Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"The Unfinished Journey"

Message preached February 16, 2003
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Genesis 12:1-9

Order of Worship

            Ted Pratt loved the word "Blessing." He would use it all the time. "Thatís such a blessing," he would say, or, "You've been such a blessing to me!" I got to know Ted the summer that Karen and I lived in Alaska. We were part of a small Mennonite and Brethren fellowship which met in each otherís homes. Most of the folks in that group were professionals and relatively well off. Ted was a different sort of character in their midst. A sort of rolling stone, he was a sojourner with them for a little while, until the wind blew him in a new direction.

            Tedís beat-up old car, loaded with his earthly possessions, would pull up to the house where weíd gather for worship, many times after the meeting had started. His outfit was always the same: an old pair of holey jeans, a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a baseball cap on top of a face full of beard. Ted Pratt was unique. He could say some of the darnedest things. He wasnít into just agreeing with everyone else. But his heart was in the right place. This big, gangling, teddy-bear sort of guy was himself a blessing.

            It took a while for me to get used to all his talk about being a blessing. The word "blessing" seemed to sneak into every third or fourth sentence. But he didnít use it in a surface sort of way. He truly meant it! When he told me something I had said or done had been a real blessing to him, I, at first, would wonder "what was he talking about, how could I be a blessing?" Then, over the course of the conversation, Iíd slowly become aware that, "Yes, I am a blessing to him," and Iíd realize just what a blessing he was to me. Exactly who blessed who first, Iím not sure I could say. But there it was: two people being blessed, blessing themselves, blessing each other, being a blessing...                    (for more on Ted, click here)

            In this morningís scripture from Genesis, we heard of another traveler; a sojourner who, like Ted, journeyed with a mouthful of blessing. It all started with God knocking on Abramís door. Since God later changed his name to Abraham, perhaps thatís what I should call him also. God spoke to Abraham and called him to step out in faith into a direction which was far from clear. Abraham's life was to be a pilgrimage, a journey, step by step into a future that only God really knew. But, "Abraham" by Phillip Ratner, 1998. Israel Bible Museumfrom the very first, it was to be a journey surrounded by blessing.

            Godís words to Abraham and his wife Sarah were pregnant with possibility. "I will make of you a great nation," God said. You will have children, and grandchildren and great, great, great, great, great grandchildren - a family larger than you can imagine today as you stand, an old man and an old woman, childless and barren here, in this desert. Not only will I make of you a great people, but, "I will bless you, I will make your name great" in ways you cannot even begin to comprehend, "so that you will be a blessing."

            Iíve got a lot that I want to do in you, by you, and through you. Your journey will be my journey, stepping out with a purpose. "I will bless the ones who bless you, and he or she who curses you, will answer to me." Yes - by you, in you, through you, all the families, all the peoples, all the nations of my earth, will be blessed. They shall bless themselves. They will bless each other. They shall be a blessing, also. However, it starts here and now, with your first step, Abraham. I chose you not because you are particularly full of virtue, or such a faith-filled pair. I chose you because that is how I operate, one step at a time. After all, "I am who I am..."

            It all started with a knock on Abrahamís door. A knock of blessing, calling out a walk of blessing. My brothers and sisters, we are children of Abraham, blessed by the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, whose advent we have celebrated once again at Christmas. Through Jesus we have become, or are in the process of becoming, sons and daughters of God, ourselves pregnant with possibility. Even so, we continue the journey of that patriarch who traveled so long ago. His unfinished journey is ours.

            Like Abraham, we have been blessed by the One who goes one step at a time, so that we might be a blessing, in order that those around us, neighbors and enemies alike, might discover Godís blessing for themselves. Thatís one way of stating the mission of the church, isnít it? - To be a blessing, so others might themselves be blessed. But what does all this talk of blessing mean? Does that word sound as strange to you as it did to me when Ted Pratt wandered into my life?

            What does all this talk of blessing mean? Well, in part it does have to do with some very down-to-earth things. When God spoke to Abraham so long ago, there was talk of a promised land, what later was called the land of milk and honey. So then, to be blessed is to receive from God the bounty of the land. We speak of Godís blessing, especially, at Thanksgiving, when we celebrate how we have been blessed materially, and we return to God our blessing, our gratitude. God does provide for our daily needs. We are blessed with good things.

            Of course, if your family is anything like my family, many things clutter your homes, and there may be some question over the goodness of some of those things. Particularly the ones which are unused, or even broken. Still, God does provide for our daily needs. Where we often get confused is in determining just exactly what our real needs are. Obviously, for my friend Ted Pratt, being a blessing wasnít all that much about prosperity, he pretty much lived out of his old car. But he still felt blessed.

            The same is true of my friend Wayne Rotz, who has long since passed on to glory. I only really got to know Wayne in my final year of ministry at my last church. He lived alone in a one room apartment. He had ever since he lost his wife back in the 1960's. At 89, he still had a little "get up and go," but a good portion of that had "got up and went." He was hospitalized that year for the first time in thirty years. Since then, he had to quit his long-standing job at the local farm implements store.

