Be A Blessing

Matthew 3:13-17  verse 17  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

There are a lot of things we can choose to be in this life.  And the thing I want to encourage us all to choose today and every day hereafter is to be a blessing.  You see, we can choose to be a preacher, choose to be a lawyer, choose to be a business-person, choose to be a ballplayer, choose to be a joke teller.  But the world would be so much better if more of us would choose to be a blessing.  Lots of folks are hung up on acquiring blessings, accumulating blessings, displaying blessings, naming and claiming blessings, calling blessings that be not as though they already were.  But we’d be more like Jesus if instead of hoarding up blessings, we chose to be a blessing instead.  We can choose to be a good dresser, choose to buy a fancy car, choose to live in an upscale neighborhood, choose to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, choose to hang with the pretty and the popular, choose to be a metrosexual male or a diva whose got it going on female.  But imagine if all of us chose to be a blessing.  We can choose to be an adulterer, choose to be a player, choose to be a hater, choose to be violent, choose to be a bad steward of the earth, choose to be mean, choose to be a trash-talker, and choose to be a smart mouth, finger snapping, in your face, talk to the hand cause the face ain’t listening, self-centered, self-absorbed, macho male or female.  But the world has so many of those already that we’re in dire need of people who choose to be a blessing instead.

I’ve been looking back over my life these past few days, thinking of all the people who could have looked down on me but instead were a blessing to me.  I can think of the people from my church back in the day who could have told me that “all them preacher’s kids are the worst kids,” but who instead chose to be a blessing to me.  I can think of the Sunday School teachers who could have talked down to me but instead took time for me and taught me the bible that I still read and still believe to this day.  They chose to be a blessing to me.  They taught me about Moses and David and Deborah and Esther and Paul and Peter and they especially taught me about Jesus.  To this day, folks ask me where I got all my bible knowledge and I tell them that I got it from a bunch of women and men at Redeemer who chose to be a blessing to me, and because of that I can now be a blessing to so many others.  Oh, I want to encourage you to be a blessing today.  You don’t know if the child you teach in VBS might someday become a preacher or a teacher, a doctor who brings healing to people and gives the glory to the God who is the true healer.  You don’t know if the child you teach in Sunday School might someday be in trouble, but they’ll remember that you taught them to memorize a verse of scripture that says, “with God all things are possible.”  Oh, I want to encourage you to be a blessing to someone today.

I can think of the preachers who came to town when I was a little boy, and who could have dismissed me as a little know-it-all kid, they could have neglected me, could have rejected me, could have disregarded me.  But instead they joked with me, they talked to me, they hugged me, they loved me, they prophesied over me, they encouraged me, they told me I could make it.  They chose to be a blessing to me.  In college and in seminary, when I walked in to the office of Dr. Isaac Canales at Fuller Seminary, when I went to Pastor Fuller’s church in South Central LA, when I sat at the feet of Dr. Grant on Tuesday nights, when I went to Shiloh in Trenton to serve under Dr. S. Howard Woodson and Dr. Buster Soaries, and when I went to the denominational headquarters to see Dr. Jesse Miranda or Rev. Calzoncit and every single one of them helped me, smiled at me, took time for me, gave advice to me, pointed me toward scholarship money, toward academic opportunities that I never dreamed of, pointed me toward awards and jobs and preaching points and pastoral openings that turned out to be life-changing for me.  They didn’t have to take the time for just another college kid, just another know-it-all seminary student, just another young preacher with a couple of sermons who thinks he can preach like Paul.  They didn’t have to help me, be invested in me, listen to me, reflect with me, share with me, enlighten me, and encourage me.  But they all chose to be a blessing to me.  And the world would be a whole lot better off if we had more folks who chose to be a blessing.  I am preaching today to encourage us all to make a conscious decision to be a blessing.  I said, be a blessing!

