By Mary Simonson Clark
RCL Reflection, Second Sunday in
Lent, Year A
Click here for the lessons
March 5, 2023
[The Lord said to Abraham], “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.” -Genesis 12:2
God’s promise to Abraham (when his name was still Abram), “I will bless you, … so that you will be a blessing,” provides a foundation for stewardship. Like Abraham, God blesses us, not so we can sit back, content in our circumstances. God calls us to take risks and steward our resources as we travel through life so that our neighbors are blessed. God remains with us throughout these all-encompassing journeys. And, as with Abraham, it’s only by God’s grace that our stewardship brings blessings to all people.
Some scholars emphasize Abraham and Sarah’s childlessness, stressing that Abraham’s accomplishments did not birth a nation through which all people would be blessed—rather, it was God acting in their barrenness that bore blessings. In Romans, Paul reiterates that it was not Abraham’s own righteousness that led to the blessing. The promise came because of Abraham’s faith. Paul summarizes, “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.”
God’s promise to Abraham of a life of blessing included the instruction to embark on a risky journey away from the familiar and into the unknown. To remain in what might have felt safe would have resulted in continued barrenness and hopelessness. This insight may reassure people who hesitate to leave “safe,” known ministries and/or who feel inadequate for seemingly risky stewardship ventures. Taking some risks may be necessary in stewarding God’s gifts to bear hope and blessings for our neighbors.
The psalm promises God’s people that the Almighty is always present during our ministry journeys that may include adventures, challenges, and resistance. God, who keeps us, “will neither slumber nor sleep.” God accompanied Abraham in his risky journey, and the psalmist reassures us that, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”
The alternative Gospel offering for Lent 2A, Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, offers some additional insights on the theme of blessed to be a blessing. As with the psalm’s promise of God’s accompaniment, Christ safely keeps the disciples in their journey as they are going up and coming down the mountain. Jesus doesn’t chastise the disciples for their “barren” understanding, nor does he allow them to sit back in the transfiguration glory by remaining on the mountaintop. Instead, Christ leads them back into daily journeys and ministries that bear blessings to people through sharing messages of life and love, rather than judgement and law. It’s throughout our entire—sometimes mundane—daily lives that we steward all our God-given gifts to be blessings for the world. As Luther writes, “A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all” (Freedom of a Christian).
A sermon might highlight your congregation’s “dutiful lives” of prayer, studies, worship, fellowship, youth events, caregiving, etc., which steward God’s gifts and, thereby, bless members by meeting their needs. You could focus on specific ministries related to the readings as well as your context and gifts. These may be blessings for people who are immigrants, new community members, or in need of shelter, as well as for folks journeying to military deployment, jobs, education, or camp. They might support people experiencing childlessness/infertility, miscarriages, intensive care nurseries, children’s deaths, or foster care and adoption.
You might conclude with “blessed to be a blessing” in the reading from John. Nicodemus, barren of sufficient understanding and belief, seeks Christ—as people still seek him. We can affirm that Christ doesn’t condemn by the law; Christ fulfills God’s life-giving promise. We’re stewards who are blessed to share God’s grace-filled promise of blessing to anyone who, like Nicodemus may come in “darkness” seeking to understand—and with everyone.
To symbolize “blessed to be a blessing” you might use your congregation’s procedure for lighting worshipers’ individual candles on Christmas Eve. While each person lights the next person’s candle they could say, “You are blessed to be a blessing.” Alternatively, parishioners could make the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads while sharing this same message. Or, if you taught the blessing sign during the children’s sermon (see “With children” below and/or here), worshipers can tell each other, “You’re a blessing!” while signing “blessing.”
A chorus in Mendelssohn’s Elijah (Op. 70, 1846) is based on the psalm and repeats, “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps.” If your congregation’s choir has prepared this previously, perhaps they could share it again now. You can view the music and lyrics in Hymnary.org and the Texas A&M University Century Singers performing this chorus on YouTube. Hymnary.org provides an extensive list of hymns for this Sunday. Closing worship with the hymn, “Sent Forth by God’s Blessing,” from Evangelical Lutheran Worship could fitting.
Wikimedia Commons has relevant public domain artworks you might show. These include “God Calleth Abraham,” “Journey of the Family of Abraham,” “Jesus and Nicodemus,” and “Visit of Nicodemus to Christ.”
Here is an activity to help youth think about their blessings and how they can share them with other people. Begin by cutting strips of paper about 8.5 inches by 1 inch. Gather fine-tip markers and paper clips.
Read Genesis 12:1-4A and ask the youth what God’s blessing promise meant for Abraham and the world. Invite them to think of how they are blessed. Give each youth two strips of paper. On one strip, ask them to write, “I am blessed by ___” and then complete the sentence with a way they feel blessed. On the other strip have them write, “I can be a blessing by ___” and complete the sentence with a way they can be a blessing to other people. Youth can sign their names if they want. Using paper clips, form paper loops and link the two loops together symbolizing “blessed to be a blessing.”
Encourage youth to find other participants who feel similarly blessed or with whom they might be a blessing. Have them open and re-link their paper loops together in ways their blessings correlate. Several loops can link in one loop thereby forming groups, networks, and/or a web. Discuss their insights about receiving and being blessings. Display the linked blessings networks or web where the congregation can view it.
You might use this idea to discuss blessings during a children’s message. Ask the children, “What’s a ‘blessing’?” After some responses, explain that blessings may give us things we need and help us. Say, “Today, we’ll hear about a man named Abraham. God told Abraham God would bless him. God also told Abraham that through him everyone in the world would be blessed! That’s a lot of blessings! Guess what else. You can be a blessing, too! You’re a blessing when you’re kind and help people. Everyone can be a blessing. God wants us to be blessings for each other!”
Explain, “We can remind each other God wants us to be blessings. Let’s learn a sign for ‘blessing.’ Touch your thumbs and fists to your mouth. Then, open your hands and turn them downward. Move your hands outward and wiggle your fingers. [Repeatedly demonstrate this motion as shown here.] Now, look at the person next to you and say, ‘You’re a blessing’ and use your hands for the sign ‘blessing.’”
“Let’s pray. Thank you, God, for blessings! Help me to be a blessing. Amen.”
Say, “Go back to your seats and tell someone they’re a blessing. Remember to use your hands to sign ‘blessing’!”
Mary Simonson Clark, a freelance writer and researcher, works as a field instructor in the Social Work Department of Augsburg University, Minneapolis, and as facilitator in Christian Education and Dismantling Racism courses at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.