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Bless the Lord
November 23, 2014
Benedicite (Bless the Lord)--from The Song of the Three Holy Children (Apocrypha), and a poem by John Austin (1613-1669)
Message in Song Benedicite Ralph Vaughan Williams
O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever. O ye Angels of the Lord, bless ye…
O ye heavens, bless ye….O ye Waters…O all ye Powers of the Lord…O all ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever. O let the Earth bless the Lord: yea, let it praise him, and magnify him forever. O all ye Green Things upon the Earth…O ye Mountains, O ye Hills, O ye Wells…O ye Seas, O ye Floods, and all that move in the Waters; O all ye Fowls of the Air, O all ye Beasts and Cattle…O ye Children of Men…O let Israel bless the Lord:
O ye Priests…O ye Servants of the Lord…O ye Spirits and Souls of the Righteous, O ye holy and humble Men of Heart, O let the Earth bless the Lord: yea, let it praise him, and magnify him forever.
Hark my soul, how everything strives to serve our bounteous King; each a double tribute pays, sings its part, and then obeys. Call whole nature to thy aid; since ‘twas he whole nature made; join in one eternal song, who to one God all belong. Live forever, glorious Lord! Live by all thy works adored, One in Three, and Three in One, thrice we bow to thee alone.
Bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever.
O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever. O all ye Powers of the Lord…
O let the Earth bless the Lord: ye, let it praise him, and magnify him forever.
–from The Song of the Three Holy Children (Apocrypha), and a poem by John Austin (1613-1669)
A READING FROM THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
As you can already tell, this morning’s worship is filled with music. In just a few minutes, the chancel choir will proclaim our Message in Song with an extended anthem by Ralph Vaughn Williams, called Benedicite, which is Latin for Blessing. Before we hear this marvelous piece of music, let’s meditate for just a moment on what this notion of blessing means to us.
Now, when we think of blessings, we typically have in mind the blessings that are given to us from God. From the very beginning of creation it has been the nature and character of God to bless. As we sometimes sing, “God, whose giving knows no ending, from your rich and endless store.” Thus when someone is ill, or facing some trial, we often evoke God’s blessing. Even a sneeze will bring forth a chorus of voices, saying, “God bless you.” We typically name our blessings, such as good health, the comforts of home, love within our families, and so on. Further, we rightly speak of how God has blessed us with spiritual blessings—steadfast love, comfort in grief, courage in trials, forgiveness for sin, salvation in Christ. Yes, God has blessed us, and continues to bless us in countless ways.
But what strikes me about the Benedicite, as well as the other Psalms and hymns we’re singing this morning, is the way they depict blessing not as something that comes only from God, but rather something that we give back to God. The Benedicite is a canticle in which blessing after blessing is given to the Lord. “All the works of the Lord, bless the Lord…the waters and the green things of the earth bless the Lord… the mountains and hills seas and floods bless the Lord…priests and servants both the holy and the humble bless the Lord….Let everything that breathes bless the Lord.”
Yet how do we do that? How do we, the created, bless the Creator? How do the recipients of life bless the Giver of life? How do we who are mortal bless the One who is eternal?
For us as humans, blessing the Lord is, fundamentally, an expression of gratitude—gratitude for the wondrous love God has for us and for all creation. While there’s an element of mystery in this notion of blessing—one that can’t adequately be explained—the mystery can be, and has to be, concretely expressed.
And in this congregation, blessing the Lord is expressed, first of all, in the many ways we seek to serve our neighbors. Strangely enough, we bless God by doing good to others, especially those who are suffering in some way. As we heard Jesus say in our scripture, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.” When others are sick, we comfort them; hungry, we feed them; in prison we visit them. In such simple, direct acts of service we bless God.
And in addition to service, blessing the Lord is expressed in music and song. Truthfully, the spoken word is not enough to adequately express our gratitude, or to fully sound our praise. For that we need voices lifted in song, instruments tuned to harmony of the spheres, ears to hear and feel the pure joy of blessing the Lord.
So friends, let the endless blessings that flow from God be received with gratitude, and then returned to God in deeds of service and in songs of praise.