Sunday’s sermon: Blessed to be a Blessing

blessed to be a blessing

Texts used – Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 9:6-12

  • Last week, as we began our Advent sermon series, we did so using the book The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree[1] by Gloria Houston.
    • Story so far:
      • Met Ruthie, little girl growing up in Appalachia in 1918
      • That year = her family’s turn to have the honor of providing the Christmas tree for the village church, so Ruthie goes out with her Papa in the spring and finds the perfect balsam growing up on the mountain → marks it with her red hair ribbon
        • Because it’s their turn, Ruthie also gets to be the angel in the church Christmas pageant
      • Before winter comes, Papa gets called to fight in WWI, leaving Ruthie and her mama home to scrape together what meager living they can
        • Papa = sole breadwinner, so things start to get very tight very quickly
        • See this most acutely when Ruthie tells Mama she needs a new dress with long, flowy sleeves to look like angel’s wings for the pageant → Mama has to tell her there’s no money for cloth
      • Get a letter from Papa saying the war is over and he’ll be home for Christmas, but he doesn’t arrive on the train with the rest of the village men returning from service → leaves Mama and Ruthie waiting
    • Sermon: talked about how, in the season of Advent, we are waiting for a Savior
      • Waiting to once again celebrate the birth of Christ
      • Also waiting for Christ to return
      • Not always easy or comfortable to wait
      • Spoke of what we are waiting for: peace and the embodiment of God’s love
      • Spoke of the importance of praising God in the midst of the waiting and anticipating the joyous praise once the wait is finally over
  • That’s where we’ve been, so let’s continue with our story. → READ PP. 14-23
  • Friends, if last week was all about waiting, this week is all about giving. → time of year for giving, right?
    • Giving gifts to our loved ones and friends
    • Giving to our favorite charities and non-profit organizations before the end of the year
      • Financial giving
      • Also volunteering – giving of our time and our talents
    • Sometimes giving is fun – “ah ha!” moment when you know you’ve found The Thing → Like Ruthie and Papa with the tree, we want our giving to be just right – to be perfect. Ruthie and Papa hunted for that perfect balsam to serve as their gift of a Christmas tree, and sometimes, we spend all sorts of time hunting for just the right thing.
      • Get excited about giving that perfect thing because we just know that the person receiving it will be thrilled … and we can’t wait to see that look on their faces the moment they unwrap their gift and realize just how awesome it is.
    • But sometimes process of giving ends up being stressful – when you don’t feel like you know what that “perfect” thing could be so you spend hours hunting and hunting but to no avail
      • Story of drawing names among family on Mom’s side: started with siblings → added siblings’ spouses → added siblings’ children once they got old enough → finally stopped when started adding siblings’ children’s spouses → It was too hard to find a gift for someone you’d never really met. It became about the obligation, not the giving.
      • In the book:
        • Giving becomes a little stressful with the pressure from the preacher – tries to convince Mama to let another family give the tree this year instead of their family since Papa isn’t home yet → all sorts of challenges wrapped up in this
          • Obligations are part of it → They said they’d provide the tree, and yet even on Dec. 23, and there was still no tree.
          • Uncomfortable waiting that we talked about last week is part of it → Despite what he said in his letter and the return of the rest of the village men, Papa still wasn’t home yet. And no Papa, no tree … at least, in the preacher’s mind.
          • Expectations are a part of it → The villagers and church-goers have their expectations. The pastor clearly has his expectations. And Mama and Ruthie have their own expectations. And if you’ve ever tried to satisfy your own expectations as well as the expectations of even one other person, you know just how difficult it can be to navigate all of that.
  • But Mama comes to the rescue → wakes Ruthie in the dead of night so they can go find that perfect Christmas tree and deliver it to church just as they promised they would
    • “Mama to the rescue” in more ways than one
      • Rescues the family’s honor by providing the tree … even if the preacher seems to think it appeared out of nowhere. – (not the brightest bulb in the box)
      • Rescues Ruthie’s peace of mind as they’re trudging through the woods at night – book: As they came to the dark woods the winter moon made strange shadows on the snow. “Mama, I’m afraid,” said Ruthie. “No need to be afraid,” said Mama. “We’re off to get the perfect balsam Christmas tree.” Mama began to sing “I wonder as I wander out under the sky.” Ruthie joined in the song. Soon she forgot to be afraid.[2]
