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Daily Bible Readings and Reflections for the Week of June 14, 2020

Saturday, June 20, 2020
Matthew 6:24-34

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

+ + +

From the time it was written, the song “Seek Ye First” has been a favourite with church groups. The Alleluia chorus is great for three and four part harmony and for those of us who play guitar, it only has four repeating chords. And, it stays with you long after the community has gone home.

Even more popular than the song, is this text. The lilies of the field is a movie and so many other artists have dipped into this passage, inspired to write, paint or compose. But what is Jesus saying here? Is he saying get up and greet the day without a care what to wear or eat? Just plow into the day and discover what the Lord will provide for you, without any thought to prepare anything for yourself? I’m not sure that’s what’s meant here.

A few Sundays ago, the passage quoted Jesus as advising his disciples to be crafty as serpents but
innocent as lambs. The idea is to use your head. Think. Be practical. But don’t be pulled into the lures of the world. I think the message here is much the same.

Jesus refers to birds and flowers on purpose. They are in tune with God’s plan for Creation. They move with the cycles of life on earth naturally. It is humans who have rebelled and cut themselves off from the flow of creation. Jesus rightly points to other living things and reminds us to be like them. They are in line. We have fallen out of line.

Jesus refers to the pagans who chase after food and clothing. He implies that their minds are full of worry and that they fill their days with the hunt for food, shelter and raiment. The key word here is worry. Jesus tells us that if we have minds full of worry, it implies that we believe we alone are responsible for ourselves. As if there was no God watching out for us. As if there was no God loving us and taking care of us.

Jesus said “I am with you always.” But when I get up in the morning, do I get up with Jesus or is it about what I have to do to survive the day, without much thought about Jesus being with me.
The pagans function on that basis. In fact, the world we live in functions on that basis. ‘Looking out for Number One’ is a powerful mantra of western individualistic culture. I grew up with so many of these slogans: ‘The only person you can trust is yourself.’ ‘Time and tide wait for no man’. ‘Money is Power’. ‘Get while the Getting is Good’. ‘Greed is Good’. And so on…

How much of my day is spent worrying? How much of my day is spent letting God take some of my burdens on for me and with me? So, seeking the Kingdom might mean getting up each day, looking for what is good, and noble and worthy of praise. The rest really does take care of itself.

[Peter Mansell]

Friday, June 19, 2020
Psalm 88

A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites. To the leader: according to Mahalath Leannoth. A Maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.
O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.Selah

You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you?Selah
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness.

+ + +

Psalm 88 strikes at our shallower pieties with its deep note of despair, giving voice to emotions that many of us can experience at times, in our own ways. In Scripture, Psalm 88 stands apart as expressing grief without any of the aspects that usually serve to counter such complaints. The psalm begins and ends in complaint. As much as the Book of Job expresses this view at greater length, Job’s story is wrapped up neatly by the end, the book as a whole representing the experience of working through darkness to light. Psalm 88 shows no such development, concluding with the disturbing words, “You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” This is only the last of several verses in the psalm that credit God for all that is wrong in the psalmist’s life!

For a sense of how the psalm might have ended differently, consider Psalm 130, which begins with the cry, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” and ends with two verses calling on Israel (which is to say, on us) to hope in the Lord’s “steadfast love, and … great power to redeem.” In Psalm 88, the psalmist refers to the same quality only to wonder if God’s “steadfast love” is made known only “in the grave” (verse 11), a future implied as well in our Lord’s promise that “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). For this reason Psalm 88 can provide very useful reading for us, whether we are experiencing despair ourselves or walking alongside a loved one who is doing so. It gives voice to the feelings that are normal to have under piercing conditions. Psalm 88 is profitably read as Israel’s response to the destruction of Jerusalem and captivity in Babylon, but its intimate point of view invites believers in all times to join in its cry of distress, writhing under unmanageable pressures. In practice, such an act of crying out can give relief—and confidence—to the wearied. God stirred the psalmist to begin and end exactly where he does, allowing us to feel and to express how the psalmist feels, giving a divine nod to the venting of emotions that trouble our rigid pieties. God does not pull the veil of polite society over the feeling but allows the psalmist to move beyond pat answers to the bare fact of suffering and evil. Psalm 88 is the text to cite for our miserable comforters.

