Friday, September 14, 2018


Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Proper 18, Sept. 9, 2018
Mark 7:24-37
24From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.
26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

So…this text.  The text that vexes.
What’s the presenting issue?
So many issues:
·       Jesus is out of his territory.  In a new world.
·       The little daughter has “an unclean spirit.”  Notice the problem:  unclean.  If you want to talk more about spirits, demons, what this all means, Sunday School.
·       The woman is a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.  Which just means that she is local.  He’s in Tyre.  [slide]  She is not the unusual one here.
·       Then the text tells us that Jesus “returned”…”by way of Sidon [slide], towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” [slide]
--Which is a rather strange route.  Go north and far to the east to get somewhere which is just south and east of where you are.
--Only one town shown on our map in the Decapolis.  Gerasa.  [slide]  Where the people are known as “Gerasenes.”  Anybody remember what happened there? 
Mark 5:1-20.  “They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.”
--The Decapolis is where Jesus encounters demons.  But in this case, he encounters a man who is deaf, and therefore has difficulty speaking.  And Jesus does this weird little healing.
So much going on in this text.  Did I forget anything?
·       Oh yeah.  “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  How many wish he had never said that?

          It’s fun to read commentaries on this text…by which I mean “not fun.”  [slide]  Many of the commentary writers are consumed with deciding whether Jesus should have said that.
          We’ve talked about this before, and there’s no need to belabor it this morning.  What Jesus says to the woman is unkind.  He shouldn’t have said it. 
          While we’re at it, the US should stop treating female tennis players differently than it treats male ones.  And women should make as much money as men do.  And we shouldn’t build walls to keep out people trying to save themselves and their children from violence and desperate poverty.  And yes, sexism.  Ethnocentrism.  Still a problem, so while we can agree that Jesus made a terrible mistake out of sexism and ethnocentrism, we might want to focus on fixing our own time first. 
          And I think this text has more to teach us about our time than “sexism and ethnocentrism are bad.”  Which would be enough, but there is even more here.  So much here, in fact.  So much going on.
          And all of that stuff is important.  In fact, all of that stuff might be the point.  That line about the children’s bread is so startling, that we can forget how this lesson started: 

24From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.

          Jesus went into a house and didn’t want anyone to know he was there.  He had left the Galilee, where he had been doing lots of ministry, maybe just to get away for a few. 
It might work.  He doesn’t have a cell phone.  Now that we have cell phones, nobody gets away.  Unless you leave the country.  That sometimes works.
          Anyway, Jesus was trying to get away.  Rest a little.  And this woman finds him and says “heal my daughter,” and he offers his terrible response, and sometimes we get so caught up trying to decide whether it’s good or bad that we don’t think about what he actually says.
          “There’s only so much bread, lady.  We can’t let the dogs have it, when it’s for the children.”  In Matthew’s gospel, he actual says, “Hey, I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  That’s their bread.”  In Mark, we don’t know why he doesn’t want her to have the bread.  Just that he doesn’t. 
          Just that Jesus doesn’t think there is enough bread for her to have some.  That Jesus…Christ…believes that the bread of life, which he is, and from which we cannot escape—Jesus believes that this bread (of life) is a finite resource.
          And honestly, after the hundreds of hours I have spent in my career dissecting this text, I just realized this week that this idea that is the most annoying thing about this text.
          Because it’s like a Giant Mirror, held right up to my face.  [slide]
          Anybody else see yourself reflected in this text?  Any of us ever operate out of a sense of scarcity, rather than abundance?
          After all, there’s only so much…time.  Money.  Ice cream.
          I really wasn’t going to ask you to participate in God’s Work/Our Hands Sunday.  I was a little tired, and I didn’t feel like begging everybody to stay after worship and do work.  And then I got a text from Matt at Salem, saying they wanted to come down here and volunteer today.  And I thought to myself, “Self…if they can come up from Lenexa and work in our parish, surely we can stay here and do a little work ourselves!”
          It can be easy for us to operate out of scarcity mindset.  When it comes to resources—time, energy, money.  We have to be careful, right?
          And it can be similarly easy to operate out of scarcity when it comes to the power of Jesus. 
          How many of us can say that we are sharing the bread of life as liberally as we could be?  How many are willing to admit that we hold back?  We don’t unleash that power the way we could?  We don’t share the gospel the way we could?
          Maybe, just maybe, we’re not sure exactly how much power there is in the name of Jesus Christ.  How much power there is in the bread he has to share with the world. 
          He understood it better, because of this encounter.  This lesson is a turning point in Mark’s gospel.  After his troubling moment with a Syrophoenician woman, Jesus began to speak of his mission in new ways.
          The great teaching in this lesson, and it comes from that Syrophoenician, Gentile woman, is that there is enough bread for everyone. 
          There is no limit to the power of Jesus Christ.
          What would change in our lives if we believed that?
          What would change in our church if we believed that?
          How about our world?  How would our world change if we believed in the healing power of Jesus Christ?  If we believed that the Bread of Life could draw us together instead of tearing us apart?
          Think about that for a minute.  And decide one thing you will do.  Just one thing, to show that you believe that the power of Jesus Christ is unlimited, and that it is for all people.        Amen.     

