Life of the Beloved: Blessed
by Jack Wald | February 22nd, 2015

Mark 1:9-11

In Latin, to bless is benedicere. The word “benediction” that is used in many churches means literally: speaking (dicto) well (bene) or saying good things of someone.

In the Old Testament, it was the tradition for each father to pass on a blessing to his children before he died. This blessing was much more than sentimental and one of the best places to see this is in the blessing of Isaac to his sons.

Genesis 27:1–4
When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”
“Here I am,” he answered.
2 Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3 Now then, get your weapons—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4 Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”

This was a family with favorites. Isaac favored Esau and Rebecca, his wife, favored Esau’s twin brother, Jacob. Since Esau came out of the womb first, he was the oldest son.

Esau was a hunter, Jacob was more of a mother’s boy and Rebecca began to plot and scheme to have her favorite get Isaac’s blessing. She told him to get two young goats that she would cook in the way Isaac liked. Esau was hairy but Jacob had smooth skin so she got some of Esau’s clothes and covered Jacob’s hands and neck with some of the goat skins. Esau and Jacob were twins but obviously not identical twins.

Jacob went to his father, dressed in Esau’s clothes and carrying the stew his mother had made. Isaac was suspicious and asked who it was. Jacob lied and said he was Esau. Isaac asked him to come close so he could touch him.
22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.
“I am,” he replied.
25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”

Isaac ate and drank some wine and
Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”
27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,
“Ah, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field
that the Lord has blessed.
28 May God give you of heaven’s dew
and of earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.
29 May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.”

Soon after Jacob left, Esau arrived with the game he had killed and prepared for a meal.

[Esau] said to him, “My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
32 His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”
“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”
33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”
34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”
35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”
36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”
37 Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”
38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.

This is a heartbreaking scene. We talk about the three great patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but my sympathy lies with Esau more than Jacob. Esau was not a bad man, but he was outwitted by his cheating, swindling brother, Jacob, and to make things worse, his own mother rejected him by favoring his twin brother. I grieve with Esau when I read this story. The story gives me hope that if Jacob can be part of God’s kingdom, then there is also room for me with all my sin. But my heart breaks for Esau.

John Trent and Gary Smalley wrote a book titled, The Blessing, in which they write about our need to receive the blessing of our parents. There are many of us who did not receive that parental blessing. We may not have measured up to what they expected of us. They may have had favorites among their children and we were not the one favored. We may not have taken the career path they wanted us to take. And it might be that our parents simply did not know how to express words of blessing.

My father grew up in a generation of men who were trained to not show emotions. The popular child psychology in the United States in the 1920’s encouraged parents to make their sons strong and not to baby them with too much affection. My father’s generation lived through a great economic depression and then went off to fight in WWII. When they returned to the US and began having children, they did not know how to show affection.

My father never spent a lot of time with me. He was busy at work and active with civic organizations. I remember one night when we went up into the mountains behind our house, build a lean-to with pine branches, cooked a meal, and slept outside for the night. That is the only time we camped together. There was also one early morning when we went trout fishing. I fished, did not catch anything, but my father made a wonderful breakfast. This was the only time we ever went fishing together until I was an adult and organized trips myself. These two camping and fishing experiences happened only once but my need for a relationship with my father makes them exceptional experiences that are deeply ingrained in my memory.

My father had built his own house at the time I was born. He had a lot of carpentry skills and when I was growing up, I worked with him on projects, making repairs. When I would work on something and make a mistake and my father confronted me, I would say, “Dad, I thought…” and my father would interrupt me with, “That’s the problem Jackson, you thought.” This was said often enough that it has stayed with me as a strong memory. I can even visualize where I was standing when he said this to me one time.

My father was a mechanical engineer and his aptitude was evident even as a five year old when he lost the tip of a finger repairing a cart with gears. When he was fifteen years old, he combined three transmissions to make a hay mower. I have the drawing he made of this when he was planning what to do.

