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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:In This New Year and Always, God Will Continue to Bless His People
Text:Numbers 6:22-27 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2021-12-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Psalm 23

Text: Numbers 6:22-27

 

IN THIS NEW YEAR AND ALWAYS, GOD WILL CONTINUE TO BLESS HIS PEOPLE

  1. With His Keeping

  2. With His Caring

  3. With His Claim

 

Hymn 64:1-2

Reading of the Beatitudes

Psalm 64: 1, 5, 6

Psalm 23:1-2

Psalm 56:1, 3, 4, 5

Psalm 80: 3, 4, 8

Psalm 67:1-3

 

Words to Listen For: house, upside-down, womb, impression, three-fold

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What will be different in this new year?  What will stay the same?

  2. Who is the Aaronic/Priestly blessing ultimately from?  Why is this important?

  3. What is a lament?  Is it right or wrong for believers to do this?

  4. How would God look at you?

  5. Compare and contrast Gezellig and Shalom

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation,

It is the new year!  2020 is gone, and 2021 has come!

And at the beginning of a new year, many of us feel a sense of optimism.  We feel as though we have a clean slate.  All the mistakes of the past year are gone, and we have this chance to start over.  New Year, New Me, the saying goes.

And there’s truth to this.  There is something so freeing and exciting to tear that last page off your calendar and start completely over with blank pages.  We begin the year with every option and no mistakes.  And yet, before we get back there, let’s focus on what remains the same.  What will be the same in 2021 as it was in 2020?

  • This year, as in every year, there will be day and there will be night.

  • 365 sunrises and 365 sunsets.

  • There will be 4 seasons - Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

  • There will be 52 Sundays where you will hear the gospel preached, whether powerfully or weakly.  Either boldly or with great fear and trembling.  But the gospel will come out.

  • There will be baptisms this year.  In 2021, we hope to welcome new covenant children into the world.  Born in the usual way, and born again in baptism.

  • We will have new members in our church - students and adults professing their faith.

  • We will celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Probably in a few different ways, but it will be celebrated.

And there will be blessings.  Blessings spoken over you.  With two hands raised from the pulpit, and the words of Numbers 6, or 2 Corinthians 13 proclaimed over you.  

There will be a lot that stays the same.  But what do they all have in common?

Each and every one of these examples speaks to the faithfulness of our God.

Light and darkness will continue, since God made it that way on the first day of creation.

As long as this earth remains, there will be seasons.  God has declared it, and so it will be.

The message of the gospel, the message of baptisms, professions of faith, the Lord’s Supper, and the benedictions proclaimed over you...the message of all of these is the faithfulness of our God.

And, as much as there will be new and exciting adventures for each of us, a chance to do things we have never done...we do so on the solid foundation of our God’s faithfulness.  We can change things up in the house, but we desire a firm and solid foundation.  And that is what we have in our God.

IN THIS NEW YEAR AND ALWAYS, GOD WILL CONTINUE TO BLESS HIS PEOPLE

  1. With His Keeping

  2. With His Caring

  3. With His Claim

These words of the blessing from Numbers are words that you hear every Sunday.  In the morning or in the afternoon, you hear these words proclaimed over you.  But what do they really mean?  Where do they come from?

This blessing is typically called The Aaronic Blessing or The Priestly Blessing and we can see why it has this name

Verse 22 - The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel

This blessing was given to Aaron as the first High Priest of Israel, and to his sons.

And yet...it’s not really a blessing FROM Aaron, is it?  It’s not Aaron’s blessing...something that he made up while reflecting on what the best way to teach the people was.

Instead, this was give to him direct by God.  It was a blessing made THROUGH Aaron, but it was FROM Yahweh.  The LORD.  For this is a blessing given very clearly by Israel’s covenant God, Yahweh.

 

Each of the lines of the blessing start with Yahweh, don’t they?

    Yahweh bless you and keep you

    Yahweh make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you

    Yahweh lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace

And why is this important?  It is important because it means that the blessing is firm and sure.  The blessing is solid.  It is not something conceived of in the mind of a sinful and flawed High Priest, but it is given, truly, by God.

