Thanking God for His Blessings in Christ (Psalm 67)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Thanksgiving Eve – November 23, 2016
Text: Psalm 67
“God bless you!”  “I feel truly blessed.”  “God has blessed them with children.”  You hear phrases like this all the time from people.  But think about what is being said.  We say “God bless you” when someone sneezes, wishing them health.  We say that we’re blessed or someone else is blessed when they have what they want—be it a nice house or lots of grandchildren.  We say that God blesses something when it goes our way.  But seldom do you hear God’s blessing on adversity.
What are we confessing when we only speak of good things as blessings?  I think too often we are promoting blessing from a god who only gives health, wealth, and increase; and not death, poverty, and loss.  That god’s name is Mammon, and he doesn’t just deal in currency; he is the god of prosperity.  Mammon is hard at work around this time of year.  When we think of what we’re thankful for, he’s craftily trained us to think of material stuff and count those as our blessings.  Then, the whole world, who worships at Mammon’s altar, bombards us with the teaching that you know God’s blessing through how good your life is and what kind of stuff you have—a Pontiac or a Mercedes; Faded Glory or Ralph Lauren; Chicken of the Sea or Red Lobster.  To bless others is to buy people stuff so they too can experience Mammon’s favor.
Rather than have Mammon teach us about blessing, let’s have the true God enlighten us.  The blessings of God are a treasure beyond anything that can be bought or sold.  They cannot wear out or become obsolete.  The blessings of God cannot be stolen and they even stay with you beyond the grave.
David, in the Spirit, writes,
     May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
This is the Aaronic Benediction, first given in Numbers 6, but still received today by God’s people after every Divine Service.  In the Western church it’s common for the congregation to bow their head because God said, thus “you shall put my Name upon the people and I will bless them.”[1]  But what is God’s blessing?
First, that God is gracious to us.  How many of you groaned when you remembered that you had to leave the house tonight?  Or when you remembered you still had to go to work today?  How many of you had one or many mean thoughts about another person?  How many of you got more excited about upcoming sales than the extra worship services of Advent?  You do realize that God consumes sinners, don’t you?  The Scriptures say, “You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you…You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”[2]  Just as we confessed at the beginning of service, “we justly deserve [His] temporal and eternal punishment.”
But God is gracious to us.  He makes atonement for our sins.  He shed the blood of His sinless Son for sinners’ sake.  Therefore, the Scriptures also say, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”[3]  He doesn’t give us what we justly deserve; He gives “His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.”[4]  Every moment of our life God is gracious to us (right now, he’s even gracious to those who despise Him!).  St. John writes, Whenever[5] we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  So, yes, when we sin, God does not immediately punish us.  He is long-suffering toward us and calls us to repent and believe that He forgives us for Jesus’ sake.
Second, God blesses us.  Not only does He not punish us like we deserve, He shows His favor to us.  When the Prodigal Son returned, he confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But the father didn’t just make him one of his hirelings.  Instead, he said to the servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.”[6]  God does the same for you.  He has not only removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, but He is pleased with you!  He is pleased to call you His own child, pleased to welcome you onto holy ground in this place, and pleased to receive you into eternal dwellings.
A blessing is God’s favor, spoken onto His people.[7]  Think of how many ways God speaks His favor to you in the Church.  When you were baptized into Christ, it is as if He said to you in the water, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”[8]  When you heard the absolution today, and when you hear this forgiveness from a brother or sister, it is as good as Jesus speaking into your ears: “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”[9]  Shortly, when you receive His Body and Blood at this altar, you will hear Him say, “Take; eat.  This is my Body given for you. Take; drink. This is my Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Lord God has adopted you in Christ to be His own child.  So, come near often, and receive your Father’s blessing.[10]
Thirdly, this Psalm teaches us that God makes His face to shine upon us.  In Psalm 4, David writes, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?’”  Apart from the Lord, we look for good in our circumstances.  If our appetites are sated, then we’re content to say we love the Lord and He’s good to us.  But as soon as we lose possessions and health, we become downcast as if God had forsaken us.  Who will show us some good?  Is it to be found in this fleeting life of labor, evil, and loss?  Of course not!  Psalm 4 continues, “Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord! You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”[11]
The Lord makes His face to shine upon you, so that you can be sure that you have God as Father in every joy just as much as in every sorrow.  What’s come before has led up to this: God blesses you and forgives all your sins, He blesses you and crowns you as His own royal sons and daughters.  But here, He also promises to hear your prayers, support you, and defend you in every need.  He will never leave you, nor forsake you.  Therefore, we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”[12]
If this is how we see God’s blessing, it changes not only our Christmas season, but every day of our life throughout the year.  Psalm 67 tells the result of God’s blessing:
            that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
                    Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
                    Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
                    Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
The blessing that God gives to sinners—forgiveness and adoption as children—is how the nations know Him.  It’s not in wealth or prosperity.  On the contrary, God often shows Himself most clearly in weakness and poverty.  He shows His blessing when faith isn’t strong and when we really can’t handle what’s laid on our shoulders.  God chooses those moments to make known His “saving power among all nations.”
The Lord said through the Psalmist Asaph, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  God’s blessing is our strength in weakness, our healing in sickness, and our life in death.  If everything went well all the time, who would be moved to praise the Lord?  But when God shows Himself as the Helper of the helpless, praise pours forth from the lips of all the redeemed!
The Psalm concludes,
            The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
                    God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!
The earthly increase does come, but it’s not the way we know God.  Christ has taught us, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  In due season, God does satisfy the desires of every living thing[13]—how much more for His children!  But first come the true blessings: forgiveness of sins, adoption as God’s children, and a divine promise to be our Helper in every need.
So when the Psalm confidently ends, “God shall bless us,” we know that He does with riches that cannot be found from anywhere on earth.  Peace be with you in Christ Jesus both now and forever! Amen.
[1] Numbers 6:27
[2] Psalm 5:4-6
[3] Psalm 103:10
[4] John 3:16
[5] 1 John 1:9, emphasizing the ongoing conditional sentence in Greek
[6] Luke 15:11-24
[7] Tyndale Bible Dictionary, “Bless”
[8] Matthew 3:17
[9] Matthew 9:2
[10] cf. Genesis 27:26-29
[11] Psalm 4:6-7
[12] Hebrews 13:6
[13] Psalm 145:16