As Christians, it is tempting to join those who profess that faith protects us from suffering, making us immune to it. It is not clear to me how this squares with Jesus’ promise that believers will experience “persecutions” (Mark 10:30). It certainly goes against my own experience of faith, as well as my observations of many others who live faithfully. The only answer Psalm 88 gives to the problem of suffering comes in its opening two verses, in its appeal to the Lord: “O Lord, God of my salvation, when, at night, I cry out in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.” This is all the psalmist can offer us for “answers,” an underlying hopefulness directing us towards the light. He does not expect any quick and easy solution, but never stops calling out to the Lord.

[Craig Love]

Thursday, June 18, 2020
Numbers 12:1-16

While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had indeed married a Cushite woman); and they said, ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?’ And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth. Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, ‘Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them came out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward. And he said, ‘Hear my words:

When there are prophets among you,
I the Lord make myself known to them in visions;
I speak to them in dreams.
Not so with my servant Moses;
he is entrusted with all my house.
With him I speak face to face—clearly, not in riddles;
and he beholds the form of the Lord.

Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’ And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.’ And Moses cried to the Lord, ‘O God, please heal her.’ But the Lord said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.’ So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days; and the people did not set out on the march until Miriam had been brought in again. After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

+ + +

This passage picks up the Moses story just before he sends spies to scout the land of Palestine. The Children of Isreal are hoping to enter the land of Caanan. They have been wandering in the deserts for a very long time. Moses is the leader. His older brother, Aaron is the High Priest and their older sister Miriam is in many ways the spiritual advisor of her brothers, as she was for the family long before the Exodus.

As much as there can be a Matriarch in a patriarchal, nomadic, tribal society, Miriam is that. She is a leader among the women in many ways. She leads dances of celebration with the timbrel. Obviously, in this story she still feels she has the right to express opinions about the decisions of her brothers, particularly her younger brother Moses.

So, when Moses decides (or is told by God) to give up any marital relations with his wife Tzapora, Miriam takes exception to his abandonment of her. No doubt the two women were friends. She complains to Aaron, seeking his support. She puts herself on an equal footing with her little brother.

And she gossips in public instead of consulting privately with Moses. This was her big mistake!
The text says Moses had a Cushite wife. In Hebrew tradition “Cushite” means “one who stands out.” (It does not mean a dark-skinned wife. And all those who interpret this story as Moses taking on a new wife other than his original wife are badly misreading this story.) What Moses chooses to do at this time is become celibate in order to focus his energies and become the prophet he needs to be – the one who can talk to God directly.

God is not happy with Miriam stirring up criticism of Moses and calls all three of them to the holy tent, where Miriam and Aaron are reminded in blunt terms that Moses has special abilities that they do not have. When the cloud of God’s presence leaves the tent, Miriam is left with a white coating of leprosy.

According to legendary tradition, Aaron is also stricken, but is healed instantly, due to his priestly duties. Or perhaps because he immediately begs Moses to intercede for his sister. Both Aaron and Miriam continue balancing marriage with their ministries, but Moses continues on as a celibate.

To help his sister, Moses responds to Aaron’s plea and intervenes. He begs God to heal her. She is granted healing if she will live as an unclean reject outside camp for seven days. As a result, all movement to the Land of Canaan is halted until Miriam is returned. She is not cast out. She is merely punished for thinking too much of herself.

What do we make of this story?

Miriam’s position among the tribes goes from the top to the bottom. A leper, even a former leper has low status among the people. She loses her position as Matriarch of the family. Moses now assumes the role of sole patriarch for them and for all of Israel. More especially, Miriam loses her pride – which may be the outcome God intended all along. Aaron defers everything to Moses and goes to him and him alone for council and leadership. The family dynamic is reversed.

