This is the message I spoke this morning at theStory, I hope that eventually we can podcast these and especially try and figure out how to podcast it with the discussion, because that is always the best part. This is my message before the discussion, though I almost always would change it after the other perspectives are thrown in. Feel free to have some discussion on here or anything also, or even posts some comments that you made this morning if you were here with us.
This month we have been talking about the idea of blessing in our lives and in the characters lives throughout Genesis. The view of it we have now is the typical view of a twenty-first century, white, western, wealthy Christian person. There are so many things that skew our vision of the world and our faith that it becomes hard to see past what we assume is correct. The hardest thing to break is these assumptions we hold. They are what our faith is based on. We assume what we think is right and then stop questioning it. This is what we have done with the idea of blessing and the role that it is to have in our lives. So this morning, I want to walk us through three mis-conceptions of what we think blessings are to help us get rid of our false assumptions and then try to fill the hole with some new ideas that will hopefully help us live a more kingdom oriented life.
Misconception #1 – Blessings are given to/for individuals
In our discussions thus far the idea of blessings are things that are given to me. Basically we think they are gifts. Blessings and gifts become interchangeable. My car is a blessing to me, my money is a blessing to me, my children are blessings to me sometimes, my home is a blessing to me, my country is a blessing to me. If we are to have a biblical view of what blessing is, then I fear we might be a little of with that kind of language. Our society is so individualistic in nature that we are unable to see the whole picture anymore.
Jacob had a very individualistic view on God’s blessing. When he had lots of stuff he made vast assumptions that it was God’s blessing on him. When he was in trouble he sought blessings to save him from that trouble. Jacob had a very hard time looking past himself. After his daughter was raped and his sons went and pillaged the city and took her back, here is Jacob’s response.
“I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.”
Note all the personal pronouns. He didn’t seem too worried about much else besides himself and the only way his sons could respond is asking if their sister should have been treated like a prostitute. It was all about Jacob and him being hurt and him losing his blessing. Jacob couldn’t see past himself to anyone else. Walter Brueggemann has good thoughts on this subject.
Parent’s and children have a deep stake in each others’ destinies. The narrative refutes every notion of individualism which assumes that every individual life and, indeed, every generation is discreet and on its own. The generations are inalienably and terrifyingly bound together.
Walter Brueggemann – Genesis – pg.228
Blessings are not given to just individuals but rather given to groups and to the world. Blessings by definition are something that passes on from one to another; they can’t stay still or without moving to along. If they do, it automatically negates the very essence of what it is. Then it is no longer a blessing and it turns into something else; perhaps a curse? If I think that I am blessed, I am walking a thin line in understanding what blessing actually is. There is no such thing as one individual being blessed and the story being over. The very biblical definition of blessings means that it’s for someone else and not you.
Misconception #2 – Blessings are given to those who deserve it
Last week a lot of us talked about how we feel like we have to earn God’s blessing. We live in a culture that says our value is tied up in what we produce. We are given rewards for doing good. Jacob thought this way too. Jacob thought that he was blessed and that people were blessed because they were righteous. He says that if God would further increases his flocks, it would be a sign that he was righteous (30:33). I wonder how deeply rooted this type of thinking is in our lives? We can’t even conceive blessing or treating people well that don’t deserve it. Yet, God doesn’t seem to care about what we can conceive or not. Brueggemann puts it this way:
“The blessing of God has its way whether we are attracted to or repelled by the object of the blessing. The narrative shows God strangely at work for Jacob without regard for our emotions about Jacob.”
Walter Brueggemann – Genesis – pg.235
Our problem is that we assume that blessings come to those that deserve it. That’s why over the past few months when I have constantly tried to show everyone the faults of the characters in Genesis there is such a strong reaction against it because we know that these characters are blessed. And since we assume that blessings come to those that deserve it we default to thinking that they are good people, and that they did something to deserve it. We never wonder if maybe God just blesses anyone and has a bigger purpose for blessing people than their morality. God’s blessing makes morality irrelevant. The message is the same all throughout the Bible yet we have such a hard time grasping it. The ones that we wouldn’t bless are the ones invited to be blessed. It’s the messed up way of Jesus; to bless those that you or I wouldn’t. So instead of trying to find a reason that they are blessed, we can rest knowing that God’s blessing isn’t a result of any human ingenuity.
