Blessed to be a Blessing
The following was the sermon preached at my Installation service at First Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho by my good friend and colleague Katie Day of Jacksonville, FL.
“Blessed to Be a Blessing”
by Rev. Katie Day
for the Installation of Dr. Andrew Kukla
First Presbyterian Church of Boise, Idaho
October 14, 2012
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.
2 Corinthians 4:6-10
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
What a journey this has been!
This is the beautiful thing about the Presbyterian call process:
that an associate pastor and his family in Florida can somehow hear the call to get up and go,
and a church clear on the other side of the country has also heard the call
to leave what they know and seek something new that God will show them,
and somehow the associate pastor and the congregation who are on opposite sides of the country,
many miles and two time zones and mountains and deserts separating them
somehow God managed to get them together.
What a gift. What a blessing.
What a journey.
Not to mention that the pastor’s former congregation were never quite sure where exactly he was going,
some thought he was going to Iowa (point to yourself, silly)
some knew he was going to Idaho and believed it to be in the Midwest
some thought it was so nice that in Iowa or Idaho he’d be closer to his family in Illinois
Let’s just say Floridians aren’t super good at geography.
Map-reading skills notwithstanding,
I bring greetings and hugs and lots of well wishes from Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville!
The Kuklas are well-loved by folks there,
by me and the other clergy and staff, and by all the members of our congregation,
and I have specific instructions for you all to take good care of them.
because it has been quite a journey getting here.
Our text from Genesis features another family who heard the call to get up go.
Quite out of the blue one day, Abram hears God’s voice telling him to go,
and not just to go but to leave,
leave your country, your extended family, your home and lands,
leave your friends, dig up your roots, pack up your house,
Go to a place that I will show you.
Leave practically everything you know for something entirely unknown.
It sounds a bit insane actually, when you really think about it.
And God makes all kinds of promises to sweeten the deal:
I will make a great nation out of you
I’ll bless you
I’ll make your name great
You will be a blessing.
The journey is costly.
For Abram and Sarai, leaving their family meant leaving
their source of identity, their economic security, their protection.
And because we are told earlier in Genesis that Abram and Sarai are unable to have children,
those family ties mean even more.
So God steps into that role:
I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you.
I will be your family now, and I will make you a bigger, broader family than you ever imagined.
In fact, all the families of the world will be blessed because of you.
In this moment, Abram has to make a choice.
We don’t get to see his thought process, the late night conversations with Sarai,
does he seek advice from his friends, his brothers?
Does he make a list of pros and cons?
Does he check God’s references?
Or maybe it was far simpler than that.
We don’t know.
The text simply reads, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”
I want to believe that Abram went because when God started making promises,
it was no longer just about Abram.
God’s first promise is about a great nation to come – not about an individual man.
And God’s promise ends with all the families on earth being blessed.
How could Abram not go?
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he names that
the God who calls us, who gives us faith and the ability to trust
is the God who created the heavens and the earth,
the same God who said “Let there be light” and there was light.
God – mighty, powerful, universe-creating God –
is also concerned with our fragile little human lives.
Paul writes it beautifully – we have this treasure
in clay jars to show that this extraordinary power comes from God and not from us.
(Tell story about eating dinner with the Kuklas at Chick-fil-A – it was chaos but a delightful slice of the everyday life of authentic people/parents.)
The treasure, Paul writes, is
“the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Which I believe is fancy Paul-talk for the brilliant truth that
the universe-creating God loves us deeply enough to dwell with us on earth in the person of Jesus,
calling us to follow, blessing us, and through us, blessing others.
And the clay jars – well, we’re fragile.
Abram and Sarai were fragile.
They were old, and the journey is perilous.
And it wasn’t just that their bodies were fragile:
Abram and Sarai had some dark moments on the journey –
they lied about being married, said they were siblings,
and 2 different kings believed them and took Sarai to wife.
later, when God explained the promise a bit more and said it would include children,
they tried to manipulate God’s promise, using Sarai’s slavewoman to create a child.
But God overcame.
Again and again, God overcame the mistakes,
the lying, cheating, and impatience.
The treasure is in clay jars to show that the power comes from God and not from us.
Again and again, God chooses to work through fragile, broken human beings,
and that again and again, God overcomes our fragility and brokenness,
and does amazing, extraordinary, powerful things.
And on the journeys that are both costly and perilous,
just like Abram and Sarai, we may face all kinds of afflictions, confusion, and persecution.
Because any time anyone gets involved in doing God’s work, there is real life, abundant life at stake,
which means that death is never far away.
Any pastor can tell you that. Any congregation knows that.
Whenever people gather together and commit to sharing life together,
there is joy and also pain, there is much helping and also some hurting,
there is life and there is death.
And sometimes it is in the dark places, the hurting and painful places
that we can most clearly see God’s light shining.
Sometimes it is enough to know
that God is present with us in the darkness.
And Abram went, just as God told him.
Because it was no longer just about Abram and Sarai,
but God was calling them to go, to make the journey,
because through them,
all the families of the world would be blessed.
Our God is a big picture God,
and Abram and Sarai were invited to take the long view and to trust in the big picture, as well.
And that’s where I think you are today.
Some of you might have been thinking that
this whole journey of Abram and Sarai that I’ve been talking about
is all about Andrew and Caroline and their children getting the call to leave Florida
and to trust God and to go to Idaho and now that they’re here
(and with 4th child Danielle coming next month
they are clearly on their way to fulfilling God’s promise
to have descendants that outnumber the stars),
well now…the journey’s over and everyone can party together in the promised land!
I’m sorry to let you down, but I don’t think that’s true.
I believe that the real journey is actually beginning right NOW.
And it’s not just Andrew whom God is calling; it’s ALL of you.
And now that you’re together, the adventure can truly begin,
if you’re ready to respond to the call.
Where will God lead you?
What will transpire on the way?
What new things will be created on your journey?
What promises will be fulfilled?
How will brokenness and fragility manifest?
How will both death and life be visible?
How will be blessed?
How will you bless others?
Abram and Sarai, you may remember, were deeply changed by their journey,
so much so that God changed their names,
and they become Abraham and Sarah.
May you respond to God’s call with a resounding YES.
May you set off together on a journey that is beyond any expectation.
May you experience the deep and abiding presence of a God who loves you
more that you can imagine.
May you take care of one another, and bless one another,
and take risks together, and make mistakes together.
May you truly know one another, and risk being known,
daring to be your truest selves.
and may you be transformed,
deeply changed from the knowing.
Blessings on your journey.