Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Counting God's Blessings-- last week's sermon

This past Sunday was my first Sunday back in the pulpit after my hip replacement surgery on June 25th.  It was a blessing to be back in worship!  I took two Sundays off for healing and I continue to take time off from the office, meetings, and visitation.  I was at one church only this past week, Flintstone UMC.  I was able to navigate the area around the pulpit because there are few stairs.  I sat up there and had my walker nearby.  I preached from the pulpit.  I did not go down from that area at all nor did I walk around. Being able to worship in community was truly a blessing on Sunday.

The sermon, "Counting God's Blessings" was based on Ephesians 1:3-14.

The opening hymn was "Blessings" by Laura Story. It was new to most people, so we sat and listened. Though not new to me, it was good to sit and absorb, singing along some, and allowing the words to soak in.

Here is the sermon from Sunday, recognizing that there were some things likely added and/or left out in the moment.

At the end of this post I will add some links for further information on some things I mention in the sermon.

“Counting God’s Blessings”
Ephesians 1:3-14 (CEB)
July 15, 2018 (8th Sunday after Pentecost)
Flintstone UMC

Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. 10 This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. 11 We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. 12 We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. 13 You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. 14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.
In the first verse of this passage we hear “bless”, “blessed”, and “blessing”.  That’s three times in one verse that we hear a version of the word.  Then, throughout the rest of the passage, the ways we are blessed, the blessings are outlined for us.  Among those blessings are: adopted children, redemption/ransomed, forgiveness, inheritance, sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Do you count these things as blessings in your life?  If so, great!  These truly are blessings that we don’t want to ignore or forget.  We want to remember who and whose we are, especially when we come together to worship as a community.  If today these blessings are touching you for the first time, allow them to fall upon you like a gentle rain.  Re-read the passage and be thankful for the blessings mentioned in it.

This passage focuses on God’s actions to and for us, as a gift.  It allows us to celebrate who and whose we are, God’s children.  As we recognize that we are God’s redeemed, adopted, and forgiven children, there is much to celebrate, is there not?!?!  And if we are celebrating who and whose we are, then there is a joy within us, flowing, as we return worship and praise to God, our Creator.

Though this passage in itself contains enough blessings, if I were to ask you to take a moment and count the blessings you’ve experienced this past week, what comes to mind? [Take a moment of silence.]

One of the books I’m working through currently is Embracing Soul Care: Making Space for What Matters Most by Stephen Smith.  This week, I read a chapter on “Beloved Others”.  The author wrote: “Each of us is beloved of God.  Helping others claim and realize their own belovedness is a privilege and sacred responsibility.” (59)  This is why we need community.  In community, among many of the things we do for one another, is that we remind each other who and whose we are.  We point one another back to the Creator, back to the teachings of Jesus, and remind each other that we are beloved children of God.

This past week we went to see the documentary of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood after one of my PT sessions.  I had heard so much about it through social media that I wanted to go see it. 

Who grew up on Mr. Rogers?  Who has seen the documentary? 

Except for being slightly uncomfortable because of my hip, it was a very moving and powerful time.

I had not realized growing up all that I was learning while watching the show.  I didn’t realize how radical Fred Rogers was in showing love, God’s love, to all people.  I also didn’t realize that I was learning at a young age about the benefits of silence as a spiritual practice and God’s blessing.  In the documentary, it talked about how Mr. Rogers incorporated silence into his shows. One scene showed him stacking cups.  He looked up and smiled once, but kept stacking the cups.  Another example was when he got an egg timer out to show folks just how long a minute actually was. He considered silence a gift.

I want to be like Fred Rogers.  There are so many of God’s blessings that I see in him and what he stood for.  Primarily, I want to help people know that God loves them, just the way they are.  I want people to know that they are loved by God.  His biblical message was love neighbor and love others.  He had a way of helping others know they were beloved, from the cellist, to the mailman, to the young man in the wheelchair, to all the children in the audiences, to the graduating classes, Fred Rogers’ message was the same (though he might edit the words to fit the person or the situation): “It’s you I like”

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.
But it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

In the book I’m reading that I mentioned earlier, the author states, “When we are told that we are the beloved, we learn to recognize the voice of love that speaks into our hearts. It tells us who we are apart from what we have done or accomplished.  This is joy to our hearts because we all long to know our true selves apart from the many masks we wear throughout our lives.” (60)

Now THAT’S a blessing! To recognize God’s voice, the voice of love that speaks into our hearts, that tells us who we are, apart from what we have done or accomplished.  God did that for Jesus in Mark 1:11 (ESV)—“And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Just as God did that for the son, God does that for us and we can do it for one another. We can remind one another of God’s love.

Think for a moment.  Who in your life has helped you remember God’s blessings, God’s love? Who comes to mind? [Allow a few seconds of silence.]

When we focus on God’s blessings, it doesn’t mean that the difficult times, days, or situations disappear.  We still must go through them. What changes is our frame of mind, our responses, our very being, our focus.  As these things change, we change.  As we change, we grow.   As we grow, we impact the lives of others around us.

Do we celebrate the joy of living as God’s children?  Today’s passage reminds us that we are adopted as God’s children, that we have an inheritance. What joy!  What a blessing!

Once we realize that we truly are beloved, adopted children of God, blessed with an inheritance in Christ, what do we do with that truth?

If we follow the example of Mr. Rogers, we share it with every person with whom we come in contact, no matter who, no matter where, no matter what, no matter when.  We want them to know that THEY MATTER.

YOU MATTER.  Do you believe that?

Look around you this morning.  This gift of mattering to God doesn’t start and stop with us individually.  We are connected to one another in community. Yet, there are some people who don’t understand that they matter.  They don’t quite get it. 

How can you and I share the hope and joy of God’s blessings so that others know that they too are richly blessed, adopted, graced, and have an inheritance of love in Jesus Christ?

Imagine God working in and through each of us to share the love and light of Jesus Christ with each and every person, including those we’ve given up on or see as hopeless or unworthy. 

What would it look like to live out 1 John 4:19 which reminds us that, “We love because [God] first loved us.”?

What would the ripple effect of God’s blessings be in our congregation, in our community, in our schools, in our work places, in our families?

May God show us the way.


Here are some video clips that are also seen in the documentary.

The first one is Jeff in his wheelchair and "It's You I Like".

This next video is an entire episode, "Mr. Rogers talks about Love". If you go to 25.56 you see the portion they showed in the documentary when the police officer Mr. Clemmons came by.

This is actually the 2nd time Mr. Clemmons joined Fred in the kiddie pool, the first time being 24 years earlier, at a time when there were folks against mixed swimming.  This was a radical move on Mr. Rogers' part.  He often showed radical love.

If you haven't seen the documentary that's out yet, I recommend it.  Here is a trailer for the documentary.

Blessings on your journey,


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