Sneezing can be an interesting, sometimes embarrassing, thing… Have you ever found it difficult to hold back a sneeze? And when someone else sneezes, it often is very difficult to hold back a response, isn’t it? Hopefully the response doesn’t have to be, “Turn away from me when you’re sneezing.” Hopefully the response can be what many of us may say to someone else – maybe people we don’t even know – whenever we hear a sneeze: “Bless you” or “God bless you.” For many people it’s just the polite thing to do – to ask God to bless someone when you hear them sneeze.
You may know very well that people really don’t know why people do that, but many, many cultures all around the world throughout history have spoken a response to someone’s sneeze. There are a variety of theories about that, one of which is that since sneezing sometimes means that you’re not feeling well or that you’re about to not feel well, the person is asking for the blessing of health for you. That seems to be why the Germans used to say “Gesundheit” when someone sneezed. Gesundheit means “health” – “I hope you stay healthy.”
Maybe we can think about it that way spiritually today, since we are always in danger of not being healthy with all the temptations there are around us to do wrong and all the worries we have that things will go wrong and all the problems others have caused because they have done wrong to us. Whether you have the sniffles spiritually right now and things don’t just seem to feel right in your life, or whether you are downright ill and wondering if being a child of God is really worth it, let’s see today that we can give to one another words which have true meaning and true comfort and true power whenever we hear a sneeze from someone’s soul:“God Bless You!”
That really is what the apostle Paul is saying in the last verse of our lesson for today – verse 14 — when he prays, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The reason this verse has been chosen as the keynote for today’s worship service is because today is the festival of the Holy Trinity, and this verse tells us how the Triune God blesses us every single day. It is this three-fold blessing from our Three-in-One God which helps us then be a three-fold blessing to others.
One blessing when you are sick is the blessing of medicine. God’s medicine for his people is the blessing of his grace, love and fellowship: the grace of God the Son, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of God the Holy Spirit. But sometimes getting sick is our own fault, right, especially if we don’t take the medicine provided. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will at some point get sick. Getting sick spiritually is always our own fault. That’s why we need the grace of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Grace, we know, means love from God that we don’t deserve. Thinking that we know how our life should go better than God does – thinking that something in the Bible can’t be true because we can’t figure it out – thinking that I’m better than someone else who sins in ways different than I do – thinking that it’s okay to sin or not a big deal to sin since God forgives sin – thinking that talking about sin is so pathetically out of date and irrelevant to us today – all those kinds of thoughts are thoughts which come from sickness. And just as some earthly sickness will eventually lead to an earthly death, this sin-sickness will eventually lead to a forever death – and for so many people, sadly, that is exactly what it does.
But Jesus has given us his grace. The apostle Paul calls it “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You and I don’t deserve it, but we have it. And the reason we have it is because of the blessing Paul calls “the love of God.” The Bible tells us that God the Father showed his love by sending his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. That means he sent Jesus to make the payment of his death for all those sins in us that should have led to our death, but Jesus’ death assures us that you and I will never die. And if because of God the Father’s love you and I will never die, that means that my heavenly Father will watch over me as his dear child until the day I die on earth, even if sometimes I think he has fallen asleep on me or has forgotten me or has failed to hear my prayer. When you have the blessing of the love of God the Father that can never happen.
And that confidence, even in our spiritual sniffles and coughs and sneezes, comes from knowing that God has also promised us — and given us — the blessing of “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” That word fellowship means that everything is fitting together just as God wants it – perfect peace, perfect unity, perfect oneness. We’re going to know that perfectly someday. Someday when you open your eyes and see the Son of God just as he is, you are not going to be one bit afraid of his holiness and power. You are going to know that Jesus used that holiness and power to give you his grace because he was sent by the Father’s love to bring you into perfect oneness and fellowship with God in the place where you never will ever have to worry about becoming sick again – the place where never again will tears comes into your eyes because someone you love has died – the place where never again will you feel the temptation or the test of Satan to do or say or think sinfully sick things about God or about someone else in your life, because everything will be just as God wants it – and all because the Holy Spirit has placed into your hearts the faith to believe it!
And the Holy Spirit has also placed into your hearts the desire to live it – not just later, but now. That’s what is so great to see working among us day by day, and that is what the apostle Paul is talking about in those first verses of our lesson – being a blessing to others because of all the blessings we have from God.
As you can tell from the first verse, these are the last words that Paul is speaking to this church in Corinth, Greece. He is saying good-by. His appeal to his brothers and sisters in that church is the same appeal we make to one another in the name of our Triune God: Give to others that same grace, love and peace that I have given to you. Let’s take a moment to think about one example from verse 11, where St. Paul says, “Aim for perfection.”
That phrase “aim for perfection” is just one word in the Greek language, and it has an interesting picture behind it – the picture of repairing a fishing net – the picture of putting something back together that has been broken. Isn’t that a very true picture of what happens so often in our lives, even as Christians? Sadly, there are tears and rips and breaks in little things and big things. Someone sends an email without thinking, someone spreads a rumor without truth, someone speaks a lie with what can only seem like it came from anger or the desire for revenge – and sometimes it may be we who are doing it… Because God has given you the blessing of his grace, his love, and his peace, “aim for perfection” with one another – in other words, seek to make things right again.
The way to do that is found in the next phrase Paul uses in verse 11: “Listen to my appeal.” The picture behind that word is that of someone telling everybody else, “Hey, everybody, come on over here. Things aren’t quite right. We need some advice and encouragement. Let’s get together and talk about this.” In God’s way of doing things, it’s saying, “Brother, sister, I feel bad about what’s going on. It really shouldn’t be like this. Let’s meet and talk about this with God’s Word to encourage us on how to make things right again – on how to put back together what has been broken – on how to mend the net, the net that binds us together in Christian faith and Christ-like love, the net that we do not want the devil to keep tearing apart.” That kind of thinking and encouraging and appealing, brothers and sisters, is how “the God of love and peace will be with you,” as Paul says at the end of verse 11. And that is indeed a wonderful blessing, because that is exactly how God wants it for us as the people he so dearly loves. Isn’t that what you so dearly want, too?
I read somewhere that the average person sneezes four times a day. If that is true, and if that person is you, that is potentially four times that you can hear someone say, “God bless you.” However often those words may be said to you, I pray they will remind you of these words, words which God himself says to you every single second of every single day. But even if no one hears you sneeze, and even if no one says a word when you do, the blessing of God is never not part of your life. God the Father has given you his love; God the Son has given you his grace; and God the Holy Spirit has given you his fellowship. That’s the reason to tell everyone we can with our words and our actions, “God bless you!” And as you do bless others, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.