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Sermon: Be the Blessing You Are!


St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Genesis 12.1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4.1-5, 13-17; John 3.1-17

Be the Blessing You Are!

Here’s some good news! For most of you, it’s not too late! Abram was 75 when God spoke to him: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 14.1-3; NRSVUE).

In the preceding verses, we read that Abram’s father, Terah, took Abram and Sarai, and his grandson, Lot, and left Ur of the Chaldeans with the intention of settling in Canaan. They were undoubtedly part of a migration from Ur. When they reached Haran, they settled there where Terah died. Thus, Abram was called to continue the journey. Abram went; he answered God’s call.

Psalm 121 is a beautiful psalm; many actually prefer it over the 23rd Psalm. With a bit of imagination, we can see Abram and his family on their journey. Abram looks about and prays, “I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth;” he then acknowledges, “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; it is he who shall keep you safe. The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth for evermore” (Vss. 1-2, 7-8).

We now turn to a consideration of Abram’s role as it relates to our faith tradition. It is worth noting that Abram is the father of three great monotheistic faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Just before today’s reading from the Epistle to the Romans, Paul rhetorically asks if the Jews are any better off than the Gentiles. He answers, “No, not at all, for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one’” (Romans 3.9-10; NRSVUE). Paul then writes, no human is “justified by deeds prescribed by the law;” to the contrary, “We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law” (Romans 3.20, 28; NRSVUE).

Abraham is our example; Paul asks, “What then are we to say was gained by Abraham … what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed [trusted] God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4.1, 3; NRSVUE). Paul writes the promises of God did not come to Abraham through the works of the law, through his own good works, but through the righteousness of faith, i.e., through Abraham’s trust. The law was not given until a few hundred years later. Thus, the promises rest on God’s grace. In some verses which are omitted from our reading, Paul reminds his readers, “Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as, and the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4.18-19; NRSVUE).

Think of it! Abram was called when he was 75 years of age, but the promise was realized when Abraham was about a hundred years old – nearly twenty five years later! And as you may recall, even after the birth of Isaac, Abraham was tested when God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. We often speak of the “patience of Job,” but it strikes me that we should be looking at Abraham’s patience. Would we have trusted for 25 years had we been in those circumstances?

We now come to the story of Nicodemus’ interaction with Jesus. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Jewish leader, came by night. Maybe he did not want others to see him conversing with this radical rabbi. Nicodemus said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with that person.” Jesus replied, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3.2-3; NRSVUE). I suspect Nicodemus was puzzled by Jesus’ response. One might ask if they are even on the same page! Nicodemus asked, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born” (John 3.4; NRSVUE)? The Greek word anothen which is translated “from above” also means “anew” or “again.” Based on Nicodemus’ response, it is very likely that Nicodemus understood Jesus to be saying one must be “born again.” Although that is common language among today’s fundamentalists and evangelicals, it would not have been common in Jesus’ time. Jesus responded to Nicodemus’ puzzlement by saying, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3.5; NRSVUE). When we are birthed physically, we are born of water. When we are birthed spiritually, we are born of the Spirit.

Jesus then draws upon the Israelites history in the wilderness, an account with which Nicodemus would have been familiar: ”Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes [trusts] in him may have eternal life.” Then we encounter John 3.16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believe [trusts] in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” When one trusts in Jesus, one is born from above, is born anew, is born of the Spirit.

Jesus further told Nicodemus that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world (the law has already accomplished that) but rather that the world might be saved through the Son. Those who believe in Jesus, those who trust in Jesus, are not condemned; they have come to the light which has come into the world.

How does all of this relate to God’s promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations and that through Abraham, all the families of the earth would be blessed? Matthew’s gospel begins with these words: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1.1; NRSVUE). It is through Abraham that we have been blessed with the gift of salvation which comes through trusting in Jesus Christ.

When God calls us, and we begin our journey, when we trust in Jesus, we are blessed. And like Abraham, we may never fully know the extent of that blessing. In a story, Brian McLaren has one of his characters make the following observation:

When religions assume that their adherents are chosen only to be blessed and forget that they are blessed to be a blessing, they distort their identity and they drift from God’s calling for them. When they assume that they are blessed exclusively rather than instrumentally, when they see themselves as blessed to the exclusion of others rather than for the benefit of others, they become part of the problem instead of part of the solution. (

We need to remember we are blessed that we might be a blessing – we receive the light such that we may give light. With our consent, as God’s leads us who trust in Jesus through the various stages of our careers, God transforms us and equips us that we might always be a blessing. Unfortunately, too many of us come to understand our being blessed in an exclusivist sense, whereas God means for it to be understood in an inclusivist sense! God entrusts us with gifs which are to be shared, to be used to bless others.

There is another sense in which Abraham and his descendants have served to bless the nations of this world. First, permit me to set a bit of context. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks hate crimes, observes that antisemitic hate crimes have tripled since 2016. In 2021, 2717 incidents were recorded – a 34% increase over 2020. These statistical increases are alarming.

But there is another set of statistics worth noting. Over 900 people have received Nobel prizes; 211 of which have been Jews; over 20% of the recipients have been Jewish ( Similar statistics hold true for other noted prizes such as Japan’s Kyoto Prize and the Grand Médaille of the French Academy of Sciences ( Yet Jews make up only .25% of the world’s population. Is there any connection to God’s promise to Abraham? One cannot know, yet one must admit, the world has been blessed by these many contributions.

As believers, as those who trust in Jesus and have been richly blessed, may we convey God’s blessing to others.


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