Blessed to be a blessing – Sermon for Giving Sunday

In polite conversation, there are three topics you’re told not to discuss lest you want things to become…impolite. Those topics? Politics, religion, and money. The unholy trinity, I suppose, you might say! The thing about those three topics is that they’re important, and conversation about them—in a respectful manner of course—is important, and it doesn’t have to be something that’s avoided. If things get impolite, then it’s because of a lack of respect, and that’s a larger problem, to be perfectly frank. At any rate, politics, religion, and money are important because of how close they are to us, and today some of you might think the sermon hits on all three. It definitely hits on two of them…And that’s fine. In fact, it’s good. Our politics, our religion, our money aren’t divorced from our relationship with God—the most important thing in our whole lives. Nothing is divorced from it, to be honest. And the closer something is to us, the more important it is to consider as it relates to our relationship with God.

And so we should consider these three touchy subjects in light of our faith. How does a good Christian behave? What’s the proper response to God’s love in our day-to-day lives? What do we rightly do with the gift of freedom from sin, death, and hell? These, and I’m sure other questions you could think of, are important for us to consider as we go forward today, and every day. What difference does it make in my life that I have a relationship with God, if it makes any difference at all? I say all this is important to me. I say that what happens here, in this place, at Emanuel, is important to me? Why? Is it? How do I know? How do other people know? Important things to keep in mind…

Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Perhaps one of, if not the most well-known hymn of the English religious landscape. It’s definitely on the list of top five best known hymns. People from all different denominations know this hymn, sometimes called “The Doxology,” which is a word that quite literally means, “words of praise.” The Doxology is a simple, short hymn that gives praise to God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the holy Trinity—and is often used as the accompanying music when offerings are brought forward to the atlar during worship. The reason for that? The first line—“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” In the opening line of this short hymn, we sing our praise to God and recognize that all our blessings flow, they result, proceed, arise, derive, originate from God. Whatever word you want to use, all our blessings are caused by or brought about by God.

And the Doxology sings praise to God for those blessings, and rightly sets that praise in the context of not only earthly blessings, but of cosmic blessings. “All creatures here below” and “above, ye heav’nly host, ” all these should join us in giving praise to God, the one who creates life, is life, and makes life possible—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It’s no wonder the Doxology is so well known, even memorized, and so much beloved by so many Christians. It really does encapsulate a lot in so little. It packs a punch, you might say!

At the heart of the Doxology are those blessings that flow from God. And we should rightly praise God for our blessings, which indeed do all flow from him. God has blessed us richly. God has given us and preserves us in our bodies—our eyes, ears, and all our limbs. Our senses—sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing. God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, home and work or school. Some of us have spouses—God provides those and their companionship. Some have children—also blessings from God. Our parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers—blessings from God. The fields where crops are grown, livestock used for food, and all property in fact—blessings from God. Along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects us against all danger and shields and preserves us from all evil. God provides for good government to provide stability and order in our lives. These and so many more things are blessings from God. God has blessed us richly. Let me rephrase that—God blesses us richly. God’s blessings flow to us each and every day.

And yet—it’s easy to get caught up in the things that God provides us, the material “stuff.” To be sure, these all are from God. Have no doubt about it. All that we have, needs and wants, are provided to us by God. And yet—it’s easy to get caught up in them, to fixate on them, or to wonder about them. To wonder how it can be that we can be so richly blessed, and others don’t seem to enjoy the same kind of blessings. What about the hungry? The unemployed? The sick? What about the commercials we see on television for children in other countries ravaged by famine? Or the kids in our own Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Leominster, Gardner, or Ashby whose parents, though they work, struggle to make ends meet and to provide adequate healthy food for the family? What about the homeless who sleep in cars on Ashby State Road? Or under bridges here in town?

We don’t have venture out of our very own communities to find people who seem to suffer for want of the same blessings that we enjoy…Why is it that some seem so richly blessed and others not? “The eyes of all look to God,” David sings in the psalms. David goes on, “God gives them their food in due season. God opens his hand, satisfying the need of every living thing.” And yet it seems that not all people, let alone all living things, have their need satisfied. Is God’s hand clenched over some, and wide open over others, over us? And if that weren’t enough, Jesus himself tells us, “God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” In other words, Jesus is saying God gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. Surely Jesus isn’t a liar, is he?

A man enjoyed reading Scripture in nature. He had a favorite spot atop a large boulder that overlooked a vista down a long valley where he’d sit and read the Word of God. From time to time would look up and, as one of his favorite hymns described, consider all the works God’s hand had made. Looking down from lofty mountain grandeur, he was always reminded how great God was and counted all the many blessings in his life.

But he was also weary—weary because even in his life with its rich blessings, he despaired at times. He despaired because he knew the world was far from the way that God envisioned it to be. He gave thanks to God that his was a comfortable life—nothing to lavish, but sufficient. But that wasn’t so for others. He knew the things he had, both material and intangible, were blessings from God, but he also knew that his greatest blessing was that God had a relationship with him through his Son Jesus. One of his favorite passages was John 3:16—for God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that those believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. He believed that the blessing of eternal life was something believers enjoyed even now, before death…that death wasn’t just something that happened when your heart and lungs stopped. Death was anything that stood in the way of the abundant life Jesus came to bring for everyone and all things. And yet—it didn’t seem to be the case. Everyone and all things didn’t seem to enjoy the same kind of blessings. Why didn’t God do something about all the suffering in the world?

On this particular day, the man was troubled more than usual. He sat pondering. After a while, he sighed heavily, and looked down at his Bible. And as was his practice, he opened it and found a verse on a random page. He read it—“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” This verse struck him at his core. Suddenly he understood. God had done something about all the suffering in the world, and God still is doing something about it. And indeed—God does richly bless all people and all things. God answered the man’s question through these words of Jesus addressed to his Father—“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

The man realized that we who have been blessed by God in Jesus have been blessed and sent by him, by Jesus, with the task that he, Jesus, came into the world for us. Just as he was sent into the world as a blessing, so too are we sent, his disciples, sent into the world as a blessing. We have been blessed to be a blessing…When we ask God why he doesn’t do something about all the suffering in the world, he responds with a question for us, “Why don’t you do something? I have blessed you to be a blessing.”

We are richly blessed. God richly blesses us. Daily. And call us to use our blessing in loving service toward those who are in need. Our praise of God is empty when it’s not rendered in thanks, in giving coupled with thanks. What we do for the sake of other people, be it here among ourselves at Emanuel, in our immediate community, or around the world, requires us to give of ourselves in reflection of the one who first gave himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. The work we do here requires not only our time. It requires not only our skills. It also requires our resources. And yes—it requires our money. We who are sent into the world meet the world on the world’s terms in order to share God’s blessings, to share our blessings. And this work sharing blessings, with our time, with our skills, with our money—this work is important work that demands devoted commitment, a devoted commitment to something larger than ourselves because we value what is happening here.

Lives are being transformed here. God’s work is done here with our hands. God has richly blessed us to be a blessing. We praise him for his blessings, which all flow from him, when we give our blessing to be a blessing beyond ourselves. We are blessed—blessed to be a blessing.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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