12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you. 2 I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, But I will curse those who curse you. And through you I will bless all the nations.”[a]
4 When Abram was seventy-five years old, he started out from Haran, as the Lord had told him to do; and Lot went with him. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the wealth and all the slaves they had acquired in Haran, and they started out for the land of Canaan.
When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land until he came to the sacred tree of Moreh, the holy place at Shechem. (At that time the Canaanites were still living in the land.) 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “This is the country that I am going to give to your descendants.” Then Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 After that, he moved on south to the hill country east of the city of Bethel and set up his camp between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There also he built an altar and worshiped the Lord. 9 Then he moved on from place to place, going toward the southern part of Canaan.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Last week in the sermon I talked about stories in the bible that were oral stories for centuries before they were written down and how some of these stories were evolving stories that were edited and tweaked and changed over the years.
Today I am starting with a story that has been around since at least seven hundred years before Jesus was born. There are estimates that there are anywhere from 300 to 3000 versions of this story, because this story or a similar story appears all over the world.
One of the latest versions of the story was redone again by Disney just three years ago.
And I am talking about the story of Cinderella. I am sure we all know a version of the story, the most common is about a girl mistreated by a stepmother and her two daughters, who sleeps in the Cinders and while denied access to a Royal Ball by her stepmother, is magically transformed by her fairy godmother, goes to the ball dances with the prince, who eventually finds her by her lost glass slipper and marries her.
The earliest version from 700 years before Jesus is about a Greek slave in Egypt whose sandal is snatched by an eagle who carried the sandal to Memphis, to drop it in the king’s lap. The king so impressed searched for the woman who wore the sandal and she, who was named Rhodopis, became the king’s wife.
There is a Chinese version of the story dating back about eleven to twelve hundred years.
The Brothers Grimm story in the early 19th century is Grimm indeed, where the stepsisters cut off toes and heels in order to fit into the slippers and deceive the King, and eventually the birds pluck out the eyes of the stepsisters.
The version that most of us are familiar with, I suppose, is the Disney cartoon version of 1950, which was based on the version published by Charles Perrault in France in 1697.
Perrault’s version is the one that first introduced the fairy godmother, the pumpkin and glass slippers.
And at the end of his version he has two morals. The first is that beauty is a treasure, but graciousness is priceless.
But the second is that intelligence, courage and common sense are a great advantage, but even those may fail to bring you success without the blessing of a godfather or godmother.
And I want you to think about that for a second. Who has been like a fairy godmother to you?
Who has blessed you?
And I don’t want you to think of your parents really although I am sure most of us have been blessed by parents.
But who went out of their way to take a special interest in you and bless you, financially, spiritually, physically or emotionally.
Maybe someone got you a job or a position, or maybe there was a friend in high places that helped you.
Who went out of their way to be there for you? Who mentored you, befriended you, guided you, gave you a helping hand or a leg up?
Many years ago I went to church one day in Cambridge Ontario. It was Knox’s Galt Presbyterian, Church. The minister was the Reverend Robert Jackson, or Bob as many people called him. A good preacher with an strong Irish accent and that man changed my life.
From that day forward I believed that God was calling me to be a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.
And God’s instrument that day was Bob Jackson, who took me under his wing and guided me through the process and I became a member of the church and then was certified to go to Knox College.
And it was through that congregation I met Fiona. There are few days in my life that are a significant as the day I met Bob Jackson.
He blessed me. He was a blessing to me and I while the glory goes to God, my career and my family came about from meeting him and his mentorship and guidance.
And you too, could tell me stories who blessed you, people who put their hand upon you and it changed your life for the better.
People who brought healing or strength, who were there for you when you were down. Who picked you up…
And today in worship we thank God for those who were the instruments of God to bless us.
And that is what God is about. God is about blessing us.
Not everybody will believe me when I say that.
I saw on the news the destruction in the Florida panhandle caused by Hurricane Michael. And literally I saw one women crying and yelling out to God, something to the effect of: “What did we ever do to you?”
…as if God was the cause of the Hurricane.
A lady who lived near me a while back, committed suicide, supposedly not understanding why God let her child die.
This comes from a mistaken understanding of God. In the ancient world it was believed that God controlled everything and that everything that happened was a direct result of what God did or didn’t do or what God allowed or didn’t allow.
The book of Job in part was written to refute that by arguing that bad things can happened even to good people, even though it seems that God allowed it all to happen. It was a step though in the direction of trying to see that everything that happens especially evil is not the direct result of God.
Jesus himself declared that sickness and ill health and accident and awful things were not the result of God or God’s punishment and that God was light and only light.
The ancient world was a world of miracles and it was believed that God directly intervened all the time. There are still people today who think that is how God works, that God controls every little thing.
I am not here to refute them as much as to say that I think the scripture also shows a different way in how God works.
And that the primary way that God works in this world is through us.
…that we are the body of Christ to do Christ’s work.
That God chooses and calls people.
And that is what the whole story of Abraham is about.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis is about how God created us to love him and love one another and to care for the earth, but it all goes wrong. There is completion and rivalry and violence and domination. The world is drowning in it and few are saved from it.
So God has a new plan and God’s plan is to work through humans. It is to call people to be will show the world what it means to love as God loves, to practice mercy and forgiveness, as God does, to reach out to others as God does.
And God calls Abraham and Sarah.
He tells them to leave their life of luxury and privilege and set out on an adventure to a promised land. A land where they will live God’s way…
And God makes a promise to them. The promise is in two parts.
