These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
Some of you are too young… no many of you are too young to remember when the song came out… but I bet most of you know the song written by John Lennon. He wrote the song in 1971 just as a hard decade of civil rights battles and the Vietnam War was coming to an end. I was only 15 at the time.
In 2004 Rolling Stone called it the third greatest song of all time just behind "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan and "Satisfaction" by the Rolling stones.
Jimmy Carter said:
"In many countries around the world – my wife and I have visited about 125 countries – you hear John Lennon’s song …. used almost equally with national anthems."
Do you know the song I’m talking about? It’s "Imagine." I think the power of the song is in the dream it describes of a utopian world. And while I may squirm at some of the overly broad anti-religious sentiments that are fair criticisms of what happens when religion loses it’s way… I resonate with the vision of another day…
"Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.
Perhaps what John Lennon didn’t know when he wrote that song, is that from another religious standpoint… rooted in Genesis-a book revered by three of the world’s major religions-Christian, Jewish, and Muslim… is that this dream of a world where all live life in peace… where there is no greed or hunger… that vision is rooted in the very heart of God. God not only imagined the world that way… God created the world that way.
And then humanity came along and as we like to say today, made some very bad choices"… Choices that led to a world where the dream of God became God’s nightmare and deep disappointment. Choices Adam and Eve made that we still make to this day.
And the result… ask the students at Northern Illinois University this week… or just read the morning paper or watch the 24 hour news or check the internet. There you will find conflict all over the world: Darfur, Kenya, Israel, Palestinians, Iran and Iraq… pick your hot spot. You’ll learn about the ideological battles in our own country…
You can listen to the church fights over issues that threaten to divide churches… some fights that are theological and others that are over power. Even religions are not exempt from the effects of sin.
Of course none of us have it made… just look closely at your own family and mine. It’s not the peaceable kingdom every minute!
It’s just not the way God intended it to be for us.
In the story of Genesis, when God’s dream began to turn to the nightmare, God decided to start over. He sends the flood and preserves representatives of the human race alone with the other creatures… in a sort of wipe the slate clean cosmic move. He makes a covenant with Noah… hoping the second time will be the charm… and he tells Noah that he will not destroy the earth ever again.
(Of course God didn’t say that we wouldn’t destroy the earth-we seem to be trying very hard to do so. But if we destroy the earth by nuclear war… or environmental catastrophe… don’t go blaming God for the bad choices we make as humanity).
Of course God wants more for us so much more than our security and safety. God still imagines a world where, as the Bible says, there are no more tears or crying or pain anymore for the former things have passed away (Revelation)… God still imagines a world where we might live in peace-shalom…wholeness with each other and with God.
God’s plan for pursuing the vision? It’s as simple and bold as a call to a simple man named Abram… Rather than work with humanity as a whole, God decides to set aside one particular people – one particular person actually-and assign him and his descendants the task of introducing goodness-or reintroducing goodness and blessing to the world.
That’s what this story is about… God choosing a person and a people who will agree to share God’s dream of building a world in which people will live in peace with one another and with God. Abram, the father of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike is chosen to bless the world… a world where God dreams that human beings will give their highest priority to love and compassion rather than hedonism, selfishness and power. God says, " I will bless you Abram… I will make you a great name and a great nation SO THAT… [two important words in this passage!] SO THAT… SO THAT … you will be a blessing… I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you (gets in your way of fulfilling my dreams) I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
In you … in me… in all the children of Abraham God will seek to provide a blessing to this world. That’s why we exist. To be a blessing. To be a blessing. That’s why we we’re here. Be the blessing.
I can’t help but think of that great theological movie Caddyshack. Do you remember when Zen Master Chevy Chase, the golf pro told his pupil, "See the ball-be the ball!" God might say to us… see… imagine the blessing I intend for the world… well, "be the blessing."
Rob Bell, a young and creative preacher who has a video series called Nooma (means spirit in greek)… said in one of his short films: "I keep seeing this bumper sticker that’s popular where I live. It says, ‘God bless America." Every time I see one, I think God has. God has blessed America." Then he asks the question, "Do you feel blessed? Why or why not?"
I think most of us in this room, except for those going through a horrific experience or in the middle of a crisis, would say that compared to most people we know and certainly compared to the vast majority of the world… most of us would say we feel blessed.
And even for many who are going through a crisis, they will tell you they feel blessed for friends who care… for being a part of a church that cares… that are there to help them through these times.
