October 30, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
St. Luke’s UMC
October 29, 2023
The Blessed Life
A Meaningful Life
Today we begin a series on stewardship (Michael plays). In spite of our organist’s participation, stewardship should not be a scary thing! In fact, to talk about stewardship is to talk about blessing.
In January of this year the Gallup Poll did a study that found over 50% of Americans say they feel very satisfied. And when you include those who say they feel at least somewhat satisfied the percentage rises above 80%! 1
At the same time a Harris Poll found that those who say they are happy is less than one-third, and it is going down.2 One poll conducted last year even showed that Americans’ happiness is at an all-time low.3
Now how do you make sense of that? Satisfaction going one way and happiness another? Well, I am not a social psychologist, and I don’t play one on TV. But I am pastor, and when I see words like happiness and satisfaction, and particularly what moves a person from one place to another I think of the term blessing. The spiritual fulcrum, if you will, that shifts the weight from happiness to satisfaction is the concept of blessing.
The Hebrew word for blessing is berakah = blessing, something that is associated with prosperity and life. It can sound like a very selfish word, like what gave rise to a social media movement a few years called #Blessed. People would send photos of something that showed them enjoying some prosperity or gift with the label #Blessed
But we have to remember the word blessing is not a secular term. It belongs in the spiritual lexicon. It describes what God wants for everyone of us. God desires for us to be able to say, “I have a blessed life.” But what produces such a feeling of being blessed is somewhat counter-intuitive. Rather than feeling blessed by what has been given to us, the spiritual understanding of blessing comes from what we give and do.
Jesus said in the Book of Acts, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And in John 13 where he washed the disciples’ feet as an act of service he then said in verse 17, “Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”
So we begin today a series called The Blessed Life. In the next few weeks leading up to the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we will consider what goes into feeling blessed. Today we talk about living a meaningful life.
To help us with that, I want us to think about Rebekah. She was the daughter of a man named Laban, the cousin of Abraham the ancestor of the nation of Israel and also the Palestinian people. Interestingly, these people so divided with each other share the same spiritual heritage, as do we.
Well, when Abraham was about to die he sent his servant back to the land he came from to find a wife for his son Isaac. God’s future promise to Abraham of producing a nation of people would rest on Isaac having a wife. Upon arriving in this land the servant prays a prayer asking that God might lead one of the women who came to the well to show him kindness and offer not only to give him a drink but also to draw water for the thirsty camels. If so, he will know that this is the woman God chooses. As it so happened Rebekah shows up and makes this offer to serve this stranger, and da-bip, da-boop, da-bop, she goes back with the servant and becomes the wife of Isaac.
Now is this story full of paternalism that is a slap in the face to the rights and respect of women today? Of course, but it’s still a good story that offers some powerful lessons and the most powerful is one that is hidden. It is the power of Rebekah’s act. Consider her gesture to draw water for the camels. We learn in this story that there were 10 camels. How much can a thirsty camel drink? About 30 gallons in 15 minutes! How many gallons is that math class? 300 gallons of water! The jar Rebekah carried probably held 3-5 gallons. How many trips is that? Anywhere from 60-100 trips to the well. And how much does a gallon of water weigh? 8 and a third pounds, not including the jar. Once again, math class, how heavy would Rebekah’s jar have been between 25 and 50 lbs! And she carried it 60-100 times!
That was the incredible act she did that is so understated by the phrase, “she drew enough for all his camels.” She made nearly 100 trips carrying 25-50 pounds each time! And for someone she didn’t even know. That is the act of service that she did, and you wonder, how could that be a blessing??!!
Rebekah’s service opened a door to her future. Now, I know this was ancient custom when women didn’t have much say in matters and depended on being married to have a place of value and meaning in life, but that is how it was. I’m not defending history, I’m just reporting it.
So imagine if Rebekah had been about 18 at the time. Most girls at that time married between 12-16. She could have started to feel like her opportunities for a future passed her by. That she was going to become an old maid, and her life at that point was going to be her only life. But her spirit to serve in what may have been a discouraged point in life, gave her a future.
Now, again, I know this is outdated stuff, but here’s where antiquated history becomes modern relevance to our lives, because when we are discouraged, when we feel like we missed out on something, that life has passed us by, it can be easy to turn inward and focus on what we are waiting for someone to do for us not what we can do for others. And this story shows how living with a radical heart for serving, can lead to a new door in our lives.