I wanted to be like my father, but I never have had the mechanical aptitude he did. When I began university studies, he encouraged me to go to medical school, which I found appealing. But when I received a call from God to go to seminary and told him, he was not able to understand this.

I wanted him to be proud of me, to bless me, but he did not know how to do this, especially when I was doing something he did not understand.

Then in 1986, when I had stepped away from being a pastor and was not sure what I would do next, he asked me to work with him in his business. We spent the next thirteen years working together and became good friends. I was probably his best friend. We spent many lunches together when he would share the stories of his life. So, when the business was sold at the beginning of 1999, I set out to work with him to write his oral history.

He came to my house, relaxed, and then would tell the stories I had heard many times over the lunches we shared. I then typed up what he had said and we completed a 256 page oral history with another 162 pages of photographs. It was a great accomplishment and I spent about 2,000 hours working on this book the year before I came to Morocco.

My dad loved that book and when I would call him from Morocco, he would often say he had just been reading “our” book. Working on this book together was the blessing I received from him. My father never did really understand who I was and what motivated me, but he was able to express affection for me. And when he died, I was at peace with him.

Working on this book with my father was an important part of my spiritual journey because when we do not receive the blessing from our parents, it makes it difficult for us to receive the blessing of God.

We may know that we are God’s beloved child, but if there is a buried pain of not having been loved by our parents in the way we needed to be loved, we will not be able to be free to receive God’s blessing in the depths of our being.

Rich Mullins, whose most famous song is, Our God Is an Awesome God, grew up in rural Indiana, in the center of the United States. His father was a farmer and as the oldest son, he was expected to take over the farm when he grew up. The problem was that Rich Mullins, whose family called him by his middle name, Wayne, was completely incompetent in the skills that made a good farmer. He got the wheels of the tractor stuck in the field – once he got all four wheels stuck. He put gasoline rather than diesel fuel in the truck which destroyed the pistons. His father was a hard working man who could not comprehend why his son was so incompetent.

The refrain Mullins carried with him through his life was his father yelling at him, “Why does everything you touch get broken?” As an adult, when the woman he loved left him, that is what he heard in his mind, “Why does everything you touch get broken?”

Rich Mullins was gifted at two things: music and church. At an early age he was passionate about these two pursuits. He sold a song he wrote, Sing Your Praise to the Lord, to Amy Grant and then moved to Nashville and pursued his music career. He became highly successful but he was not able to shake off the negative message he received from his father. He drank heavily and was a functional alcoholic.

He met Brennan Manning, a recovering alcoholic and author, who served as a spiritual advisor. There is a movie about the life of Rich Mullins that was released this last year and there is a scene where Brennan Manning calls up Mullins in the morning. Mullins has lots of bottles lying around him and Manning asks, “On a scale of one to ten, how hung over are you?” “Eleven, “ Mullins replies. Brennan Manning asks if he would like to do a spiritual retreat and Mullins says yes. “When should we do it?” Manning asks and Mullins replies, “Is now too soon?”

Rich Mullins’ father had recently died and Manning asks Mullins to spend the next day writing a letter from his father talking about how he loves his son Wayne. In that next day, Mullins reflects on all the negative messages he received over the years and carried with him, and then, finally, he begins to remember the other messages that were sent, his father’s arm around his shoulder, his hand rubbing his head as they walked together, his father telling him he wants him to be a good farmer and that is why he is so hard on him.

His father loved him imperfectly but as he remembered the ways his father had loved him, he found the words to express his father’s love for him in the letter and this became a spiritual breakthrough that liberated Mullins in the last period of his life.

Receiving this blessing from his father allowed Mullins to accept the love of God in his life, to be God’s beloved son.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book, Life of the Beloved, that “becoming the beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.” In helping us on this journey, he takes us through the steps in communion when the bread is taken (chosen), blessed, broken, and then given. We are, obviously, walking with him through the stage of blessing this morning.