Misconception #3 – Blessings are material gifts
Here is where I want to really bring some understanding. We here in our culture have become so showered with material goods; it’s all we think about when we think of blessings.. It is what separates us apart from the rest of the world; it is what gives us our identity. So when I ask people if they have been blessed they all think and assume the same things. You usually get the typical, oh yes I have been blessed with my children. But then after that it all goes to material things. I’m blessed because I have a house, food, clothes, my tv, my new car and the list goes on. All this tells me that we has a culture have a very limited view on what blessing actually is. It’s the language choice that tips me off.
“I am blessed because of my…”
“I am blessed because I have…”
Most of you have played Settler of Catan here, and some of you have played cities and knights. Part of me thinks that blessings should almost work like Cities and Knights does. In the game, you have knights that you have to purchase from the bank, you put your knight on the board and it is there, but the knight is absolutely useless to you. It sits there and takes up space and does nothing for you. Until you activate it. Not until you activate it does it perform its function.
I wonder if blessings are sort of like that? We have been given blessings all around us, but it’s not until we do with them what they are meant to do are they actually useful and fulfill their purpose. Blessings need to be given to be blessings, not just received.
God isn’t up there just handing out stuff so people feel good all day long. “Here is a TV for you, and a child for you, and a new car for you” isn’t how he operates. God is always up to something a lot deeper than what we see. It’s what God is up to what matters, not how he accomplishes it. It would be ridiculous to say that my new car is a blessing from God – when in the next breath we say to store up riches in heaven. The blessing is not the new car; the blessing is what is done with that new car. The blessing is not what is given to you; it is what you do with it.
Jacob was given lots of stuff. Constantly throughout Genesis we hear about his wealth, family and all the things that he owns. Then he constantly makes the mistake in thinking that those things are his blessing. It wasn’t until the end of Genesis on his death bed that he realized where the blessing truly was. Jacob realized that all those things that he was given were a means to God accomplishing his promise and purpose in Jacob’s life. God’s purpose was bigger than Jacob having lots of stuff. For Jacob to be a great nation and to be a blessing to the nation’s around him he needed to depend on God and those blessings we’re devices to do that. They were constant reminders of who God was and what God was going to do through him. Jacob’s riches were not his blessing; they were just a means of God being able to bring about his promise to him. The blessing is not a material thing, but a tool that God uses to accomplish his purposes; purposes that are always larger than the individual. Blessings are the middle man between God’s promises and us. Blessings are reminders, they are curses, they are material things, they are relationships, they are awkward and joyful circumstances. They pave the way for God’s promise to be fulfilled. They are the language in which God uses to accomplish his purposes.
This is why Esau still got a blessing, this is why Jacob’s sons all got blessings (even though they seemed like curses). Blessings are what is given to us when we have to wait for God’s promise to remind us of what the promise is. It is assurance that we are heirs of a new kingdom.
I have one more passage that I want to read, and I hope that it can sort of bring it home for us. I heard this passage again a few months ago and then John brought it up last week and it’s something that I think fits for us today and along a topic like this.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
The rich fool, was fooled into believing that the things he was given were blessings for him. Things that he got to choose what he did with. Things that God gave him. Let us not be rich fools, who have been given so much and who are tricked into thinking its actually for us. Let us remember that these things we have are not God’s blessings. God’s blessings are in the giving of the things we have to others. God’s blessings are the subtle reminders that we see around us of the Kingdom of God and not are stuff that we have. Blessings are defined by their function not how good you feel when you get it and their function is to fulfill God’s promises.