“To Be a Blessing”

September 14, 2014

 

Genesis 12:1-3

II Corinthians 9:6-15

 

Back in the early summer I knew that I was going to have a problem preaching during our stewardship emphasis time this year.

It wasn’t because you are not generous givers—you are! The giving of the members and friends of this congregation is one indication that we are indeed a liberal church. We take to heart Paul’s words: “The one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” and so we are always preparing for a record harvest. Together we imagine the possibilities for ministry and mission here when we give abundantly from what we have received in abundance.

Each year shows signs that we are growing in giving as individuals and as a congregation.

We receive enough money from individual members and friends to fund our programs and projects at a time when so many other congregations are running deficits and worrying about how they will get by.

And because we receive from individuals, we as a congregation can contribute significant support to the Center for Worker Justice, to the Crisis Center Food Pantry, to the Interfaith Common Fund to provide emergency financial help to name a few of the ways we are involved in our community.

We are growing in giving. And we can be proud of that.

Certainly the reasons for giving are almost as diverse as our membership.

Some give because that’s simply a part of life in a congregation. As a member, as a friend, in choosing to be a part of this community you recognized that our covenant with each other includes financially supporting what we do. So you freely give your fair share—and more.

Some give in response to what you have received. Recognizing God as the generous giver of all things, you seek to be generous in turn. With a faith that affirms we are created in the image of God, you seek to reflect that image in your own giving. Your generosity is a response to the generosity of God. You give so that you might “share abundantly in every good work.”

Some give because you understand giving as a spiritual exercise. That is, you recognize the surprising reality that each of us has a need to give, a need to respond to the free gifts of God by giving ourselves. Offering back to God a portion of what you have been given helps keep in perspective that very human desire for more and more.

And you give because you care about other people: theological students in South Africa, people rebuilding after tornadoes, men, women, and children looking for a meal at the Free Lunch Program or a place to sleep at Shelter House. You look for opportunities to show your compassion by giving.

The reasons for giving are many. But all of us have learned—either here or earlier in life—the joy of sharing. Who taught you that? You should be thankful for them for they gave you a very valuable lesson. “God loves a cheerful giver,” Paul writes—and there are many among us who are very, very happy.

So I’m not facing the problem that many of my colleagues have—trying to squeeze a few extra dollars from people so that we can keep the lights on for another week.

We are generous givers.

Nor do I have a problem with encouraging you to give. I love doing that!

You know that I enjoy preaching stewardship sermons—probably more than you enjoy listening to them—although, again, your generosity suggests that you have been listening. I am glad to announce the good news of the abundant love that God rains down upon us and the fruits that grow from our generous giving. I agree with the person who said, “There is only one thing better than raising money for the Realm of God and that is spending money for the Realm of God.” What a joy to be part of that process of gathering the resources that allow us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, house the homeless, and heal the sick. What a humbling privilege to be able to remind you of the new life that your giving brings to other people.

And I have no problem reminding you of the outstanding personnel that our congregation employs to manage our office, to enrich our worship with music and singing, to nurture our children. You know their consistent high-quality work and their devotion to their calling in this place.

So, really, I look forward to the fall and the opportunity to remind all of you generous givers to be grateful that we have among us the resources that we need. On a morning like this, I even get a little encouragement and some prodding from the member of one congregation’s stewardship committee who says that “Members of mainline traditions are rarely challenged to increased generosity. Church leaders often believe that asking people to increase their giving would offend them. It is not uncommon for church leaders to believe that parishioners, despite outward signs of wealth, have little to give; or that parishioners are giving as much as they can.”  He concludes “Most members of mainline Protestant traditions could probably double their pledges and hardly notice the difference in their checkbooks.” [1]

I’m glad to risk offending you and encouraging you to increase your generous giving.

I have no problem with you.

I have no problem with myself.

I have a problem with the stewardship material from the United Church of Christ.

The posters.

The bulletin inserts.

The stationery.

This morning’s bulletin cover.