Jesus experienced the blessing of God his father at his baptism. (Mark 1:10–11)
10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

This blessing was repeated on the Mount of Transfiguration and there must have been many more occasions when Jesus heard the blessing of his heavenly father. His sense of being loved allowed him to move through the years of his ministry with the peace of God and allowed him to walk to Jerusalem and his death on a cross.

Let me share three lessons about blessing. First, we need to continually be blessed by each other. Second, our need to be blessed is not a weakness; that is how we were created to be. And third, when you are blessed, you will become one who blesses others.

We need to continually be blessed by each other.

In the Marriage Course that Annie and I are hosting, the speakers tell of a man who told his wife on their wedding day that he loved her. And, he added, “If that ever changes, I’ll let you know.” But a husband needs to tell his wife he loves her and why he loves her over and over again. And a husband needs to be told by his wife that he is loved over and over again. Love needs to be fed.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book, Life of the Beloved,
The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity. It is the deepest affirmation of our true self. It is not enough to be chosen. We also need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives.

We need to know we have been chosen by God, that we are his beloved son, his beloved daughter – but that is not enough. The world shouts at us every day that we are not rich enough, successful enough, pretty or handsome enough. We see this in television and movies, magazines and the internet. We see this even in those selected to present the news to us. From every corner the world’s message screams at us and we need to counter that message with the truth of who we are in the eyes of the one who has rescued us from eternal destruction and is taking us to his heavenly home.

The JB Phillips translation of Romans 12:2 reads:
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within

This is the importance of being the beloved child of God. In the depth of our being, we need to know we are beloved and the blessing we receive from God and from the community of believers continually reinforces this truth, that we are God’s beloved daughters, God’s beloved sons.

But, you might argue, isn’t that a sign of weakness? Shouldn’t we be stronger, be more certain of who we are so we do not need that continual reinforcement?

This leads to the second lesson: our need to be blessed is not a weakness; that is how we were created to be.

I had the oral defense for my DMin thesis this past Wednesday afternoon – and I am pleased to say that it was successful. Both of my professors were enthusiastic about what I have written. The reason I mention this is because part of our discussion focused on what I wrote about the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I wrote that we have needs because we are created in the image of God and God has those needs. Let me quote from the thesis. I am interacting in this section with a book by Ellis Potter, 3 Theories of Everything.

The Triune God existed in relationship for an eternity before the universe was created. In this relationship, the Triune God has needs that are perfectly met in the relationships of the Trinity. We want to be recognized, respected, and honored. We want to belong, to be affirmed, and valued. These are not signs of weakness. These are not human frailties. We are created with these needs because we are created in the image of God who has these same needs. Ellis Potter writes:
Why do we have these needs? … According to the third circle, human beings are made in God’s image. Their needs come from God because God has those needs… It’s not that God needs anything from us. Rather, He has needs among Himself, and exactly the same needs we have – to be seen, to be heard, to make a difference, and to be wanted. But God does not suffer from these needs. Having these needs is pure joy for God, because needs are the basis for trust and love. A need that can only be fulfilled by another person requires that you trust that person to fulfill it. If there were no needs, there would be no real trust or love… Each of the three persons of God fills the needs of the other persons, and does so by emptying Himself for the others. Jesus empties Himself for the Father and the Holy Spirit. For this reason, the center of reality for Jesus is not in Jesus, it’s in the Father and Holy Spirit. Each of the persons of God is similarly other-centered rather than centered in Himself. Such is the Bible’s depiction of absolute reality: a totally other-centered God. This other-centeredness is the source of God’s energy, for as each of the persons of God empties Himself once, He is filled twice by the others….The Bible gives a name to this energy when it says God is love.

My professors challenged me, saying that if God has needs, then God is not perfect. I told them that if the Father has no needs, then he is like Allah who exists without anyone to relate to. If the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have no needs, then they have no relationship. Relationship requires that there are needs we meet for each other.

The tragedy is that we have needs to be encouraged, blessed, supported, affirmed but they are not met. In the Trinity, these needs are met perfectly which creates a unity, but in our relationships, we do not receive the blessing we need.

