Sermon: "Blessed to be a Blessing"


Delivered on Thanksgiving Eve, November 26, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: As we thank God, lets also recommit ourselves to being a channel of good things to the people that God has put around us. Because even as we share this life with others, we receive it more abundantly in our own lives.

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Sermon Text: Psalm 67

Thank you Mario and Pam for what you have just shared. It kind of leads us and reminds us of just the incredible blessing we can receive from God whatever kind of-time of life, we find ourselves in, even the really difficult, very hard to understand times. And we are called to be a thankful people. That's why we gather, and that's why we're here tonight. So, I want to read to you a Psalm that focuses in on a Godward focus at a time of thanksgiving as we celebrate together this incredible privilege we have as American people to celebrate Thanksgiving Day at this time of the year. Psalm 67.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be know on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all then ends of the earth will fear him.

Let's pray. God we thank you for your Word. We thank you for these moments that we are gathered together. Pray that our ears will be open and our hearts will be open to your voice. For we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Well, we gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving Day in worship, and I think this is particularly important right now in our country, because increasingly people don't even want to use the word Thanksgiving. I am seeing it written up in calendars as Feast Day. Would you even recognize that if it didn't show up at the end of November? Or they call it Turkey Day, getting ready for the Turkey Day festivals. And its all because we've gotten so distant from this idea that there is someone to thank. So ask children in school sometimes, you know what is this all about and there has actually been times when the kids say, "Well Thanksgiving is the day the pilgrims thanked the Indians." And maybe they did thank some of the Indians, but that isn't the heart of it. Since 1863 I guess, it became an official holiday, but we are actually celebrating events that happened about 300 years ago. When people who took enormous risk and came to this country and faced hardships they could have never anticipated. They finally got to the point where they had a meager harvest, but it was enough to see them through and through the help of the Native people's, the indigenous people like the Indians, through their help and the grace of God, through the things they learned, they had enough to survive, and so they thanked God for his blessing. And so we remember that, but its much more personal that that because all of us also, probably much more so, are celebrating the fact that we have things to thank God for in our own lives; for his care to us, even if there have been difficult times, we have sensed God's presence and the way God has cared for us through these difficulties. We've got to be thanking God for our material blessings.

We are one of the most blessed people on earth, in all of history, when it comes to material things. So we thank God for that. We thank God in many cases for health. That's something that goes up and down and some people are struggling with that right now, but for many of us the whole fact that we are healthy is something that we rejoice about and give thanks to God about. And perhaps the most important part is that we thank God for family and friends. Wasn't it incredible what the kids were thanking God for? Man, if we could only preserve that, you know as we get older. You know we always think about how materialistic kids are and how they want the toys and stuff like that. That wasn't in evidence tonight. That's why I was concerned that you might have prompted them to get them ready. Family and friends, it is such an important part of what we thank God for because we need them and then by extension, thankfulness for the family of God, that God has put us in here.

Psalm 67 belongs to this tradition of giving thanks. Thanksgiving is a harvest festival. It's a Thanksgiving time that's particularly because we've just harvested things and we have this abundance and Psalm 67 shares that characteristic. Verse 6 in the New International version that I just read makes this a future tense. Then the land will yield its harvest and God our God will bless us. But most translations and I think the best translation of this says, the soil has given us its harvest. God our God has blessed us. So that these words of Thanksgiving, may God be gracious to us and bless us come at a time of Thanksgiving when we have received a whole lot and because of this abundance, we are focusing in on this opportunity to thank God. It's a natural thing to have a harvest festival. Cultures all over the world do it. In Japan they have their harvest festivals. In various cultures down in different countries like in Africa, the different tribal groups, you will have festivals that center on whatever period of time there is an abundant harvest. And here in this passage they are celebrating. We celebrate here at Thanksgiving and they celebrate here in Psalm 67 the fact that the fears of frost, the fears that rain or pests or something will somehow ruin the harvest. Those fears are now behind. The land has produced its fruit.

And all of a sudden there is this sense of abundance. You know when you live in a part of the world where there aren't seasons; you don't see this quite as much. So down in Louisiana we were always harvesting bugs or something. I mean there was always something coming. Then we moved up to Massachusetts and there all of a sudden September things started coming at you man. The apples were there. Grapes were there. Corn, you know pumpkins came a little bit later and squash of every variety. It all seemed to come in like a two-month period. It was an incredible time of abundance. Every roadside stand had things that were gorgeous, tasty and cheap. And so at a time like that, it's natural to thank God and cultures do it all over the world. It's party time because we have so much. And some of its going to go bad. For most of history we haven't had refrigeration. You've got to eat a lot of it now. You know you can preserve some of it, but not all of it. But it's also a time to thank God for what He's done to bless our village, to bless our community, to bless our country. What makes Psalm 67 unique though is that the Psalmist has his eyes on something bigger than just his own community. And this is absolutely surprising because normally at a time of abundance or the time of celebration, you are thanking God for what He has done for you and your viewpoint is on your immediate family, your immediate community. Here in Psalm 67 we have somebody, who's at this time of abundance, at this time of blessing and his viewpoint is world wide, even while he thanks God, his focus is on God's purpose in the world.