Some folks look for ways to be a blessing.  They’re watching and waiting and hoping for the opportunity to be whatever kind of blessing they can be.  They may not have all these spiritual gifts that get lots of attention and get you on Christian television, but they’re just trying to be a blessing.  One time, and I’ll never forget this, when I was a young college student, just fresh off a preaching tour to Texas and New Mexico, I learned that three of my dearest friends from Texas, Lucy and Paul Garcia, Sr. and Paul Jr., had been in a horrible car accident and Lucy and Paul Sr. had perished.  And perhaps I hadn’t learned how to grieve at that young age, maybe didn’t know how to be anything but concerned with my own happiness and interests.  But that shook me up.  And it was a day later in church, standing over there and worshipping, singing songs to the Lord, that’s when the loss hit me like a ton of bricks.  I cried like a baby, and rather than let anyone see me crying like that, I slipped out the side aisle and went to the lobby of the church to be alone.  But there was a lady in the church, sister ChaCha, who was watching me, waiting for an opportunity to be a blessing to me.  She wasn’t an educated woman, wasn’t a Ph.D. in counseling, wasn’t an expert in grief and loss.  She wasn’t a preacher or a prophet, not a pastor nor a priest.  But she was watching me, waiting, hoping for an opportunity to someday be a blessing to me.  And from the other side of the sanctuary she saw me slip out unnoticed in the middle of praise up the side aisle to the back lobby.  So she went up her own side aisle to join me in the lobby of the church.   And I imagine that when she got there, she saw this young preacher crying and praying, angry at God, confused, frustrated, praying things like, “how could you let this happen, God?  Where were you?  Of all the people in the world, Lord, why them?”  And sister Cha-Cha, again, not an expert in grief studies but a Christian woman who had been through some things and was still going through some things, but who just wanted to be a blessing.  She sat down next to me and held my hand and prayed with me, told God to help me, told God to love me, told God to speak to me through my pain the same way God had spoken to her through her pain.  Oh saints, you don’t have to be a preacher to be a blessing.  You don’t have to be a pastor to be a blessing.  You don’t have to be a singer to be a blessing.  You don’t have to be a counselor to be a blessing. You don’t have to be an associate pastor to be a blessing.  But you can be a blessing if you choose to be a blessing.  You don’t have to evangelize like Paul, or prophesy like Isaiah or deliver like Esther or heal like Elisha.  You don’t have to sing like Miriam or dance like David, or be judge like Deborah or weep like Jeremiah.  But you can be blessing.  I don’t remember all or maybe even much of what Sister Cha-Cha said to me after she prayed with me that day.  But what I do know is that she was a blessing to me, she tried to be a blessing to me, she tried to encourage me, she tried to help me, she prayed for me.  Somebody prayed for me, had me on their mind, took the time and prayed for me.  I’m so glad she prayed, I’m so glad she prayed, I’m so glad she prayed for me.  And the bottom line is she was a blessing to me!  Oh saints of the most high God, be a blessing today!  Be a blessing!

I’m looking at Jesus in this text, seeing him at a memorable moment in the life of a young believer, his baptism by John the Baptist in the river Jordan.  And the voice came down from heaven, the scripture says, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  There are ways to be a blessing.  My brother Jonathan was working two jobs while I was going to college, and he would see me after a football game sometimes when every one else was going to Tommy’s to celebrate and I didn’t have any money, and he would slip me a $10 bill and say, “Consider this a scholarship.”  Be a blessing.  Sister Ruth Davila, one of the senior saints in the Spanish congregation here, she didn’t have much, but when I would come home from Princeton between semesters, she used to give me $5 and she’d say, “por un hamburger de In-N-Out.”  And she still sends me a Christmas card every year and in it is a $5 bill.  And I take it and go down to Dalessandro’s and buy a cheesesteak every year in her honor.  Different ways to be a blessing.  Sometimes giving a little money to some college student is a huge blessing.  College students never have any money anyway.  And they’re trying so hard to get through, to make it to the next level.  And whether you remember what it was like and choose to be a blessing to them, or if you never went to college but want to be a blessing to someone so they can rise a little higher than you did, travel a little farther, make it a little better for them than you had it, than be a blessing!

