Aim Lowe to Reach Higher #5 in the Series
A pastor was conducting a wedding ceremony. At the conclusion he raised his hand to give the benediction, the final blessing. However, the bride misunderstood his gesture and surprised him with a high-five. Not wanting to exclude the groom, the pastor offered him a high-five, with the other hand.
All the wedding guests just roared.
As the retelling of Psalm 84 told us, we ARE blessed. We are blessed beyond measure. We’re blessed because we are loved by God. But often times we take God’s blessings for granted. The reason for that may be as simple as forgetting why we are blessed.
Yes, we are blessed by a loving and gracious God. Our blessing comes as gift from God like Abraham. Abraham didn’t earn God’s blessing. God chose to bless Abraham, just as God chooses to bless us. As we continue our series Aim Low To Reach Higher, today I want to challenge us to Aim To Bless.
This morning as we read the passage we’ve been using for this series, Romans 12:9-21, I want us to focus on verses 17-21. So, listen closely to those last 5 verses when we get to the end of the reading.
Romans 12:9-21 (NRSV)
 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.
 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
A. First, we need to ask what does it mean to give a blessing or to be blessed?
When someone sneezes we usually say, “God Bless You.” Where does that come from? Do you know? One source says there is an old Jewish tradition that sickness was unknown in the world until Abraham’s son Isaac became ill in Genesis.
Alarmed by Isaac’s condition, his son Jacob asked God to give people a warning of when the end was near, so that a person would have time to repent and get right with God. The sneeze was interpreted as that warning. Because it was a warning from God, everyone within earshot of the sneeze would bless the person who sneezed, hoping to help them get right with God if it was their time.
Believe it or not, this became formalized in the 14th century, in the midst of the Black Plague. During that dark time Pope Gregory VII decreed that people who heard a sneeze should say, “God bless you,” in order to help thwart the disease by spiritual means. (1)
Which reminds me of one of Henny Youngman’s great lines: “God sneezed. What could I say?”
Our Irish friends are famous for their blessings: One goes, “May you be in heaven 30 minutes before the devil knows you’re dead.”
Another one says, “May the roof above us never fall in and may the friends gathered below it never fall out.”
A much more profound blessing goes like this: “May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home. May good and faithful friends be yours, wherever you may roam. May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures. May all life’s passing seasons bring the best to you and yours.”
B. So, what is a blessing. If we look at it in context of Scripture we see that it is an act of praise. Psalm 34:1 we read, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
Beyond being praise for God, a blessing is also a wish and a desire for good fortune or a deepening of faith. It liturgical terms it is the dedication of a person or thing for some sacred purpose.
This sacred moment reminds us that all blessings originate with God. In a sense, they are extensions of Abraham’s blessing to us. Generally speaking, a Biblical blessing is always accompanied by the laying on of hands or toughing the person being blessed.
The reason is that it is God who is actually Blessing the individual, we are simply the conduits through which God’s blessing is transmitted. That’s why clergy raise their hands for the Benediction. It symbolizes the transfer of God’s blessing to each of you. We are simply passing on the gift.
II. BLESSED TO BLESS:
A. Like Abraham, we are given that gift for a purpose. In Genesis 12:2 (NRSV) we read what God says to Abraham and Sarah. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Abraham and Sarah were chosen by God in order to pass on the blessing of God to others.
We are called and blessed to be a blessing as well. We have a purpose. I think that’s one of the reasons Paul writes what he does here.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We’re called to be conduits of the message and ministry of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God; a message of love and compassion; a message of grace and forgiveness. When we fail to live as Jesus taught it cuts off the flow and transmission of God’s blessings to others through us.
And any time that we can “overcome evil with good” it opens the flood gates of God’s blessings in the world.
B. In 1950 the movie titled Stars in My Crown starring Joel McCrea, told the story of Rev. Josiah Gray, A Civil War veteran who becomes the minister in a small town. He and his nephew befriend an elderly black man, Uncle Famous, who owns a 20 acre farm outside of town. A precious mineral is discovered in that area and soon there’s pressure from the community who wants Uncle Famous to sell his land.
No matter what the offer, he doesn’t want to sell. It’s his home and he wants to stay. He won’t budge. However, the townspeople won’t take “no” for an answer. They burned his barn, shot through his house one night, and eventually threatened to hang him by sundown the next day if he didn’t agree to sell.
Rev. Gray gets wind of it and goes to see Uncle Famous. You see, some of these townspeople are members of his church. Sure enough, at sundown, the citizens of the community came to the farm dressed in their white hoods, ready to hang Uncle Famous if he doesn’t sell. Together, the preacher and Uncle Famous, dressed in his best clothes, face the mob. Here’s the scene.
The Parson says, Uncle Famous knows he has to die, and he’s ready. The Parson help him draw up his Last Will and Testament and wants the Parson to read it to them.
Those present realized Uncle Famous was giving everything he had to them. He willed his farm to the banker who seemed intent on getting it for himself. He willed his rifle to one of the men present, who had used that gun to learn how to hunt. He gave his fishing pole to another. He gave away everything he had to the people who wanted to kill him. And of course they couldn’t and didn’t.
That scene may be the best example of what Paul was talking about in verses 20 & 21. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The Parson, as he was known in the movie, was a blessing to Uncle Famous simply by being there. They both knew that if the hanging was going to take place they couldn’t stop it with bullets or arguments. So, they used the only thing at their disposal, their faith and the blessings of God expressed in the loving relationship Uncle Famous had with each of those men.
The good words of the Parson touched each of those men. And God’s love prevailed. That moment of pending evil became a moment of blessing for everyone.
When we strive to live as Jesus taught; when we live lives of faith that are the absolute opposite of ordinary, as Mazerati puts it; when we live as the abnormal people God has called us to be, we become conduits of God’s blessings. We are Blessed to be a Blessing.
When Jesus said we are the Salt of the earth he wasn’t just making up a useful metaphor. He was giving us an example of how to live. You see, salt has unique properties.
Salt is a Curative. We’ve used it medicinally for centuries to clean out wounds and abrasions and to gargle with when we have a sore throat.
Salt is a Preservative. We’ve used it to cure a preserve meat and fish for centuries as well.
Of course salt is a seasoning which enhances the natural flavors of almost everything. And there are just some things you can’t hardly eat without salt like popcorn and French fries.
Jesus wants us, the church, to be each and every one of those things for the world. We’ve tried to do that. Without the Church there might not be any hospitals as we know them. Without the Church preserving Scripture and other written materials we might not have the Universities and libraries we have today. And no one can deny that the Church has done its fair share of seasoning the world with the good, the bad and even the ugly.
We’ve tried to be all of these things. Sometimes we succeeded. And a lot of times we failed.
There’s one other attribute of salt we tend to forget. Salt also makes us thirsty.
And that’s the big challenge. Ask yourself this: When was the last time you made someone thirsty for Jesus? When was the last time you were seasoning for the world simply by being and living your faith?
We are blessed to be a blessing. Aim To Bless and allow yourself to be that conduit God needs to bless others.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.