Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Lent 2
March 5, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: God calls Abram to a life of potential hardship, rife with risk and hazards. Offering divine blessing acknowledges the difficulty but promises divine companionship.

A middle-aged man beams with pride as he describes his daughter's senior year of high school. She has really excelled during those four years. She took advantage of all kinds of experiences on sports teams and in the school musical. She made numerous friends whom she loves, and he describes her social life as one he can scarcely keep up with. Excellent grades earned her admission to many prestigious colleges, and he was thrilled that she chose a college with an excellent reputation for turning out students who go on to high wage-earning careers. At her high school graduation, he was delighted to watch his daughter accept awards and accolades, some of which came with scholarships for college. He was over the moon.

It is hard for friends and family listening to this man describe his daughter to not acknowledge that when she actually moves away from home and goes to college, he will grieve her absence. He clearly loves her more than his next breath. Anyone who hears him knows he will really miss his daughter when she takes this next big step in her life. But when people ask him about how he will handle the transition, he simply replies "Oh, man. I am blessed. I am blessed."

Loss upon loss

A young late-20s-something woman walks about two miles to see a friend. Her friend is not expecting her because she did not call before she arrived. She would have called, except she dropped her phone that morning and the screen shattered. Though the phone worked, she couldn't make out anything on the touch screen and the screen wouldn't comply with her tap on the "home" button. So, she walked to her friend's house, unannounced.

She might have wished she could drive to see her friend. It is a short distance but even at 9:00 in the morning the sun burns hot. The day is already over 90 degrees. She would have driven her car to her friend, but her car was stolen that morning. She needed to talk to someone to think through what she should do next. Without a phone to hail an Uber or Lyft, and no way to text or call, she had no other option but to walk.

On arriving at her friend's house, she describes in a smooth, unemotional tone how her car was not in the parking spot where she left it the night before. She calmly explains to her friend that yes, she has already filed a police report. She shows her friend her phone and wonders aloud at what she should do next. She is not crying. She is not hysterical. She does not even appear particularly angry or sad. She just needs help getting an appointment to get her phone fixed, to call her car insurance company.

The young woman's friend observes to her, "You are taking this very well. Most people would be really upset at this setback. To have your car stolen and your phone broken all within the same hour is a lot to manage. I'm really surprised at how you are responding to this!" The woman replies, "I am blessed. A car is only a tool for helping others. When I had the car, I tried my best to be a blessing to others. Now I do not have the car. I trust that God will put people in my life to help me. I am blessed."

Up in smoke

After a house fire, a mother of two teenage sons found herself without any other option except to seek a homeless shelter for herself and her boys. It wasn't that she couldn't afford a new home. She had a good job. She could pay the rent. It was simply that she couldn't find another apartment quickly enough. She tried to not let the shame of her situation destroy her spirit. She knew she was not responsible for the fire. Sometimes things happen outside of one's control. She simply wished that her children would not have to endure a stay in a homeless shelter.

It was several months before she had saved enough for the security deposit and first month's rent on a new apartment. Since all their furniture was destroyed in the fire, she and her sons spent weekends at thrift shops looking for a dining table and chairs, bed frames, dressers and a decent sofa. She didn't need much, just enough to make a humble apartment feel like home.

The Monday after she moved into her new apartment with her two sons, her co-workers presented her with a brand-new big screen TV. The magnitude of the gift overwhelmed her to tears. She had told the boys that they would get a TV when she could save some more money. It was more important to get stabilized in their new home after the fire. The thoughtfulness of her co-workers filled her with gratitude. "I am blessed," she said.

What is a "blessing"?

Three very different people describe themselves as "blessed," in three wildly different circumstances. Is a blessing the same as good fortune? Certainly, the theft of a car or the loss of a home due to fire would hardly qualify as "good fortune." Is blessing the same as luck? Working hard to earn good grades to get into college is more like grit than luck.

We throw the word "blessing" or "blessed" around often, but what do we expect? We say things like, "Bless this house." Is that a charm or spell we cast to ensure nothing bad happens in the house? "God bless you!" we utter almost reflexively when someone sneezes - a throwback to an ancient belief that wishing God's blessings on someone who sneezes will ward off certain death. On the other hand, we casually say "Bless his heart" when we describe difficult people, a phrase that hardly pronounces good fortune on the person to which we refer, but rather is more like a protection for everyone else who encounters him.

Risky call

The covenant God makes with Abram is one that promises blessings on Abram, his name, his family and any of those who bless him. This is only after God commands Abram to leave his country, his family and the property he would likely inherit from his father. In other words, Abram is to leave everything he has ever known. Abram is staring into a future he cannot fathom. He is told to leave every safety net his culture has provided. Without the familiarity of a country where he knows the customs, laws and people, how will he know how to behave? Apart from family to help him through lean years, sickness or hardship, how will he survive? If he has no house or land, how will he have the money to make this trip that God commands him to embark upon?

Abram does not ask these questions in the story. We have to imagine what kind of excitement and anxiety such an enormous divine command would elicit. As if anticipating Abram's unspoken protests, God answers with blessings: "I will make of you a great nation" (So, don't sweat leaving the one you know!); "I will bless you and make your name great" (You won't be anonymous for long); "I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse ..." (You will regain the security of land and family; just wait); "... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Many others will benefit because you have obeyed me).

We want to believe that this was good news for Abram. A divine call! A blessing from God! But this hardly sounds like a promising future or good news. God asks Abram to take on a lot of risk. God even acknowledges this, because what is a blessing if it is not an assurance of God's presence and protection. Why would Abram need an assurance of God's presence and protection if what God asked of him was not dangerous?

Luck, fortune and blessing

Luck is simply luck. Sometimes everything goes our way, and sometimes it does not. Good fortune can often be predicted based on life circumstances. Our cultures are set up to reward some with good fortune and make others destitute. Luck and good fortune are not the same as blessing. To be blessed is to acknowledge that the journey of life is hard and it hurts, but throughout every encounter in our lives we can count on God to love us and to remain present. To be blessed does not mean you will win the lottery. To be blessed does not mean you won't experience hate. To be blessed means that God won't let you experience anything alone.

For a man gushing about his daughter's successful completion of high school, being blessed might mean that they got through the turbulent middle-school years where nothing seemed certain or given. For a woman whose only forms of communication and transportation are lost, to be blessed might mean having a friend to walk to. When fire ravages a home, being blessed might mean having co-workers who notice you and anticipate a need. To be blessed acknowledges the hard stuff. It does not assure smooth passage.

When we wish blessings on others, whether it is a blessing over a meal or a blessing after a sneeze, whether it is a blessing at a baptism or a blessing at a hospital bed, we are making a declaration that we will be there for the painful or difficult things. God's blessings work best through the people who love God. We can be a blessing simply by showing up. When we ask for a blessing or offer a blessing, we are asking for a companion. We are offering ourselves up to walk alongside someone else. We are blessed when we are seen and noticed by others. We are a blessing when we refuse to allow anyone to walk alone.

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