And Through You Shall All the Families of the Earth Be Blessed
In this morning’s Old Testament scripture reading you heard God’s words to Abraham telling him to leave on a journey to a place he does not know, telling him that a great nation will be made of his descendents and telling him that he and his descendents are to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
Long, long ago when Beth was pregnant with Elizabeth and our Leah, our oldest daughter, was pregnant with Damian, we went to see the classic film “Parenthood” starring Steve Martin in the role of Gil, an adult father in a dysfunctional family. In one scene Gil’s father, Frank, played by Jason Robards, asks Gil for advice about what he should do about his ne’er do well son and Gil’s brother, Larry. Larry owes over $50,000 to a criminal gambling syndicate and is hiding because he is afraid that syndicate enforcers will kill him. During the discussion Frank confesses that when Gil as a child was sick, he resented being a father because of all the worry that accompanied being a parent. And now with Larry in trouble Frank complains, “The worry never ends. I thought once you kids were grown and out of the house I’d be finished with worrying, but now I realize it never ends.”
Once we commit parenthood the responsibility never goes away. No matter how good or bad of a parent we are the connection between parent and child never ends. Even when we die, our bond goes on as our children respond to life based on what they have experienced us saying and doing in their relationships with us. Parenthood is such an awesome responsibility, and so many of us assume that responsibility when we are young without any particular thought or even by accident.
At the beginning of June Beth and I attended a conference at St. Mary’s Retreat Center in Sewanee, Tennessee, on the theme, “Becoming a Blessing to All the Families of the Earth.” As we meditated on Abraham’s call from God, I realized an inner call to give much of my remaining life to my family. Oh, I will continue to try to write and offer support here at United Church and at Temple B’nai Sholom, where Beth and I have been attending, and I will help Frank Levy promote Cup of Wisdom groups and the 123 initiative of the One River Foundation, but where I can make a real difference is with my presence in my family. Beth and I are of an age when health concerns limit how much we can do. If an old roommate called and invited me to march for peace and justice, like Andrew Young asked our founding Pastor Ray Berry, I would have to ask, “How far are we supposed to march?” Given my physical limitations “being there” for my family is perhaps the most important contribution I can make.
If I am a true spiritual descendent of Abraham – and I believe we all are – then I have to ask, “What does it mean to be a blessing? How does anyone do that?
You do it with a smile or a hug. By always thinking of giving, of helping, of lending a hand. By offering an invitation rather than waiting to receive one. By opening up to a stranger, by making someone feel at home. By teaching. By offering insight and inspiration. By encouragement and a kind word. Most importantly, by accepting people for who they are – let me repeat that, by accepting people for who they are – and affirming their value as a human beings. It’s not hard to find ways to be a blessing – you just have to be constantly aware of it.
Well, probably the first person for whom we think we ought to be a blessing is our spouse. As Beth and I have find ourselves getting up in the morning, or really it’s “creaking up in the morning with aching joints,” preparing to go from one doctor’s appointment to another, I often think of a story my mother, Lorena, told.
Lorena was having coffee with her friend of forty years, Margaret, and they were comparing notes on caring for aging husbands with cancer. Margaret turned to my mother and said, “Lorena, when they said for better or for worse, they really meant it!” So, one important way to be a blessing is to attend to, listen to, care for, even nurse, the person we have promised to care for in sickness and in health and for better and for worse. We are called to be a blessing even when our partner is not only depressed or in ill health but grouchy and not very much fun.
I want to be a blessing to my children as I grow older. I think we all do. That means being a listener, suspending judgment and the temptation to tell them what to do, and just listen to them. Although they have scattered to several different states, I can be a phone call or text message away. Because my adult children are very busy, I have learned that I need to be proactive in communicating, texting or calling just to find out how they are doing. I want to help them with their responsibilities as parents, I want to be there for grandchildren as they mature and move through the challenges of growing up.
At the end of July our grandson, little Robert, whom some of you may remember coming to Bible School here, who just grew 5 inches since January, and is no longer little, Robert is coming to Huntsville to go to Space Camp and spend some time with Nana and Poppie the Robert is entering High School in the Fall, and he is in the painful throes of adolescence – a disease we must all suffer through. He is very aware of the opposite sex, but unsure of how to proceed. And while I am aware the rules have changed somewhat since I was his age, I want to communicate with him, that a good relationship is far more important than exploring the plumbing – no matter how much his hormones are raging. This is an important time to be with him, to lovingly assure him that growing up is survivable, with difficulty, but survivable. After all we managed to grow up even if it was in the Stone Age. Can you imagine growing up without a phone in your pocket, a world where dinner was prepared without microwaves, trying to prepare your homework without a computer, living without email or text messaging? Despite being older than dirt, we know about hormones and the anxiety of trying to make decisions about our lives. We were human back then after all. What an important time to be a blessing for Robert as he navigates the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Our other grandchildren are older now, Damian, John, Alexis and Sophie, but each of them needs our care in their own way. And then there is a possibility of future grandchildren, and we may want to move close enough to them to be of practical, every day help.
As we grow older all of us become the repository of the family stories. Although the younger generation may not seem to express an interest, we need to tell the stories so our children and grandchildren know where they come from. We need to retell those family stories and ideally write them down. I have often heard families at a funeral bemoan that they failed to ask mother about her grandfather before she died, or where the family lived before they moved to Huntsville. Documenting family history is a great project for Father’s Day.
Another way we can impact the lives of our children and grandchildren is in helping them learn how to grow old. Death is a natural part of life. A life well lived embraces death as a natural outcome of our lives. If through us they experience aging and death as a natural part of life to be accepted, then with courage and faith they will be better able to live out their own days. Just because we experience sadness when we say good-bye doesn’t mean it is bad.
Another reason for living a courageous, faith filled life is the importance of last words. Now since we never know when we are speaking our last words we should always give careful consideration to what we are saying. Do we want our last words to be an angry rant? Better we utter blessings rather than curses. When Damian, John and Elizabeth were very young their favorite bed time story was the legend of Jacob and Esau – a classic tale of sibling rivalry. Jacob steals the blessing from Esau, and when Esau discovers he has been cheated, he begs his father to “take back” the blessing from Jacob and give it to him. What we discover in the story is once words have been spoken, they cannot be taken back. And so we should all be careful what we say. Especially when we come to the end of our lives our expressions take on extraordinary importance. The words we can offer to a child or grandchild will be remembered with special care. Blessings can motivate, guide, inspire, and empower, those who receive them. We want to send our children into the future with our carefully considered blessings.
Through your faith you can become a blessing to your family and then all the families of the earth — not only the human families but the animal and plant families of the earth, as we seek to save our environment. Let me encourage all of us to visit the “One River Foundation” on the internet to see more ways that we can participate in becoming a blessing to all the families of the earth. Invite Frank Levy to come back, and he will share with you the initiative of 123 Be a Blessing, and how that relates to the Cup of Wisdom program in which many of you are already participating. Through your faith all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Genesis 12:1-3 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Call of Abram
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 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. 3 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.”[a]