Friday, October 31, 2014

Count Your Blessings (Numbers 6:21-27; Romans 15:22-29) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


I remember a minister in CO, who whenever you would greet him and say, “Hi, how are you,” his standard answer was – “I am blessed.”  His response stood out to me, because I don't think I have ever heard anyone reply in that way.   You may remember an old song that Christians have sung for years that goes like this: "Count your blessings / Name them one by one / and it will surprise you what the Lord has done."  When someone sneezes, we say, “Bless you.”  This custom dates back to the 6th century, to an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Rome.  Sneezing was thought to be a symptom of the plague.  Saying “Bless you” “God bless you,” was a petition to God to bring His divine blessing of healing upon the person.

Blessings are such a vital part of life and faith.  Blessings were important in the Bible and in Judaism and Christianity.  We read in Genesis 1: “God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said:  “Exercise dominion, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”  God blessed human beings and called us to go and be a blessing in all the earth.  

In our Old Testament lesson from the book of Numbers, we are introduced to a famous benediction called the Aaronic or Priestly benediction.  God spoke these words to Moses and commanded him to tell his brother Aaron to use these very words to bless the Israelites.  “The Lord bless you and keep you, or the Lord favor you and protect you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; or the Lord smile upon you and be pleased with you and be merciful and compassionate toward you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace, or the Lord give his approval to you and grant you His peace in the inner life and the outer life. So they shall put my name on the Israelites and I will bless them.”

In our New Testament Lesson the apostle Paul is writing to the church at Rome telling them that he hopes to visit them soon, but that for now he is on a mission to bring material resources, which were donated by Gentile Christians in Greece, to the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  Paul says he knows that when he comes to see the believers in Rome, he will come in the fullness of the blessing of Jesus Christ.

What are some of the blessings according to the scriptures which God imparts to us?   We find a plethora of blessings.  Some examples are:  longevity, God's forgiveness, affirmation and acceptance, God's dunamis or power, God's comfort, healing and reconciliation, God's protection, God's guidance, God's peace, God's call to a mission, God's granting authority, God's blessings of gifts and abilities, God's word of promise, and warning,  God's imparting of courage, God's blessings of faith, hope and love.   God's blessing is the message of the gospel and in hearing it and receiving it by faith.

Blessings deepen our relationship with God and enhance our relationships with others.  Blessings release people to build productive lives and free them to bless others.  God blesses us every day and gives us opportunities to be a blessing to others. 

Scripture reminds us to joyfully receive all the blessings God gives us.  Look for, embrace and celebrate God's blessings in your life, because we cannot pass on to others what we do not have.  A mature faith is where you see yourself as richly blessed by God.  Scripture reminds us that God's blessings often come as surprises and to people who don't think they deserve them.

In Jesus' day, Jews were committed to paying in their daily lives to the blessings that God had given them.   I know Christians who actually keep a journal and write down all the ways God daily blesses them.  That is a good spiritual practice for us today, don't you think?  Joyfully receive God's blessings and then pass on those blessings to people around you.

Which leads us to our Stewardship Theme for this coming year – “Count Your Blessings!”  Of course, one of the realities of human beings, is that we too often take our blessings for granted.  Rabbi Sidney Greenberg wrote the following piece:  “When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911 and was missing for two years, more people went to stare at the blank space in the museum, than had gone to look at the masterpiece in the twelve previous years it had hung there unmolested.  It points to our all too human tendancy to fail to take adequate note of precious things while we have them.  But let one of them be taken from us and we become painfully aware of the blank space in our lives, and our attention is sharply focused on that blank space.  The walls of our lives are crowded with Mona Lisas, but we are unmindful of them.” 

One of my constant prayers is for God's blessing, I pray it before visiting someone in the hospital or in their home, before a session meeting, or deacon meeting, or worship service, or class I'm teaching or counseling situation I'm involved in or when we visit our children and grandchildren.  And for me it means God use this time for your glory, use this time for the work of your Kingdom, God use this time in surprising ways, God speak to or touch someone in a powerful way.  And may I not be a hindrance or barrier for your purposes, but use me to be an instrument for your will.