People Are Watching

Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Proper 17, Sept. 2, 2018
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
          Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”     
               14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
          21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

          Anybody know what that number represents?
          It’s the number of children…killed by gun violence in America since 1999.
          Gun violence is now the third leading cause of death for children in this country.  That is a healthcare crisis.
          And what have our leaders done to address this crisis?
          Basically nothing.  Children are dying and the congress has done basically nothing.
          Which is not to say that they haven’t been focused on healthcare.  No, they have voted over fifty times…to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act.  Since 2013. 
          Over fifty times.  The repeal effort has its own Wikipedia page.  (Slide 2)
          So…and this is not news to you, I’m sure…our leaders are excellent at crafting plans to not do things.  Or to do little things.
          At the end of the last session, they managed to pass the EGO Act, which amends Title 31 of the US Code “to prohibit the use of Federal funds for the costs of painting portraits of officers and employees of the Federal Government.”
          You honestly can’t make this stuff up.
          It’s understandable.  It really is.  I too find it easier to focus on small things.  I did about ten little projects while trying to get this sermon written.  Which is about par for the course.  Little things, like regulating ceiling fans and sticking to ritual purity laws—those things are relatively easy. 
          Much easier than making sure all of our neighbors have food, and showing love for everyone we meet, even the irritating ones.
          The scribes and the Pharisees seemed to have a little problem with this, and it’s fair to say that irritated Jesus.  A lot.  Maybe disproportionately, but I think we can understand why.
          They want to know why the disciples don’t wash their hands.  It’s a reasonable question.
          Of course, we’re not talking about handwashing from a sanitary perspective.  We’re talking about ritual washing.  For the purpose of participating in the “traditions of the elders,” as they call it.  These are the traditions set down by rabbis and scribes for many generations.  The codes for how to eat kosher, how to remain ritually pure and clean, and how to conduct worship. 
          And is there something wrong with those codes, per se?
          No.  Far be it for us, as Lutherans, participating in a worship service which follows the ordo of the church laid down in the Middle Ages, to denigrate tradition.
          There is nothing wrong with tradition.  There is nothing wrong with washing your hands.  Nothing at all.  Even ritual washing, which reminds us that we are to remain pure before God and one another.
          Purity isn’t a bad thing.  Unless it begins to supersede love.  Honor.  Service.  Unless following the traditions of the elders takes the place of following the Commandments of God.
          The reason Jesus got so irritated at those scribes and Pharisees is that he saw them doing that.  He saw them ignoring those in need in their midst while they washed the heck out of their “cups, pots, and bronze kettles.”
          In the section of the lesson that the lectionary excludes, Jesus talks about the practice of Corban.  It’s a little esoteric, so the lectionary writers figured it was best to leave it our.  I think you can handle it.
          Corban is just a word for offerings designated for God.  Now, again, are offerings bad?
          Certainly not!
          But like all things, our offerings have to balance the rest of the Law.  Speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus reminds them that the commandments say “honor your father and mother.”  Yet some were saying to parents, “Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban.”  Thus they were failing to honor the commandment in order to be thought of well in the synagogue and temple.  Or in order to atone for their sins.
