*This sermon was preached on the second Sunday of Lent, March 4, 2012 ar Zion Mennonite Church, Hubbard, Oregon.
Where is the blessing? Where is Abraham’s covenant of blessing? God promised that through Abraham many nations and peoples would arise and that his children would be a blessing to all peoples. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have way too often been throughout history a curse rather than a blessing to the peoples of the earth. Crusades, pogroms, witch hunts, wars, and terrorism are but a few of the curses that have come upon the earth through the ancestors and spiritual descendants of Abraham. So, where is the blessing?
Maybe we should go back and look at Abraham’s covenant of blessing. Abram was an old codger of ninety-nine years when the Lord appeared to him. Even at such an old age, God was not through with Abram. Take heart, you who are the elderly of Zion. God is not through with you yet either! God wants to bless others through you, as he promises the same to Abram at a ripe old age.
God told Abram to “walk before me and be blameless.” This means that God wants an ongoing relationship with Abram defined by wholeness. Their relationship is to be more than a weekly or monthly drop by the church, an occasional prayer to God, and without ulterior motives like what you get out of the deal in the end. The covenant between God and Abram is grounded in a continuous, close, and candid relationship.
The God of the impossible promises Abram and Sarah that their descendants will be “exceedingly numerous,” “a multitude of nations.” You’ve got to be pulling our leg God! That’s a joke, right? A multitude of nations from two old geezers without any kids? Stop! You’re making me laugh! God’s covenant with Abraham is based upon a practical impossibility. Abraham and Sarah have no children and they are beyond the childbearing years, to say the least. I’m talking the impossibility of newborn baby cries coming from Hope Village! The only kind of “fruitful” we might expect from Abraham and Sarah is prunes or fruit of the loom! And yet, God bases a covenant promise upon a practical impossibility. Not only will they have a child of promise, but a multitude of nations will spring forth from them! What seems impossible to us is possible to God.
Not only did God’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah promise that they would have as many descendants as the “sands of the sea,” an unfathomable thought, but according to chapter 18:18 Abraham would be a “blessing to all nations.” Many peoples descendant from Abraham and his faith will be a blessing to the whole earth! What an amazing, mind boggling, impossible covenant of blessing. And yet, being a blessing to the earth turns out not to be an impossibility. In time it will come to pass, if Abraham’s children are faithful to the covenant of blessing.
Are there blessings you would like to see in your life right now that seem impossible? My life seems more a curse than a blessing. I will never make it through this tough situation. Remember God’s covenant of blessing with Abraham and Sarah! God can make a way where there is no way!
Are there blessings you want to see here at Zion that you think could just never be? We have been through too much. Those patterns of behavior are just too ingrained. Remember God’s covenant of blessing with Abraham and Sarah! God can make a way where there is no way!
Are their blessings you want to fall upon family and friends, on your community, on your nation, upon all nations and the world? Why pray for such nonsense? People don’t change. This world will never change. Remember God’s covenant of blessing with Abraham and Sarah. God can make a way where there is no way! Amen?
But, I understand the resistance to signing on to a covenant of blessing. Just look at the world around us. Probably what is more laughable than having a child at an old age, because it is so unbelievable, is that the covenant says that Abraham’s descendants would be a blessing to the nations. Just consider the three Abrahamic faith traditions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Have we seen any greater curse to the earth than in the conflicts, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Christian bashing, outright hatred, prejudice, war, and deadly conflicts between children of the same father?
We don’t need a history professor to remind us of the curses of Abraham’s children in the Christian Crusades against the Muslims, modern hated and discrimination against Muslims since 911, innocents incarcerated with no due process and other Muslims tortured at Guantanomo Bay prison, ground zero mosque controversy, a Christian organization pressuring advertisers to pull out from the TV show All American Muslim because it presents positive images of Muslims, the ongoing, intractable, and deadly Israeli-Palestinian conflict, anti-Semitism, Jews stereotyped as Christ-killers, pogroms against the Jews, holocaust, persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, and on and on the cursed tale goes! A blessing to the nations? Phooey!! Abraham’s covenant of blessing has been broken so many times by his heirs that it should be declared null and void!
And yet, there are those who practice Abraham’s covenant of blessing as if it was still intact, still relevant, still utterly important not just for Abraham’s descendants, but for the survival of the earth. Here are just a few leaders who model being a blessing across the Abrahamic faiths.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer- was a blessing to the church for founding the Confessing Church amid a compromised German Christian church and a blessing to the Jews for resisting the curse of Nazism to the point of death.
Andre Trocme- was Christian pacifist pastor who taught his faith community in La Chambon, France the nonviolent way of Jesus. Even with the risk of life, his people hid Jews in their homes fleeing Nazi persecution. These Christians were a blessing to the Jews.
