February 9, 2020
Passing Along the Blessing 5th Epiphany
Genesis 12:1-4a February 9, 2020 John 3:1-17
Think for just a moment about all the times you have given someone some money, and they have said, “I’ll pay it back!” It’s the normal way things are done. Now I’d like you to hear a few lines from a letter written in 1784—from Benjamin Franklin to Benjamin Webb:
“I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you…meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.”
The same theme was used by Robert A. Heinlein in his book, Between Planets, published in 1951. When a character is told, “I’ll pay it back, first chance,” the response is, “Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it.” This term, pay it forward, is now the title of a book—and a movie—and a movement to encourage people to do good things for others in response to the good they themselves have received. It’s a good thing!
It sounds an awful lot like “Passing along the blessing”—which is a basic principle of our Judeo-Christian faith! You heard in our reading from Genesis 12, in God’s original call to Abram: “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.
Then, in our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus talking to Nicodemus, and he says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world may be saved through him.”
So, we take these two passages together (blessed to be a blessing and God sent the Son to save the world) and we see that God has blessed us with a fountain of life through Jesus Christ and now we might then “pass along the blessing” to others!
[You’ll be pleased to know that that is my sermon for todayJ Feel free to snooze or read or just let your imagination run around, if you wish, while I simply tell stories that illustrate the central theme!]
Greg Mortenson is a man who stumbled into a new life almost three decades ago. He had been a part of an international team that had tried to climb K2 (the second-highest mountain in the world) in northern Pakistan. As the medical person on the team, he and a partner had thoroughly exhausted themselves rescuing another team member who had gotten into a life-threatening situation. Once they had brought him down to an elevation low enough for a helicopter to pick him up, Mortenson was left to take himself down off the ice to the nearest outcropping of civilization.
His own personal reserves were so depleted that he got lost and might have died himself, had he not “accidentally” stumbled into a humble village of mud huts inhabited by extremely hospitable people. They took him in; they nursed him back to health; and he found himself wanting to do something for them. Because the children had no school, Greg committed himself to raising funds and building them a school.
Now, if you wish to read about this for yourself, let me commend an excellent book to you. It’s entitled Three Cups of Tea, and, even though it has been criticized for some technical inaccuracies, I guarantee that you will be spellbound by it! You’ll discover how the wisdom of the village chief helped Greg to grow into a person who built schools right in the middle of a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism—schools that educate girls as well as boys—schools that are fighting the root causes of terrorism and are promoting true peace in a part of the world that has known too much war. Greg Mortenson paid his debt forward in a way that is having a tremendous effect in our world!
Remember, when God called Abram and promised a blessing, he also promised this: “In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Indeed, Abraham’s family has been a central vessel for God’s blessing down through the centuries—blessing that has been extended to every person on the planet. And, as Jesus told Nicodemus, this includes the gracious gift of eternal life.
Some years ago, a young man stopped in a rainstorm to help an older woman whose vehicle was broken down. He took her to safety, helped arrange the needed repairs, and got her a taxi. She was in a hurry, but she got his address and thanked him. Seven days later, a large television was delivered to his home with a note that read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others. Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.”
Now, friends, I am NOT suggesting that we go out and be a blessing to others expecting to be blessed in return—not at all. In fact, Jesus told us that we are to reach out to people who are NOT able to “pay us back.” But you already understand that it is impossible to do something for someone else—to bless them—without getting blessed as well! As Sir James Matthew Barrie once said, “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” Just be advised that there will be times when we respond to God’s grace and love by trying to pass along the blessing, and it won’t be well-received (or we won’t see any results). And while that is disappointing, I urge you to not get discouraged. LEAVE THE RESULTS UP TO GOD. After all, it’s the Holy Spirit that moves in us and in the ones we wish to bless—and, just like the wind, it blows where it chooses and when it chooses. We leave the results in God’s hands. We just need to be certain that we are not what Benjamin Franklin would call “Knaves” by simply failing to pass along the blessing!
I want to finish with a story about a little boy who took delight in blessing a poor friend. Marty was an eight-year-old who was deaf in his left ear—which caused him to cock his head like a puppy when he listened to you. His best friend was Kenny, a boy from a desperately poor family on the other side of the horse pasture. Together, they would slip under the electric fence and go exploring, catching frogs, searching for arrowheads. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Marty was carefully tucking away his tiny allowance, never spending a penny.
Right before Christmas, he showed his mother the pocket compass he had bought for his friend. She knew how proud his mother was, and how she would never let him receive a gift that he was unable to reciprocate. So Marty hatched a plan—a plan to give Kenny the gift in secret. On a rainy Christmas Eve, he slipped out the door, his coat over his pajamas, slid under the electric fence, sneaked up onto Kenny’s porch, left the gift, and took off running for home. Then, suddenly, he banged into the electric fence. He lay stunned on the wet ground. Then slowly, weakly, he began the grueling trip back home. “Marty! What happened?!”
“I forgot about the fence, and it knocked me down!” He was still dazed and there was a red mark beginning to blister on his face from his mouth to his ear. His mother treated the blister, and soothed him with a cup of cocoa, and his bright spirits returned. “Mom, Kenny didn’t see me. I’m sure he didn’t see me!”
By morning the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. The streak on Marty’s face was very red, but the burn was not serious. The family was opening presents when Kenny appeared, excited to show Marty his new compass, saying that he had no idea who gave it to him. Marty just smiled and smiled. And while the two of them happily chatted away, his mother noticed that Marty was not cocking his head—he seemed to be listening with his deaf ear. The school nurse later confirmed what they already knew—Marty now had complete hearing in both ears!
Friends, we might get knocked down when we try to Pass Along the Blessing, but we are blessed to be a blessing!
Prayer: God, we sometimes take our blessings for granted and forget to pass them along. Help us, God, to find our joy by sharing your blessings with others. In the name of Christ, amen.