For it is from Yahweh, and it is given by Yahweh.  We can see that in verse 27.  Aaron and his sons are but the instruments - so shall they put my name upon the people of Israel and I will bless them.

It is important that we recognize WHO is blessing the people.  It’s not ultimately Aaron, but it is Yahweh.  Yahweh Himself, the covenant God.  And, because this can get lost when we use the word “LORD” (we can hear it and think it is just a title), I will replace LORD for YAHWEH in our text, moving forwards in the sermon.

 

Now, before we get into the content of the blessing let’s briefly look at what it means to be blessed.  Being “blessed” is so commonly said today.  But what is it really all about?

Earlier in the service, we read from the Beatitudes - a list of blessings that Jesus Christ gave out in His Sermon on the Mount.  Since this list is well-known by most of us, we don’t find it surprising anymore.  But take a look at what is said there, as if you are seeing it for the very first time

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are the meek,

Blessed are those who are persecuted

This doesn’t seem to fit with how we normally view blessings in this world.  When something goes RIGHT, we say that we are blessed.  But being blessed in desperate circumstances?  Usually these two don’t seem to go together.

But here they do.  Here we can see the “upside-down” Kingdom of God at work.  Being blessed goes hand in hand with being satisfied.  Being ultimately satisfied by the things of God.

And while it is possible for those who are given many things of this earth can also look to God for their ultimate satisfaction (think of Abraham and Jacob, both very rich men), it is more likely that they will be led astray by their wealth, and not depend on God for all their needs.  But those who are poor in earthly matters, those who are poor in spirit, those who are lacking in happiness, those who are mistreated for their faith...surely they will be blessed, both now, and in the end by our God.

Being blessed means receiving and recognizing the favor of God, and being fully satisfied in it.  And being blessed in the new year is what I hope and pray for you, congregation.

Let’s now examine the particular blessing of Numbers 6 together.

YAHWEH bless you and keep you

We are a blessed people, and we are a kept people.  We are a people kept by God.  This concept may often be overlooked, but it is an important aspect of these words.

 

What does it mean to be “kept by God?”

This is a promise and a comfort right up there with God’s face shining upon us, and being given His peace.

This means, first of all, that God has a place for us.  God has a place for us in His plan.  A place for us in His family, a place for us in His kingdom.  We are a people who are kept.  Kept for God, and kept from the forces of evil.  Being kept means that we are not only allowed to stay by the side of God always, but that this is what He wants from us.  Being kept by God could be demonstrated in an exchange like this

God says to us: I will be with you

And we, in our doubts and fears respond: Do you promise?

And Yahweh replies: ALWAYS.  I will always be with you. I will never leave you or forsake you.  You are always, always mine.

 

We are kept with God, and we are kept from evil.  This is God’s blessing over us.  It is not a promise that our lives will be easy.  For, if you remember, an easy life is not necessarily a blessed life.  Sometimes God’s blessings come to us through our pain.  Our God loves us too much to only give us “not pain.”  Do you follow?  The plan of our God is so much more than simply saving us from feeling pain.  A parent who refuses to teach their child how to ride a bike because they will get a scraped knee every once in a while, or the parent who doesn’t allow their child to have swimming lessons because having water up your nose is unpleasant...such a parent isn’t really showing love for their child.

A little discomfort, for the time being, is all worthwhile when the greater joy comes later.  Biking down a hill with the wind in your hair.  There’s nothing more freeing or exhilarating for a child.  Swimming in the Mediterranean ocean, floating there, with the sun warming your skin...there’s nothing more relaxing.

But we have to be careful with this truth, don’t we?

It is cliche to tell someone who is in pain that God has a plan.  That something good will come out of this.  It’s not always the right time to tell them, and we have to be sensitive to what they need.

But this DOES NOT MEAN that it isn’t true.  Some truths are meant to be kept for the right time.  But, if there is someone deeply and truly mourning...maybe remind them that they are KEPT by God, even in these times.  That there is a certain amount of healing to be had in lament.  One can lament and be blessed at the same time.  If you are in mourning, if you are lamenting, do not think that this isn’t a sermon for you.

And though this is not a sermon on lament, let me, just very briefly, to reflect with you on the theology of lament.