          Balance.  Order.  Minding the big things—the ten commandments, the greatest commandment—love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
          Children must honor their parents, God declares. 
          Parents must honor their children.  It can be pretty easy to get caught up in the small stuff as a parent…am I right? 
          Lot of handwashing going on there.  As there should be.  But you can keep your kids clean and fed and in bed at a precise hour every night, and lose the opportunity to teach them joy, to let them play and have fun and get dirty. 
          Look, just be this guy.  [Slides 3-6]  There is no question that Michael—and Jessie—attend to the important things.  But they have not neglected important teaching about love.  And fun. 
          Thanks to Jess for collecting all of those photos for Michael’s birthday and making it really easy to add them to my slide presentation this morning.
          And please keep Michael—and Jessie—in your prayers, as he is in Japan for a couple of weeks for the Navy.
          Look, this is an important teaching.  You can tell it’s important, because Jesus gets a little hot under the collar as he is responding to those scribes and Pharisees.  He tosses out the “h word.”  “Hypocrite.”
          “You are hypocrites,” says Jesus, “because you focus so hard on what goes into your bodies that you neglect the more important concern—what comes out.” 
          And then the people watching you believe that the primary concern of God’s people is staying clean.  And making flashy offerings.  In order to be regarded as a “good Jew.”
          And before you know it, that’s what the world thinks of when it thinks of the Jews.  “Those people who follow all of those rules about food and drink and ritual washing.”
          Even Mark falls into that trap.  Did you notice? 
          Verse three:  “For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders.”
          Obviously this is not the practice of “all the Jews” because the lesson is about how the disciples don’t follow it.
          But…and it’s really important that we recognize and remember this:  it is not unusual for all religious people to get characterized based on what some of them do.  Especially when they make a big deal about it, which is exactly the behavior that Jesus is pointing out here.
          Why is this important for us?
          Because it is true of us as well.  How many have friends, acquaintances, family, who have told you that they have no interest in church because all Christians are hypocrites?
          Or bigots?
          Why do they say that?  Because there is a very public segment of American Christianity that exhibits values in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus.  Which is the definition of “hypocrisy.”
          There is a very public segment of American Christianity that has aligned itself with anti-immigrant policies, with white supremacy, with policies that hurt the “least among us.”
          And when people are painting with a broad brush, we get lumped in there too. 
          I remember when I waited tables at the Bristol.  I had coworkers who hated working brunch, because folks would come in from church and be demanding and cheap.
          What do you imagine they thought of Christians, these impressionable young waiters?
          People are watching us.  They are watching to see if we are “practicing what we preach.”  If we are living by the great commandment—love God and love your neighbor.  Or we are caught up in little things and neglecting the rule of love…care for neighbor…honoring of parents.
          People are watching us…and that is a really good thing. 
          I feel really good about releasing you all out into the world and letting you stand for the Christian faith.  I believe you will keep your eyes on the big things alongside the small ones.  I believe you will stand up for children, for the elderly, for the ones to whom Jesus gravitated.  I believe you will place your bodies in the places in which he placed his—the places of pain and struggle.
          I think if people can see you, they will have a new picture of Christianity, and that maybe they will even see Jesus.  And seeing Jesus is a big thing.
          A very big thing.

