“You have been blessed, so richly blessed, by a God who continues to bestow upon you blessing upon blessing. Share what you have with others.” Photo: Shutterstock
This past week we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, which in places like New York and Chicago, includes the largest parades in North America. Several years ago, I read an article about two Irishmen who set up a company in order to sell genuine Irish dirt to Americans. The two men claimed the demand for Irish dirt was phenomenal, beyond their wildest expectations. In a very short time they managed to sell well over one million dollars of dirt. One elderly New York businessman placed a $100,000 order so he could be fully buried in genuine Irish soil. Obviously, that man was very homesick. His body was in New York, but his heart was in Ireland.
That happens to many people who are transplanted to another country. You miss the sights and sounds and perhaps even the dirt of home. How many Canadians do we know who come from some other part of the world, love this country, but still feel a bond with their homeland?
When I was ministering in New Jersey, I got to know a lovely Canadian couple who joined the parish. He had been transferred to the States by his company, but his wife couldn’t wait to return to Canada. It was her home, her native land, and she missed it. So when he finally retired, sure enough they moved back to Canada and are now happily living in Oakville.
There is something about home, isn’t there? I suspect the people of southwestern Ontario know this, since so few seem to have lived anywhere else. Home sweet home – it’s where the heart is.
Our story from the book of Genesis is about a couple who were called to leave home. Their names were Abram and Sarai. We know them, of course, as Abraham and Sarah. More than 1,700 years before the time of Jesus, God came to Abram and gave him a command and a promise: “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.”
Abram was a wealthy landowner living in what is now Iraq. He had family, friends, and an honored place in the community. This was no small demand that God was laying on him. And it certainly could not have been easy for Sarai his wife, either. Often moving is more difficult for the spouse, or for the children, than it is for the one who has been called to leave to go to a new place. God told Abram to leave his home. That must have been difficult for both Abram and Sarai. However, when God spoke, Abram obeyed. It is one of the most important statements in the Bible: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…”
It would be impossible to overstate the significance of Abram’s step of faith for the subsequent history of the world. Three great world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, trace their roots back to Abram’s act of obedience. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him…” This is what faith is all about. God speaks, we obey. We don’t say, “I can’t do it right now” or “I can’t afford it” or “My friends won’t approve.” God speaks. We obey. Faith is much more than belief. Jesus said that even the demons believe in God. Faith is action. Faith is trusting God even when God calls us to do something against our own self-interest. Faith is obedience to God, no matter what.
When Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933, many German Christians refused to cooperate. One of these was Martin Niemoeller, a Lutheran pastor. He was put in prison for his disobedience. Someone said to his father, “Mr. Niemoeller, it must be a terrible thing to have your son put in prison by the Nazis.” Mr. Niemoeller answered, “Yes, but it would be a much more terrible thing if God wanted someone to do it and my Martin was not willing.”
We really should talk about the cost of committing ourselves to Jesus. So many people today think they can follow Jesus without it making a difference in the way they live their lives. That’s absurd. I still have in my prayer book a card a dear friend sent several years ago. The card reads: “God’s will. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.”
God told Abram to leave his home and go to a new country. God spoke and Abram obeyed. Sometimes obedience is difficult for us. We second-guess God, or hold back on our commitment, or try to do things our way. But in the end, the only way to be an effective Christian is to give God your all – to trust God – to obey God – to surrender to God – to do what God calls us to do and to go where God calls us to go. If we spend our lives refusing to do what God asks us to do, we will never fulfill our potential as Christians.
One of the most difficult things for many quarterbacks in the National Football League to accept is that quite often the coach calls the plays. Even when the coach is highly respected, quarterbacks will sometimes admit that their pride tells them that they should be able to call their own plays for the team. And yet, some of the most successful quarterbacks in professional football have accepted the fact that the coach calls the plays.
Take Roger Staubach, for example. He led the Dallas Cowboys to an NFL championship in 1971. Mike Towle, writes in Roger Staubach: Captain America, that at first Staubach had trouble when Coach Tom Landry sent in every play, but he learned to accept it. In later reflecting on his professional career as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game, Staubach said, “I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey there was harmony, fulfillment and victory.”
Abram obeyed and God fulfilled his promise to make of Abram a great nation. But one thing more needs to be said. God called Abram to be a blessing to others. Whenever Abram’s descendants – whether they are Jews, Muslims or Christians – cease to be a blessing to others, they are ultimately disobedient to God.
Now we have to be careful. The notion of being obedient to God can be tragically abused. There are people who have done terrible things in this world and they have explained it like this: God told me to do it. Dear people: mark this down and never forget it: If you hear a voice and it tells you to do something hateful, something violent, something that brings pain to others, then that is not the voice of God. That is the voice of the Evil One. God calls us to be a blessing to our family, to our neighbors, to our church, and to the world as a whole. As St. Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ…And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” That’s who we are and what we are about: God has blessed us so that we may be a blessing to others.
In Some Things Are Too Good to Be True, James Moore tells a story about four angels who witnessed creation.
The first angel observed God’s handiwork in awe and said: “Lord, your creation is beautiful! How did you do it?” That’s the worldview of a scientist.
The second angel said, “Lord, your creation is beautiful! Why did you do it?” That’s the worldview of a philosopher.
The third angel said, “Lord, your creation is beautiful! Can I have it?” That’s the worldview of a materialist.
Finally, the fourth angel said, “Lord, your creation is beautiful! Can I help?” That’s the worldview of God’s faithful.
That is the kind of obedience God honors. God told Abram to leave his home and God made Abram a promise and an assignment – that he would be blessed so that he would bless others.
Dear people: Do hear God saying that to you now? You have been blessed, so richly blessed, by a God who continues to bestow upon you blessing upon blessing. Share what you have with others. Give yourselves generously in service. Step out in faith and enter into that peace which consists in having put yourself in God’s hands. You will experience blessing upon blessing as you bless those around you, those you love, those who need your love, and those whom God loves. Yes, we are blessed so that we might be a blessing to others, and in so doing we bless the whole world.
— The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.