The Children of Israel experience many challenges along the way to the Promised Land. Those who think the tribes in Palestine are too great to overcome never get to see the final goal. Those who refuse to accept Moses’ authority are swallowed up by the earth. Those weak in faith are destroyed by snakes. After Miriam dies, the tribes run out of water. Moses strikes a rock and water flows. With every challenge, Moses meets those who challenge him with the power of God through miracles.

So, it’s not just Miriam. It seems that everyone, including us, from time to time forgets that the power of God has saved them and continues to save and protect them. We get caught up in our own pride. Do we need to be stricken with the white ashen skin of leprosy to be humbled? I hope not. Do we need to have the earth open up and swallow us, like it did to Dathan (played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie). I hope none of us gets so puffed up that we challenge the authority of the Lord that much.

I guess the message, especially in these times of quarantine, is to be humble and wait upon the Lord. The clue to the story for me was in Numbers 12. v.3. “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”

[Peter Mansell]

Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Matthew 18:1-9

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

+ + + + +

The New Testament scholar Reginal Fuller gives the title “The Community Discourse” to the 18th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, while others prefer to call it “Community Rule” or “Church Order”. Fuller also notes the this chapter is compiled from three sources; the Gospel of Mark, Q (from the German for source “Quelle”) the supposed collection of sayings of Jesus from which Mark wrote his Gospel and which evidence suggest must have also been known to Matthew and Luke although it has never been found, and M, a collection of stories of Jesus only known to Matthew. Matthew then edited these three separate strands into instruction meant for the church as it existed in Matthew’s time and community. It is also notable that Matthew places this Passage not long after the so-called “Second Passion Prediction” (Matthew 17:22-23), Jesus for the second time telling the disciples that he must die in Jerusalem and their distress at hearing this. With these thoughts in mind, what does this text tells us about Matthews vision of how to “be” church?

Verses 1 through 5 speak directly to the disciples’ distress at hearing of a crucified Messiah. It is almost as if they “get it”, and then say something like “OK, but when all of that unpleasant stuff is out of the way, we’re going to be alright, aren’t we, and who’s going to do best of all?” And the answer that Jesus gives is to make a child, which in the society of 1st century Palestine was effectively worthless, the example of who will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. The church is to be a community with members that may have different functions (as St. Paul has already written by the time Matthew’s Gospel is being written), but all are of equal status, and that status is effectively no status at all. There is to be no rank at all, only service, in the church of Matthew’s vision.

Verses 6 through 9 In the New Revised Standard Edition of the Bible make much use of terms referring to stumbling and stumbling blocks. In the King James Version the equivalent words are “offending” and “offenses”. Behind these are Greek words that are the roots of our “scandalizing” and “scandals”. In the Greek of New Testament times the Greek verb “skandalizein” is used in the sense of to cause someone to stumble or sin, to give up their faith, to give offence or scandal, or to throw difficulties in someone’s way. If we then read these verses as an instruction to the church of Matthew’s time, we might infer that by then (the last decade or so of the 1st Century) it was beginning to separate into factions, or perhaps into those “up” and those “down”, with those up presuming that it was their function to instruct those below them in the proper” way of following Jesus. And, in Matthew’s view, being wrong and thereby causing others to be wrong about what it took to be a follower. The rather extreme remedies that Matthew suggests for those causing stumbling make it clear that causing others to stumble, to sin, to fail in the faith, is far worse than doing so yourself.

I remind myself frequently that in the church (also in the world, but it’s vitally important in the church) we must constantly be aware of the distinction between person and office. Office are things like being clergy, a musician, choristers, altar guild, committee member, volunteer for various ministries, or yes, pew sitter. Office is necessary if the church, like any other organization, is to get anything done. Services have to be led, someone has to play the organ, sing, clean up, manage the property, volunteer to do what needs doing, and show up on Sunday! But none of those have anything to do with our status before God. Before God we are all persons, little children, equally of very little value, yet also equally extremely valuable as we are all made in the image of God. Whatever our office is we are to carry it out, not for our own benefit or status, but simply to point to God, the Father of us all little children. And as children we are all great, the greatest, in the Kingdom of God.

