July 1, 2018

Blessed to Be a Blessing
Genesis 12:1-3

When you were a child, what did you wish for? My childhood wishes went like this: “I wished I could play baseball with Mickey Mantle,” or “I wished I could drive a new, Chevy, Corvette 150 miles an hour at the Daytona Speedway.” Ultimately, the granddaddy of all my childhood wishes was this one. “I wished I could live in Disneyland.” Yes, as a child it was fun to fantasize about doing the impossible.

But what do you think children of other countries fantasize about? Several years ago I found out. I was on a mission trip to Kosovo and met a 16 year old named Valbon. I’ll never forget the night Valbon took me on a tour of his hometown. As we walked, he shared with me his greatest wish. He said, “Pastor Gene, you know what I wish for more than anything in the world?”

“No, Valbon. Tell me; what is your greatest wish?”

“More than anything else in the world, I wish I could live in America, or even just to visit America and see the land I’ve heard so much about.” Then as his gaze dropped to the ground he sadly continued, “Yes, that is my wish, but I know it can never happen.”

In that moment I felt a sense of sorrow mixed with guilt. I was sorry for this young man who would likely never fulfill his dream while, at the same time, I felt a sense of guilt for taking my national blessings for granted.

We do take our national blessings for granted, don’t we? Our blessings are so plentiful and so commonplace we pretty much ignore them, except on days like the 4th of July.

But may I remind you of this. Even when we’re having our worst days in the United States, we’re more blessed than most people. In fact, what is commonplace to us is an unimaginable fantasy for most people in the world. The freedoms we have to worship, to vote, to travel and to speak; to life, to liberty and to the pursuit of happiness are but pipedreams to many who live outside our borders.

Yes, we are so blessed – so very blessed, and I’m thankful for our blessings.

But let me ask you something. Have you ever stopped to consider why we are so blessed? Are we blessed because we deserve it? No. Are we blessed because our citizens are more devoted to God than anyone else? That’s certainly not the case. Are we blessed because God loves us more than others? Of course not! Then why are we so blessed?

To help answer that question I think we should look at another blessed nation, the biblical nation of Israel. In today’s text, God gives birth to the nation of Israel. He plants the seed of Israel in a man named Abram. You probably know him better by his revised name, Abraham. Listen as I read God’s promise to Abraham, a promise to make him the father of a blessed nation.

Genesis 12:1-3: The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Wow - what a promise God made to Abraham and his descendants! He promised to make them a “great nation,” a blessed nation, a nation of freedom and prosperity. Not unlike our own nation, God promised to give Israel a superior status throughout the world.

But as we read this text, we need to notice that God gave Israel more than just a promise. He also gave them a command.

For those of us who rely on the English translation of the Bible, the command found in this passage is not as obvious as it should be. The Hebrew phrase translated, 'and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you' is not a declarative statement. It’s an imperative; it’s a command. To Abraham it sounded more like this: “Abram, I’m going to make you the father of one great nation, a nation that will be blessed like no other nation. And when I do, I command you to take my blessings and use them to bless all the other nations.”

In verse two, when God states, “You will be a blessing,” the force of what he’s really saying is, “Abram, listen up. I command you to be a blessing. You will be a blessing – understand?”

So why did God bless Israel? Did he bless them so they could luxuriate in their divine, good fortune? No, God blessed Israel because he expected her to use those blessings to bless the rest of the world.

God never expected Israel to be the final recipients of his blessings. Israel was simply a pass-through nation. God would bless Israel so Israel could pass the blessings along to the rest of the world.

Sadly, Israel never seemed to fully understand the nature of God’s promise, and quite honestly, I’m not sure they do today. Time and time again, Israel bragged about being “The Chosen People of God” but seldom did its citizens understand for what they were chosen. They saw themselves as a nation chosen to be blessed, while God saw them as a nation chosen to be a blessing.

Is there not a parallel between Ancient Israel and contemporary America? Could it be that America and Israel are guilty of the same sin?

So again, I ask this question: Why are we so blessed? Why has God allowed us to have this massive profusion of freedom and prosperity?

I believe, like Israel, God has blessed us so we can bless others. God has blessed our nation so we can be a blessing to the rest of the world. Yes, we are blessed to be a blessing and anything less is national sin.

