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Our Family Tree – Remembering Our Roots: The Power to Bless

November 10, 2013
Sermon:  Our Family Tree – Remembering Our Roots:  The Power to Bless
Text:  Psalm 103:1-5; Genesis 27:30-38; Luke 15:11-32


Occasionally I buy groceries for Clare, which is always quite an experience.  I often see some of you at the store.  I try really hard not to look at your cart to see its contents.  Many of you, however, have no such qualms about checking my cart to see what items I have.

As I near the check-out lines, I start looking for the one with the fewest customers.  My hope, of course, is that I can finish with this task as soon as possible.  I jockey for position but inevitably choose the line that looks the shortest but is often the slowest.  Someone wants to cash a check or complete some other transaction that takes awhile.  How do I pass the time?  I look at the tabloids and read the headlines.

A short time ago while shopping for groceries, I saw a headline about Kim Kardashian.  I really do not try to keep up with the Kardashian family though I know many of you do.

The lady in line ahead of me commented on the fact that she was planning to get married again.  “This is her third wedding,” the lady lamented.  “She has had such a hard time with her marriages.  Bless her heart.”

The clerk echoed, “Yes, bless her heart.”

“Bless your heart” is a Southern expression of blessing, but what does it mean?  Southerners often use it to soften or disguise an insult.  “Ethel ran off with a highway patrolman.  Bless her heart.”  “Bless his heart.  He’s just not playing with a full deck.”  “Bless her heart.  She thinks that dress looks good on her.”  “Bless his heart.  He tries to control his drinking.”

The Bible contains the word blessing many, many times.  Its meaning, however, goes much deeper than the Southern idiom.

We have two stories from our family tree before us this morning, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.  The first story is about blind Isaac, who, when duped or deceived by Jacob, gives the only blessing he has to this younger son.  The Old Testament has a dual idea of the birthright and the blessing.  The birthright designated two-thirds of the inheritance to the older son and one-third to the younger son.  The father had only one blessing, however, designated for the older son.  Jacob had stolen his older brother’s birthright by trading Esau a bowl of lentil soup.  Now Jacob, with the help of his mother, contrived a scheme to steal the blessing.  When Esau returned from the field and offered a meal he had prepared for Isaac, he learned that his father had already given the blessing to Jacob.

Esau’s cry is one of the most painful in the entire Bible: “Father, do you have only one blessing?  Bless me too, my father.”

I hear his cry and think about the many people I have known who also wanted a blessing from their parents.  We know that children who do not receive the blessing are more likely to break the law and enter sexual activity earlier than others of their peer group.  Children who do not receive the blessing are at risk.  They sometimes decide it is not worth the effort to try to do what is right.

The second story, which comes from the New Testament, focuses on another father who also had two sons.  Again we see a younger child’s desire for the birthright, one-third of the inheritance.  The younger son actually demanded his share prior to his father’s death.  You wonder what the tension must have been like in that home during the several days the father waited before granting his son’s command.  After receiving his portion, the son went away to a far country, we are told, and wasted it all.  I do not know how far away he went.  It may have been just around the corner, but it was a long, long way from his father’s values.

When the son ran out of money and his so-called friends had taken everything he had, the son at least knew how to get a job.  He had learned from his father how to do that.  He, as a Jewish boy, took the despicable job of slopping hogs for a Gentile farmer.  It did not take too long at this job there in the hog pen before he came to his senses.  How many parents have prayed, “Please Lord, bring them to their senses!”

After wasting all that he had been given and realizing his error, the son left the hog pen behind and started for home.  He composed and rehearsed a speech for his father:  “I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Take me back as a hired servant.”

You wonder how many hours the father had spent looking down the road, waiting for that boy to return home.  Seeing his son at a great distance, the father ran to meet his child.  Just as he embraced him, the boy started his spiel of the rehearsed speech.  The father would have none of it and directed his servants, “Bring him all the symbols of sonship:  a robe, a ring, and shoes for his feet.  Let’s have a party!”

You know how parenting often works.  Just about the time you get a problem resolved when one child breaks loose, another child revolts.  The same happened here.  The oldest son threw a fit.  Quite irate with his brother’s warm welcome, he rebuked his father, “I have been with you all this time, and you have never treated me this well.”

The father reminded this older son, “Everything I have is yours.  Your brother was lost but is now found.  He was dead, but he is now alive.”  The remaining two-thirds of the inheritance did belong to the older son.

In both stories the two fathers bestowed a blessing.

I have seen the broken hearts that result when children do not feel that they have been given a blessing.  Author John Trent suggests five distinct characteristics of a blessing:  first, appropriate touches, hugs, or pats on the back; second, words of love and acceptance; third, acknowledgement of value and worth; fourth, affirmation of strengths; fifth, genuine commitment.

Within the context of marriage, Gary Chapman offers five love languages.  We give a blessing to our partner through these ways:  first, affirmation – the truth is that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar; second, acts of service or good deeds for the one you love; third, affection through touching, hugging; fourth, quality time in which you establish eye contact with each other; fifth, gifts, surprises, small gifts.

Clare and I were talking about Chapman’s characteristics, and I said, “Gary Chapman says that everyone has one love language. Which one of these five is yours?”

She answered, “All of the above.”

Giving a blessing to children is a special responsibility of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  We must all give blessings to these children that God has placed here.  He expects us to bless their lives by helping them grow and develop into all that He wants them to become.  That task is not always easy.