[Gerry Mueller]

Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Romans 1:16-25

I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

+ + +

The apostle Paul is rarely hesitant to “boast in the Lord” as he sometimes puts it and, in our reading today, he gives us a reason why. Writing to the Christian community in Rome, Paul begins by proclaiming defiantly that he is “not ashamed”, that is, he does not allow others who may scoff or sneer at his message to make him feel ashamed.

For why should he be? The “gospel” (meaning “good news”) Paul is proclaiming is about how God’s power is poised to secure human healing and wholeness and well-being, both now and forever (a.k.a. “salvation”). Nor is this for some but for all people (or “Jew and Greek”, which is Paul’s way of saying “everybody”). In other words, there’s nothing that you first have to be or do to qualify. This is the free gift of God to all God’s children – another reason the gospel is such good news!

How does it happen though? Paul’s answer is “through faith”, faith in the one whom God sent and raised from the dead, faith in his teachings and his triumph over sin and death. Now here we should pause a moment. By “faith”, Paul does not mean “belief”, although we tend to use the two words interchangeably. Belief may be understood as an intellectual assent. “I believe the sun rotates around the earth” and “I believe that two plus two equals four” are statements of belief, not faith. Paul is not trying to get people to “believe” in that sense, with their heads.
When Paul talks about faith, he is talking about trust, the kind of trust on which we make our decisions and live our lives. That kind of trust develops as we live our lives in the multiplicity of all our relationships. We find out as we go in what and in whom we can really trust, on what or on whom we can really count, what makes life “work” and worth living. Over time, the life we make will reveal to us the truth and the value of that which we’ve made the foundation of it all.
Paul says that trusting in what God is doing through Jesus will reveal the ”righteousness” of God, that is, how God is making you “right”, with yourself, with others, with the earth (creation), and with God. This happens as you live the good news of Jesus. You commit to walking in his way of love and, in the process, your life gradually becomes your own unique expression of that love. Why? Because your life will have been grounded in what is indeed most true and good and that will make all the difference. It will have made you more genuinely true and good, more the real and loving person you were always meant by God to be.

Tragically, however, many people’s trust turns out to be misplaced. They base their lives on what is false and the results are invariably devastating. That’s what happens, says Paul, when people are too dazzled by, or addicted to, the things of the world around them. They see the creation but fail to discern the Creator, in and behind it all. Instead they elevate the things they strive to possess into idols they serve. Paul says their minds become “darkened”. Thinking themselves the smart ones, they fool themselves into wasting their lives, slaving away for the things that do not last and that finally give them no joy.

Such people, says Paul, have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie”, that life is all about them and the things they must have and be – rich, powerful, famous, etc. The life-changing grace, beauty and love of God were there to be revealed in them – and they missed it all!
What Paul is doing here is contrasting the tangible versus the intangible, the visible versus the invisible, the wisdom of this world versus the “foolishness” (as he elsewhere calls it) of the gospel. On the one hand, there’s what we can see right in front of us, or on our screens, and the world urging us to “go for it”, to compete and to get, to have that lifestyle, to be like that person on the magazine cover. It’s all so real, so immediate, so exciting. On the other hand, there’s what we cannot see, what is little known or maybe even scoffed at and despised. It’s a hint, a glimpse of something, a wild longing of our heart – echoed in the improbable story of a man raised from the dead and of a love greater than anything, a love to make everything right.

What a risk, what a chance to take, to trust in that second option! And yet the witness of St. Paul and all the saints is that such a trust – such a faith – will never be misplaced. So let us not be made to feel ashamed by anyone for following the good news because choosing for that one, perfect Love is going to make all the difference, now and forever.

[John Maine]

Monday, June 15, 2020
Matthew 17:14-20 

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

+ + +

Without the benefit of some scriptural context, I’ll admit that I was shocked at Jesus’ response to his disciples, whom he terms as a “faithless and perverse generation.” I mean, they had good intentions, right? A man has brought his son to them for healing and the disciples are unable to restore him to health, but we are talking about mortals failing against a demon! Surely a setback against such opposition might merit encouragement, but instead, the Lord gives a very public scolding and dismissal.

