A sermon preached on Numbers 6:23-27 by Pastor Jonathan Werre at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD, on June 16, 2019.
It was going to be a great week. And it all began with the Blessing at the end of the Sunday service. The pastor said, “The LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.”
To this young guy, in his shorts and Dr. Who T-shirt, the words simply meant, “Church is almost done, thank goodness.” But to God these words were like a contract. A contract that required only one signature—God’s, the Triune God’s, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for it is a threefold blessing. It required only one signature, for though God is three Persons, he is only one God, which is, as the Formula of Concord, one of our Lutheran Confessions of Faith puts it, “…the greatest mystery in heaven and on earth” (Triglott, p.1027). The Blessing required only his signature, because he would be doing all the work. And so it was, that these words meant God was signing up for a busy week. Just like when you hear the Blessing at the end of today’s service, he’s signing up for a busy week of work….for you. As God said to Aaron, “So, (you) will put my name on (my people), and I will bless them.”
That’s why, Sunday night, this young guy won the online tournament for Tetris99. He won. Beat everyone. Won $50. AND qualified for the next level tournament, with a $500 prize. Now, he would not have won if he had not played so skillfully, since God does not normally do miracles except in desperate situations. But it’s also true he would not have won without the blessing of God. “The Lord bless you and keep you.” The Lord was being busy for him.
This was why, of course, it was necessary the next morning for his car to not start. One of the sad facts of being by nature sinful is that whenever we experience success, soon follows the beginnings of The Big Head. Which is death to your soul and makes people not want to hang around you. So, Monday morning God blessed him with a car that would not start. Which for this young man meant embarrassment and potential humiliation. Because, while he could look at a game of Tetris and know immediately what to do, when he opened the hood of his car, he had no idea what to do. This would teach him humility and dependence. And that is a great blessing. Because we are every day in danger of getting The Big Head, becoming judgmental, which is half-a-step away from being self-righteous. But self-righteous people are no friends of Christ. And so, God blessed this young guy with the gift of getting embarrassed, humiliated. “The Lord bless you and keep you”, the pastor had said in the Blessing on Sunday. And the Lord had been busy doing that for this young guy. As he will for you this week. With blessings pleasant…and unpleasant.
At the mechanic’s garage, this young guy, who was now wearing his “Hans Shot First” T-shirt, found out that it would cost $500 to fix his car. $500! The young guy thought, I really need to win that Tetris99 tourney Friday night.
He got a ride to work. He worked at a mill that produced sweaters. The machines knit the sweaters in a way that all the pieces are connected. His job was to slit them apart, as fast as he could, with a rotating blade that looked kind of like a pizza cutter. Except much sharper and more dangerous. Given how the day had started, he was distracted. He kept letting the tips of his fingers get too close to the sharp, rotating blades. And then his one finger went beyond “too close.” And there went the tip of his finger—except it didn’t. His finger bumped into the side of the blade, not the cutting part. Bumping the side of the spinning blade freaked him out, but he was not hurt. He thought, thank God! How lucky was that! But it was not luck. At the last second a holy angel pushed his finger down just enough so it bumped the side of the spinning blade. He did not feel the angel’s touch, of course. All he felt was the side of the rotating blade. But he was freaked out enough that he took a break and went to the bathroom, washed his face, dried off with paper towels. Then did the two-finger grab of the door handle as he left the bathroom. But there were so many germs on that door handle, using only two fingers did not matter. By the end of the day he would be sick as a dog. Be sick for days. Would be too sick to play the Tetris tourney. Except the same holy angel that had bumped his finger, now swiped all the germs off his hands before he touched his face even once. So he never got sick.
God was being busy, you see. God had promised him in the Blessing on Sunday, “The Lord bless you and keep you.” And the Hebrew word for “keep” means “to guard, to protect.” And it makes me wonder, how many awesome stories the holy angels will have for us in heaven, about all the times they prevented car accidents, kept us from tripping and falling into the campfire, wiped off the sickness-laden germs on our fingers before they could get into our mouths, and we never knew it.
We, of course, are aware of all the times God lets the accidents and broken bones and sicknesses come. And those, too, are a blessing, just not the pleasant kind. With those, too, he is also guarding us from dangers, especially the dangers to our soul. Like acedia, that deadly I-want-to-learn-God’s-Word-but-just-not-that-much attitude which makes our worship lackluster and gets in the way of having a consistent devotional life. This, too, calls for daily repentance. But you have to wonder, how many unpleasant things has God just out-and-out prevented? Dozens? Hundreds? Likely thousands. At least for you who have received these words, “The Lord bless you and keep you (guard, protect).”
