Skip to content

09.24.17 Blessing in the Big Picture Luke 6:20-28 Sermon Summary

Even though James is one of the least distinctively Christian books in the New Testament, it strongly agrees with Jesus about the rich.

Summary Points

  • Summary of last two weeks
  • God’s Kingdom as inversion of this world
  • The rich and the poor have different experiences of this inversion
  • Looking to the end to see how the inversion is good news for the rich also

The last two weeks we’ve been looking at the idea of blessing. We saw that God blesses us in order for us to bless others, like the Jordan River which gives life to the Sea of Galilee by passing through it. The two parts of a blessing are the gift we receive from God and the way we use it to give life to others. We also saw that we know we are a blessing to others when we give them reason to be thankful.

To conclude this mini-series on blessing, I want to consider where we look for blessings and the power to pass them on to others.

It’s often said that God’s Kingdom is an inversion of this world. That’s why Jesus’ parables so often surprise and challenge us. When he says, “the Kingdom of God is like . . .” the end is little like what we know the kingdom of the world to be like.

In his first sermon, Jesus already begins to turn the world upside down. He quotes Isaiah and claims that he has been anointed to “proclaim good news to the poor, and freedom for the oppressed.” Good news to them may not be good news for others. What about those who benefit from the poverty and oppression of others? It is harder for them to recognize Jesus’ proclamation as good news. It may feel like bad news; inconvenient news.

The Kingdom as inversion feels good for those who are on the bottom. But not so much for those on top. James predicts it will be miserable. For people on the top, their treasures will rot away and their fine clothes will be eaten by moths. The victims of injustice will cry out to God who will finally hear them. The inversion of God’s Kingdom will reveal that our high living has simply fattened us for our slaughter.

At this point we may agree with Luther who didn’t find much of value in the book of James. And we may look to Jesus the Savior for a word of comfort. But what we’ll find is Jesus proclaiming “woe” to the rich, for they have received their consolation. And to the satisfied, for they will be hungry. And upon those who laugh now, for they will mourn and weep. This good news for the poor and oppressed, for the ones on the bottom of society, does not sound so good for the ones on top; not so good for the rich and privileged.

But isn’t Jesus the Savior of all? Shouldn’t good news be good news for everyone—poor and rich? Luke tells us that Jesus is addressing his disciples, most of whom were poor and oppressed, but apparently some were rich and satisfied. How IS the good news good for them?

To see the good news for everyone we have to look at blessing in the big picture. Jesus desires that we live now as we will for eternity, that we live on earth now as we will in heaven. He desires that we live in the present political sphere as we will in God’s kingdom.

The longer we choose NOT to live this way, and the degree to which we don’t, the harder the adjustment will be when we enter God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to show us how to make the adjustment easier. He revealed our destiny, and desires to guide our lives in the meantime, between now and our arrival. He showed us the North Star so we can navigate our lives around it. He showed us the end of the story so we could narrate our lives towards it.

Theologians call this the “eschatological perspective,” living our lives with the end in view. Doing this will make the adjustment easier when this life ends and our life after this one begins.

The greatest obstacle to this way of living is our attachment to this life. It is attachment to our riches and the lifestyle that causes or necessitates the poverty and oppression of others.

In the right-side-up world we hear, “You should never lack for anything. You should never be hungry. You should never be bored but always entertained and laughing.” It tells us, “You should hate your enemies and despise those who wrong you. And you should always retaliate. And let others pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” The right-side-up world has no time for forgiveness, mercy, kindness, or sacrificial generosity. The kingdoms of this world are not concerned with providing a blessing for others.

But in the inverted Kingdom of God, Jesus says, “the measure we give, will be the measure we get back.” How we act determines our reality. If we refuse peace and justice, we will perpetuate conflict. If we refuse to forgive, we bind ourselves to our victimization. If we refuse to love, we’ll soon question God’s love. If we refuse to bless others, we’ll soon question whether God blesses us.

Jesus calls us to live in God’s inverted Kingdom, to be his disciples, those who listen to him. He calls us to be children of the Most High who, like God, are kind to the ungrateful and even the wicked. He makes it easier for us to do this by showing us the end, by placing us in the eschatological horizon of God’s Kingdom. This is the blessing we have received as God’s children, and the blessing we can give to others.

John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us, writes

Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, a place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of a life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now. (p. 199)

May we who belong to Christ follow his eschatological vision and bless others as we have been blessed. Blessing in the big picture includes us all.


Never Cease to Be


You will never cease to be

what God has created

Created you to be

called you to be

ordained you to be

You may flee the path

lose faith

fall from grace

be swallowed by a large fish

And you will still be

Be God’s beloved child

instrument of choice

means of grace


Cease striving to be what you are not

cease striving to be what you are

cease striving at all

Cease and discover

Let go and receive

Lose, grieve, and find

Stretch out you your hand

take up your mat

and walk




on water

through the valley

It matters not

for you are not alone

and you will never cease to be


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

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?

Questions of Faith


Faith, you are required of me

for that beyond which I can see,

to justify my thoughts thereof

and grant existence to that whereof

My life has purpose. For it tends

towards a good that all means end,

or Beauty, Truth, or Love perhaps–

if thinkers, prophets do not lapse.

Or maybe Faith I do confuse

with that unmentioned other muse

that just as well from earthly view

does promise what the heavens show:

A better ‘morrow at the dawn

than what before has come and gone.

Are you the same as Hope, I ask

do you present a different task

than living, working for a place

where serenity is on each face?

And, Faith, how are you different than

the urging deep within this man?



Nature ever calls to me

Forsake the silence of human noise

and hear the fullness of my silence

Our nature ever calls to me

Abandon hope

Protect and please

Preserve as long as possible

My nature ever calls to me

Look further out

and deeper in

we have no answers

Your nature ever calls to me

Peace. Be still. Fear not.

