Numbers 6: 22-272 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD lift up his countenance[c] upon you and give you peace.
27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
There’s an old saying in the Midwest that there only two seasons of the year – winter and road construction. Sort of a negative way of looking at life, I suppose, but there is a measure of truth in it, to be sure. There’s an old saying in Lutheran circles that there are at least two seasons in life, as well. Times we feel as though God is near and times when He seems distant or worse yet, absent. One author Graham Cooke calls them seasons of manifestation and hiddenness. On the one hand, God reveals Himself to us in the preaching and teaching of His Word, but on the other hand, in the lonely and dark days of cancer attacking one organ after another, it feels as if God is nowhere to be found. There are days when it seems as if we are already in the Promised Land and other days when it seems as though we are stuck in the wilderness with no water or relief in sight.
In Numbers 6, the people of God were camped out at Mt. Sinai, less than a year after they had been delivered out of Egyptian slavery and through the Red Sea. They were about to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness where the sun would be striking them by day and the moon by night. If heat stroke didn’t get them during daylight, they just might go looney in the night time. In fact, God was going to be leading the way, but more often than not it would feel as though He had abandoned them. And so God said to Moses to say to Aaron and his sons,” This is how you are to bless the Israelites. I want you to put my name on these people and in every one of your times of worship, I want you to give them a threefold Benediction.
Glenn and Sharon, when Jeffrey was just a sweet and precious and innocent little guy, you brought him into this sanctuary, and in the company of fellow travelers, you put the Name of the Triune God on him, both upon his forehead and upon his heart. Praise be to God that you made sure that happened. And then as the years went on, you saw to it that he had the resources he needed to make it through just a little over 40 years of wandering in this wilderness we call earth. You made sure he knew not only the Ten Commandments, but also the Apostles Creed. And you made sure he knew how to pray the Lord’s Prayer, how to confess his sins, where to take his burdens, and what mattered most in life. You made sure he knew that God the Father was with him blessing and keeping, that God the Son had found a way to be gracious to him, and that no matter how dry and dusty and desolate was the desert, it was possible to have the peace of God on the inside.
Three parts to our message today, as we focus on what it means to have the Name of the Triune God put on us in Holy Baptism and what it is that God wants His pastors and priests to say to His people in every one of their days.
First, God wants his priests and pastors to say to His people, the Lord bless you and keep you. In other words, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, use your ears. Use your ears to hear and to hold onto the really good and strong and undeniable news that God, the Father Almighty is cupping his ears towards you for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. The enemies of the Christian faith are fierce and more often than not, they seem to be winning the day. St. Paul urged the Ephesian Christians to put on the full armor of God in a daily sort of a way because, he warned, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual rulers and authorities and demons of darkness. Our enemies include our own sinful nature, a nasty and messed up world, and the devil himself. Praise God we don’t have to deal with them on own. The last enemy we will have to face is death itself, and praise be to God that Jeff did not have to face that one alone.
In all the seasons of life, God the Father was blessing and keeping him, especially on those days when he didn’t feel particularly blessed and kept. He blessed Jeff with body and soul, eyes, ears, all of his members, his reason and all of his senses. Through the laws of nature and a beautiful creation and a good measure of honest labor, God gave Jeff clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and child, and all that he had. In his last days, through family and faithful friends and co-workers, God defended him and protected him from all kinds of danger and evil. A word about Salvation Army – I don’t know of an organization more focused on defending and protecting and blessing hurting people than this one. Lesson #1 today, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, be still and know by faith that God is God. Go to your quiet places and appreciate the beauty of creation. Remember what you have learned from your mother’s knees. Know by faith that what you see is not all that you are getting.
Second, God wants his pastors to say to His people, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. When life feels as though God is angry with you, this is what God wants your pastors and teachers in the faith want to help you to see. We want you to see Jesus Christ who in fact had His eyes fixed on you as He suffered and then He was dying and then He was dead. We want you to see Jesus Christ risen and looking you in the eyes today, saying, because I live, Jeff Ewert shall live. We want you to see Christ ascending into heaven, raising his hands and looking his disciples in the eyes on the way up giving a benediction. We want you to see Jesus sitting on the right hand of his Father ruling heaven and earth for the benefit of His people. We want you to see a Father who is in no way angry with you family because in fact He has taken all of His righteous anger out on His only Son. The price has been paid in full.
God may seem to be hiding from you, but He is not angry with you. Believe that and hold onto that simple and yet powerful truth that God is love and that in Christ He was reconciling the world, bringing the world into right relationship with Himself. When life is smooth and easy, we can call those seasons of, and praise God it’s time to laugh and to dance and sing like we’ve never sung before. When life is rough and as hard as it can be, we can call those seasons of hiddenness, and with tears in our eyes we know it’s time to be still, to trust, and to learn lessons like we’ve never quite learned them before. Lesson #2 today, especially when days are dark and depressing, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ, and do not forget that if His eye is on the sparrow, how much more so has it always been on you.
Finally, lesson #3, the Lord wants your pastors and priests to say to you, the Lord look with favor upon you and give you peace. By that I mean to say that when it feels as though your faith is fading, draw near to your Savior. As you do so, you will notice He has already drawn near to you. As often as you feel like your knees are going weak, put one foot in front of the other and get yourself to that place where the Spirit of God has promised to work. Get yourself to your Lord’s Supper, where the forgiveness of sins will sweep over your soul as a fresh snow covers up a muddy and messed up farmyard. Get yourself to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, where the Spirit of God will be able to reassure you and give you just enough strength to make it through another day. Get yourself to your memory bank where you can recall all that your parents and your grandparents and your Sunday School teachers and your Day School teachers and your Pastors have said to you over the years.
The last time I saw Jeff was Sunday in the late morning, the day before he breathed his last. I asked him if he was up to receiving Holy Communion. He hesitated and said, “Give me a little time.” After a bit of silence and with a fair amount of effort, he swung his feet off the bed and onto the floor. We said the Lord’s Prayer together. When I asked Glen and Sharon and Jeff if he was sorry for his sins, and if he believed in Jesus Christ, he said yes. He ate and he drank and in so doing, his sins were forgiven. The Lord looked with favor upon him, and the Spirit of God gave him peace. His last words to me were a little bit later, and they were a question. It was just the two of us, and once again he swung his feet over the bed and onto the floor and asked, “What is your vision?” As preachers do, I pontificated a bit and stumbled out a few words about the Garden of Eden and land and animals that wound need to be taken care of and a word about mansions and gold streets. Then it occurred to me to be quiet and I was. For a bit, and then I asked, “What is your vision?” To which he was quiet, and then he said, “I don’t know.” What he did know is that he wanted to be done with these days of suffering and step into glory. And that is how he prayed.
It seemed as though he was content in that moment to know that God was blessing and keeping him, that God had already shined on him and had been gracious to him, that the Lord was looking with favor upon him, and that the peace that goes beyond human circumstances was his. Stella and Glen and Sharon and Mike and Tom and Jenny and all who loved and were loved by Jeff, on the one hand, this may very well be the worst day of your lives up to this point. On the other hand, know that your God is cupping His ears in your direction for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. Know that your Savior’s eyes are fixed on you with a great desire to be gracious to you. Know that the Spirit of God is all about guiding and leading you into that season of life where you will once again soar as on the wings of an eagle. In Jesus. Amen.