Catching the Ones Falling from the Windows

Sermon for SMHP, Year B, August Sermon Series, August 19, 2018

Sermon Lesson                                                                       Acts 20:1-12
               After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia.2When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, 3where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. 4He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. 5They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; 6but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.
               7On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. 8There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. 9A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ 11Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left.12Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

          How many have ever read or heard this story?
          It’s a weird one.  If you don’t know it, that’s likely because it’s not in the lectionary, so it’s only read on Sunday morning if we do some weird sermon series in August to avoid the five weeks of preaching John 6.  That is the official name of this August sermon series:  Series to Avoid Five Weeks of Preaching on “The Bread of Life.”
          Funny story:  this alternative lesson turns out to be about life and bread.
          But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
          The story before us is one that must be handled very carefully.  It needs to be viewed two ways:  through a telescope and through a microscope.
          First, let’s stand back and look at it from afar.  An overview.  Maybe binoculars, rather than a telescope.
          See…what had happened that day in Troas was…Paul bored a kid to death.
          That’s kinda the gist of it, right?
          Paul was preaching, and preaching, and preaching.  I’ve known some preachers like this.  I’m sure I’ve done it many times myself.  You preach your sermon, and it’s good!  And then for good measure, you go on and preach another one.
          I don’t know how many sermons Paul preached that day.  Maybe he was just happy to be in one place for a while.  As you may have noticed from the first paragraph of the lesson, Paul and his merry band of apostles have been all over the place before they get to Troas, or Troy.
          So they are there in Troas for one more day, and Paul is holding a discussion and a young man named Eutychus is sitting in the window.
          And Eutychus falls out of the window and Paul goes down to him and he is alive again and they all have dinner.
          That’s basically the story, and quite frankly, given the 10,000 foot view Luke gives us, I’m not surprised this story doesn’t make it into the lectionary, because there doesn’t seem to be much to talk about here.
          Until you get out the microscope.  And the dictionary.  And start paying attention to the details.
          First detail:  lamps.  In a story that is all of seven sentences long, why does Luke spend a sentence explaining that “there were many lamps in the room upstairs” where they were meeting?
          They were oil lamps.  They made a third floor room, which would already have been warm, even hotter.  And they removed a bit of the oxygen from the room as well.
          So we know why Eutychus got sleepy.  It wasn’t just Paul’s long-windedness.
          He got sleepy and he fell out of the window.  The most important details in this story are the words Luke uses.  So bear with me, because we’re going to have to go Greek for a bit.
          Eutychus fell out the window.  The word for “fell” is epesen.  It’s the past tense of a relatively common verb, pipto (to fall) used this exact way twenty-nine times in Christian scripture, and not that many people fall out of windows and other things in the Gospels and epistles.
          But after Eutychus fell out the window, Luke tells us, Paul went down to where he was, and bent over him.  It really should say that Paul “fell upon” Eutychus, since the verb is epepesen, which is, of course, a form of epesen, and also has to do with falling.  This verb is much more rare, though, occurring in this form and meaning only twice:  in Acts 20—our text for this morning, and in Luke 15, in a story about another boy who was considered lost. 
          Anybody know what boy that was?  [The Prodigal Son]
          When the prodigal appears to throw himself at his father’s feet and beg for mercy, Luke tells us that “when he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”  Then he throws a big party for this prodigal one, and when his older son complains, the father says “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of your was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
          Your brother was dead, and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.
          What does Paul tell the people about Eutychus after he falls out of the window?
          “His life is in him.”
          Paul saw life in Eutychus.  Because he is a man of God, and God sees life where others see death.  He is a man of God who was on his own path of death, until Jesus knocked him down! And raised him up!
          God sees redemption where others see utter loss.
          God teaches us to hope in the face of despair.   
          How many of us have been given up for dead, until God found us?
          How many of us have fallen, and when others turned away, someone became Jesus to us and raised us up?
          And how many of us are getting ready to fall out of that window?  And we’re wondering, is anyone going to catch me?  Does anyone care?
          Christians.  Church.  We gotta save the ones falling from the windows!
          We are the children of a father who cannot fail to love us.
          We are the followers of the one who in his dying moments gave the gift of life to a dying thief.  Who gathered to himself the children, and the women, and the tax collectors—fell upon them, embraced them.  Saw life in them.  Saw that they were precious.
          We gotta see life in each other, people of God.  We gotta scoop up the ones whose life is ebbing away—the ones about to fall out the windows—we’ve got to scoop them up and tell everyone around them, “his life is in him.”  “Her life is in her.”  “Hir life is in hir.”
          We have the power. Of.  Life.  It has been granted to us by Jesus Christ, who granted it to Paul when he knocked him down and made him blind so that he could finally see.
          We have the power, to see, life.  So we need to be about our father’s business—falling upon the ones who have fallen themselves.  Picking them up and reminding the ones around them that their life is still in them.
          God has granted redemption to this world, and we are the bearers of that good news!  Someone you will meet this week needs to hear it.  Needs to hear that you see life in them, even though everyone else thinks they might as well have fallen from a third story window.  You see how precious they are, because you know their name:  child of God.
          Scoop ‘em up, people of God.  Scoop ‘em up and remind them that they are loved. 
          And if you are one of the ones whose life is ebbing away, know this:  your life is in you.  We see your life and we see you—exactly as you are—and we think you are pretty damn precious.  We think Jesus would like to have a meal with you.  We think we would like to have a meal with you.
          Because that’s what you do, isn’t it, when the prodigal returns?  When the boy falls and still has his life?  You rejoice and celebrate.  You break bread, using a word that appears three times: 
          That’s always the end of this story.  Bread, broken and eaten.  Jesus, visible in our midst, taken into our bodies, gathering the lost, through us.
          Bread of life.  You really can’t escape from it.  So don’t even try.  

