CHILMARK COMMUNITY CHURCH June 16, 2019
PSALM 104 AND LUKE 6:27-28 ARMEN HANJIAN
I have just the prayer for you in case people have started eating before the prayer: “Bless the Lord , O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name.”
In many places in our Bible we are called to bless the Lord. We have some tasks to attend to then. One is to identify the many benefits God gives us – to recall them, to remember them. That’s not sufficient. Many say “I am thankful for peace and for health and for my good looks – at least I look better than so and so.” That is a very limited step. That step is just a matter of making a list, a matter of rationally knowing I have a debt. What is missing is the feeling component.
In so much of our lives, we have had squelched that feeling part of life. When we started out in life as infants, we came packaged with good balance: with ability to reason and being in touch with and able to express our feelings. For many in the world, society has found a way to squeeze the feelings out of our awareness.
We are told, “Cool it; we don’t want to know about your feelings and especially about any negative feelings. And if you have any positive feelings of rejoicing – that’s o.k. but only so much. Don’t over do it.”
So the amount of feelings we are allowed to express are very limited in scope. We can have a little bit of positive and even less of negative. The overall message that we have gotten is “Stuff it.”
Yet God has given us the ability to have deep, deep feelings – feelings of despair, of hopelessness, of pain, of being in touch with our times of deprivation and at the other end of the spectrum feelings of joy and exhilaration and excitement. But for most, we have been limited to a very narrow range, a narrow world of feelings.
And what people have had to do is to take drugs, to drink, to force a party in order to push past those limits. And you know there are healthier ways to get past them. The healthiest thing of course is not to dampen and limit feelings in our children. When they get out into the world they will get limited there so our task is to give permission to others and to our selves to take the time to be aware of feelings and welcome them.
So, in order to bless the Lord we must not only remember all God benefits. We also need to express the feeling they have the ability to stir up in us. That is what the blessing part is, that is what the praising part is. When we get in touch with our feelings and usually when it is in the area of thanksgiving – they are feelings of gratitude, of pleasure, of satisfaction, of having been attended to – when we are in touch with those feelings – then we are moved to action. Because feelings are not just for the moment, for the experiencing; they are energy which is given to us to prompt us to action perhaps to sing, to praise, to dance, to share or some other move.
Notice the many places where praising or blessing perk up; it is happening in a myriad of places. C.S. Lewis in his book, The Joyful Christian (p.118) noted, “The most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything else strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of a compliment, approval or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously… overflows into praise unless(sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is brought in to check it. The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers praising their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game, praise of weather, wine, dishes, actors,… horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.”
Lewis said, “I had noticed that the humblest, and at the same time the most balanced minds,…praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least….Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”
“All that is within me bless God’s holy name.” What is within a person? Love the Lord our God with all your mind and heart and soul and strength. With your voice, your singing, with your hands, with your feet, with your talents, with your work, with your life. The Psalmist says, Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.”
Many other things praise the Lord just by being – the earth, the sky, the sea. We humans who breath have a choice. It is not that God has this need to be praised. It I rather that we need to praise. There are rules, laws in the Hebrew scriptures, saying on the Sabbath we should worship as a community of the faithful. We could translate that: “You need to go to Church every week to praise God.” And that sounds like a dull, difficult requirement to many. At least that is how it is for those who don’t go every week. Those who go every week don’t see it as a dull requirement; they see it as a source of strength, as a way of expressing, as a way of being in touch with the truths inside and the truth outside and the Source of all truth.
Did you ever notice that just as we spontaneously praise whatever we value, we also try to get others to join us in praising it? “Wasn’t that a great day?” “Isn’t she a beautiful person?” So when the Psalmist writes to us, “Bless the Lord…,” he is doing what everyone else does when they speak about what they care about.
We delight in praising what we enjoy because it completes the enjoyment. C.S. Lewis adds, “It is not out of compliment that lovers keep telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.”
Isn’t it frustrating seeing a beautiful sunrise and everyone else in the house is asleep? Or worse, wanting to point out a truth but the one alongside you doesn’t care a stich about it?
Our feelings seldom get full expression. Sometimes they get out in poetry or music or art or dance where we almost burst with the fullness of vitality.
What does it mean to bless? The meanings include: to make holy, to baptize, to dedicate; to endow, to benefit; to guard, to protect, to watch over, to support. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of directives to bless. Only one place do we have Jesus saying we should bless. Luke 6:27-28 “But I say to you who listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
And we also can glean insights into Jesus when he expressed feelings. 1) When Jesus was angry, he turned over the tables of the money changers and drove out the sellers of unblemished sheep for sacrificial offerings in the Temple. 2)Upon hearing of the death of his friend John the Baptist, in sadness, Jesus wept. It is o.k. to cry. Then he went about teaching and modeling the Kingdom of God about which John preached. 3)When Jesus felt compassion for the sick, the lame, the blind, he healed them. 4)When he felt the lostness of the people who were like sheep without a shepherd, he engaged people with a ministry of teaching such that they connected with God’s leadership and God’s purposes.
5)When Jesus felt respect for children, he acted by welcoming them amongst his hearers; removing the barrier he said, “Let the children come.” 6)When he felt frustrated with the slowness of the disciples to catch on to his way, he expressed it verbally. 7) When Jesus felt unjustly accused, he had a variety of responses: One time he responded with a counter question, another time with intentional silence and once with “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
The beautiful thing about letting feelings prompt the action is that the action is usually the most appropriate action to take.
We don’t write letters of thanks to all, but we do to some. We don’t visit everyone who has blessed us, but there may be a few. We don’t give gift to all who have been kind to us, but it may be fitting for this person. The feeling may prompt a hug offered to a child or even to another man. I find it best to ask, “Are you open to a hug?” Your response may be a creative piece of art or cooking or poetry that is just suited to the feeling and to the person. And, the feeling may spontaneously overflow in joyous, even extravagant action.
It doesn’t take much time at all to stop and be aware of God’s benefits and then take the next step and be in touch with your feelings. Then your soul will truly bless the Lord and will overflow in benefits to others and to yourself.
“Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.”