      • Rescues Ruthie’s Christmas by sacrificing her own wedding dress and silk stocking to make a new dress with long flowy angel-wing sleeves and a tiny doll with a dress to match → And while this story is about the gift of the perfect Christmas tree, this dress and doll are the most precious gift of all, not because they are the most flashy or expensive gifts but because they come from a place of love and grace – from the heart of a mother who wants nothing more than to see her daughter happy … just like the gift of the Christ child for which we wait – a gift from an ever-present, ever-loving God who just wants to see that love reflected in God’s dearest creation once again.
        • Gift of generosity
        • Gift of compassion
        • Gift of unfathomable love
        • Gift meant to flow from one person to the next throughout creation → e.g.: Passing of the Peace story from “These Days”[3]
  • Scripture readings this morning get at that type of generous, compassionate giving this morning
    • Gospel text
      • Part of Jesus’ final teaching before the Last Supper
      • Probably one of the more quoted text (and frequently misquoted texts) in the Bible – text: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink. When did we see you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’[4]
      • Passage that speaks powerfully to compassionate, selfless giving → whole missions and ministries have been created and modeled on this passage
        • Matthew 25 Challenge (through World Vision) = week long, family-centered challenge to “step out of your comfort zones and engage in God’s love for ‘the least of these brothers and sisters”[5] → email/text each day with daily challenges, impactful stories, and ways to pray/talk about Mt 25 as a family
        • Pastoral discretion fund at First Pres in Galena = “Cup of Cold Water” fund (modeled after this verse)
        • Matthew 25: Ministries[6] = non-profit out of Cincinnati, OH: “The work of Matthew 25: Ministries helps the poorest of the poor and disaster victims throughout the United States and around the world.” → use “misprinted, slightly damaged, overstocked, or gently used supplies from corporations, organizations, and individuals” and send them to places that have great need
          • E.g. = all the championship t-shirts that get printed for the team that loses (World Series, Superbowl, Stanley Cup, etc.) get sent to places like this one and shipped to countries where people need clothing
        • And that, friends, is just a small sample. There is good work being done around the world in God’s name – charitable, compassionate, sharing work – all based on this passage … people giving freely and generously of their time, their talents, and their resources not because of what they think they’ll get in return but because of the blessing it is just to be able to give.
    • Hear this echoed in other NT reading this morning, too – text: Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver. God has the power to provide you with more than enough of every kind of grace. That way, you will have everything you need always and in everything to provide more than enough for every kind of good work. … You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God.[7] → God has blessed us to go out into this world to be a blessing to others for the glory of God.
      • Great illustration of this floating around the internet right now – video[8] going around about delivering necessities to people living on the streets via Amazon’s Prime same-day delivery option (called Amazon Prime Now – delivers in 1-2 hrs.) available in large cities → Basically, the producer went up to homeless people on the street, asked them if there was anything they needed (socks, backpacks, pants, etc.), and then ordered those necessities through Amazon Prime Now and directed the delivery people to give it to, for example, “the man sitting in front of this building at that address wearing the brown coat and grey baseball cap.” And it worked.
      •  
        • Nothing was asked for in return
        • Nothing was required of the homeless people or the delivery people or even of Amazon (put out independently of Amazon)
        • Simply being a blessing because the opportunity and the need were there → giving not out of obligation and expectation but sheer love and compassion
  • You see, friends, the power is not in what you give but in the giving itself. I realize that this is not a new lesson this morning. I’m sure I haven’t said anything earth-shattering that will completely turn your world upside-down. But sometimes we needed to be reminded of the lessons we already know. Sometimes we needed to be reminded that we are indeed blessed to be a blessing for others in this world just as Jesus came down to be a blessing to us. And that, friends, is always good news. Amen.

[1] Gloria Houston. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. (New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers), 1988.

[2] Houston, 15.

[3] Hope Harle-Mould. “See How They Love One Another” from These Days: Daily Devotions for Living by Faith. (Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation), Thurs., Nov. 22, 2018.

[4] Mt 25:35-40.

[5] https://www.worldvision.org/lp/matthew-25-challenge.

[6] https://m25m.org/.

[7] 2 Cor 9:7-8, 11-12.

[8] https://youtu.be/hqAFnurX0KY.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Blessed to be a Blessing

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Gifts from the Heart | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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