Elias Chacour- is a blessing to both Arabs and Jews. As an Archbishop in Israel for the Melkite Catholic Church, an Israeli Christian, and an advocate of nonviolence, Chacour works at reconciliation between Muslims and Jews
Naim Ateek- is a Palestinian Christian who is a blessing to Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims. He founded Sabeel as a center for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.
These are but a few of the countless names and faces of persons and groups who have been working to live out Abraham’s covenant to be a blessing to all nations, particularly those who claim Abraham as the father of their faith traditions.
To bring Abraham’s covenant of blessing to our front door, we can personally work on being a blessing to each other here within our own congregation. We can participate in God’s covenant of blessing whether or not it has become null and void. Here are some ways to become a blessing to each other that I heard from a little birdie!
•Forsake nitpicking- If you want to be a blessing to others, then let go of that itching desire to nitpick. The word finds it origin in the practice of tediously and meticulously removing the eggs of lice from someone’s hair. It is a fitting term for when we scrupulously search for minor details, trivial errors that we can criticize. I do hope you noticed the misspelling in the bulletin this morning. Someone ought to speak to those young people about combing their hair for Sunday. If I were planning this kind of activity I would have made sure that it was announced weeks in advance. Does nitpicking ever accomplish its desired ends? Not really. It only gets under others skin. Geeez! Chill out, people! Cut others some slack! Be a blessing to others.
•Throw out the critical attitude- People with a constant critical attitude are, let’s admit it, a curse to others. When we only think of the negative side of things, when we are critical of what others present to us, we become a real drag, particularly when no alternatives are suggested. Anyone can tear down an idea or action with very little effort. I wouldn’t have worded the proposal that way, but who am I? I don’t care for this or this or this in the event you’ve planned. You can count me out on being part of that. Yes, the music was wonderful, but we went way over time. If we are going to have an attitude, at least make it over something big, like hunger, poverty, war, or Rush Limbaugh!
This doesn’t mean there is no place for criticism. Constructive criticism can be a blessing. Thanks for your proposal. Can we possibly do this instead or change this slightly. I’m open to other ideas. Here are my ideas on how we can stay within a proper timeframe. What do you think about this? Be considerate of others feelings, work, and gifts. Be a blessing to others.
•Avoid the dreaded domino effect- This is a relationship and communication pattern Jan Wood picked up from our church audit and everyone nodded their head to when shared. Are we being a blessing to others when we pass on negative information or judgmental attitudes about someone else, which causes the dreaded dominos to fall? I don’t think so. How about passing on a blessing instead? I heard Sarah was very nice the new girl in the youth group. Let’s tell others to thank her. Did you notice all the work that she did at the Quilt workshop. I’m gonna send her a thank you note. How about you too? I just had to stand up in church today and thank everyone for praying for us and encouraging us instead of being critical of my troubled son. Be a blessing to others.
•Foster a positive outlook- Don’t you find that people who have a positive outlook on life to be a blessing? Even when you may feel sour, frustrated, or down, when you find something positive within a tough situation, aren’t you more of a blessing than a burden to others? I know this is tough work and sometimes you need just to feel bad and we have all too often failed at being positive. But, when we intentionally focus on the positive, our attitudes can make a positive impact on those around us. Be a blessing to others.
•Look for the best in others- Quaker spirituality recognizes that there is a spark of divine light in every human being, no matter how despicable they may seem to be. Christian theology recognizes that we are all created in God’s image. This doesn’t mean we overlook the sins and personality disorders of others. But, looking for the best, the positive qualities in others can be more difficult. That’s why it is an even more critical practice if we want to be a blessing to others. Jan Wood, a Quaker, had us practice this in our congregational dialogue. She asked us to consider that everyone has certain backgrounds and experiences from which they share their lives and perspectives. Good communication is to respect and affirm others as they share from their own experiences and perspectives. Be a blessing to others.
•Focus our corporate energies on our commonalities- Rather than focusing our energies on where we differ with others, let is focus on what we share in common, then we can be a blessing to one another. Again, this is not to ignore differences in perspectives or practices among us. It is to say that we have plenty in common to work together on than that which would divide us.
Let’s affirm together our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective. You will be seeing copies of a summary of the confession in your pew Bibles soon. Let’s recognize that we may share different perspectives but worship the same Lord and God! Let’s join in our congregational conversations to share with each other in our common concerns and direction. Let’s work together on the recommendations that come out of our church audit. Let’s come together on this upcoming visioning process to shape our common vision. Let’s join in ministry projects that we can work together on and be a blessing to others, like the Quilt workshop, Vacation Bible School, and Bridging Cultures. When we come together around that which we share in common we will, with the help of God, be a blessing to others.
God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah that through them would come many peoples, a multitude of nations. And through them the earth would be blessed. Go from this place today, God’s people, descendants of Abraham and Sarah, to be a blessing to others.