As I reflect upon our ministry here at PBPC, I give thanks to God for His blessings in our life and ministries and how God is blessing our community through our congregation.   Like our mid-week Youth and Kingdom Kid’s programs, where children and youth from the preschool, community and our congregation, are growing in their faith and enjoying fellowship under the leadership of  Robert and his dedicated helpers.  And our excellent Pre-school under the capable leadership of the director Brigitte.   Our Preschool now has an enrollment of over 50 children and babies.  It provides a healthy spiritual, intellectual and social foundation for children and builds community among the preschool families.  Some of those families have joined the church.

We rejoice in our Sunday Evening Roots worship service and ministry, reaching young adults in our community under the leadership of Grant.   Some of these young adults have joined our church.  We celebrate the blessings of our music program, the Sounds of Worship and our Chancel Choir, under the leadership of Esther and our organist Anne.  
We enjoy the music of handbells which enhance our worship under the leadership of Robin Mayo and Judy Whiles.
 
We see God at work in our prayer and healing ministries with Helen Sterling and in our congregational care ministry under the leadership of Mavis, which brings Christ’s love to members and friends.  We see blessings in Bible studies and Christian education for all ages during the week and on Sunday mornings.  We have faith-filled and committed leaders – deacons and elders, who enthusiastically serve Christ in our church.  

We bless our community by outreach events such as hosting Graffiti Day to clean up Pacific Beach.  We highlight the faithful Friday Pizza and Movie Night ministry, which for over 5 years has reached families in our preschool and new families in our community.  Just a few weeks ago, at Friday Night Pizza and Movie night, we had 24 kids, 18 parents and 4 volunteers. 

God has long blessed the community through our Sunday Night Ministry, by feeding over 100 homeless people each week for over two decades under the leadership of Dolores Shoemaker and through our mail service for nearly 275 homeless people during the week.  I often hear people living on the streets say:  “God bless you, thank you, as people are able to get their mail and in response to the caring assistance which Meri and the volunteers provide them.”  

God blesses people through a variety of mission projects -  we provide resources, volunteers and financial support for CCSA, Meals on Wheels, Voice of the Martyrs, Urban Youth Collaborative, Baja Presbyterian Ministries, Military Outreach Ministry, Intervarsity, Heifer Project, Presbyterian Urban Ministry in downtown San Diego, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and missionaries like Esther Wakeman in Thailand.   We are blessed by your generous giving to our Endowment Fund which annually contributes substantially to our ministry.

These are some ways God both blesses our congregation and uses our congregation to bring blessings to others for His purposes and glory.   I give thanks to God for all He is doing in our life together.  God’s Spirit is among us, guiding us and empowering us and inspiring us.  And yes, there are always more challenges before us,and there are sometimes disappointments and setbacks, but we keep moving forward striving to fulfill God's will.

I want to both personally and on behalf of the elders, thank you for your generous commitment and support this year.  We are blessed by your giving.  As I have said:  “When the treasurer is happy, the pastor is happy.”  We are asking for your prayerful and generous financial support for this coming year, as together, we serve and witness to Christ, and reach people for His Kingdom. 

Thank you for filling out the Count Your Blessings forms, which the stewardship team handed out over the past couple of weeks.   They are inspiring.  You will find them posted on the walls in Calvin Hall and I encourage you to peruse them during our luncheon time this morning. 

In response to God's blessings let us bring our time, our talents and abilities, our money and our faith and offer them to God in humble adoration and gratitude.  Jesus Christ cares deeply about your life and growth in faith and your participation in His Kingdom.   And be confident that Christ will continue to use you for His work and glory in His mission in this community and world.  Every pledge, every donation, every gift, every offering God honors.  Commitment Sunday is next Sunday, November 2. 


Count your blessings / Name them one by one / and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”   Amen!

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