Many years ago I attended a church conference at New Hope Christian Fellowship Church in Honolulu. In fact, I was thinking the other day that it’s time our staff take a retreat to this church. Well, at the time this church averaged about 10,000 in weekend attendance and what was really unusual is that they didn’t own a building. They met at a high school.
I met their Executive Pastor, Edwin Ahu. (pic) And he shared how he came to be a pastor in the church. He had been a superior court judge in Hawaii. His third marriage was falling apart. He was immensely unhappy and so his assistant kept giving him tapes of the pastor’s sermons from the church she attended, New Hope. Which, the name alone should have intrigued him. But it didn’t. The last thing he wanted was church. He would toss these cassette tapes, that shows how old this story is!, he would toss them in the back seat.
Well one day he was in his car and decided to play a tape. He found the sermon hit him between the eyes. He started listening to more with the same effect. One Sunday he went to worship. He said, “Honestly it wasn’t a great experience. Someone hugged him on the way in. He couldn’t stand being hugged. The music was way too raucous for his liking. But the sermon was good. Enough so he kept returning. He got to where he didn’t mind the hugs. Even kinda liked it.
One Sunday he chose to take a step to get involved. He kept hearing about the need for volunteers so he went to a booth after the service. The person explained all the work that went into transforming the high school into a church each week. He was told, “Show up here at midnight Friday.” So he did. He was given some rubber gloves and a small brush and told to go to the Boys Room. He was assigned to scrub the floor around the toilets.
On his hands and knees, after scrubbing for about an hour, he just thought, “How did my life get here? A judge, scrubbing around toilets in a high school restroom at 1am on Saturday morning! How did I get here!!!” And suddenly he felt what he came to recognize as the voice of God saying to him, “Edwin, this is what I have been doing for you all along. I have been trying to scrub your heart and get rid of all the perfectionism, and anger, and misery.” And he said that toilet became an altar, and he invited Christ into his life.” One thing led to another and he became a pastor.
Serving can become the door that leads to satisfaction, that leads to a life where we can say, “I am blessed.”
But go back to the story of Rebekah and notice something else, something that might seem a little hokey. The servant of Abraham prayed for a woman to offer him and a drink and then offer to draw water for his camels. Of course, as if on cue, Rebekah shows up and makes that offer. It just has that feel like one of those stories where someone driving around the Wal-Mart parking lot and says, “Lord, if you want me to go shopping today then open up a parking space,” and suddenly a car in the very front pulls out.
It just feels a little hokey. But realize this, Rebekah didn’t know that that the servant prayed. She just showed up and did her Rebekah thing. She served. She offered hospitality to a stranger. Radical hospitality wouldn’t you agree!
Fran’s story the other day about being in a hard place and praying “God, I could really some help,” and just then a friend of theirs called saying, “Hey, I want to help you out.”
You see, when we live with a spirit of blessing others we never know when we will be the answer to someone’s prayer. I believe we get these all the time. God puts people on our hearts, reminds us of someone, tugs at us to help someone, and we never know but when we respond, we find out someone else has been praying. Now, we will miss some. We are busy, we are preoccupied, we forget to respond,” but that won’t stop God from sending more signals to us.
If you get a hit just once out of every 4 times at bat you probably keep your job as a professional baseball player. God gives us lots of at-bats. The more we keep swinging, the more hits we experience!
One last thought about Rebekah. She became someone significant in God’s story, but she wasn’t at the time she served. She was just a girl living in the village of Nahor. She must have been raised with an attitude of service and caring for others. In other words, she was anyone. You don’t have to be significant to experience significance. You just have to have a heart that cares about people.
In Martin Luther King’s last sermon he delivered in Ebenezer Baptist Church in February of 1968, he talked about this very idea. He said, “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
At any age in life we can feel insignificant. We can feel that we are forgotten and alone. But when we are generated by love, when we seek to bless others, no matter how small the act, the act is just the means to express care, we find significance. We find meaning.
Today is our Ministry Showcase. It provides many of the ways you can serve through St. Luke’s. The individual ministries are so different. But they have this in common, they offer ways for God to love others through us. And when we offer ourselves we never know what doors it may open or the ways our life can take on new meaning.
That is partly the story of our new Pastor of Visitation, Bryan Smith. He follows Patricia Magyar who had to return to Arizona, and Bryan is going to introduce himself to us and share a little of his journey that brings him here today…