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09.17.17 How you Know You’re a Blessing Isaiah 12:1-6 Sermon Summary

by on September 18, 2017

Most people when they’re asked to bless a meal start by giving thanks. Why don’t we do it the way Jesus did? And what can that tell us about being a blessing to others?

Summary Points

  • On the nature of blessings (summary of last week)
  • How thanksgiving took over for blessing, and what we can learn from that
  • Why it is important to bless our neighbors
  • Some ways we are blessing neighbors near and far
  • One question to guide your life and church

Last week we learned that the Jordan River blesses the land around the Sea of Galilee with life by flowing through it. We saw that God’s blessings come in two parts: First is the blessing we receive, and second is the blessing we make of it for others. We realized that God doesn’t judge for failure when we try to bless others. God judges for not trying. But how do you know you’re a blessing to others?

Only once in all my years have I heard someone literally bless the meal when asked to do so. She started by saying, “I bless this meal in the name of Jesus Christ.” It sounded so odd! We never asked her to offer the blessing again.

It might have made more sense if she was Jewish. If you asked Jesus—who was Jewish—to bless the meal, he would start, “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam . . .” “Blessed are you, O LORD, our God, King of the heavens . . .” This is certainly how he started his prayers at the Last Supper. So why don’t we pray this way?

Typical Jewish prayers begin with blessing, move through thanksgiving, and end with praise. Very early on, even before the writings of the Newer Testament, and for very technical reasons, Christian prayers prioritized thanksgiving. The initial blessing assumed the character of thanksgiving and was essentially dropped.

The relationship between blessing and thanksgiving is instructive. We can be reasonably sure when someone offers thanks it’s because they feel they have been blessed. You’re a blessing when you give others a reason to be thankful.

Giving thanks let’s others know we’ve received a blessing. Our Lord’s Supper liturgy is called the “Great Thanksgiving.” Other traditions call the sacrament “Eucharist” which means thanksgiving. The Supper is how we tell God we’ve received the blessing of Christ. This is why we celebrate it every week.

People who receive blessings don’t always give thanks. Someone can even receive the blessings of Christ without giving thanks. And we may not be thanked for blessing others. But if we give them a reason to give thanks, we have blessed them.

The question guiding our congregation’s leadership right now is, “How can we bless our neighbors? Do our neighbors give thanks for our being here?”

I have an atheist friend in Des Moines who financially supports the Methodist church down the street because having a church nearby is, “Good for the neighborhood.” It’s a sign of stability. We at Faith Presbyterian want to be more than that for our neighborhood.

We want to be a blessing to our neighborhood, to give our neighbors a reason to give thanks. Part of it is because that’s the second part of the blessing we’ve received. The first part is the church building we’ve inherited from the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. The second part is to pass that blessing on.

But another part is that we want to be a blessing because when our neighbors give thanks for us, they are giving thanks to God. Our blessing our neighbors invites them into the biblical way of life, the way of thanksgiving, the way of Eucharist. It’s the vision Isaiah offered to sustain the weary people of God. So it’s good for us to be a blessing to our neighbors, and it’s good for them to receive our blessing, to receive a reason to give thanks.

Some of the ways we bless our neighbors is when we open the building to anonymous support groups and service groups. When we welcome Christmas and Easter visitors without judgment, we are blessing our neighbors. By keeping the grounds beautiful we bless them. By maintaining our garden and inviting them to pick from it as they have need we bless them. In partnership with other neighborhood churches raking leaves and mending fences in the neighborhood, we bless them.

Our church leadership has identified two particular partners to help us bless our neighbors: The closest elementary school and a local food and clothing bank. Both are about a mile away in separate directions from our building. We support the bank financially, with donations, and by providing volunteers. At the school we’ve done grounds maintenance, provided school supplies, co-hosted Trunk or Treat, and provided lunch for the teachers and administrators on non-student work days.

Beyond our immediate neighborhood we bless homeless youth by purchasing milk, providing essential supplies, and preparing meals. It’s profoundly moving when they confirm our blessing by saying, “Thank you for being here. This is better than the canned soup we would have if you weren’t here.”

We are extending our blessing to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and even farther to the refugees and children in the county of Jordan!

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, encouraged this kind of shared blessing. He urges them to give generously to support the church in Jerusalem. His reason? It leads to an overflow of thanksgiving. It is a blessing for the receiver and the giver. It is an extension of God’s grace, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision.

Just so, we are to be a blessing to our neighbors both near and far. If we are grateful for the blessings we have received, then let us be a blessing to our neighbors and give them a reason to be grateful also.

Question for discussion and reflection

  • What can you do to give your neighbors a reason to give thanks for you?

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