“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Genesis 12: 2

A colleague of mine recently offered up this prayer of her Lenten discipline, an unusually honest one: “Thy will be done, yes, of course, God.  But if you need tips on “thy will” just lemme know.  I have some ideas.”

Thus says a minister in Lent, but it is a reflection, I think, upon the way that we all often pray: speaking familiar words (thy will be done), thinking familiar thoughts, holding familiar people or images in our hearts.  Sometimes we make specific requests, we pray for a specific outcome – for healing, or resolution, or change.  But how often do we listen for the response?  How often do we allow our prayers to be a conversation with God, rather than a dictation of our own ideals?  How much more often are we inclined to offer our own ideas of “thy will”, and leave it at that?

Now certainly, God can make God’s own self heard quite nicely, when the need arises.  Ask any clergyperson you know, and the story of their being called to ministry is usually one of God breaking through sometimes-dense human resistance.  Psalm 29 talks about the voice of the Lord breaking the cedars, reminding us of the power that God can call upon as desired.  But mostly, it seems, from my own experience and the experience of scripture, God does not desire great displays of power.  God is neither a grand dictator, nor puppeteer of the universe.  The preference, throughout, seems to be for subtlety, on God’s part: making us use brains we were given, making us choose whether or not to listen to the promptings of the Spirit.  God chooses the subtlety of sending a baby, via an unwed, teenaged mother, to redeem the world; the subtlety of calling the fishy-smelling lowly to discipleship, and turning them into leaders; the subtlety of blessing.

Of course, blessing, in our time, has all the subtlety of a cast-iron frying pan.

Suddenly, you’re counting your blessings, aren’t you?  It doesn’t take much more than hearing the word, and it triggers us to start reflecting on our lives.  And I’ll wager that I can guess what your blessings are:

Your health.  Your nice warm homes, especially on cold, snowy mornings like this one.  The food you ate before coming here, the food you will eat later in this day.

But are these blessings?

Is good health a blessing, when millions in this country – let alone around the world! – are without insurance, or providers, or anything approaching adequate care?

Are our homes blessings, when millions are homeless or living precariously, hovering on the edge of eviction, or couch surfing?

Is the food that we so often take for granted a blessing, when millions are food-insecure, many of them right here in this community?

Are we counting blessings? or privileges?  And if these are blessings, what does it say about the God who bestows them upon us, but not upon everyone?

Here again, we would seem to be putting God in human vesture, listening to the voice of our comfort rather than to “thy will”.

I came across an article last week by Scott Dannemiller, that speaks to this beautifully:

I’ve noticed a trend among Christians, myself included, and it troubles me. Our rote response to material windfalls is to call ourselves blessed.  Like the “amen” at the end of a prayer.
     “This new car is such a blessing.”
     “Finally closed on the house.  Feeling blessed.”
     “Just got back from a mission trip.  Realizing how blessed we are here in this country.”
On the surface, the phrase seems harmless.  Faithful even.  Why wouldn’t I want to give God the glory for everything I have?  Isn’t that the right thing to do?
No.
First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God’s blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.  I can’t help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M’s to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants.  Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it’s for our own good.  But positive reinforcement?
God is not a behavioral psychologist.
Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong.  For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day.  You read that right.  Hundreds of millions who receive a single-digit dollar “blessing” per day.
The problem?  Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith.  In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture.
I’ll take door number three, please.
If we’re looking for the definition of blessing, Jesus spells it out clearly.
     Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, 2and He began to teach
them, saying:
     3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
     4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
     5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
     6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
     7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
     8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
     9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
    10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
     11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5: 1-12)
I have a sneaking suspicion verses 12a 12b and 12c were omitted from the text.  That’s where the disciples responded by saying,
     12a Waitest thou for one second , Lord.  What about “blessed art thou comfortable”, or  12b “blessed art thou which havest good jobs, a modest house in the suburbs, and a yearly vacation to the Florida Gulf Coast?”
     12c And Jesus said unto them, “Apologies, my brothers, but those did not maketh the cut.”

Who is this God to whom we pray?  Is God the bestower of comfort?  of privilege?  or of blessing?

Abram may well have asked that; I know that we would, in his place.

Abram’s father, Terah, had been called from city – Ur of the Chaldeans – to God’s land, but stopped at a likely looking spot along the way.  He stopped in a place where there was evidence that a good life could be built – land and water in enough supply to keep him, his family, and his livestock.  Terah did not venture further, but lived his remaining years comfortably.  But God, in one of those less-subtle, frying-pan moments, called again, this time to Abram.  Now, the bible doesn’t record Abram’s response, but I’ll have a go at what it might have sounded like:

“Are you crazy?  I’m 75!  No kids to help but my nephew, and you want me in the hinterlands?  And you call this a blessing?

Isn’t that what we might say?  In Abram’s place, what would we do with such a pronouncement?  How would we receive this directive, with no reassurance except that we’d be a blessing to others?  What would we do?

What have we done?

God didn’t puppeteer, in this instance; didn’t reach down and frog-march Abram off into the land that God has designated.  God called, and Abram chose what his father hadn’t.  And Abram was blessed.

God blessed Abram: God opened the door to possibility, of being a great nation, of an increased blessing over the course of generations.  And Abram chose to walk through the door.

Do we?  Do we accept the open doors, the opportunities of discipleship?  Do we accept the promise of presence and increased blessing; of increased opportunity?  Do we accept to open doors ourselves, to make ways for others?  Or do we say “thy will and here’s how!”

We are blessed, each time we hear a need and think, “someone should do something about that.”  And a door opens.

We are blessed each time we are invited to witness pain and vulnerability in others, or invite someone to witness ours; each time we are able to take a stand for our faith, even if it invites ridicule; each time an opportunity arises, and a door opens, and we may choose, or not, to be blessed, and to bless others.

We are blessed, if we can hear God’s call; if we can hear the still, small voice speaking amid the words of our own prayers.  We are blessed if we can stop making suggestions and start taking them.

We are blessed even if we, like Abram, don’t really understand in the moment what it is that we are being called to do.  Even if we don’t know where the open door will lead, but we choose to trust, to walk through the door, to take the first step.

We are blessed, not because of what we have, but because of what we might do.  Because we are called, invited by God to the opportunities of discipleship and servanthood; to the presence of the swirling Spirit and the love that conquers death.

In Lent, we are called to be more present to God’s presence in the world: to empty ourselves of distractions – our suggestions to God – and allow room for God to move and speak.  To pray familiar prayers, and then listen for a response; to see God’s movement in human hands, and human voices, and human actions; to count our blessings, not in things but in actions.  We are to count our call, our opportunities to show God’s love in this world: the opportunities to bring God’s kingdom, to bring the promise of new life; the opportunities to be blessed, and to be a blessing to others.

God called Abram, at the age of  75, into the wilderness, with just the promise of blessing.

And Abram said yes.

May we be so blessed: may we be such a blessing.

Thy will be done, O God.

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