SCRIPTURE People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mk 10:13-16

 MESSAGE     “Belonging”               James R. Renfrew, Teaching Elder

If you sneezed in my grandmother’s house she always knew what to say:  “God bless you!”   I never thought to ask her what she meant by that.  She might not have known, it was just the polite thing to say.  But I’ve heard two theories about it.  One is that during the time of bubonic  plague in the Middle Ages in Europe, a sneeze was thought to be the first symptom that you were about to die a horrible death.  With no medicines that worked against the plague, all that anyone could offer was a word of blessing, so that you would feel God very close to you in a time of grave need.  A second theory is also from long ago, that a sneeze gives the devil an open door to get inside of you.  So saying “God bless you” was a sure defense against the devil!

When I sneeze, I don’t usually worry about the plague or the devil.  When I feel that sneeze about to happen I tuck my face into my elbow, put on warmer clothes, or take medicine.  But that phrase “God Bless You” seems important just the same.  Who wouldn’t want to be blessed by God?  Would you like to be blessed by God this morning?  Anyone?

What does it mean to be blessed?  I visited a man in the hospital last week, and that was my exact prayer, “God, the people of our church love this man very much and we know you do, too.  Please surround him with every possible blessing.”

But, still, what exactly is a blessing from God?  Does a blessing cure us of sneezes and worse?  Does a blessing mean that God is looking out for us in a special way?  Does a blessing from God mean that we will get lots of good luck?  Does a blessing mean that dark clouds will part and the sun shine through?

So I have a lot of questions about the blessings of God.  What are blessings?  Can you measure them?  Can you store them up for a rainy day?  How do you know you’ve been blessed?  What do you feel?  Does a blessing mean that things will get better?

Though it may be hard to exactly define what a blessing is, I know a lot of us have powerful stories to share about the blessings of our lives.  The man in hospital was very happy to hear my prayer, and if you asked him I am sure he would say he felt blessed, and his family, too.

Do you remember that story from the Book of Genesis about the twin brothers, when Jacob stole from his brother Esau.  When it was time for their father Isaac to bless Esau, the first-born, Jacob snuck in, dressed like Esau, and Isaac blessed Jacob by mistake!  Isaac was getting old and blind and didn’t notice that he was giving his blessing to the wrong son!

Thinking that Esau would kill him for this terrible theft, Jacob ran away from home.  When he finally returned decades later he still thought Esau would kill him.  Instead, Esau hugged his brother.  It turns out that Esau was blessed just the same.  What I learn from that story is that you can’t steal or take a blessing.  Blessings can only be given.

So here’s this day when children were trying to get close to Jesus.  You’ve seen children act like this, haven’t you?  They want to be the center of attention.  They want to BELONG!  The disciples shooed them away.  When Jesus sees that he becomes indignant!  “Don’t do that, he says, I want to see them! In fact, if you want to find the kingdom of God, a good place to start is with these children.”

What does he mean by that?  Usually we think that finding the kingdom of God requires great concentration, significant sacrifice, or extraordinary behavior.  But children are rarely like that.  Children are squirmy, they have runny noses, they make messes, and they want what they want this instant!  So how do children show us the kingdom of God?  I think that Jesus is thinking about their innocence, their energy and their readiness.  Jesus gathers these children in his arms, lays his hands on them and blesses them.  Imagine being a little child again enjoying a wonderful hug, that feeling of BELONGING.  If you can return to such a moment, you’ll know what a blessing really is, and the kingdom of God may not seem so hard to reach anymore!

Let’s take it a little further.  A blessing may be what God gives to the faithful.  A blessing may be what God gives to little children.  A blessing may be what God gives to you.  But much more than that a blessing may be what God plants in you to begin growing, a blessing may be what God creates in our hearts, overflowing love, generous purpose, and unbounded hope.

The little girl baptized this morning is very blessed today, by the overflowing love of God and all of the blessings eagerly shared by her parents, grandparents, family and a lot of friends.  We can’t wait to see how these blessings flourish in her life.

A blessing cannot be hidden in a closet, or buried in the ground, or withheld from others.  To have any value at all, a blessing must be shared.  One way you can know that you’ve been blessed by God is that you have this indescribable desire to tell others about it, an indescribable desire to share it.  More than anything else a blessing is not getting something from God, it is a new way of being with God, a new way of living in God’s creation, a new way of living like never before!

And Jesus took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.