They all look nice enough. Who could have a problem with that picture of a sweet little girl holding all those balloons?

But those words: “Blessed to be a blessing.”

You see, I have trouble with talk about “blessings.” It sounds smugly pious. For me it conjures up images of people with little regard for others. Those who might say:

“I was blessed to find a parking place—but I guess God wasn’t looking out for you.”

“I’m blessed with wealth—too bad for you.”

Then there are those ministers, some of them my own colleagues, sign off on letters and emails or end a phone call with a blithe “Blessings,” as if  that’s a substitute for a casual “see ya  later;” leaving me to wonder, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Now, if you have a different understanding, please know that I’m not criticizing you. But the way in which this word is used troubles me.

When I listen for this word in scripture and hear it over and over. “Blessing” is used 88 times in Genesis alone.

When I hear this word in scripture, it sounds different. The way that it is used challenges our own easy use of that word. Blessing expresses a desire for more life—a hope that the one who is blessed will know well-being, peace, and general success in life’s ventures. It is a sincere wish that another person will prosper. As such it is a form of love.

Naomi Rosenblatt says that blessing is the unconditional love that a parent confers upon a child that makes that child feel protected, whole, and connected—able to go out into the world with a sense of purpose and responsibility. Those who have experienced such love and those who seek to give it to their own children would probably agree that this is indeed what makes for well-being, peace, and success in individuals.

In scripture blessing is not given without consideration. The word of blessing is not spoken casually.

The story of scripture is the story of blessing—of God looking upon creation and calling it good; of God giving human beings all good things so that we might care for creation; of Abraham being blessed and through him all people, including, by God’s grace in Christ, even you and me. Paul called Abraham’s experience “the Gospel beforehand”—an event that shows us God giving with no qualifications.

And so our religious tradition is, in a sense, the long progression of one generation conferring a blessing on the next:

Abraham blesses his descendants.

Jesus blesses the children who are brought to him.

And this morning we once again baptized an infant, seeking God’s blessing and giving this congregation’s blessing on that new life.

Blessing is a desire for more life.

Blessing connects us with all creation.

It is not merely a feel-good experience that descends from the heavens. The word of blessing reminds us that we are created in God’s image. Blessing calls us to live up to our high human potential. And part of our humanity is the active desire to build a world in which all people might live in peace and enjoy their days.

Because of this we have come to understand the call to care for creation to be our unique responsibility in our age. With climate change an ever-growing reality it is indeed up to those of us who recognize this threat to respond in ways that will bring more life to generations yet to come rather than exploit creation for the benefit of a few in our time.

Are you beginning to see that, just as blessing connects us with all creation, so it also connects us with each other? We receive so that we can give. We are, dare I say it, “Blessed, to be a blessing.”

Isn’t that what you had hoped for?

Isn’t that what you have been waiting to hear?

The many and good things that you have received were not given to make you bloated, content, complacent. They were given to stir you to action. They were given to send you out toward others. God has given you more than you could ask or imagine, God has given this congregation more than we can ask or imagine, so that we might use all that we have and all that we are to, well, to “bless” this community, this nation, this world—to seek the well-being of creation.

Yes, one way we do this is through giving to this congregation and to our common ministry and mission. Working together as a congregation we are bringing more life than we are able to as individuals. This is not the only way, but it is one way. It is a good and effective way. Remember the great good that your giving makes possible and continue to give generously through the rest of this year. And when the request comes in a few weeks, pledge—commit yourself to giving generously in the year ahead.

Blessing.

I still won’t be using that word very often. I don’t want to cheapen it or weaken it by casual usage. It is a word that we should speak cautiously, carefully.

But we need a sense of blessing, of being blessed in order to be the good stewards that we want to be.

We need a sense of blessing in order to help us to be the generous people we want to be.

We need a sense of blessing—and that is we have received from the God who provides in abundance that we in turn might share in abundance.



[1] Michael Durall, Creating Congregations of Generous People, pg. 4.