It was a busy week for God, doing what he promised to do for this young man. Because he had also promised in the Blessing at the end of worship on Sunday, “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” There are only three kinds of faces in this world that shine true—the face of a boy when he is given true praise from a man he looks up to, the face of a young woman who truly is in love, and the face of God when he looks at a miserable sinner who repents, for the 10,000th time, and truly trusts his Word of forgiveness spoken to him/her in the Absolution, in Baptism, and in the Supper. God’s face shines when he looks that that kind of sinner, for his eyes are always on the depths, not on the heights, as the psalmist said, “ Though the Lord is on high, Yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar. (Psalm 138:6 NKJV) Which is why getting The Big Head is so dangerous. “The proud He knows from afar.” Bad enough when people want to keep their distance from you. It is a disaster waiting to happen when God does. May we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, daily repent.
Well, God was busy the rest of the week doing what he had promised for this young guy, as he will be for you after you receive the Blessing at the end of today’s service. And then Friday night came. This young guy, who was now wearing his favorite T-shirt, the one that had the triforce from the Legend of Zelda on it, got set up at his computer, and at 8:00 PM it was on, on like Red Dawn. By 9 PM, he was well in the lead. But between 9 and 10 PM, something had happened. Two of his competitors had not only overtaken him, they were beating him. Badly. He could see the $500 getting further and further away. And that is when he noticed a glitch in the game. A glitch he knew he could exploit. But if he did, he knew it would be considered a form of cheating. Maybe fraud. And he would definitely be disbarred from future tournaments. But when you are alone in your bedroom with a computer, you can imagine that what you are doing is private, a secret. But the reality is, once you are on the Internet, nothing is a secret.
His T-shirt was soaked with sweat. He was panicking. He needed that $500. Then, without really any conscious thought, he took advantage of the glitch. Exploited it. And came back from almost certain defeat and won. He won the Tetris tournament. Won the $500. Lights flashed his name on the computer, bells went off. He had won! $500!
And lost his soul. Not immediately. It was a sin of weakness that he had committed, as most of our sins are. And they are forgiven, even before we ask, because of our Baptism when the Triune God washed away the sins of our whole life and also promised us heaven. But later, when he thought about what he had done, he took the King David route and decided to hide it, keep the money, act like he had won fair and square. Which took this sin, which was at first a sin of weakness, and turned it into a deliberate sin. And deliberate sin does to your faith what getting dumped head first into a vat of nuclear waste with your mouth wide open does to your body. And so the Triune God sadly was folding up the contract of his blessing and getting ready to leave him.
But before he left, the Lord put one more thing into motion. And so it was that several weeks later, the FBI turned up at this young guy’s door. The FBI division that investigates crimes committed on the Internet.
Which is also why he is currently sitting in jail. Because the Lord, “…looked on him with favor, and gave him peace.” God favored him by letting him get caught in his sin so he would be moved to repent and not end up sitting eternally, permanently in the prison of hell. Moved to once again be hungry for the gospel.
And now, as he sits in jail, awaiting his fate, I am happy to report that he is calm, content. Sure, he wants to be out of jail. But he knows, down to his toes, that if God is at peace with him because of his Son, who died on the cross to pay for his sin of cheating at the Tetris99 game and all his sins, and rose from the dead to prove it was all paid for, if the one and only Triune God is at peace with him, he is convinced that everything’s going to be all right, one way or another. How can it not be, if the God who is running the whole show is at peace with you? How can it not be, if the God who is at peace with you has promised, promised, to take you to heaven to spend all eternity with him—and made it not just possible, but certain by having his Son do all the work for your salvation and have the Holy Spirit do all the work of getting you to believe it and keeping you to believe it as you hear his Word / celebrate his Sacraments?
“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.” These words were not invented by some worship committee. These are God’s own words. This is a contract, in a manner of speaking. A contract that requires only one signature—God’s, for though he is three persons, he is one God. It requires only his signature since he is going to do all the work. Because when the words of God’s blessing are placed on you, what he said is going to happen, happens. That’s what God said to Aaron some 3,400 years ago. And it’s still true today, ““So, (you) will put my name on (my people), and I will bless them.”
And isn’t it crazy that we sometimes skip worship and miss out on this Blessing? Amen.