November 24, 2019

Galatians 3:6-9

Scott Peck in his book, A Different Drum, tells the story of a monastery that had fallen on hard times. All that remained were the abbot and four brothers. 

As the demise of their order drew near, the abbot called on an old rabbi friend. They journeyed together to a little hut in the woods for a time of meditation. 

As they talked, the abbot explained the problem of the monastery. The rabbi commiserated with him and told him it was much the same at the synagogue. People were not attending as in previous days. These two men wept together and read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. 

As the abbot prepared to leave, they embraced. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded, “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery, his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well, what did the rabbi say?”

“He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving—it was something cryptic—was that the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

In the days, weeks, and months that followed, the old monks pondered the rabbi’s words. What did he mean, “The Messiah is one of us?” 

They discussed this among themselves. “Do you suppose the rabbi meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant the abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation.”

“On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly, Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light.” 

“Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred.”

“But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.”

“Of course, the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me,” the brothers said to themselves. “I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, Lord, could I?”

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect. 

People still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, and sometimes go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling about it. 

Hardly knowing why, the people began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, and to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends. Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while, one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years, the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality ( A Different Drum, by Scott Peck).

You are a blessing when you give a warm welcome. That’s what the rabbi did as he welcomed his friend the abbot.

Doesn’t it lift your spirits when a friend warmly welcomes you? You can tell when your presence is a joy to someone. Unfortunately, sometimes we get a warmer welcome from the family dog than we do from some of our friends or family members. Maybe that’s why we love our pets so much. 

In writing to the churches of Galatia, Paul said, “Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God as if I were Christ Jesus himself.” Gal. 4:14-15 (NIV).

Wow! Now that’s what I call a special welcome.

You are a blessing when you listen to a friend. You don’t have to fix your friend’s problems. Just listen. The rabbi listened to his Christian friend. 

Listening skills are rare. We are so busy that we rarely take time to sit down and give a friend or stranger our undivided attention, listening to other’s joy and excitement or their worries and concerns. 

The story is told that President Franklin D. Roosevelt got tired of smiling and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. So one evening, he decided to find out whether anybody was listening to what he was saying. 

As each person came up to him with an extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” 

People would automatically respond with comments such as “How lovely!” or “Just continue with your great work!” Nobody listened to what he was saying, except for one foreign diplomat. When the president said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the diplomat responded softly, “I’m sure she had it coming to her.” PEOct84 LISTENING

You are a blessing when you have an empathetic heart.  That’s how the rabbi blessed the abbot.

Most people intuitively know when we care about them or if we are merely tolerating them. Most people don’t listen to other people’s problems because they don’t want to help carry their burdens.

Many years ago, Family Circle Magazine surveyed 15,000 women. Sixty-nine percent said they had rather talk to their best friend than to their husbands when they are feeling unhappy. Why is this? Is it that women can empathize with women better than men or is it that their husbands just don’t take the time to listen to their wives with empathy? ( Moody, July/August 1992, p. 26) IOWSEPOCT92+.

The rabbi blessed the abbot with genuine empathy. They wept together, and they read the scriptures together. The abbot left thinking that what the rabbi lacked in advice, he made up in genuine concern.

When you are a blessing to one, you bless others.  By blessing the abbot, the rabbi vicariously blessed the brothers of the order. Blessings have a domino effect. I’ve noticed this in traffic jams. 

When a motorist in front of you blesses you by allowing you to turn into the traffic, it makes you more likely to be generous to someone else needing the same favor.  

When others bless us, it should create a desire in us to bless someone else. If blessings from God don’t instill in us a desire to bless others, we have surely failed as disciples of Jesus.

What blessings did the brothers of the order receive? They were blessed with the spirit of expectation. The cryptic message that intrigued the abbot and the brothers was that the Messiah was one of them.

Expectation and hope are braided together like a rope. Without the expectation that God is with us, among us, leading us, guiding us, upholding us by his right hand, we live a life where everything eventually meets a dead end, a life empty of hope.