They say that to cry is human.  Life begins with tears.  The first sound you make when you left the womb is a loud wail.  To cry is human, but to lament is Christian.

Lament is, one could say, intentional mourning.  Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.  Lament gives voice to the strong emotions believers feel when we encounter suffering.  Lament is available to believers because we are blessed.  Lament is the path from heartbreak to hope, and it is available because we are God’s kept people.  Lament is not the opposite of blessing, but is an important aspect of it.

We are given the blessing of lament when we encounter suffering, but this isn’t our final destination.  Lament is always meant to lead to hope, healing, and joy.  All of this is given to us by our God, because He cares for each and every one of us.  Our second point.

God’s blessing and God’s care is shown through His face.  This is the typical Old Testament way of showing favor and grace, especially shown in the psalms.  As we will sing later in the service, a running refrain through Psalm 80 is this line: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

When God’s face is turned away, scripture says that despair, death, and destruction will follow.  But when God’s face is turned towards you, you experience His love and mercy. You will see life and you will see His salvation.

Yahweh make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you

Yahweh lift His countenance upon you and give you peace

These are two parallel lines.  They say the same thing, but the repetition gives emphasis, and explores different sides of it.

Let’s look at Yahweh’s face, first of all.

Imagine if our God was here with us.  We know, of course, that He is always here, by His Holy Spirit.  But imagine for a second, if God came down in all His glory, or if you were transported up into the heavenly throne-room, and you saw your resurrected, glorified, and exalted Lord, Jesus Christ.  Still with His human body.  Still with His human face.  How would He look at you?  What expression would be on His face?

I invite you to imagine that with me for a moment.

If you are imagining any expression other than unconditional love...you have it wrong.

There is no disappointment in our Lord’s face, because disappointment means that you expected a different result, and were unpleasantly surprised.  But you can never surprise God.  He knows all things.  He knows you better than you know yourself.

There is no anger in our Lord’s face, for you are His child, and you have been washed clean in His blood.  Your sins are not only hidden from His sight, your sins are not only taken away to the other side of the world, but your sins have been blotted out.  They have been washed clean by the blood of our Saviour, shed on the cross.  They are no more.  The anger, the wrath over sin has already been poured out.  Jesus Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath, and He drank it dry.  There isn’t a drop left in God’s cup for His people.

But there is unconditional love.  There is overwhelming grace.  I don’t know who needs to hear this, maybe it is all of you, but know, know truly and know deeply that there is enough grace in God’s heart for you.  Let me say that again.  There is enough grace in God’s heart for you.

You can’t outrun the love of God...and you can’t out-sin the grace of God.

At the start of this new year, live with this confidence.  This confidence and firm foundation of God’s love for you.  No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done...if you come to Him, God’s blessing is for you.  God’s grace is for you.

And God’s peace is for you.

Peace is one of those words in Scripture that is just too rich and too wonderful to be explained by a single english word.

It is similar to certain dutch words.  One that many of us hear around this time of the year is the dutch word Gezellig.  Though I don’t know much Dutch, I know this word.  I know that it is an all-encompassing word.  A word that means cosy, a word that meant family time, safe, wonderful, happy, and peaceful.  And there isn’t an english word that really captures all of these things at once.

And the Hebrew word for peace, Shalom, is similar to that.

For a few years actually, I was under the impression that shalom was equivalent to gezellig.  That not only were they the same type of word (one that english can’t really express), they actually meant the same thing.

But there’s an important difference between these two.

And we can see the difference in Psalm 23, our reading for this morning.

Even though the word shalom isn’t found in this psalm, there is, perhaps, no better picture of it in all of Scripture.  We know these words.  We take great comfort from these words.

And verses 1 through 3 seem a lot like Gezellig, don’t they?

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside still waters

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

This is a wonderful picture of the world as it should be.  A world of coziness, spending time with our God, face to face, safe, wonderful, peaceful.

But then verse 4...

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

Wait a second...the valley of the shadow of death...this isn’t gezellig!  This isn’t cozy, this isn’t peaceful, this is terrifying and distressing!