Sometimes we give gifts to people to be a blessing.  When my brothers and I graduated from USC, mom gave us miniature trophies of Tommy Trojan with our name, year and degree of study on it.  It showed her pride in the accomplishment, and communicated her blessing to us.  When my wife graduated Temple University after transferring three times, twice on my account to follow my pastoral call, first to Jersey where she started up at Seton Hall and then after I got her pregnant and she gave birth to our first child and she was still going to school, then we moved to Philly and she started at Temple and I got her pregnant again, and after working full time for the last year of classes, raising two kids, being first lady at the church and still graduating Summa Cum Laude from Temple, I wanted to be a blessing to her the same way my family was a blessing to each other when we graduated.  And I bought her a Temple Owl that was twice as big as my Tommy Trojan with her name and year and degree of study on it, to show her how proud I was not only of what she had done but how she had done it.  Different ways to be a blessing.  And let me get off the freeway here for just a second, but let me say that it doesn’t matter how long it takes young people.  It doesn’t matter how many detours you have to take, how many audibles you have to call at the line of scrimmage, how many timeouts you have to use up.  You keep going on.  In Spanish we have a saying, No page, sigue, sigue!  Don’t stop!  Keep on keeping on!  I come to tell you, you can make it!  Don’t give up!  Don’t let Satan stop you. You can make it.

Looking at Jesus, and how his Father was a blessing to him in Matthew chapter 3, perhaps we all learn more about how we, too, can be a blessing to each other.  Surely, I desire that all our fathers would seek to be a blessing to their children, and there is no better example of fatherly blessing than watching God as the father of Jesus.  But all of us can be a blessing today, and all of us can examine the blessing that God the father was to Jesus the Son in this text and emulate that for ourselves with all around us.

Firstly, God was there.  When Jesus was being baptized, when he went through a religious rite of passage, when he was growing up, when he was developing, God was there.   And perhaps it can’t be said enough how important it is to be a presence in the lives of young people.  One reason everybody ought to go to church even when you’re elderly is to be involved in the lives of young people, to encourage them, to watch them, to cheer them on and to be a blessing to them.  Every time I go to Springside School to see my children perform or recite or play in a game, I’m trying to be a blessing to them.  I’m letting them know that I love them and that they’re important to me, and that I’m interested in their lives and their development and their growth and their maturity.  I know I’ve got a whole lot of grandparents and uncles and aunts and moms and dads who make every effort to get out of work early, cancel a lunch engagement, schedule your week around going to some small elementary school for that class play, for that chorus concert, for that junior orchestra performance, for that lacrosse game.  And the blessing communicated, when that child comes out on stage and looks out into the audience and sees mom and dad, grandma or grandpa, uncle or aunt, pastor or church member, see them out there waving at them trying to get their attention for a wave back.  And sometimes there’s the sadness of seeing a child with no one to wave to.  At my daughter’s school, they often offer two performances, one late in the afternoon and one in the morning so that parents and family have a chance to go to one if they can’t make the other.  But at that performance when that parent can’t make it, if I know that kid even a little bit and they don’t have someone to wave to, I’ll be there calling out their name, cheering them on, clapping for them, looking for them after the performance.  Just trying to be a blessing, letting them know someone loves them, someone is cheering for them, hoping the best for them.

I try to go to all the graduations that I can so that I can communicate the blessing to my young people, that I’m proud of them, that I care about them, that I wish them well for their future.  And sometimes, the school districts don’t check my calendar before they schedule their commencement exercises, and I wind up with two graduations at the same time, and I can’t make one or the other.  Sometimes they move them indoors for inclement weather and don’t have enough tickets to let the Rev. in, and I’ll be outside the gymnasium with my wife trying to sneak in, praying for them, thanking God for them.  Sometimes, they won’t move it into the gymnasium even if it’s pouring rain, and I’ll still be out there in the stands with my family and a broken umbrella, cheering when they say their name.  And when I look at this text, and know that God had plenty of folks to watch over, plenty of people to show up for, plenty of other prayers to be listening to, to know that God made the time to be there for Jesus’ baptism, to know that he made an effort, to know that nothing could keep him from being there, he was going to be there to communicate the blessing to his son, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

I was in high school my junior year, and in the last semester one of the graduating senior students went through the horrible ordeal of learning that her mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was in the hospital.  And maybe graduating high school doesn’t mean much to some, but to first generation immigrants who came to this country hoping their children could have a chance at the American dream, this was big stuff.  And at that graduation ceremony, I’ll never forget it, even though she was too sick to get out of bed, that mother had an ambulance bring her from the hospital to the football field and open up the back doors of that ambulance so she could hear them call her daughter’s name and see her walk across that platform and get her diploma, so her daughter would know that her mother was there, that she was proud of her daughter, that she loved her daughter.  I’m talking about being a blessing.  Be a blessing by being there, beloved.  If you can cheer them on, if you can watch them grow, if you can pat them on the back, if you can yell their name, whatever you can do, but be there.  Be there and be a blessing.