Before the abbot’s visit to the rabbi, the brothers could see only the end of the order. When they refocused their attention on the possibility that the Messiah was in their midst, they lived different lives. Expectations were different. It was a blessing to live each day expecting to meet God, even in the most ordinary of activities and the most depressing of situations. 

Do you live that way? Do you wake up each day expecting to find God in your day?

That’s how Simeon lived before Jesus was born. Luke tells us he was righteous and devout. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die unto he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon lived with hope and expectation.  

Jesus’ parents took Jesus to the temple on the eighth day of his life, as was the Jewish custom for newborns. Simeon was there.  

He took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:31-32

Secondly, the monks were blessed with self-esteem at a time when their self–respect had reached a new low. We cannot love others until we love ourselves. Of course, we can become so absorbed in self–love that we seek to meet only our own needs. 

However, if we are bankrupted of self-love, it guarantees that we will not be able to bless others as God intended because we have no foundation from which to launch our care. God wants us to see ourselves as people of worth, as people with something to offer others, as people made in God’s image, with something valuable to offer others.

Thirdly, the monks were blessed with a new way of seeing each other. They began genuinely valuing and appreciating the strengths and gifts of one another. An aura of extraordinary respect began to surround the five old monks. It changed the atmosphere of the place, and the order became something strangely attractive, even compelling to others who came to visit.

Churches will not and cannot grow when we do not appreciate and love one another. The church is no place to battle for turf. It is a place to join hands toward a common goal of serving the Lord.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: ‘Love one another. As I have loved you, you must love one another'” (John 13:34).

A fourth blessing—the brothers of the order were blessed by recognizing their gifts, rather than lamenting their losses. 

There is a time and place for lamenting, but if a lamenting spirit lingers and becomes the dominant defining characteristic of a person, a group, or a church, the spirit of that person or group will dry up like old bones, and the atmosphere will repel people like a nasty smell.

When the order began to be thankful for the blessings they had, their hope was restored.  

 An appreciation for the ordinary ensued, and a contagious spirit was created. The monastery became a place where people wanted to gather for communion with God and with one another.

Counting our blessings is a crucial component of being one of Jesus’ disciples. We cannot compel others to join us on the road to discipleship if we are not conscious of our blessings. When we live with a thankful heart and a spirit of expectation, we draw people to us, allowing us to introduce them to our Lord.

Abraham was a man of faith, conscious of his blessings, who lived his life as a blessing to others. Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia: “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Galatians 3:6-9 (NIV).

Paul traces the blesses of faith that the Gentiles were enjoying all the back to Abraham.

God used Abraham to bless the nations. He was a man of faith.

If we are people of faith, God is looking for ways to use us to bless others. Those blessings can last long after we have lived.

God used the rabbi to bless the order of monks. Because of their renewed faith, they lifted up one another, which lifted up those who visited the order. Their faith began to draw others to join them, and the order began to grow. 

Your faith can last long after you live. The collective faith of believers of FBC Jefferson has not lasted 154 years. What you do here and how well you do it matters, not only to those around you but to the generations that follow you. 

Don’t you want your life to be a blessing to others? Don’t you want this church to be a body of people that others find so compelling that they want to be a part of us?

God wants to bless us, but not just for our sakes. God wants our lives to be a blessing for those who have little or no faith, for those who have backslidden from their faith, and even for the faithful.  

God wants to use you to bless others. Can you give a warm welcome? Can you listen to others without feeling compelled to fix their problems, just listen to them? Can you have empathy for others who are carrying burdens? Then you can be a blessing to others.

We can only do that when we are living a life of expectation that the Lord will guide our steps and help us respond to adversity and fill our hearts with love for one another. 

It is important that we worship with thankful hearts and treat one another with the love of the Savior, and see ourselves as vessels God has chosen to use for His glory. When we do these things, people will continue to come and break bread with this fellowship.