To Be a Blessing
January 21, 2018/ Epiphany 3/ Pastor Richard Holmer
First Reading: Jonah 3:1-5, 10/ Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31/ Gospel: Mark 1:14-20
To Be a Blessing
Back when I was in college I had a professor who posed a provocative rhetorical question. He asked: “What if, when all is said and done, human beings are nothing more than the mechanism by which DNA reproduces and extends itself?” That’s a pessimistic and rather chilling outlook! It presents a very reductionist view of what our lives are really about – that our ultimate purpose, our reason for being, is merely to be the biological vehicles through which the genetic content in our chromosomes is passed along to succeeding generations – so that there will be more and more DNA.
We may recoil and say, “That’s preposterous!” But it does raise an important question, (which, I believe was what the professor intended). The vital question is: Why are we here? What is the purpose of our lives?
Through the bible we learn that our purpose is to be a blessing. Long ago God promised to bless Abraham and Sarah and all their descendants. And God’s blessing was not for them alone. God said, “I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (this includes all of us) (Genesis 12:2,3)
The bible proceeds to recount how God’s people repeatedly forget God’s promise and God’s call. Instead of remembering that they were blessed to be a blessing to others, time and again they focused only on themselves and their own wants and desires. Then, in the fullness of time, Jesus arrived to reveal once and for all what a life looks like that is devoted to blessing others.
What does Jesus do?
He comforts the broken hearted.
He speaks truth to one and all.
He feeds the hungry.
He forgives sinners.
He welcomes all to share in God’s Kingdom.
He breaks bread with those who are despised by others.
He heals the sick.
He raises the dead to life.
He is loving in all he says and does.
He brings peace and love and joy.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzche wrote: “He who has a why to live for can bear any how.” Jesus certainly had a why to live for – he lived to be a blessing to others. And thus Jesus could bear: resistance, rejection, insults, sacrifice, betrayal, suffering, even death.
Jesus lived to bless. Even after his own people rejected him, even after suffering a painful and humiliating death – he came back and continued to bless. He comes back to life speaking peace. He forgives the friends who had forsaken and denied him. Jesus remained true to his purpose.
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This helps me to understand why four fishermen would give up their livelihood to go off with Jesus – not knowing where they were going or what they would be doing. What they sensed in Jesus must have been his devotion to blessing others – and they must have recognized their opportunity to do the same by going with him. There’s nothing wrong with being a fisherman – but Peter, Andrew, James and John felt the call to do something more – to be used by God to bless others.
Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get – we make a life by what we give.” Those four men were making a living catching and selling fish. In Jesus they saw a way to make a life, to make a life by giving their lives to something greater than themselves.
They jumped at the opportunity to be instruments of God’s grace and peace in the world. They went with Jesus, because they saw in him something well worth imitating – that is, they wanted their lives to be a blessing. And so they left their boats, their nets, their homes – and went with Jesus. They offered themselves as apprentices to the master of blessing. They went along to learn how to go about living the good news Jesus brings.
Not everyone is called to do what those first disciples did – to make a dramatic and abrupt career change – anymore than all are called to be pastors or nurses or teachers. Yet each and every one of us is called to be a blessing. You and I are called to become more like Jesus, in whatever we do That’s what “following Christ” means: patterning our lives after his. It means striving to live day by day with the gracious attitude of Jesus. It involves looking for something beyond ways to get more for ourselves – looking instead for ways to give and to bless.
NYT columnist David Brooks draws the contrast between two sets of virtues: the resumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills, talents, attitudes that lead to success in the working world. Eulogy virtues are the ones talked about at your funeral, the virtues you are remembered for: kindness, courage, integrity, faithfulness, compassion, generosity.
While most of us realize that the eulogy virtues are the ones that matter, we tend to devote more time and energy to developing and honing the résumé virtues. Résumé virtues can bring us achievement, status and wealth. Eulogy virtues enable us to be a blessing. It is not an either/or choice between these two sets of virtues, yet we need to keep in mind that the eulogy virtues are essential to our ultimate purpose.
When you bring to mind the persons who have been a blessing in your life:
Parents and family members
Good friends and neighbors
Teachers and mentors
Fellow Christians – people here today.
You will find that they have mastered at least some of those eulogy virtues: they are persons of moral substance and character. They are the ones who have encouraged us, guided us, challenged us, forgiven us, supported us, enriched us, loved us. These are the persons who have been what Luther called “little Christs” in our lives.
Are these people perfect? Hardly. Do they always get it right? No. Neither did those first disciples – they made a lot of mistakes along the way. But in the big scheme of things, their lives are constituted by aiming to be a blessing in this world – trying, best as they can, to live the gospel.
Our call is to go and do likewise. As David Brooks has observed: “We are all fragile when we don’t know what our purpose is.” Have you been there? Life becomes aimless. We become prone to chasing after things that don’t give life. The great gift of our faith in Christ is that we come to know very well what our purpose is – we know why we are here. You and I are here to bless others, to be little Christs in our daily lives. Jesus launched his ministry by announcing the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near. God’s Kingdom continues to come near to people today whenever and wherever we find ways to be a blessing.
Thanks Be to God.