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Being A Blessing

Sermon
Sermons On The First Readings
Series II, Cycle A
Have you ever been blessed by someone? By this I mean has someone ever stopped, placed a hand on you, and declared a blessing on you in some enterprise or undertaking? I know that in the life of our church, we often pause to lay hands on sisters and brothers who are about to take leave of the community. Sometimes they are leaving on mission trips. Sometimes they may be moving away to a new job or opportunity. Other times they may just need a blessing as they encounter struggles on their journey.

Sometimes, of course, blessing happens in different ways. My father-in-law, who was quite ill when my wife and I were engaged, gave his blessing to our marriage. Some years back, when I left on a lengthy trip to Central America, my father gave me the gift of an expensive pocketknife, something I carry with me to this day. This was his way of giving me his blessing.

In this context, "blessing" means approval, but it means more than that. In Hebrew, the word is berakah, and it has to do with the declaration or the public announcement of blessings. When someone leaves and says, "God bless you," this is berakah.

Blessings such as this have a long history in our tradition. Throughout scripture, God offers such blessings in manifold ways and in numerous circumstances. Similarly, God receives such blessings from those who follow God.

It is this declared blessing that God bestows upon Abram as he calls him away from everything he knows into a new land. It is a blessing that is both approval and promise, and something further. The blessing of God on Abram doesn't just stop with Abram. This blessing has consequence. It has reach. It extends beyond the original declaration. This blessing has purpose. God says, "... I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2).

God's purpose, then, in making a great nation out of Abram's lineage, and in making Abram's name great, is so that he himself will become a blessing. This is heady stuff. And it leads me to ask if the blessings that each of us receive from God have that self same purpose. Do you think that the blessings you have received have been given you so that you might use those blessings in order to become a blessing to others? What a thought. If this is so, we might be able to engender an epidemic of blessing. Each blessing we receive, from material wealth, to children, to the gifts and talents we have, each one is given so that we might, in turn, bless others.

In our congregation, we have a doctor who has been blessed with the gift of healing. This one man, in turn, has taken his blessing and turned it into an annual medical mission to the Philippines, where he and a team of doctors treat thousands of people over a period of a few weeks. He got the blessing of a medical training and a good job as a doctor and, in turn, he has used that blessing to bless others with the gift of healing. How might you use the gifts, the blessings, you have been given to be a blessing for others?

I can't help but wonder how many of us are even aware of the many blessings we have been given. Life gets crazy, challenging, difficult, and sometimes it is beyond painful. But even on the worst of days we still stand in a downpour of blessings. How often do we accept the blessings of God without taking that next step of becoming a blessing ourselves? Have we even considered that step?

We dare not forget about the nations that have been blessed by God. What of the nations whose names have been made great? Their greatness, their blessings have a purpose! There is a purpose for those nations themselves to be a blessing.

Almost every day I see a bumper sticker somewhere that says, "God bless America!" When you stop to think about it, it's an odd statement. It almost feels like a demand, rather than a request or a prayerful hope. Indeed, the phrase overlooks the inescapable truth that God has blessed America in a million different ways: prosperity greater than any nation in history, natural beauty, abundant resources, and a wonderful, caring citizenry. Think about it. We don't need to ask or implore at all. Just look around and see the manifold ways in which our nation has been blessed. As we count up these blessings, we need to ask the same question of the nation that we ask of ourselves. In what way is our nation a blessing to others?

Certainly we can look to things like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, where Americans volunteer to offer their skills and training to others. After World War II, the US became a blessing as it used its wealth to rebuild much of the devastation from the war. But let us be honest here, there are also ways that our greatness is used to exploit. There are ways that we strive to horde and keep our wealth to ourselves. As a nation with only a fraction of the world's population, we use a huge percentage of the world's resources. Is that a blessing to the world? As global warming threatens, we need to be aware that it is our nation that sends the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Are we being a blessing?

Yes, in many ways we are being a blessing. But we can do better. As individuals and as a nation we can do much better at responding to God's call to be a blessing to the world. Perhaps you're wondering exactly how we might do this? Perhaps the first step is to enumerate, to count our blessings. As individuals, how are we blessed? Can we make a list? After each blessing, perhaps we might note how we are using that blessing to be a blessing to others. What of our church? Shall we discuss blessings showered upon the church? Property? Combined talents of our members? Wealth? Spiritual gifts and graces? Let us make a list here, as well.

As we look to God's call and promise to Abram, we have to imagine that this same call comes to us. We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing. The possibilities are virtually endless and the future spreads before us, beckoning, calling, daring us to step up to the plate with our sisters and brothers as we work to become the blessings that we have received. Let us renew our hope. Let us claim this day as a new beginning, and let us be a blessing to one another, to our community, and to our world.

In Jesus' name. Amen.
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