Joel 2:21-27, II Corinthians 9:6-15
October 24, 2010
When you see this title, “Blessings of God,” what’s your first thought? Don’t you think in terms of God’s blessings? In other words, it’s God blessing us? Think about it. When we pray, we ask for God to bless us, or to bless someone else. When someone sneezes, we say, “God Bless you.” And when we think of something like Stewardship, we say that if we give generously “God will bless us.” The blessings are coming toward us from God.
That’s how we tend to think of it, don’t we? And those things are wonderful. Don’t get me wrong. But I know the part I often forget, and maybe it’s the same for you, is that we can bless God. I deliberately left this sermon title a little vague. Because the idea is that God blesses us, and we can bless God! We can see that in many of the psalms. Psalm 103 is one of my favorite! It starts, “Bless the Lord, O my soul. And all that is within me bless his holy name.” The psalmist is blessing God!
Think about that word. In the case of that psalm, and a number of psalms right around that one, “to bless” means “to express heartfelt thanks.” “Bless the Lord, O my soul, for he has done great things.” And then there’s a list of those things for which the psalmist is thankful. The verb “to bless” can also mean “to make something holy.” We pray a prayer of blessing on the elements of communion or the waters of baptism. We pray that these things would be “set aside for God’s special purposes.” That’s what it means for something to be “holy.”
We can also use the word Bless in the sense of “putting a special protection over something.” Maybe you remember that wonderful scene in the movie Rocky. It was right before the big fight, and he’s standing in the street in front of his priest’s house, yelling up at the window. “Yo, father Carmine, are you home? Hey, could throw down a blessing that if I get beat tonight, it won’t be too bad.” I loved that! It was a delightful scene! And even though we in the Presbyterian tradition don’t think of blessing in quite the same way, we get the idea of that, don’t we? (That may be the worst Rocky impression ever!)
The more I think of the word “Blessing,” the more I think the word is really hard to pin down! Because I think, somewhere in all those meanings, is a sense of “holiness.” Somewhere in the word “blessing,” there’s the element of “connection with God.” You don’t ask for something to be blessed, however you’re using that word, without that sense of holiness or God being brought into the picture.
So, when we “bless the Lord,” it’s an act of heartfelt thanksgiving, yes. But it’s more. Somewhere in there is that sense of holiness. That’s part of what we do, too. When we “Bless the Lord” there is a sense of “conferring” or “establishing” the “holiness” of God. Not that God is holy because we bless him. God is holy anyway!! But in that blessing, we recognize and state his holiness, we bring that sense of holiness into the picture for us. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.”
So, we are capable of blessing God. That still amazes me every time I say it! And when we bless God, we bring ourselves into his holiness. And when we bless God, we can do so with words, and we can do so with actions. That’s where stewardship fit into this. (Oh yeah, right! It’s Stewardship Month! He was bound to bring Stewardship into this!!) That’s right! I do bring Stewardship into this. And the idea is that, through our Stewardship, we bless God! I hope you get a sense of that holiness when you hear that. Through our Stewardship, we bless God!
Take a look at this passage from II Corinthians. This is one of the greatest statements on Stewardship in the Bible. And notice that Paul tells the people that Stewardship is not about coercion or compulsion. It’s not about laying guilt or shame or responsibility on people. It’s about Blessing and Glory! That’s what make Stewardship happen!
That is so important! Too often Stewardship is approached from a place of “deficit.” We emphasize what we’re lacking, and we say, “If we want to keep going, we need to give more.” And that may be true. And when times are tough as they have been, it’s hard not to look at the shortfalls. It’s hard not to look at the dwindling resources. Those things are tough! But that’s not where our Stewardship should come from. Paul tells the people “God loves a cheerful giver.” And that’s not because God wants givers who just do so without grumbling or with reluctance. He loves a cheerful giver because those are the people who are engaged with the blessing and the glory of what they’re doing! And that is what will make stewardship successful!!
God is the focus of our stewardship. We can’t forget that! And it’s easy to forget! Sometimes we want to make this a matter of us. “When we give, God will bless us – abundantly.” There are too many ministries that go that way! “Give to us and you’ll get back.” And that then becomes the reason we give!! That’s what they want the reason to be. They’ll even give you examples. They’ll have somebody giving “a testimony,” saying, “I gave my last $20 to the ministry, and the next day a check came out of the blue for $100!” (“Woo Hoo! I made 80 bucks!” “And you can too!!”)
Friends I’m not going to guarantee anything like that. Because I don’t think this is what Stewardship is about. That’s not what I believe abundance is all about! It’s not about giving so we get – in the material sense, with our material well being as the main focus! It’s about giving because we have already gotten! It’s about giving to bless God. It’s about giving to state his holiness, and to participate in his glory. We should never cheapen that, and make it just about money!
Now, will that make us receive in abundance – like Paul tells us? Yes, definitely! Will it be in the form of money? I don’t know about that. That’s up to God. But, will it help us to establish better financial priorities, and help us to see what’s really important, and help us to see the kingdom of God first, and will that bring abundance in ways we can’t otherwise understand? Yes! Definitely, enthusiastically, and emphatically!!
Sometimes we read this passage and we stop at “God love a cheerful giver.” And that’s true. He does! But we always need to consider the context. And in this case, being a “cheerful giver” is not just about our attitude or our demeanor. Paul tells us that “by your generosity, you will glorify God.” By your generosity, you will bless God! He says, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God.”
That’s what your generosity will produce – Thanksgiving to God! It will bless God. And in that word there’s all that holiness and glory that we talked about before as being “hard to pin down.” Stewardship is not just the physical act of filling out a card or writing a check. It’s all about what’s going on in our hearts, and in our spirits! And it can be blessed, and it can be glorious!
So think about the blessings of God today, and as you consider this Stewardship month. Yes, we pray for God to bless us. But how do we bless God? Do we do so in prayer? Do we do so in the way we live our lives? Do we do so in our generosity? I encourage you to practice blessing God. Read psalm 103. Bless God in your prayers. Bring him more fully into the picture of your life. Participate in his holiness. Recognize his blessings! “Bless the Lord, O my soul. And all that is within me bless his holy name!”
Eternal God, we bless you! We bless you for you are our God and we are your people. We bless you for your grace and mercy toward us. We bless you for your steadfast love and faithfulness. Help us to know your blessings and to live in your joy and the glory of your kingdom. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.