What Does It Mean To Be Blessed

Genesis 12:1-3

Luke 6:20-26
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
26‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

          It has been a lot of fun, and no small challenge, working on this sermon series, and I hope it proves valuable to all of you.  Or at least to some of you.
          This morning’s request comes from Joanie, who asked me to do some thinking and speaking about blessing.  What is a blessing?  What does it mean to be blessed? 
          They’re great questions, because the idea of blessing, or being blessed, is one which we find throughout scripture.  There are 490 occurrences of “bless,” “blessed,” or “blessing” in the Bible.
          So we ought to be able to get a clear picture of what it means to bless and to be blessed…right?
          It means a lot of things.
          The first occurrence of blessing is in the first chapter of the Bible.  When God created human beings, Genesis tells us, “God blessed them, saying ‘be fruitful and multiply.’”
          So the first blessing is a promise of tiny humans.  And I will say that I now know definitively that tiny humans are the best blessing there is.  At least that’s how it works in my house.
          And blessing is often tied to fruitfulness, by which the Bible means first “procreation.”  Fruitfulness comes to mean bearing the fruits of the kingdom of God, which is a more inclusive blessing.  But in Genesis, it means “have children.  Have lots and lots of children.”  
          The blessing to Abraham and Sarah, for example, reiterated a few times, is that they will be the parents of a nation.  In Genesis 15, God says to Abraham, “‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6And Abraham believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.”  That final part, which Paul recounts in Romans 4, hints at an important facet of “blessing” in scripture.  It is often transactional.  We will talk more about that in a moment.
          First I want to review a few more ways that blessing happens in scripture.  Blessings are bestowed by lots of figures.  By God, for sure.  But in the stories of our parents in the faith, in Torah, especially, children are blessed by their parents, or whole families.
          When Rebekah leaves her family in Aram to go to Canaan and marry Isaac, her family blesses her with these words:
‘May you, our sister, become
   thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
   of the gates of their foes.’ 
          Okay, so maybe not the words we would use, but it’s a blessing.  May you have a large family and safety.
          One of the great blessing stories from the time of the patriarchs and matriarchs comes from the next generation.  Isaac and Rebekah have twin sons, Esau and Jacob.  Esau was born first, but Jacob had a hold of his heel when he came out—a harbinger of things to come. 
          Esau was the favorite of his father.
          Isaac was his mother’s favorite.
          When Isaac reached the end of his life, it fell on him to “bless” his oldest son.  By now “blessing” seems to have acquired a fuller meaning.  This blessing would confer the birthright to Esau, thus allowing him to inherit the bulk of his father’s considerable possessions.
          Rebekah conspires with her son Jacob to pretend to be Esau and receive the blessing, and Jacob does it.  He steals his brother’s blessing, and once it is given, it is permanent.  Jacob becomes Isaac’s heir, and the rest is history. 
          The story only becomes more interesting from there, but if we really want to understand “blessing,” as it is laid down in the foundation of our story of faith, we have to back up a couple of generations.  Back to Abraham, or in this case Abram.
          Our Hebrew scripture lesson for this morning is small-but-mighty.  The first iteration of the blessing given to Abram and Sarai, later Abraham and Sarah.