Know that I am God.

09.10.17 Why Are we Blessed Matthew 25:14-30 Sermon Summary

What would you do if God entrusted you with $226,200? How about $1.1M? Jesus gives us the answer.

Summary Points

  • The question that opens the Kingdom of God to us
  • Two paths for our lives
  • An illustration from the Holy Land
  • Living by faith or fear
  • Questions for discussion or reflection

Jesus’ primary message which he taught in word and by example was the Kingdom of God. His hope for all creation is that we enter God’s Kingdom. Jesus himself embodied the Kingdom of God so he testifies with authority how we also may experience God’s Kingdom. His parable about the talents offers helpful guidance.

Jesus has been away a long time. In the first few decades following his resurrection, they thought he was coming back soon. Then centuries passed, and now millennia. He’s been gone so long many figure he’s not coming back.

But like the master in the parable of the talents he is coming back. And like the master in the parable, he has entrusted his property to us. Since the opening chapters of Genesis, in fact, we have been blessed to be entrusted by God with all creation. But why has he blessed us this way?

In the parable, the master entrusts one slave with one talent. A talent is worth about 15 years wages for a laborer. In today’s terms, using the federal minimum wage, a forty-hour work week, a fifty-two week work year, a single talent is worth $226,200.00. He entrusts one slave with five talents: $1,131,000.00!

As in the parable, God has entrusted us with his property and will come to settle accounts. Settling accounts is basically God asking us, “What did you do with it? What did you with the blessing I entrusted to you?”

“I did nothing,” some of us will say, “because you didn’t bless me. I’ve earned everything I have. I deserve everything I have. It’s not a blessing from you.”

“I did nothing,” others will say, “because you didn’t bless me. I don’t have anything extraordinary. There’s nothing blessed about my life.”

“I did nothing,” still others will say, “because I was afraid of what you’d say if I failed.” This is the answer of the one-talent slave. “I know you are a harsh man,” he said, “so I was afraid.”

Legally, what the one-talent slave did was perfectly acceptable. Burying the talent in the ground was customary. This is why he was so confident in returning the talent to the master: “Here you have what is yours.” The one-talent slave wasn’t expecting to be put in charge of many things. He was just waiting for the master to return to give him back what was his.

Some of us live our lives this way. We are just doing our duty, biding our time. We are content to be ordinary. Then we will give ourselves back to God when we die. We don’t want to take a chance. We’re afraid like the one-talent slave. Afraid we might fail. Afraid God might judge us. Afraid we’re not good enough.

Answer now for yourself (to help prepare for eventually answering God): Are you a five-talent slave? Or a two-talent slave? Or a one-talent slave?

The five-talent and two-talent slaves also knew, like the one-talent slave, that the master reaps where he doesn’t sow, that he gathers where he doesn’t scatter. Because they know this, they took a chance. They risked it. In fact, they risked it all.

I wish there was three-talent slave. I wish in the parable there was a slave who was entrusted with three talents, risks it all, and loses it all. What does the master say to that one? If I knew that, it would give me some assurance. It would make me less of a one-talent slave.

But we only have the two examples. We have the slave who fears to fail, and so doesn’t try. And we have the slaves who fear to fail by not trying, so they take the chance.

You see, the one-talent slave feared the wrong thing. The master doesn’t judge the slaves for taking chances. He doesn’t even judge them for failure. The master judges slaves for not trying.

When God entrusts us with something, he says, “Do something with what I’ve entrusted to you! I have blessed you. I am coming back. I will ask you what you’ve done.” Because that’s part of the blessing—not just the things God has given us, but the opportunity to do something with it.

The Jordan River flows south through Israel, entering the Sea of Galilee and continuing on until it terminates in the Dead Sea. map The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by grass, shrubs, trees, flowers and is filled with fish. In short, there is life around the Sea of Galilee. sea of galilee By contrast, the Dead Sea has no life in it. The shores consist of mineral deposits that prohibit life. dead sea The difference is that the waters of the Jordan pass through the Sea of Galilee, but simply stop at the Dead Sea. In the same way, God’s blessings, when they pass through us to others, bring life. Five talents become ten. Two talents become four. But if they stop with us, there is no life. One talent remains only one talent.

What the parable teaches us is that we can live by fear or we can live by faith. Fear thinks God is going to judge us for failure so it’s safest not to take risks. Faith knows that God always reaps where he doesn’t sow, and always gathers where he doesn’t scatter. This always-quality of God overrides our failures. (That’s the definition of grace.) It may take a long time, but God has time.

So as long as we have time, let us live in faith. Let us be five-talent slaves. Let us take the chance, put it on the line, and risk it all. If we do, we’ll discover abundance in our lives and enter the joy of our master. This is why God has blessed us. Amen.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • People do nothing with God’s blessings because they feel entitled to them (too proud), or that they have no blessings (not proud enough), or fear God’s judgment (don’t understand grace). What other reasons are there for doing nothing with God’s blessings? What keeps you from doing more with them?
  • How much is this parable about a final judgment, about a literal return of Jesus? How much is it about our lives here and now until we die?
  • Take stock of your life as a “Sea of Galilee.” What blessings has the River Jordan flowed into your life? How are you passing them on to others? Or are you more of a Dead Sea?

In Heaven as On Earth

At night the sky is dark,

but there are darker shadows still;

Silhouettes against the heavens,

standing on the earth and reaching high.

They mock the darkness there

by revealing the light above,

And testify to the hope of providence and redemption

as the fifth day of creation dawns.

I see this tree of life

in the darker part of darkness,

and recognize myself

crucified with Christ.

I hope that I will rise

in the morning with the Light,

When the shadow returns to dust beneath my feet at noon,

And my whole body glimmers in God.