On a warm, March day I sat at a café in Kosovo sipping coffee and wondering if I would get out of the country alive. Just hours before, fighting had broken out in that war-torn country, and the US embassy advised all US citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

While I sat in the café waiting for transportation, my anxiety level kept building. Tanks and armored vehicles were patrolling the streets in front of the café, and military helicopters kept circling overhead.

As I looked in the faces of the townspeople I could see their fear. They understood the fragility of their peace. They knew, all too well, that at any moment all they counted dear could be lost.

The café owner spoke fluent English so I asked him to interpret the events of that day. He told me he was frightened. He told me that he had lost many family members in previous wars and that his home and his business had been destroyed twice. “I am afraid,” he said, “that the nightmare is starting all over and if I lose it all again I don’t know what I’ll do.”

When he left my table I looked at my US passport. Up until that moment I had considered my passport little more than a legal document, but all of a sudden I realized what it really was. My US passport was my ticket to freedom. It was a “get-out of hell free” card.

Suddenly, I realized that so many people do not possess what we possess. They do not have a “get out of hell free” card so they are forced to stay in a living hell, a hell of poverty, sickness, war and oppression.

But our lives are different, aren’t they? We are so blessed, but let us never forget. With our blessings comes God’s command to be a blessing to all people.

- To take our blessed income and share with those in need.
- To take our blessed freedom and champion the cause of world-wide justice.
- To take our blessed medical care and minister to the sick and dying all over the world.
- And to take the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to the billions who have never heard.

Yes, we Americans are so richly blessed, but may we remember that the blessings we enjoy are not given by God for our selfish indulgence. We are blessed to be a blessing.

Most of you remember the patriotic fervor that swept our land right after the terrible events of September 11th. We who had taken our freedoms for granted all of a sudden realized just how much we had been blessed.

I’ll never forget what an old African American preacher said at one of the prayer vigils held after the twin towers fell. In his rousing African dialect he said, "Ikeep hear people say, 'God Bless America,' 'God Bless America,' and 'God Bless America' is the song we love to sing. But in case you haven’t noticed, God’s already blessed America, blessing us far more than we could ever deserve. So maybe we don’t need to sing, 'God Bless America'. Maybe we ought to sing, 'America Bless God.'"

And you know, he’s right. America has been blessed far more than we deserve. And why have we been blessed? We’ve been blessed so we can be a blessing, so we can take what God has given us and spread it throughout the rest of the world.

Why are we blessed? We are blessed to be a blessing, and anything less is sin.

Author's note: At the end of this service I read the following original poem, based on the statement made by the old African American preacher.

America’s New Song
A Poem to Celebrate America
By Gene Wilder

Sing we loud and sing we strong, God bless America home sweet home;
But blessed we are, yes, blessed much more than those who huddle distant shores.

Those with water they cannot drink,
Those with thoughts they cannot think.
Those with tyrants, hostile kings, who silence freedom’s song to sing.
Those who cannot leave their land,
Or without penalty take a stand,
To voice some thought or word or plan,
That does not fit their despot's hand.

Where hunger is the way of life,
Where years of war and years of strife,
Have beaten down the hopes and dreams
And left peace ragged at the seams.

Blessed we are, yes blessed much more than those who huddle distant shores.

Sing we loud and sing we strong, God Bless America home sweet home;
But how can we, so richly blessed, hold back the gifts that we possess,
From those with little, those with less,
Than we would deem brings happiness.

Despite our cherished freedom’s song,
Despite a history bold and strong,
Despite our bill of human rights,
Despite our torch’s welcomed light,
We turn our backs on those in need,
To those who come to us and plead
For just the chance to taste the seed
Of liberty’s sweet song.

Sing we loud and sing we strong, God bless American home sweet home,
But maybe we should sing the song a different way this time,
Without the hope of gaining more,
Without some selfish rhyme.

Without a tune that lilts of greed,
But with a love for those in need,
And with a heart for those who plead,
For help from God above.

America bless God, we sing,
And with our thankful offering,
New hope to desperate souls we bring,
From distant shores still suffering,
A new song for us all to sing,
Of Jesus and his love.