May 9, 2023

Blessed to be a Blessing: A Sermon for the Coronation

A Sermon by Reverend Dr Stuart Hoke on the occasion of the Coronation of King Charles III Stuart is a priest of The Episcopal Church (USA), a former pastor of…

A Sermon by Reverend Dr Stuart Hoke on the occasion of the Coronation of King Charles III

Stuart is a priest of The Episcopal Church (USA), a former pastor of St Paul’s Chapel, New York City, and now lives in retirement in Raleigh, North Carolina.

How odd it must seem to have an American in this august pulpit after such a glorious celebration on this side of the Atlantic, a truly Significant event marking the dnd of one era and the beginning of a new one. So many of us over there are migrants from right here, so it was a tremendous event for us as well… especially Episcopalians anglicans In the liturgy yesterday and in much of the  preparatory chatter on TV, I was most attentive to one particular teaching from Holy Scripture that kept surfacing. If there be an underlying theme for the coronation of a king and queen, this may be it. .  They are blessed to be a blessing

Let me think aloud with you for a moment about the meaning of this word. This all so important concept

In our spiritual climate as tinged as it is with civic religion—especially in the United States and the United Kingdom—the definition of the word blessing ranges all the way from the sublime to the ridiculous, and even stretches to the heretical.

To bless Charles and Camilla, as we did yesterday, is to plead God’s favor and protection upon these two all the days of their respective lives, and then some.  To bless them is to gather up all the good graces of the Gospel of Jesus, along with all the loving prayers and warm sentiments of a WORLd of well-wishers into such spiritual benediction that their cups runneth over.  To bless A king and queen is to set them apart in such a way that their love for each other, their love for the country, their love for this Church of ours becomes contagious—that all who come near them find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed. And perhaps their circumstances bettered.

Yet, when it comes to notion of blessing, we also contend with distortion—the ridiculous, the magical, the sentimental, and the downright heretical.  I often serve as supply priest for a small Episcopal church congregation that rents space from another religious group.  What an unnerving “trip” it is for me to celebrate and preach in a room where signs all over the facility attribute financial success to the blessing that allegedly surfaces from the exercise of great faith.  Here the notion of blessing skates on very thin ice.  No wonder the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely are so abhorrent to the gospellers of success.  In theological reasoning of this sort, those who do not measure up to a “gold standard” must be utterly faith-less pagans—lest they never would allow themselves fall into such degradation.  Be so careful as you employ the word blessing.  It is potentially an explosive term, and can be misused so easily with barbs of real cruelty.

Faith in the goodness and rightness of God pays an enormous dividend for the believer, but tell me where it is written that such largess is festooned with pound and dollar signs?  In that particular church house of which I speak, you might be interested to know that there is a gigantic plaster-of-paris moth that hangs behind the altar, in addition to a large helicopter rotor affixed to the south wall, as well as a luminescent crystal plumb bob that dangles from the ceiling.  I have no idea what the significance of any of this is, but OMG try celebrating the Eucharist and preaching a sermon in that ambience.

And if the ridiculous weren’t enough, the concept of blessing often finds itself in company with the heretical.  After the events of 9/11 wherein I was witness up close and personal, I cannot tell you how many people said to me—and continue to say to me—“Oh my dear, you were so blessed to have survived that awful day.”  I want always to say in response, “Then those who died, were they cursed?”  Of course they weren’t!  We really need be super careful on how we use this loaded word, and where, when and to whom we attribute God’s good graces.

Our English word bless has a fascinating etymology—richly traced, by the way, in the OED.  The German word for “blood”, das blut, figures prominently in the derivation of bless.  To be blessed—in some way or other—is to be marked with blood, the blood of sacrifice.  After killing his brother Abel, Cain—covered in blood—is marked by God, and granted protection from the same kind of brutal death.  Defying logic and reason, Cain is blessed.  The how and why of it escape me, but needless to say, the truth remains—to be blessed is, in some way, to have been bloodied.