But the question that the text keeps asking me is this: for what reason are we blessed. Is it simply to say "thank you" for being born in the right country at the right time and in the right family? Or is there more? The text suggests that there is a reason God has blessed us… so that we can be the blessing.
If you look at the story of Israel you learn that they forgot this from time to time. Ironically, the more they were blessed the more they began to think they deserved the blessing. The more blessed and rich among them began to ignore the widow, the orphan, the hungry and the poor. When they were conquered by Assyria and Babylon… as they looked back and thought about why God would let that happen, many concluded that is was because they had failed to be the blessing God needed them to be in their world. When things were looking good for the wealthy and powerful, they lost their vision of the world God dreamed of… where people are fed and all God’s children live in peace. Where even the lions and the lambs lie down together. They looked back and said, they were being punished.
But God would give them another chance as they would be released. In fact Christians believe that God sent Christ to his people to sort of re-organize and re-orient them into the way to be a blessing. Christ would teach any and all who followed him how to be a blessing. What this kingdom of God looked like.
Many rejected his message and it got him killed. But others, his disciples caught the vision and God’s dream… and heard Christ challenge them and they went out to bless the world with the message of his kingdom.
Sometimes I forget that this is why we exist. Do you? As Rob Bell said,
"Let’s be honest. It’s easy to go to a church service, it’s easy to read the Bible, it’s easy to discuss who believes what and who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s easy. But when Jesus talks about his followers, he talks about people who are generous, people who clothe the naked, take food to the hungry, take water to the thirsty people, people who visit the prisoner, people who invite the stranger in, people who give their time, people who give their energy, people who give their money."
He says (paraphrase ,
"The best question (for Christians) is not, "What can I get’ To take the way of Jesus seriously, is to realize that the best question is, ‘What can I give?’ (or How can I be a blessing?") Because all of us can give something-here, now, today, and then tomorrow and then the next day. What can you do to be more generous? To be a blessing? What is the next step for you? You have been blessed. What can you give? Who are you going to bless?"
I wonder if those are the questions Abram kept asking himself as he headed toward the promised land that God would show him. How could he… how would he and his family be a blessing for the world?
I am glad to say that this is a question I hear at the Kirk more and more. A few weeks ago when the Guatemala group came back… I was very impressed by Barney Hale’s moment of mission as he reflected upon their trip to Pala. He remembered the pastor saying that "they prayed for help" and "we came." I remember that same thought shared on our first trip. And then Barney said something like we have an opportunity to be an answer to their prayers. I told Barney later that he should have said, "Be the prayer"… Be the answer to prayer.
Today I say be the blessing. And you are in so many ways… – I am so grateful to you as a congregation for capturing God’s vision for the people of Palá… that they may enjoy a blessed life God desires for them… and you have responded. Thank you… More amazing to me is that those of you who have never been there have caught the vision God has for us to be a blessing in Palá. Over $24,000 raised at the auction.
Of course, I see members of the Kirk blessing others all the time who never leave the country… many of you have traveled to New Orleans where people are still suffering from Katrina… What a difference you are making!
Many of you are blessings and never leave the church or the triangle! There are committed teachers and youth leaders blessing the kids God has entrusted to our care every week… every week… there are volunteers to go to the Helen Wright Center for abused women… there are people who give up a beautiful Saturday to help build a home for a Habitat family… there are people who volunteer when homeless families come to live with us for a week… or to tutor kids who need help twice a week just below this sanctuary…
What a blessing!
I bet most of you don’t know how the Kirk is able to be a blessing just by providing this building for ministry. I tell you about this because your pledges go to support the maintenance of this building that we use to bless others. For example, did you know that we provide space for our Ethiopian brothers and sisters to meet for worship on Sundays… that is a source of blessing. And guess what, they have raised $500.00 for our Presbyterian missionaries in Ethiopia who need transportation! Think about the blessing we are to those struggling with alcoholism to find help in AA… or those families needing adult day care during the week for their elderly parents or childcare for working parents…
So many ways I see you being a blessing. Be the blessing… that’s our vision at the Kirk… not simply to be the church where people come to have their needs met… but to be the church where you will discover how you can be the blessing God intends for you to be. It’s part of our faith family DNA after all. Be the blessing. Imagine if you will how the world would be different if all the children of Abraham would simply, "be the blessing." Imagine that. Of course, God already has. Amen.