We’ve all stood in the disciples’ shoes. When our Saviour commands that the boy be brought to him, were you not reminded of your own past, when an adult in your life said, “Oh never mind, I’ll do it myself!” We all know how we felt, a bit downcast, a bit ashamed. We disappointed our parents, or a boss, or a partner. If my reflection so far sounds logical, this next thought might depart from that pattern. You see, I think Jesus’ response springs from fear. Perhaps now is the time for that spiritual context!

From his baptism until his ascension, Jesus’ ministry lasted approximately three and a half years, with today’s scripture occurring at roughly the three year mark. In the previous week (Matthew 16) Jesus had revealed to his disciples that HE would journey to Jerusalem for judgement, death, and resurrection; moreover, if they genuinely wanted to follow Him, their future path was also one of the Cross.

So the fear I am speaking of is not one where Jesus dreads His path – that will be expressed in the Garden of Gethsemane. I think Jesus’ scolding in Matthew 17 comes from concern that He will soon not be among his followers, and if their faith cannot heal one demon-possessed boy, how will they survive when greater forces are arrayed against them?

But Jesus never dwells in reproach. That’s why I love His mustard seed reference. Occasionally, our faith seems miniscule when it must stand up against waves of negativity and doubt, but we are given this assurance: it’s not the quantity of faith that is important – it’s the quality, the pure, absolute, and genuine belief in God’s promise to us, in the gift of Jesus to all believers. That small seed, planted and nourished in prayer, will flower into a magnificent harvest.

[Jack Nahrgang]

Sunday, June 14, 2020
Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

+ + +

This passage will be familiar to many, as it is the basis of the blessing that concludes the communion service of The Book of Common Prayer, and it is often adapted for use in BAS services. Pronouncing blessing is an integral part of a Christian priest’s ministry; at our ordination we are called upon to proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments, and pronounce God’s forgiveness and blessing. I don’t think we need to see this as an instance of clergy greedily squirrelling away this meaningful task, but, as with liturgical leadership, it is about the Church having identified and raised up certain persons to perform ministries within the internal life of the gathered congregation, speaking with the voice of the whole assembly. As the congregation is dismissed (which, liturgically, follows the blessing) and is dispersed into the world, each person takes that experience of having been blessed (or, perhaps we could also say, having been reminded of their blessedness) and then goes forth as a blessing to the world, and blesses those whom they meet in their life. As I’ve noted before, I think in a recent homily, the priesthood of the ordained clergy serves to cultivate the priesthood of each person, for their Christian ministry in the world.

A few of us in the congregation recently read an article about priestly identity, in which Rowan Williams is quoted on this very topic. To offer a blessing is to “tell the assembly of believers who they are in God’s presence, what it is to be involved with, and in, the priestly act of Jesus Christ and what that means in the daily interactions of human life in terms of reconciliation, judgement, risk and gift.”*

The ancient Hebrew people, in being blessed, were reminded of their most precious identity, as the people of God. When we are blessed, we are reminded that each one of us is God’s precious child. While the messages we often receive from the world have to do with being labelled, guilted, and needing to do better before being happy, when we are blessed, we are reminded that God’s grace comes without strings attached; it is a gift, not an accomplishment. (It does, however, come with responsibility.) Our truest identity is to be found in God, and not in our internal mental chatter that so often acts to second-guess ourselves, our choices, and our very worth.

There is another aspect of blessing: the blessing we offer to God. Think of when we pray something like “blessed are you, Lord God of all the universe…” This is obviously not a way of turning God from flawed, or bad, to good and pure (i.e. from not blessed to blessed); that would be beyond our ability, not to mention unnecessary concerning God. But what it is is an earnest “thank you” to God for the blessings that, as Creator, Saviour, and Sustainer, God has given us. It is, thus, a recognition of God’s truest identity as Provider. So in both cases — when we are blessed by God, and when we ourselves speak to God as blessed — we are not so much talking about conversion or transformation, but about the most basic, inner, eternal reality, of both ourselves and God.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

* Rowan Williams in Douglas Dales, John Habgood, Geoffrey Rowell, and Rowan Williams, Glory Descending: Michael Ramsey and His Wntings (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005), 174.