I was talking with a friend who has a new job and was feeling insecure about his performance. He oversees a number of people and did not know if he was doing a good job with them. When his six-month performance review came up, he received a very positive report and he told me that this energized him and released a new burst of creativity about how to do his job even better. If everyone had been doing what they were created to do, he would have been receiving daily encouragement for his efforts. But that is not the way the world operates. We expect people to do their job without our having to give constant encouragement. We are like the husband who tells his wife once he loves her and thinks that is sufficient. But we are created to need more than that.

Because we receive so little blessing, we are starved for affirmation. We are so hungry for encouraging words that we become anxious, are filled with feelings of insecurity, and sometimes compensate by being arrogant. We create walls that allow us to live with the illusion that we really don’t need anyone else. This makes it more difficult to receive the blessing that is given to us.

Nouwen writes that
Often, people say good things about us, but we brush them aside with remarks such as, “Oh, don’t mention it, forget about it, it’s nothing…” and so on. These remarks may seem to be expressions of humility, but they are, in fact, signs that we are not truly present to receive the blessings that are given.

We need continual blessing and we need to open ourselves to the painful insecurities that lurk in the depth of our being and allow ourselves to receive the blessing of God and others.

When we allow ourselves to be blessed, we become ones who bless others.

Nouwen writes:
I must tell you that claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others. The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with you own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses. And people want to be blessed! This is so apparent wherever you go. No one is brought to life through curses, gossip, accusations or blaming. There is so much of that taking place around us all the time. And it calls forth only darkness, destruction, and death. As the “blessed ones,” we can walk through this world and offer blessings. It doesn’t require much effort. It flows naturally from our hearts. When we hear within ourselves the voice calling us by name and blessing us, the darkness no longer distracts us. The voice that calls us the Beloved will give us words to bless others and reveal to them that they are no less blessed than we.

In the Marriage Course this past Friday night, the speakers talked about how easy it is to get irritated by the differences between couples. We are attracted to our opposites but then, over time, begin to get irritated by those differences. One of the exercises the couples had was to list six things they like about their spouse. That is a very affirming exercise because when a wife reads six things her husband has written, she is blessed by him, and that feels very good.

Blessing has to be authentic. It cannot be artificial. If your school or company sets a policy of affirming others, it can become meaningless as people say words they do not believe. But when you look into the life of another person, you can always find true words to say.

I have a friend with a daughter who was diagnosed as autistic when she was twenty some years old. During her adolescence and teenage years, there were many people who were critical of her because she was not easy to relate to. But I loved this girl and still do. I continually spoke words of blessing into her life and as a result, I was permitted to enter into her world.

I pray often that I will see people with God’s eyes and that helps me to see the beauty that is present.

I encourage you to seek the blessing of your mother and father. If you have received their blessing, you are blessed. But if not, pray and find a way to receive it. Rich Mullins found his father’s blessing by writing a letter after his father had died. I found my father’s blessing by writing his oral history with him. It might be that you will need to see the pain of your parents’ own childhood and be sympathetic to their difficulty in blessing you. You might have to discover they would have blessed you if they had been able to be set free from their own pain. Find your own way of receiving your parents’ blessings.

Parents, bless your children. Discover who God created them to be and set them free by blessing them. Let them know how much you love them. Hug them. Give your blessing to them as they move into the world.

Spend time reading and reflecting in the Bible. Allow yourself to be open to the blessing of God as you read. Take time to be silent before God and allow him to speak to you in the silence. As much as Esau wanted and needed the blessing of his father, we need the blessing of our heavenly father. We need to know that we are his beloved daughter, his beloved son.

Open yourself to receive the blessings of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let them speak God’s truth into you. Open yourself to receive the support and encouragement from them that God created us to need. The lies the world speaks against us need to be countered by blessing.

And then allow yourself to be one from whom blessing flows. As you are blessed, you will bless others.

*************
Numbers 6:22-26
The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 “The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”