            I was worried at the time that he would retreat into his apartment and fade away. But a funny thing happened. He started opening up his life to others. People had been reaching out to him all along, but I guess this sickness helped him understand something about himself, and other people, and God. He began coming to church events. Instead of leaving worship during the final hymn, he started sticking around. Something was happening in this crusty old fellow, who wore the same dirty clothes week after week, much to the concern of some of the older women in church.

            It dawned on me one day as I sat with Wayne in his room, on the chair he insisted I sit in. There were only two chairs in his apartment, one of which was comfortable. It dawned on me then, how much of a blessing this old man had become to me. He sent Christmas cards that year. I think I still have it somewhere, though itís been thirteen years. Now, who blessed who first, I canít really say. Sure, people were trying to share some blessing with him all along, but it really wasnít until he started to respond that this blessing happened. And it really didnít have all that much to do with blessing in a material sense. An old man started to Ďflower,í if you will. And the beauty of it, in a peculiar way sort of took your breath away. He had been blessed, I know I had - perhaps others, too; being blessed by God, blessing ourselves, blessing each other, being a blessing.

            Blessed are the poor, the meek, the mourners, the hungry - folks who know what it is to live step by step with God, Didnít Jesus say something like that? What does all this talk of blessing mean? Well, it has something to do with a sort of happiness that goes more than skin deep. It involves a dignity which enables a person to travel an uncertain path, or flower at an age when most folks are ready to fade away. To be blessed is to be touched in a way that we know we have been touched ... touched by someone else beyond ourselves.

            Quaker writer Thomas Kelly, in a article entitled "The Blessed Community," once wrote: "two people, three people, ten people may be in living touch with one another through Him who underlies their separate lives. This is an astounding experience, which I can only describe but cannot explain in the language of science. But in vivid experience of divine Fellowship it is there. We know that these souls are with us, lifting their lives and ours continuously to God, and opening themselves, with us, in steady and humble obedience to Him. It is as if the boundaries of our self were enlarged, as if we were within them and as if they were within us. Their strength, given to them by God, becomes our strength, and our joy, given to us by God, becomes their joy. In confidence and love we live together in Him." (A Testament of Devotion, p. 86-87)

            To be blessed is not something which happens solely to an individual. It isnít individualistic because it is first and foremost centered in a relationship. At the core of blessing is the One "from whom all blessings flow" - words we often sing in Doxology without thinking about what they really mean. God blesses us, as he blessed Abraham and Sarah, for a purpose - and that purpose has to do with relationships. "I will bless you," said God, "so that you shall be a blessing." In you, by you, through you, all people will discover blessing - being blessed, blessing themselves, blessing each other.

            Blessing isnít something passive. Itís active, centered in an active God. God didnít just knock upon Abrahamís door and bless him. God added one word, two letters. "GO." Seems to me that Jesus spoke the same word, didnít he? "GO." For all his faults and doubts, thatís exactly what Abraham did. Just like Peter, James, John and all the rest did after Jesus sent them out. We wouldnít be here today if they had not gone. Likewise, we are called to "GO," to spread the blessing.

            God has richly blessed us. Of course there are material elements to that blessing. But there is something more, isnít there - something harder to speak about, because it lies on a deeper level than talk. The Spirit is joining and knitting together a body, a church, a blessed community which cannot help but move outward to those who live around us. God is calling us to be a blessing. Now exactly who blesses who as Godís blessed community moves outward, Iím not sure we can ever really tell. And thatís how it should be. We donít reach out as perfect people who have all the answers and wish to bless others with our goodness. Rather, we become a blessing, sometimes in very subtle ways, a blessing which allows others to discover Godís blessing in their own life. A funny thing often happens along the way. They bless us in ways we could not have imagined.

            The late Henri Nouwen wrote of his experience as a priest in a home for mentally handicapped people. Part of his work was to care for Adam, "a 25-year-old man who," as Henri once put it, "cannot speak, dress himself, walk or eat without help. His back is curved, and his arm and leg movements are spastic. He suffers from severe epilepsy, and even with heavy medication he has few days without grand mal seizures." Even so, Adam became a tremendous blessing for this priest, as Henri discovered how much Adam gave to that Nouwen later wrote this book about his dear friend, following Adam's death - not long before his own through his presence.

            "Adam is one of the most broken persons among us," he wrote, "but without any doubt (he is) our strongest bond. Because of Adam there is always someone home; because of Adam there is a quiet rhythm to the house; because of Adam there are moments of silence; because of Adam there are always words of affection and tenderness; because of Adam there is patience and endurance; because of Adam there are smiles and tears visible to all; because of Adam there is always time and space for forgiveness and healing. Yes, because of Adam there is peace among us."   (Reader's Digest, 1/90, p. 114-115)

            Funny, isnít it, how much of a blessing someone else can be, when we choose to see them as a blessing? Thatís the good news within Godís call to "GO" and share the good news. I pray that you will continue to hear and answer this call to go and be a blessing, that people around you might experience Godís blessing also. Remember my friend Ted. Remember my friend Wayne. Remember Adam, the friend of Henri. Remember Abraham...

Hymn written for this sermon (using an old, familiar tune).

         Originally preached on December 31, 1989, this was my trial sermon at the Long Green Valley Church, who then called me as pastor. This message has only slightly been adapted for the present date.
online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Genesis.

©1989, 2003 Peter L. Haynes

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