For me, the most difficult thing about writing a devotion or a reflection is coming up with the topic. As soon as I turn in my writing and photo, my usual pattern is to determine the theme for the next TVPrays. Then I let the theme roll around in my mind before typing the first word.
That didn’t happen this time. I sat quietly and tried to discern what might be a good topic. Nothing. I skimmed through several religious and devotional texts that I have, trying to be inspired. Still nothing.
One evening I listened to a podcast in which a climate scientist described the process that firefighters used to blanket the giant sequoias in California to protect them from wildfires. The interviewer asked the scientist what it’s like to stand next to an ancient, 300-foot tree. After thinking for a minute, she said that it is experiencing eternity. Ah, I thought – my topic. Experiencing eternity in this lifetime. I like it, and maybe I’ll use it another time, but still not right.
But then, while waiting for another podcast to begin, the sponsor made a plea for contributions to a charity that cares for Jewish elders. In that message, he urged potential contributors to “be a blessing”. When sitting shiva for a member of the Jewish community, mourners comfort family members and friends by saying, “may her (or his) memory be a blessing.” But in this case, the announcer was urging his listeners to be a blessing by helping others. Now. Don’t wait until you’ve died to have people think kindly of your memory and be blessed by it. Make your entire life a blessing now, not for yourself, but for others.
In our popular culture, it’s easy to think that being a blessing is quite effortless. Go into almost any craft store and you can find a kit or pre-made sign that will remind you that you are blessed or a blessing. Go online to a very popular website featuring handmade items and you will find a special “blessing section”. You can quickly find some home décor that will tell everyone that you and your family are blessed. Of course, there are also many stickers that you can put on your car so that the driver of the car behind you will know just how very special you are – even if you drive like a maniac.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with visible reminders that we are blessed children of God. There are days when we need to be told repeatedly that God loves and blesses us. Being blessed by God is beyond our control; it is a gift that has been freely bestowed on us. But is being a blessing really that easy?
Several years ago, Zion Lutheran Church in Buffalo, Minnesota used “Blessed to be a Blessing” as the theme of its fall stewardship emphasis. Its activities were based on Genesis 12: 2- 3 which reads, in part: “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.” But Zion’s pastor, Ted Vanderpan, reminded the congregation:
The admonition to extend God’s blessings to others through those who are blessed continues in the New Testament. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16) The disciples of Jesus, however, wanted to hoard being blessed to themselves. In the Gospel lesson for this past Sunday (Matthew 9: 38 – 50), the disciples complained to Jesus because someone, not one of them, was claiming to be a blessed disciple. Worse still, that individual was casting out demons in God’s name. Christ reminded them that the blessing of being a child of God was meant to be shared and not kept for oneself. Jesus even went so far as to admonish them (and us) that if anything – even a bodily part – stands in the way of our being a godsend to others, we must get rid of it. We can let nothing prevent us from being a blessing to others.
Being a blessing isn’t easy. It requires us to think of the other, even the one whose bumper stickers may offend us or whose political or social views we find difficult to understand. We live not for ourselves but for the stranger, the grouchy neighbor, the annoying relative, the friend who has betrayed us. God has blessed us and continues to bless us every day. With that support, we can be both blessed and a blessing to others. And for that, Emma, my German grandmother would have said, “Gott sei Dank.” Thanks be to God.