“There is a church in western Massachusetts that made a commitment to be gracious to everybody,” the Rev. Mary Luti told the congregation at the 9:15 a.m. Friday Ecumenical Service. “That is not always easy, because the church is the place where the one person you can’t stand is always present.”
Her sermon title was “The Power of Blessing: God Bless You,” and the Scripture readings were Mark 1:9-11, the baptism of Jesus, and Mark 10:13-16, the children coming to Jesus for a blessing.
The church, in Northampton, Massachusetts, had such success that their pastor started going to Main Street and offering “blessings to go.”
The disciples, Peter and John, did the same thing in Acts. After the Holy Spirit had come to them in the Upper Room, they went out to the temple square, the Main Street of its day. They found a lame man who wanted a handout.
“They were low on cash but not on gifts,” Luti said. “They gave him some life, a blessing to go, and the man leapt up. When someone blesses us, we know we matter.”
The pastor in Northampton took her blessings to the Gay Pride Parade. She blessed a man named Tom who came back later and said, “Thank you for the blessing. You know it was a big deal; people at Pride are a tough crowd. We have been told, ‘God loves you — if you change, if you repent.’ ”
The pastor pinned a sign on her stole, “Ask Me For A Blessing,” and walked among the crowd. Sometimes no one responded, sometimes there was a line, sometimes people sobbed in her arms. A man named Buddy came back and blessed her, and she sobbed in his arms.
“Here’s some life — life for the beggar, life for the soul injured — and the pastor was blessed,” Luti said.
Luti has a friend in Spain, about her age, whose mother used to bless her nine children every morning before they went off to school.
“My friend’s mother died when she was 16,” Luti said. “She can hardly remember her mother’s face, but she does remember the pressure of her hand on her head.”
Luti has another friend who blesses his children every morning when they leave for school. One day, one of the children got antsy and ran out before he got his blessing. The child turned around and ran all the way home to get the blessing.
“The blessing was as necessary as his lunch money,” she said. “A blessing means you are worth everything to someone.”
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit rested on him and God said, “You please me.”
“Jesus drew on that blessing all his life,” Luti said. “Jesus could embrace a challenging life with joy, a violent end with hope and the blessing raised him from the dead. Too many other children of God never get to hear a blessing. They have no soap, no blankets, no hugs, no parents. This enrages Jesus. He says, ‘Let them come in,’ and he blesses them.”
During the 1980s AIDS crisis, many men died without their parents’ or God’s blessing.
“I feel the anguish of those who remain unblessed,” Luti said.
The first blessing goes back to creation, on all the new creatures, since the beginning of time. God called creation good; it was a word of blessing. God infused the universe with delight.
“Many people think that God only blesses you if you are good and they exhaust themselves trying,” Luti said. “The truth is that blessing is original equipment. You are the apple of God’s eye and nothing can take that away.”
John Thomas, former president of the United Church of Christ, was visiting Asia when the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 struck. He went to visit the survivors, and they wanted to be touched. They wanted to know that their sacredness had not been washed away, so he blessed them.
“If a blessing affirms sacredness,” Luti said, “why are we not staying up nights thinking of millions of ways to bless the world? When we think about a long list of needs, blessing is not on the list.”
She continued, “Maybe we think that only pastors can bless, but anyone at anytime can give a blessing. Remember the sign — anyone can say, ‘Ask me for a good word that you have waited your whole life to hear.’ ”
Luti had a long sabbatical from her church and when she returned, she was flooded by the pastoral needs of her congregation. At the end of her first week back at work, she was getting ready to leave when she saw one more email from one of her deacons.
“I dreaded opening it; but when I did, it contained one sentence,” she said. “It said ‘God bless you, Mary.’ It re-created me.’
She asked the congregation, “Why aren’t we blessing all the time? Do we think people don’t deserve it? That they are the wrong religion, the wrong race, wrong sexuality; that they come from the wrong side of the tracks or the border?”
A Navy chaplain was assigned to the morgue in the Pentagon after 9/11. She was there to bless the unrecognizable bodies that came through the morgue. She said, “Since I didn’t know who I was blessing, I did not know if they were comrades or terrorists. It made me think about the troubling graciousness of God.”
“Maybe we think God is not a good judge of blessing because God errs on the side of blessing everyone,” Luti said. “You can learn to bless your enemies. Who knows what life you will restore?”
If you plan to start blessing, start small.
“Don’t start with your enemies, on Main Street or with the Pride parade,” Luti said.
Do some homework. Take time to remember all the good words that have blessed, she told the congregation.
“What would your life be like if you couldn’t remember them?” Luti asked. “Then think about what it would mean to someone to know they mean everything to you. Go to them and say, ‘God bless you.’ ”
She closed with a blessing for the congregation.
The Rev. Virginia Carr presided. Laura Corey, a Jamestown resident and member of Hurlbut Church, the Chautauqua Humane Society and the Chautauqua Regional Community Foundation, read the Scripture. The Chautauqua Music Camp Orchestra, under the direction of conductor in residence Edward Leonard, played “Pastorale D’été” by Arthur Honegger as the prelude. The Motet Choir sang the introit, “What Shall I Render,” by John Ness Beck. The Orchestra and Choir, under the direction of Leonard, performed “Sacred Heart (Ubi Caritas III)” by Ola Gjeilo. For the postlude, Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music played “Toccata,” from Symphony for Organ No. 5, by Charles-Marie Widor. Braille worship books are available for the sight-impaired to more fully participate in the weekday services. They are available at Gate 4, the Ralph C. Sheldon Gate. Ask any usher for help. This week’s services were supported by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund.