By Pastor Suzanne Clemenz
Scripture: Genesis 1 and Matthew 3:13-17
Here at Trinity, we are in the middle of a sermon series focused on our fall stewardship season. This is the special time of year that we look closely at and celebrate the ministries God has called us into together – the work that God is doing among us – and to also plan how we are going to continue that work in the year ahead. Our stewardship theme this fall is “Growing to Serve.” Each Sunday we are spotlighting an area of ministry, and I’m delighted to be able to share with you about the aspects of Trinity’s ministries that come under my care, which I think of, broadly, as Caring Ministry.
Under the large umbrella of Caring Ministry, we have specific efforts that nurture the care and wellbeing of folks in our midst. First, we have our Friendly Visitors, who are members of our congregation who have a calling, or a special desire, to reach out and connect in friendship to those in our church who, for whatever reason, aren’t physically present and able to participate in the day-to-day activities of the church. Often it’s advancing age that becomes a barrier to being present in the faith community, or it could be a disability or chronic condition at any age, or it could be a different set of unique circumstances. Whatever the reason, our friendly visitors have that nudge to reach out and connect with those who are at a distance so that they continue to be a vital part of our church family. We reach out to say, we remember you. You are important to us. We care about you. You are special to God; you are special to us at Trinity; you are special to me. We make that effort to keep these beloved members part of the fold. You know, there’s probably an element of vulnerability in their lives (though if we are honest folks, we all live in vulnerability). And what we are called to do is to see them and to bless them, not just in their vulnerability, but in the sum of all that they are. We are called to see them and to bless them.
As Christians, the business of blessing should permeate all of who we are and everything we do. The thoughts I’m sharing with you about “blessing” today are not mine originally – I am drawing from a beautiful book about the spiritual life called Sacred Fire from a man of faith named Ronald Rolheiser, so any wisdom that you glean from this morning’s message, please attribute it to the Holy Spirit and to Ronald Rolheiser. We listened to Scripture about blessing today – crucially important passages from the very first chapter of Genesis, and another passage from the beginning of the New Testament. And what the Bible tells us is that God permeates all of creation from the very beginning. There is an original blessing out of which everything that God creates is good, every day God looks at it, and it is good; and then on the last day God takes it all in and says it is very good. God creates, looks at creation, and delights in it. And then blessing repeats in the book of Matthew when Jesus’s head breaks through the baptismal water and God sees him, delights in him, and says, this is my beloved, or my blessed, child, with whom I am so pleased. I delight in him! Rolheiser suggests that this just might be the pivotal moment when Jesus’s consciousness fully takes in who he is. Jesus is God’s son, and God delights in him, and for the rest of his life Jesus lives out of that knowing and that blessing, and the knowledge that God is with him. And then Jesus invites others into that blessing – his entire ministry is about getting people to truly see themselves as beloved children of God, to wake up to the presence of God within them, and then to live out of the peace and power that come from that place of trust and surrender.
Folks, I am blessed. You are blessed. Our Bible makes it abundantly clear, and I hope you have had some interior experience when God has whispered that truth to you. And if that’s something that has not happened to you, I invite you to reach out to me privately, because I know for sure it isn’t because God isn’t speaking that you, but sometimes stuff, life stuff, gets in the way of our being able to hear it.
I’ve been watching a TV show recently that I’m really enjoying, and I’ve realized the reason I love it is because it’s a story about blessing. The show is “Ted Lasso” – maybe some of you have heard of it. It’s about a soccer team in England, an underdog team, and an American football coach named Ted Lasso who knows nothing about soccer is recruited over to England to coach them. Ted Lasso is about the most naïve, honest, humble, self-deprecating, comedy-of-errors kind of coach you can imagine—in other words, he seems like a joke for this job, except for one thing. He loves the players. He delights in them. He loves everyone, actually. He is full of smiles, and little homemade gifts, and encouragement. When he inherits this team of rag-tag players, the one who is causing the most trouble is an egotistical know-it-all name Jamie Tart, and as we learn more about Jamie we see that he’s suffered awful verbal and emotional abuse from his father his whole life. So Jamie is a hurt, bitter young man. He has experienced the opposite of blessing in his life. But now, there’s someone who really sees him, and who sees past his ego and his brokenness and insists on keeping him in the soccer family, and you begin to see that what Jamie needs is to receive blessing. And that’s just what coach Ted Lasso does. He blesses Jamie. Now I should mention, while I recommend this show, I also should say that it comes with a mature language warning, so be aware of that.
As we mature on the Christian journey, as followers of Jesus, once we have come into adulthood, gotten our roots in the ground a little, and figured out who we are in our family lives, our work lives, our social circles, the next step for maturing Christians is to begin giving our lives away – to live in service of others. Rolheiser says that the height of spiritual maturity is the capacity and the desire to bless others. Our mission statement here at Trinity is “growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.” Our relationships are marked by love and service – in other words, our relationships are bound by blessing. Our relationship with God keeps us grounded in the awareness that we are blessed – to bless others we have to operate out of a consciousness of blessing. And then, what does it look like to bless others? I want to leave you with three specific aspects of blessing:
I’ve spent most of my time this morning sharing with you all about the friendships borne out of the relationships nurtured by our friendly visitors. Another way that we have the opportunity to bless others here at Trinity is through tangible support when folks come to us in need. We are called to respond in love to those in our church and our community who are experiencing hardship. In the past week alone, Trinity has received and responded to the following needs:
Friends, we are blessed. God is with us. God walks with us and guides the way ahead. This work of blessing, it is good stuff. If you’re not already part of a concrete relationship of blessing here at Trinity, I hope you’ll pay attention to any nudges within you to step into new relationships. And of course, your giving supports all that we do here at Trinity to nurture blessing. I promise you, it will make you feel really good to respond to any nudges you notice. Rolheiser writes, “When we bless others, it won’t be long afterward that our hearts will feel an exuberance that will say, God, it feels good to be alive. When we act like God, we get to feel like God.” And my friends, that feels really, really good. Thanks be to God.
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