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 

          I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and will make your name great.  HUGE promise from God.  You will be HUGE.  And the important part is right after that.
          Who’s reading it?  What’s the important part? 
          “I will bless you, and will make your name great…so that you will be a blessing.
          Abram is blessed by God SO THAT he can bless the world.  God’s not just showering him with gifts (and make no mistake, there is an implied showering to go along with the fruitfulness which takes a couple of generations to manifest).  God has hand-selected Abram, because God believes that with a little TLC, they can be the ones to plant the kingdom of God in earth.
          And a lot of things happen in the intervening time, but that is exactly what happens.  Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah, the parents of a people who make up over half of the world.  There are seven billion people in the world.  4.3 billion of them are the descendants of Abraham and Sarah—the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims.
          And we are all here because Abraham believed God, and moved from his homeland and did the things God commanded him to do, and God “reckoned it as righteousness,” and made of him a covenant.
          God’s part was to be God.
          Abraham’s part was to be God’s person.  To bless as God had blessed him.  To bless his family, to bless the world, to bless God.
          It wasn’t always easy, being a blessing.  As you might know, God tested Abraham’s fidelity to the covenant in some pretty tough ways. 
          This is where the “prosperity gospel” people have it all wrong.  Being “blessed” doesn’t just mean that you get all the great stuff you’ve always wanted.  God is not Oprah.
          Being blessed means that you give yourself over to the covenant.  You allow yourself to be God’s, and to adhere to God’s commands.  It ain’t all prosperity.  Look at the way Jesus describes what “blessed” looks like:
          Blessed are you who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, and despised.  For you will be filled.  You will laugh.  And most important, you are worthy to enter the kingdom of God.
          Those who have never wanted are not fit for the kingdom.  Those who have never wept cannot enter.  Because those of you who have wept…and survived…have learned to laugh again.  To reach out to another person when you are in pain and say “help me, I am weeping.”  To rely on something more than yourself, and to understand that no matter how things look today, they can easily look differently tomorrow.  So we need each other.  And we need God.
          You can’t enter the kingdom of God until you realize that you need God.  That’s what blessing is.  It’s not God playing “you get a car.  You get a car.”
          It’s us realizing that everything we have comes from God.  If we have transportation, if we have food, if we have people who love us and are there to dry our tears—we are blessed.
          And if we realize that we are blessed, that God has allowed us to survive another day, then we are ready to enter into the covenant of the kingdom of God.  Perhaps even to bless someone who is still hungry, hated, weeping.
          God blesses us and grants us the kingdom…and we bless God and build the kingdom.  We create a world in which all who are hungry are fed, all who are weeping have someone to dry their tears.
          Think for a moment, about the ways that God has blessed you.  Take just one of those things and either say a little prayer of thanks to God, or share it with the people seated around you.
          We are blessed.  This church is blessed.
          Now let us bless the world.