 

And this is what teaches us the difference between Gezellig and Shalom.  Gezellig comes from outside ourselves.  Gezellig comes from the external circumstances.  Having a really good meal with really good friends and family, sitting in front of a roaring fire, with the children and grandchildren at your feet quietly playing.  But shalom is greater.  Shalom is what you can have even when the circumstances are difficult.  Even when the circumstances are dark, or even tragic.  Shalom is what makes the second part of verse 4 possible

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

Even though my circumstances should mean I crumble to the ground under the weight of despair

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

And why?

I will fear no evil, for You are with me.  Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Yahweh is there.  Yahweh’s face is turned to you.  Yahweh’s countenance is shining upon you, giving you shalom.

Shalom, we could say, is the privilege of belonging to God’s family.  Of being those, that Yahweh not only keeps, but claims for His own.  Our final point.

You may be a little surprised that we have a third point here, because we are done with the words of the blessing.  When I pronounce this blessing over you on Sundays, and when I pronounce it at the end of this service, I will stop at verse 26.  Yahweh lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

Then we will all respond with our three-fold amen, expressing our faith in what our God has said. Amen, it is true and certain.  "I believe that God has given me this blessing."

But our text carries on for one more verse here, and it is an important one.  And so we will, very briefly, before the end, focus on verse 27

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

Again, it is emphasized that Yahweh is the one doing the blessing, I will bless them.

But I would draw your attention to the first part of the verse

So they shall put my name upon the people of Israel

God’s blessing is not the only thing that is happening here.  This blessing is not simply a blessing for the world, even though it transcends race, gender, age, and culture.  But this blessing is for God’s people.  In a very real sense, this blessing was the seal of what had happened to them when they were taken out of the land of Egypt.

For the Israelites were at a loss as to their identity.  They struggled with how to identify themselves.  For 400 years, they were surrounded by the pagan Egyptian culture.  400 years of everything Egyptian, and yet themselves were not Egyptians.  They were slaves.  Constantly told for 4 centuries that they were other.  That they didn’t belong.

They were non-Egyptians living in Egypt.  But they weren’t Israelites yet really.  But when the God of Israel, when their covenant God, Yahweh, saved them for the land of Egypt, He made them into a people.

They were taken out of Egypt and given an identity. They received God’s law - I am Yahweh, the one who brought you out of Egypt, therefore, this is how you are to live.

But this blessing adds to that.  This blessing seals it.

Their identity as the people of God is directly connected and related to God’s identity as Yahweh.  They will know who they are now, because they are the people who know who God is.  He is the I AM.

And in this special blessing, God is sealing them as His people.

So shall they - that is, God’s chosen priests

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel.

And this is not just true for the people of Israel, beloved.  We also have received the name of the LORD.

Though we could identify ourselves as many things...

  • We are Canadian

  • We are British Columbians

  • We are Canadian Reformed

Even though all of these things are true, and they are big parts of our identity, there is something far more important.

We are GOD’S PEOPLE.

Scripture says: God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His.”  Yahweh knows those who are His.

No matter where you are, right now, at the beginning of 2021, Yahweh knows you.

Whether you are in the deserts of lament, mourning the brokenness of this world, and the brokenness of your life

Or you are on the mountain tops, celebrating the beginning of a new year, a fresh start, a chance to live with God’s face shining on you…

No matter where you are, no matter the state of your heart, the state of your soul...this blessing is for you, because GOD is for you.

God is for you, and He will keep you.  He will keep you for the next 365 days, and He will keep you forever.

Yahweh would never throw away, Yahweh would never cast out those whom He worked so hard to bring in.  Those redeemed from sin.  For so long, we floundered about with no identity.  Even those who were born into covenant families...marked by God by baptism...we were still told, deep down in our souls, that we don’t belong.

We have that sinful nature inside of us that whispers lies.  That we don’t belong, that somehow, someone made a mistake, and we aren’t destined for this Christian life.  That we are the black sheep of the covenant family of God.  Those born into it, but never really part of it.

But don’t listen to these lies, instead listen to God’s blessing, God’s promise to keep you, God’s promise of grace, God’s claim over your life.

Yahweh bless you and keep you

Yahweh make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you

Yahweh lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

 

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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