“To Be a Blessing”
September 14, 2014
Back in the early summer I knew that I was
going to have a problem preaching during our stewardship emphasis time this
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
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.” 
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 bulletin inserts.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
Isn’t that what you had hoped for?
Isn’t that what you have been waiting to
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.
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.