Our younger grandchildren love to be rocked before they go to bed.  I do not know how much they appreciate my voice, but they often ask me to sing to them.  I made up a song that I repeat until they fall asleep:  “God loves you.  I love you.  And that’s the way it’s going to be.”  The message is simple:  I love you, and God loves you.  Repeating those words is a way of speaking a blessing into the lives of little ones.  They seem to understand.

When children start school, parents have less time with them.  Make the most of that time.  Sometimes I used to take my children out to eat breakfast one at the time so that they could have time just with me.  We had conversations about the day and prayers in the car as we drove to the schoolhouse.  Children will tell you more in the first twenty minutes after you pick them up from school than at any other time of day.  Turn off the radio and listen to what they have to say.

Blessing teenagers may be more difficult.

John Trent tells about an experience he had when he was a senior in high school.

I will never forget sitting at my mother’s old kitchen table with my head down, waiting for what I expected to come next.  Surely she would echo the words of others, “Why can’t you do as well as your twin brother?”

That day my teacher, even more with his actions than his words, had put me to shame.  He held up my senior term paper as if it were covered in mold.  He rolled his eyes before handing it back to me, and the rest of the class smirked and hooted.  On the paper was a large red “D,” underlined.  That was not my first “D,” but I had worked hard on that paper.  While I did skip my teacher’s instruction to include footnotes, he made it clear that I was a loser.

I waited for my mom to finish reading my paper.

Finally she said, “John, look at me.”  I knew that she had read my twin brother’s paper earlier.  He had earned an “A” as always.

I raised my head just enough for my eyes to meet hers.  When I did she reached across the table and took my hand.  My mother, who had rheumatoid arthritis, grasped me with her twisted and bent hands.  Her grip was incredibly soft.  Once she held my hand, I could not pull away.  I felt broken and ashamed.

She said, “John, if you had asked me, I could have helped you with the footnotes.”

I dropped my head again.  She continued, “I don’t care what your teacher said or wrote.  You do a good job using words when you write.  I would not be surprised if God used your words one day to deliver His message.”

At that moment, she gave me a gift that continues to shape my life.  She used the five elements of biblical blessing to let me know that I had worth.  She had given me a meaningful touch with those arthritic hands, words of love and acceptance.  She had placed value on my life, acknowledged a special future, and made a genuine commitment.

Learning to bless the people closest to us is a task for all of us.  The task is not that difficult; we must just call it to mind and do what is necessary.

We must realize that many people all around us long, like Esau, for somebody to bless their life.  So many people have felt deprived of a blessing.  Every person is created in the image of God, and we do not have the prerogative to try to make others in our image.  What if Amelia Earhart’s parents had told her, “Girls don’t fly planes”?  What if Mikhail Baryshnikov’s parents had said to him, “Boys don’t dance ballot”?  Children are created in the image of God.  He has a plan for every life.

We must teach our children the nobility of hard work.  It is something you can learn at a lumberyard, but I learned it well from my mother.  The message is simple:  whatever you do, do it the best you can.  Whatever you take up, do it the very best you can.

We must teach our children that every person in this world is important.  No one is better than anyone else.  No one is worse than anybody else.  My grandfather used to put it this way: “Kirk, when you look at a man, don’t look up at him.  Don’t look down at him.  Look straight across at everyone.”  We are all the same.  The ground at the foot of the cross is level.  That really is the Christian gospel.

We must affirm our children by catching them doing something right.  So easily we fall to criticism, but praise shows them that we believe in them.  We may have to go with our children to court, to the hospital, and even to divorce court.  One proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he or she should go.  When they are old they will not depart from it.”  My experience is that children will depart from it when they are young, but they usually come back around to it when they are old.  Stick with it.  Never, never give up on your children.

We must teach our children to strive to make the world a better place and to be a blessing to other people.  God has blessed them, and they in turn can bless others.  Their greatest task, first of all, is to give themselves to God through commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will fall into place” (Matthew 6:33).

We must bestow a blessing on our children through prayer.  Pray for them constantly.  My dad used to pray for all of his in-laws, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren by name.  I do not know how long that took him, but he did it.  We need to do the same because blessing our children requires getting on our knees. Bedtime prayers are vital.  After our children went to sleep and before I went to bed, I used to go to each child’s bed.  I placed my hand on their head and said a silent prayer, a silent blessing.

Today’s sermon message is not just for parents and grandparents.  It is also for Sunday School teachers like Mr. Elliott, whom I had when I was in the sixth grade; for Scout Masters like Mr. Harold Prosser, a member of this church; for coaches like Wally Dean who was my favorite; for pastors, especially those like Carlisle Marney; for professors like Wayne Oates.

As the church of Jesus Christ, we have been given the authority to speak blessing into the lives of people.  Jesus put it this way:  “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).  The church can absolutely tie people in knots; it can also help set people free through the gospel of Christ, set them free from the law of sin and death.  Our words have power.

Not long before his death, my grandfather was in the hospital.  He did not say the word love very often, and I will never forget the occasion in which he reached out, shook my hand, and said, “Kirk, I love you.  God loves you.”  Those words are exactly what I sing to my grandchildren.  My grandfather’s last words to me were words of blessing.

People have been deprived of the blessing, but one source of blessing is available to all of us.  God sent Christ Jesus into the world to bless our life.  Do you know that?  Have you accepted him as your Savior?  If not, could I invite you to make that decision today?  You respond to the invitations from God.


Kirk H. Neely
 © November 2013

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