I had a lot of uncles and aunts who used to go to my games and concerts, but you always knew when Uncle Manuel was there because he always said something that every one could hear.  “All right way to go, that’s my nephew!” Look again at the text with me and see not only that God was there and that itself was a blessing, but that God said something to Jesus.  He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Oh how many times we use our words to wound and not to heal.  To hurt and not to help.  To break up instead of bind up.  Our words are a powerful thing, beloved.  We can bless or we can curse.  We can speak death or we can speak life.  We can be nasty or we can be loving.  My admonishment, my encouragement to you today is that we’ll be a blessing with our presence and a blessing with our words.  God had prophesied many a time to the generations of stiff-necked people who rebelled against him, he had spoken disciplines to them, spoken judgment to them, spoken punishments to them. But still, after all that, after his children choosing other gods, after they followed the ethics or lack thereof of the prevailing societies, after they had abandoned the commandments that God had given them, still here is God giving his only begotten son for you and for me, so that if we just believed in him we could have everlasting life, we could be reconciled to God, we could be back in right fellowship, restored the relationship, healed the wounds and saved our souls.  When God sent his only begotten son, Jesus, he said to him “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”  He didn’t say all the things humanity had done wrong.  He said, “this is my beloved son.”  He didn’t say, “These lousy humans have never been faithful.”  He said, “This is my beloved son.”  He chose to be a blessing.  He chose to speak life.  He chose to be positive instead of negative.  And how important it is to hear words of life instead of death.  How important to hear from your sister or your brother, fro your trustee or your deacon, from your choir director or your usher, words of encouragement, words of praise, words that pick you up, words that lift you up, words that won’t let you stay down, words that love you and words that build you.

I told you earlier about my friends in Texas, Paul and Lucy Garcia.  And I’m still very good friends with Paul Jr., we talk every month or so, email, Facebook, text.  We talked once a while ago about his parents, and he said to me that he had learned something from their death that both haunted him and that he used as motivation for the rest of his life.  See, he was only 11 or 12 years old when his parents were killed in that car accident.  And he told me that he can’t remember ever having told his parents that he loved them.  He heard them tell him all the time, and it gives him great comfort to this day.  But it troubled him that he couldn’t recall telling them.  So I asked him, “how do you deal with that?”  And he said, “I learned to make sure I tell the people I love that I love them every day.  Every chance I get, I make sure my wife knows, my children know, my sisters and brothers know that I love them.  I tell them.”  He’s being a blessing to them every time he tells them.

Oh, maybe you can’t be Yolanda Adams, singing songs that bless millions.  But everyone can be a blessing to someone.

Maybe you can’t be TD Jakes preaching sermons and writing books that bless millions, but everyone can be a blessing to someone.

If you can’t be Gardner Taylor, if you can’t be Andrae Crouch , if you can’t be Barack Obama, you can still be a blessing to someone.

If you can’t be slim, if you can’t be tall, if you can’t be cut, if you can’t have it all, if you can’t be hot, if you can’t be cool, if you can’t be fresh, if you can’t make ‘em drool, then just be a blessing to someone.

You don’t have to be Moses parting the Red Sea,

Or Joshua knocking down walls,

Or David slaying Goliath,

But be a blessing.

You may not heal lepers, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, make the dead rise, but be a blessing.

Oh saints, make the decision today to be a blessing.  Be blessing!  Not a hater, not a nay-sayer, not a complainer.  Be a blessing!  Encourage people.  Be a blessing.  Love people.  Be a blessing.  Tell them you love them, tell them they’re wonderful.  Tell them you admire them.  Tell them how great they are.  Be a blessing.

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