2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Genesis 32:22-32 (Just read 2 Cor 9:6-8 at start)
Blessed to Be a Blessing
First of all – welcome to the GEMS who are here with us this morning - and to their families – we are blessed to have you with us.
Blessed – that has been the GEMS theme for the season – blessed – one of those words that sounds kind of churchy – hard to define – hard to nail down exactly what it means – blessed.
My Dad used to say that about everything. Everything was blessed. Life is such a blessing. Family is such a blessing. The weather is such a blessing. I just figured that he had spent too much time in church – that was the only way he knew how to describe things – everything is such a blessing.
But it isn’t only a church word. On the way to work the other morning, the weather lady on CBC used the word Blessing twice in the same weather report. She said that yesterday we were blessed with great sunshine, and that today there will be a blessing again with lots of sun.
I was talking to one of the GEMS counsellors – I suggested that the word ‘Blessing’ is such a churchy word-
No – no she said. Walk into any Walmart and you will find T-Shirts that boldly proclaim – I AM BLESSED! Go on Facebook and type in #Blessed and you will see hundreds of posts under that heading-
pictures of a smiling family under the hashtag ‘Blessed’.
pictures of wonderful Caribbean white-sandy beaches under the hashtag ‘Blessed’
pictures of a plate of delicious spaghetti and meatballs under the hashtag ‘Blessed’.
Clearly, the definition of blessed has evolved – been co-opted by society – changed from something strictly God-related to something recognized by all of society.
So what is it? What is it to be blessed? What does it even mean? Is it just good Karma – you do good things and good things will happen to you? Be nice to people and they will be nice to you? Help that old lady across the street and when you are old someone will help you across the street?
Or is blessing something deeper – more profound – more …. a God-thing?
The GEMS have been working with a definition that I think makes things very clear.
Blessing is anything that God gives that draws you closer to him.
Blessing is anything that God gives that draws you closer to him.
To me, that is helpful.
First - it gives the credit to God – that ultimately God is in control of everything
Secondly, it suggests that blessings can be awesome but that they can also be difficult –
they can be that wonderful sunrise that you see and immediately praise God for his fantastic artist’s touch in the skies –
but they can also be that terribly difficult moment when we are suffering and immediately realize how fragile we are and how desperately we need God.
Blessings can be positive and blessings can be negative – and blessings can be both positive and negative - wrapped up in the same package – sometimes we thank God for the children that he has gifted us with – and the next day we cry out to God – why are my kids giving me such a hard time?
Anything that God gives us that draws us closer to him.
There are numerous stories in the Bible that illustrate blessing – this morning we are going to look at one story in particular – it’s in the book of Genesis - it’s a story about blessing, but it’s a bit of a strange one.
Let me set the stage.
The story is about Jacob. He lived a long time ago – around 4000 years ago – 2000 years before Christ – he was the son of Isaac –the grandson of Abraham – he was a twin – his twin brother was Esau –
I just preached on him a few weeks ago – how Jacob was a sneaky guy – even though he was a twin – he was the younger one – but he basically stole the birthright from his brother Esau – and tricked his father into giving him the blessing of the first-born – which was a super big deal back in those days – it meant that he got double the inheritance and double the blessing.
But ever since that day, he had been on the run – away from his family – away from his brother Esau who had a hate-on for Jacob and wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright.
Now Jacob wanted to go home – but that meant coming face-to-face with Esau – and Jacob was desperately afraid.
As he got closer to his home territory, he sent a messenger ahead to tell his brother that he was on his way. The messenger came back and reported that Esau was coming to meet him, accompanied by 400 men.
Now Jacob was really afraid.
The first thing he did was quickly divide all of his possessions into two groups – thinking that if Esau came and destroyed one group he would still have the other.
The next thing he did was desperately pray to God – he admitted that God had allowed him to prosper – prayed that God would save him and deliver him from the hand of his brother – ….”after all, you promised to make me prosper and you promised that my descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore …”
The last thing he did was prepare a gift for his brother Esau – a bit of a peace offering
200 female goats, 20 male goats, two hundred female sheep, 20 rams, thirty female camels, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and 10 male.
And then we read Genesis 32:22-32
22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.
24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
Remember I said this was a very strange story. Right? But the story speaks volumes about blessing – especially when we remember the definition – anything that God gives us that draws us closer to God.
With that in mind, notice some of the details of the story.
First, notice that Jacob was in a very vulnerable state when he received God’s blessing. He was all alone. He was desperately afraid. He had sent all of his goods across the river ahead of him – with the understanding that he could very well lose everything. Everything he had worked so hard for - everything that he had gained through deception or through honest hard work – it was all gone.
And Jacob was left all alone.
It’s kind of like a death-bed scene – at the end – all of your riches – all of the things you have worked so hard for- they mean nothing, because …. ‘you can’t take it with you.’
