Last night I was paying special attention to Hockey Night In Canada because a relative of mine from my home town of Provost, Alberta, Lance Bouma, made his debut with the Calgary Flames at home on Hockey Night in Canada. Lance’s grandpa and my dad are first cousins and Susan and I are friends with Lance’s parents, Bernie and Cheryl Bouma. And it is great to see someone you know do well. That’s what you want for your kids. That’s what you want for your friends.
So today we are going to talk about how we can help others do well. And we will do that by looking at the story of Abraham. Because Abraham was a man who helped others do well and we can learn something for our lives from his story.
Now we encounter Abraham in the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. Abraham, or Abram, as he was first called, was born over 4000 years ago in the city of Ur which is in the area of present-day Iraq. I don’t think that he ever played in the NHL but if he did, it would have been for the Montreal Canadiens. And even though Abram’s family were descendants of Noah and his son Shem, both of whom knew the LORD as God, Abram grew up in a polytheistic culture and his father, Terah, worshipped other gods. Sometime after Abram was married to Sarai, he moved with his wife, his father, and his nephew Lot to Harran, a city in what is today, southern Turkey.
Then we read in Genesis 12 what happened a few years later:
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. (Genesis 12:1-4)
This was the God of Noah and Shem calling Abram out the religious practices of his family of worshipping many gods and into following the one true God. And God was also calling Abram to leave Haran and follow him into an unknown future in a far off land. But God also blessed Abram. It is interesting though, how the God says this. He says, “… I will bless you… and you will be a blessing…” Abram was blessed, to be a blessing to others.
Abram followed God’s call and moved with Sarai and Lot to Canaan, which is where Israel and the West Bank Territory are today. After a side trip to Egypt because of a drought, Abram and Lot return to Canaan. But now there is a problem, because both of them have large flocks and herds of livestock and there isn’t enough pasture for all the animals. In Genesis 13, we read:
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom (Genesis 13:8-12)
As the elder relative, Abram could have chosen the best land for himself, but Abram chose to bless Lot by letting him pick the best land.
Sometime after this there is a battle near Sodom between opposing groups of kings and Lot and his family are taken hostage by the opposing side. Abram rounds up all the men in his household who can fight and together they pursue the enemy kings, defeat them, free Lot and his family and gather up all the plunder that was taken from Sodom. Upon their return to Sodom, the king of Salem, Melchizedek, who was also a priest of the same one true God that Abram worshipped, blessed Abram and said,
Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand. (Genesis 14:19-20)
So now Abram has been blessed twice by God. And in response, he worships God and blesses Melchizedek by giving him a tithe or 10% of everything that he owned. And Abram was a very wealthy man.
Then there was the matter of the plunder from Sodom that Abram had recovered from those who had taken it. By rights, Abram could have kept it. And the King of Sodom even said to Abram,’Just return the people from Sodom that were kidnapped and you can keep the plunder.’
22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me (Genesis 14:22-24)
So Abram blessed the king and the people of Sodom by giving back to them all of their stolen possessions.
There is something really good happening here in Abram’s life—he is blessing other people. Now don’t get me wrong. Abram was not perfect. He tried to pass off his wife as his sister to save his own skin… twice. But the level of humility and generosity and integrity that Abram is demonstrating here is not something that you can manufacture on your own.
It is like that passage that is often read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13. You probably even know how it goes:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
We hear those words and they sound really good, but they don’t fit with the reality of our lives, at least it doesn’t fit with the reality of my life. I’m not always patient and kind with those who are closest to me. I can’t even begin to love my wife and family with the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 unless someone else pours that kind of love into me first. And that’s where Jesus comes in.
You see, like Abraham, Jesus also answered a call from God his Father. Jesus answered the call to leave the perfection and glory of the heavenly realms to come to earth where sin, brokenness and pain are so prevalent. And like Abraham, Jesus was blessed. When he was baptized and again on the Mount of Transfiguration, God the Father blessed Jesus by saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17b)
And like Abraham, Jesus responded to his blessing by blessing others. Jesus came to divide the inheritance of heaven with all the people of this world. Jesus gave, not a tithe, not 10%, but everything he had. Jesus emptied himself and set aside all of his power and glory to come to this world as a poor, vulnerable human being. Jesus gave up his dignity and his life by willingly going to the cross to suffer the most shameful death imaginable. And Jesus did not take any reward for defending all people in the world from sin, death and the power of evil.
You see, Jesus is the perfect love that never fails. Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. Jesus does not dishonour others, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.
We need the blessing of Jesus and his love in our lives to be the kind of people who bless others. And Jesus wants to bless us. And he gives us his blessing through the waters of Holy Baptism.
In Baptism, God the Father blesses you by welcoming you into his family. Then he looks at you and says, “You are my child, I love you and with you I am well-pleased.” In Baptism, Jesus blesses you by connecting you to himself with a bond that, from his side of the relationship, will never be broken. He washes you clean of all of your sins and each day he renews that gift of forgiveness in you. And he gives you a new life with him that will last forever. In Baptism, the Holy Spirit blesses you by making your body his temple and coming to live inside you to direct you, encourage you and empower you to bless others, just like Abraham.
All of us have been blessed by God in multiple ways. So let us respond to that blessing by being a blessing to others. How can you make it a life-long practice to bless other people? Are there people in your life whom can bless by sharing territory with them? Is there someone you can bless by being generous with them? Is there someone you can bless by sacrificially helping them, perhaps by giving up some of your rights, so that they can do well?
Two weeks from today is the Annual General Meeting for Walnut Grove Lutheran Church. And one of the key issues that this community of faith will have to deal with at that meeting is the $100,000 shortfall in the 2011 budget? Now when you talk about a shortfall with 5 zeroes in it, people tend to get anxious. And when we get anxious, we tend to stop thinking and we start reacting emotionally, which makes everyone even more anxious and less likely to arrive at a solution.
But I am suggesting to you that our church is facing a much greater concern than the shortfall in the budget. And that concern is whether we, as a church, are totally focused on and tracking with our mission. We know that we are blessed and we are pretty good at inviting others to join us in sharing God’s blessing. But could we do more as a group to bless the people of Walnut Grove? What if, instead of being known as the church in the building that used to be a nursery, we were known as a church that blesses this community? What if, when you asked people about Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, they would say, “I know that church and I was blessed by that church. Our community would not be the same without them.”? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could bless our community in that way? And when we prayerfully focus on our mission of blessing others, I think that God will direct us towards solutions for the financial challenges we face. We are blessed to be a blessing. We want others to do well. So let’s bless them. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on February 6, 2011.)