In verse 1, he calls upon God to bless him. "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us." Now, that's a natural thing to do. It's natural to call upon God for blessing. So we don't have to hesitate. We don't have to feel bad if we want God to bless us. That's natural. There is nothing wrong with that. We have a relationship with God, with God as our Father and it's the most natural thing in the world to ask God for things. We have spiritual blessing from God. We have all of these things that God has given us and God gives to us abundantly and it's the most natural thing in the world for a child of God to thank God for it, even as he asks for more blessings. Think about what Jesus told us. Jesus told us to ask for blessing. He said, "Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and it shall be opened." There is nothing wrong with wanting to be blessed. To have your eyes upon God and to ask for God to bless. It's a precious privilege that we should use. And the Psalmist here knows this blessing is from God, so he is asking for this blessing from God. He is seeking it. He is dependent upon it. But even as he asks, he realizes that God's blessing to us often has a purpose much bigger than merely our own lives.

Take a look at verse 2. "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us. That your ways may be known on earth. Your salvation among all nations." Here is this leader in Israel, a tiny little country at a time of harvest, a time of abundance and he is saying God is doing this in our lives because he has purposes to bless the very ends of the earth. Your salvation will be known through the nations because of your blessing to us. With blessings come purpose. With blessing comes a responsibility. In verses 3 to 5 it says, "May the people's praise you O God. May all the people's praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy for you rule the people's justly and guide the nations of the earth." The focus here, the thing that will bring glory to God is the whole earth praising God. The whole earth recognizing that God is God and looking to God in dependence and in faith. And here the Psalmist is thinking about this even as he enjoys the abundance of what God has given.

So, the attention is not just on the gifts. And that's what make Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving and not just Feast Day or Turkey Day. It's because the view is not just on the abundance of what we have, but on the giver who has given it and upon God's purposes of entrusting it to us. We are blessed to be a blessing. This isn't a new thought in this part of the Old Testament. It's certainly not a New Testament thought only. It goes all the way back to the call of Abraham where it says, I will make you in to a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. It's at the very heart of God's covenant relationship with his people. He blesses, but he blesses to draw together a people that somehow will become a blessing to others. So we receive forgiveness, life, prosperity, all these good things in order to pass something on to others, to do like the children did today. To share with others.

One of the interesting things about the Holy Land is you've got the Jordan River going right down and on either end you have large bodies of water. On one end you have the Sea of Galilee. On the other end you have the Dead Sea. And you can't imagine two bodies of water that are more different than one another. The Sea of Galilee is the place that we always think about the fishermen with their nets. From all the stories in the New Testament, a place of abundance where people can earn their living by catching the fish there. They provide for their families and provide for others, because of the life that's in Lake Galilee. But, you go to the other end of the Jordan River and you find the Dead Sea. A place that has so much salt content in it that large life, life that we would consider useful and part of our abundance, just doesn't even exist. It's dead in that regard. They both receive the same water. They both receive the same abundance, but the key difference is, Lake Galilee receives, but it also has an outlet and the water flows through it. But in the Dead Sea there is no outlet and so the water just accumulates, year after year, century after century, getting more and more salty and less and less hospitable to life. I think that is a good image for us to ponder about our lives. Which are we like, Lake Galilee or are we like the Dead Sea? God is pouring all this abundance into our lives. How much of it leaks out? How much of it is passed on? Because one of the things that we can't escape is that a basic rule of life is that we have life in us and as we receive abundantly and as we pass that abundance on in some measure to others. So when God looks at your life, what does he see? Does he see something that's full of life, where his blessing to you pass on through and become blessings in the lives of others or is there something stopping it up and making it become more and more inhospitable to the life of the spirit? We are blessed to be a blessing. So as we focus on this time and we thank God, lets also recommit ourselves to being a channel, a channel of good things to the incredible variety of people that God has put around us. Because even as we share this life with others, we receive it more abundantly in our own lives.

So let's pray. God we thank you for your goodness. We thank you for the way that you have touched our lives. We thank you for your grace to us and so Lord we want to have thankful hearts. We want to have our eyes focused upon you and so now as we unite our voices together in Thanksgiving, help us to say these things from the heart.

© 2003, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org