop, as befits good manners,
and do not be insatiable, or you will give offence.

If you are seated among many others,
do not help yourself before they do.
How ample a little is for a well-disciplined person!

He does not breathe heavily when in bed.
Healthy sleep depends on moderate eating;
he rises early, and feels fit.

Eating with others is, or at least should be, a great leveller. When we sit around a table, especially perhaps with strangers, there’s an opportunity to learn more about the conditions under which they live.

On the face of it, Ben Sira’s words are good advice as we sit around the meal table – not to be greedy, but think of others. Essential ways to promote healthy living in community. As I thought about these words, it seemed to me that they can also help us think about greed on a larger scale.

In the context of the current COP 26 talks, imagine that the world is one great meal table. We were watching the BBC programme ‘Panorama’ last night and it brought home the crisis that we are living through – or dying through for many.

As we observe the inequalities in the world – the poor suffering most from the effects of the climate change that the rich nations have caused, we are looking at a level of ‘greed that serves the indiscipline of the entitled.’ (Walter Brueggemann).

Another of my readings today struck me forcibly. it’s from Psalm 50. In the psalm, God is the one speaking, but as I read it today, I imagined that this was the earth speaking: (The Bible quotes below are in italics, the other words are mine). Just change the word God and replace it with ‘The Earth’

The earth has been silent, but now it speaks.

The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons … our God comes and does not keep silence, (verse 1)

These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself. But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you. (Verse 21)

In just this last year, we have seen unprecedented fires out of control, and floods devastating whole communities.

before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him. (Verse 3)

Unless the human race changes, the consequences – that are already evident – will only get worse

Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver. (Verse 22)

Am I stretching the words of scripture ? I don’t think so.

I am praying this prayer from CAFOD, the Catholic development agency.

Loving God,
We praise your name with all you have created.

You are present in the whole universe,
and in the smallest of creatures.

We acknowledge the responsibilities you have placed upon us
as stewards of your creation.

May the Holy Spirit inspire all political leaders at COP26 as they
seek to embrace the changes needed to foster a more sustainable society.

Instil in them the courage and gentleness to implement fairer solutions
for the poorest and most vulnerable,
and commit their nations to the care of Our Common Home.

We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son. Amen