Jacob gets into a wrestling match with an angel, receives the divine benediction, and comes out of the fracas with a serious limp.  Saul witnesses the Light of Christ, receives the blessing of vocation as apostle, and goes stark-raving blind. Painful—dare I say bloodied—sacrifice inserts itself somewhere, somehow into the meaning of blessing.  So before you start greeting people with that new-fangled phrase Have a Blessed Day (as my bank tellers every time I make a deposit), just consider what you are wishing on your neighbor.  To be blessed carries within it the spiritual reality of suffering   sacrifice.  I suspect that couples who have been partnered or married for a long time, those who have carried out the vows and promises of togetherness long past the honeymoon stage, know precisely of that which I speak.  Perhaps we could even say that sacrifice fuels the grace of blessing.

In the part of this country where I had my beginnings and learned the skills of communication (the Mid-South), we used to bless people up one side and down the other in our conversational banter, and we often said the “darndest things” in doing so.  Still do for that matter.  Listen to us.  Southerners developed an ingenious mode of speaking that allowed us to make horrendous judgments about another person if only we prefaced our malediction with a benediction.  Why bless Stuarts heart—he’s so buck-toothed, he could eat corn through a fence.”  (And let it be said:  Stuart is not “buck-toothed.”)  And “Oh, there’s Margaret over there.  Bless her heart.  Marrying a priest . . .and an English one at that!  Why she doesn’t have the sense God gave a goose.”

In my fifty years as a priest of this Church, I have blessed countless males and females, in services of Holy Matrimony.  I have blessed homes, offices, businesses, and one factory.  I have blessed water, salt, crucifixes, crosses, flags, banners, antependia, oil stocks, rosaries, fair linens, palm branches, ashes, cruets, organs, zimbelsterns, and a trillion children.  I once blessed the Southern Association of Country Club Managers meeting at the Dogpatch, Arkansas, Convention Center.  And i was dressed in clerical garb. These people missed the blessing altogether.  They were so intoxicated when it came time for the invocation that they thought I was the cartoon character Lil Abner donning  a new costume.

I once  blessed the North Texas Otorhinolaryngological Institute, and had to practice for hours saying that 20-letter word that we abbreviate as Ear, Nose and Throat.  I have blessed animals galore at countless St Francis Day events—including a long haired camel that spit all over me and totally ruined a crisp, new, brilliantly white Whippel surplice.  I even blessed the annual Simmental Cattle sale in an old barn near Muleshoe, Texas.  The sale was of such financial moment that the promoters asked me to return the next year.  I declined.

One time on the A train near 168th street in Manhattan, an extremely importunate man kept saying to me “Father, give me your blessing, Father, Father, give me your blessing.  Father, I insist that you give me the blessing..”  He pushed my button one too many times, and I turned to him to bless him with words of piety and grace, but I slipped.  Instead—with Freudian slip—I “accidentally” gave him the blessing for incense: “Be thou blessed by Him in whose honor and to whose glory, thou art to be Burnt!”  Rather than bask in the sanctity of the moment, he fled the scene.  Suffice it to say, setting people, places, things and situations apart for God’s work and God’s purpose through the act of blessing is part of our job as followers of Jesus.  And I, for one, much prefer blessing a King or Queen over a spitting camel any day.

Finally, I hearken back to where i started.  To what I consider the key concept for understanding much of Holy Scripture,—  the notion of blessing.  It appears in the 12th chapter of Genesis when God blesses Abraham.  Notice here how the energetic of blessing doesn’t stop with Abraham.  He is blessed—to be sure—but blessed to be a blessing.  God’s blessing is a means to an end for Abraham, not an end in itself.  He is not to take it home with him as badge of divine honor, or to build a fancy  castle, or to become a rock star

Abraham and all his children for ever are to be vehicles of God’s grace, channels of God’s love, instruments of God’s peace.  In the spiritual life, blessings that are hoarded are taken away.  The only way to keep the blessing received is to give it away, and to do so in abundance.

Thank you Charles and Camilla for the opportunity to bless you  in the name of the Holy Trinity.  Thank you for the blessing that you are to us, and for your effervescence that feels mightily contagious in a time desperately needing it.  Thank God Almighty for the blessing of family and friends who surround you this day and provide the proper arena for benediction to occur.  May your love for each other be a seal upon your hearts, a mantle about your shoulders, and a crown upon your foreheads.

But don’t let it stop with you—bless others as you have been blessed.  This is not some kind of “warm fuzzy” you’re to store in the memorabilia of a royal occasion .  Spread the largess in the world out there.  Leaven the great lump of humanity.  Be instruments of peace, and vehicles of grace, and channels of love from this day forth and forevermore.and might we follow suit.





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