It is one of the fundamental “laws” of God’s universe: If we don’t pass on the blessing we’ve received— we lose the blessing. Jesus makes it clear that loving God will translate into loving one’s neighbor. The theme “blessed to be a blessing” is part of Abraham’s call, and is woven throughout the Bible. (Genesis 12:3: …through you I will bless all the nations.”) Even the religious practices take a backseat to the importance of expressing our love for God through love for neighbor. Micah 6:6-8 rings down through the centuries:
With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Lest I fail to “get” what the priorities are, Jesus paints a picture of the last judgment when “the nations” are called upon to account for themselves. For us as Christian Americans, tempted to put our building of our church structures, organizations, and our way of doing things before the mission of showing up for those who live on the margins, this is a sobering scene:
Matthew 25:34-40 (TEV)
Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’
The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’
The scene ends with those who served the “least of these” being ushered into glory, and those who didn’t being cast out of Jesus’ presence.
I don’t want to read these passages as a sort “works” righteousness, but rather an invitation to “grace” driven life that responds with the good work loving God and loving neighbor. I do believe we’ve used “grace” to excuse ourselves from what is so clearly laid out from Genesis to Revelation, that God’s people are expected to be part of God’s solution, not remain part of the problem. The surprise is that as I reach out a helping hand to “the other,” something happens that enriches my life with a purpose and meaning not otherwise available. It’s a healthier way to live, which our medical insurance companies are recognizing. One of the ways I can lower my deductible is to document the ways I connect with others.
Other research demonstrates that not only does service create healthier individual lives; service is transformational for the entire church. What remains fascinating to me was Peter Wagner’s study of healthy churches revealed that if just five percent of the resources and energy is invested outside a local church; the vitality of the church is measurable. A ten percent investment produces even more benefits, including happier and friendlier members. It’s the old truth: You can’t get into as much mischief if you’re busy doing the right thing.
Someone who personifies “blessed to be a blessing” is our friend Odessa Sanden. Alas, Odessa is moving to the tri-cities area in the wonderful state of Washington, but on this last Sunday I’m honored to interview Odessa and talk about her faith journey and serving others. Not to be missed!