That is the point when the truth stares us in the face and we can no longer get around it.
And that’s how it was with Jacob - he had to face the truth. About himself – about how he had been living – about his selfish motivations – about his personal drive to succeed – about his lies and deception and fears and vulnerability.
But it is at this point – when Jacob is at his most vulnerable – at his weakest – when he is most frightened - that he cries out to God –
and it is at this point that God shows up. And has this wrestling match with Jacob. And the battle goes right through the night – right up until daybreak. And the man (who somehow turns out to be God – I told you it was strange) the man realizes that he is losing – (how could God lose right?)
he touches Jacob’s hip so that his hip goes out of joint – but Jacob still won’t give up – let me go – no I won’t let you go unless you bless me.
And the man (who turns out to be God) does so – he blesses Jacob and changes Jacob’s name to Israel – in a sense he changes who Jacob is, from one who grasps (which is what Jacob means) to Israel, which means – one who struggles with God and people and manages to overcome.
And Jacob called the place Peniel, which means the face of God – I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.
So God shows up when Jacob is at his weakest. He doesn’t leave Jacob in his desperate fear and trepidation – God comes to him and wrestles him and touches him and renames him and gives him a whole new identity – it is truly a remarkable story of conversion and grace and blessing –
The bible is full of these kinds of stories – of God showing up again and again, giving people a second chance – a third chance – another opportunity to find a new way of life after they have totally crashed and burned in the old ways.
Jacob walks away a changed man. Actually, Jacob limps away a changed man. It is not a painless encounter. When Jacob meets God face to face, the transformation Jacob goes through includes a painfully dislocated hip joint.
This fits into the ‘Anything that God gives are gifts that draws us closer to him’ category.
The blessing is in the new start – but the blessing is also in the painful limp that reminds Jacob of his encounter with God. For us, the blessing may be in a new beginning – but it is also in the painful reminders in our lives – the things we struggle with – the conflicts we face – the suffering – the bullying – the hurt – the scars of life.
The things that draw us closer to God.
We just came through the season of Lent. In a way, the whole story of Jesus and his journey to the cross is one long wrestling match. With Satan – with sin – with evil – with death.
What we don’t often think about is that for Jesus, Good Friday was also a wrestling match with God. As Jesus breathed his last, he cried out in desperation – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And the lights went out. Darkness covered the earth. For three days, Jesus was in the grave. Had he lost the wrestling match?
We know the answer to that. On the third day – Jesus rose from the grave. He conquered death. He walked away – with the wounds as a reminder of the battle- but death could not hold him –
In a sense Jesus wrestled with God – for us – for our salvation.
That is the blessing of Easter. That is the blessing of new life. That is the blessing of coming face to face with God- in Jesus Christ – that is the greatest blessing any of us could ever receive.
Because of what happened at Easter, each one of us can come face to face with God – each of us can be touched by God - and each of us is given a new name and new life through the gift of Jesus Christ.
And that is by definition blessing. Anything God gives that draws you closer to him. That is Jesus – the gift of Jesus draws us closer to God than we could ever hope to get on our own.
That gift is ours for the taking. Later we will sing the song – We receive your Blessing – the gift of Jesus is God’s blessing to us – every time we sing this song we are receiving again the gift of Jesus in our lives.
And that brings us to the second passage that the GEMS focussed on this season. 2 Corinthians 9:8 – God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
In other words, God blesses abundantly – with all grace at all times so we have all that we need – and he does this so that we will be able to pass that blessing on.
From what I have heard about GEMS, this is something that took place in their group this year. GEMS was a place of blessing. For the girls. And for the counselors. A place where people could be vulnerable with each other – a place where there was acceptance and love and grace.
GEMS was a place where both the girls and the counselors were able to see the face of God – through his Son Jesus Christ – in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
GEMS was a safe place – a place of growth – where the girls and their leaders could both receive challenge and blessing but also give challenge and blessing. It was the place where all involved were able to come closer to God.
So thank you to the girls that came to GEMS. Thank you to their parents who entrusted them to our church. And thanks to the leaders who gave of their time and energy.
Before you leave, I just want to give you a challenge to take with you.
And that is this: First - spend time this week thinking about some of the blessings that God has placed in your life. Maybe think of 3 positive blessings – but also 3 difficult blessings – 3 ways that God has prospered you – but also 3 ways that God brought you to your knees – humbled you – caused you to cry out and ask for help.
Second, thank God for them. All of them. Knowing that these are all ways that God has drawn you closer to him.
And third, think of at least one way to pass that blessing on to someone else. Maybe by a kind gesture. A helping hand. Time spent talking to that person. Maybe telling someone about how you have been blessed by knowing the healing of Jesus. Maybe even just by committing to pray for someone. There are lots of ways for us to pass on the blessings we have received.
So that’s it – recall your blessings – thank God for them – and pass them on.