Please note, the recording froze briefly toward the end of the scripture. Read Psalm 103 here.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
“There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life.” These are the opening words of one of my favorite books, in fact I’ve given more copies of this book away than any other. It’s called To Bless the Space Between Us, and it was written by John O’Donohue, a magnificent Irish priest and poet, philosopher and teacher. “It would be infinitely lonely to live in a world without blessing,” he writes. “The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable. Each life is clothed in raiment of spirit that secretly links it to everything else.”
What is that invisible spark, that quiet light, that resides within us all and that seeks connection with God and with one another? What is that kernel of energy that, like a split atom, generates infinite drive for union with God, self, and other? One of the hymns we sing often at Plymouth contains the line, “I will hold the Christlight for you in the shadow of your fear.” What is that Christlight within us and how do we let it shine and spread from our selves to illumine the life of another?
Positive connection between one soul and another is possible, and the connection can be made through blessing, which builds a bridge of spirit and goodness, health and healing, between one person and another. And it’s something we don’t do as often as we might. When was the last time you offered someone an explicit blessing?
At the end of every service, you receive a benediction, literally a “good word” or well-wishing from the minister. It is the most obvious blessing in our order of worship, and we take it very seriously as conferring spiritual blessing on you. And there are other blessings as well. Every time we celebrate communion, the minister offers a prayer of consecration over the simple elements of communion, setting them aside as holy with a blessing. When we baptize children or adults, we bless them in the name of the triune God. And every week, at least during non-pandemic times, we do two things with the offering: We sing it forward with a Doxology (usually “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”) and then in the Unison Prayer of Dedication, together we all bless the offerings that have been made. We can bless things as well as people, and that is what we do today, on this Consecration Sunday, as we bless our pledge commitments for 2022.
I learned something new while preparing this sermon: the Old English root of blessing is blêdsian, which means to consecrate with blood. David Steindl-Rast says that “Blessing is the lifeblood throbbing through the universe.” Before you get totally grossed out, think about this from a religious studies point of view. What did most offerings in many religions look like? They were often sacrifices: sometimes grain, sometimes material wealth, sometimes animals. People bought doves outside the Temple in Jerusalem for sacrifice. We still repeat Jesus’ words, “This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood.” We see it as lifeblood, a metaphor for the container or vehicle of vitality and spirit. And when we collect the offering, where do we put the plates after we sing it forward? We put it on the communion table, and if I were an anthropologist, I’d probably conclude that our communion table is an altar and that we are making a sacrifice of our wealth for God.
So, what does consecration and blessing mean for us, who are 21st century followers of Christ? I turn to the 103rd Psalm, our text for today: “Let my whole being bless the Lord. Let everything inside me bless his holy name…and never forget all God’s good deeds.” I appreciate the way the Common English Bible renders that phrase, “Let my whole being bless the Lord,” rather than the more typical “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Think about that for a moment, how do you let your whole being — body and soul — turn toward God to build a sense of connection that allows gratitude, love, healing, and wholeness to flow in the channel of your blessing? How do you orient your life so that it isn’t just saying a word of blessing on a Sunday or even before a meal, but rather that your actions, thoughts, and deeds become a form of blessing that you offer to God?
When Paul advises us to “pray without ceasing,” he is not asking us to kneel down all day, but rather to orient our lives such that our lives themselves become a blessing, a channel of positive spiritual energy flowing between God, us, and others.
In the Celtic tradition, there is a great tradition of blessing things, people, and occasions. These were often learned by heart and offered in spoken word from one person to another or even while milking a cow or banking a fire at the end of the evening. In a few moments, we’ll offer a Celtic blessing from the Iona Community as we consecrate and bless our pledges for 2022, continuing that ancient tradition with contemporary words.
When we do that, I hope that you’ll think of blessing not of the slips of paper that we put in the basket or the online pledges that you may have made, but think of all the work of our members and friends that those pledges represent. Money is like stored energy that derives from our labor, and we are offering it to support the mission and ministry of this congregation. I am thankful that we recognize that all good gifts come from God and that when we offer them to God in gratitude, they form a tangible blessing that helps extends God’s realm through the activity of this church.
The other wonderful thing about blessing is that it cannot be bound by geographic location or even physical separation caused by a pandemic. A blessing cuts right through the distance!
So, we gather as God’s people, here in the sanctuary or in a hundred living rooms and family rooms of our online worshipers, and we gather to express gratitude with the commitment of our financial resources for 2022. And we gather to bless them, opening a channel of positive energy between the work they represent and the mission and ministry of this congregation.
May the whole being of each person who comprises this congregation bless the Lord, and may God’s blessing be on each of you. Amen.
© 2021 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 1Thess. 5.16
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.