The first part is kind of a standard formula or agreement.
God will bless them and make of them a great nation. God will bless those who bless them and curse those who curse them.
Pretty standard stuff. Rewards for the good and punishment for the bad,
But the second part of the promise is the exciting stuff and different stuff.
Not only will they be blessed, but they will be a blessing. All the families on earth will be blessed by them. They are going to be a blessing to all the people of the world.
That is a very different identity from any other group, family, country, nation or empire.
Their purpose is to bless others.
They will not be the ones at the top of the pyramid and the rest at the bottom of the pyramid.
Their identity will not be. W are the promised ones against the one who don’t have the promise.
Their identity is not. Hey we are all the same and it doesn’t matter what you do.
Their identity is that we have been blessed with love and acceptance to bless others with love and acceptance.
Being chosen by God, is not about a certain person or group being better than others.
Being chosen by God, means that a person or group is chosen to be the means by which others come to know that God is choosing them too, that God loves them too.
And this tells us a lot about God. God is not for us and against others.
God is not the God of us privileged Christians.
God is not rewarding the good and punishing the bad.
God’s plan is too reach out to all people.
God’s plan is to bless all people.
God’s way is to work through humans to share God’s love and God’s message and God’s truth.
And that truth is that God loves everyone, everywhere, no exceptions.
And this story tells us something about what true faith is…
True faith is to step out of the known into the unknown in a quest for goodness….
…In a quest to help others.
…In a quest to make this world a better place.
…In a quest to tell everyone that everyone is precious and treasured by God.
In a quest to seek goodness with others and not at the expense of others…
True faith reverses the choice of Adam and Eve to be the arbiters of goodness and evil, and stand over and above others, and decide whose right and whose wrong, and who is worthy and who isn’t worthy, and who is in and who is out…
And instead brings us back down to earth to stand in solidarity with humans who are all broken and sinful and in need of love and grace…
And we are the means of that love and grace.
Sadly for many people, they think of faith as a series of doctrines or beliefs.
Sadly, some think true faith it is a certain way to worship or certain rituals.
Sadly, some think faith is following certain commandments.
But for Abraham it was a relationship with the divine and trusting the divine enough and having faith in the divine to understand that he was loved or blessed and his job was to love and bless others.
Abraham and Sarah were humans and they didn’t always have faith and they screwed it up from time to time, but even then God did not stop loving them or giving up on them.
And through their mistakes they learned more and more about this God who loves and chooses people and calls people to take this message of love to the world.
And that is the way God works.
He chooses people so that they will be a blessing to others.
The disciples didn’t get this.
Thy understood that they were chosen by Jesus. They understood Jesus was a great man. They understood that Jesus himself was chosen by God to do great things in this world, but they didn’t understand what it meant to be chosen or what it meant to be great.
To be chosen and to be great is to drink the cup that Jesus drinks.
To be chosen and to be great is to be baptized with the baptism that Jesus is baptized with…..
What is the cup that Jesus drinks and the baptism with which Jesus is baptized?
It is to give your life in the service of others.
Whoever wants to be great must be a servant of all.
Simply put. Out job is to live as people loved and blessed by God, so that we love and bless other.
We are to be servant of others.
And not just the so called good people in this world. All people in this world.
Jesus died on the cross for all. That was his cup and his baptism.
So we take up our cross for all people, to bless and serve all people.
What might it be like to take someone under our wing and be a fairy godmother to them.
What might it be like to mentor some young person, to guide young lives..
To help someone in need.
Tp to someone down and out.
Not because they deserve it but because God wants us to be graceful
Beauty and strength are treasures but graciousness is priceless.
God gave up his own son for us all.
That is graciousness
Who can you bless today?
Jennifer had a hard life. Her dad was an alcoholic and Jennifer would dread when he came home at night and she would hear the sound of beer cans opening or the clink of ice cubes as dad poured a whisky. Inevitably it would lead to him shouting and her mother crying. She would pray “Dear God, make him stop.
Her dad was a lawyer and meticulous about polishing his wingtips every morning, so one Christmas Jennifer saved up her babysitting money and bought the best shoeshine kit she could find. She was so excited Christmas morning because her dad was going to open his Christmas present and be so delighted with her, Jennifer.
But when he opened the box he got angry and threw it across the room breaking it in pieces.
The place that Jennifer felt safe was in school. Her teacher Mrs. Lake was always encouraging and smiling at her.
At the end of the year came the day for parent-teacher interviews. Jennifer’s name was put on the bottom of the list although her last name started with B and everybody else was going alphabetically.
When all the parents had come and gone home, Mrs. Lake invited Jennifer to came and sit next to her.
“Jennifer” she said, “First of all I want you to know that I love you. And secondly I want you to know that it is not your fault that your parents are not here. And thirdly I want you to know just how well you are doing at school”
She took out all her papers and test and drawings and explained how good a student Jennifer was. She had ranked nationally.
Jennifer said: “It was the first time that I began to believe that I was a person of worth. Mrs. Lake looked at me for a long time and gave me a big hug. I never told my friends or anyone for a long time. It was too precious and special. To know I was loved and valued. That I was worthy.”
That is the good news of the gospel. The primary message of Jesus: You are loved and valued. You are precious and worthy in God’s sight.
God blesses you with love and acceptance.
And the second part of the gospel message is to simply share the good news.
You are blessed and loved, so step out like Abraham and bless all the people of the world and especially the Cinderellas of this world.
Bless not only your friends and loved ones, but the oppressed and weak, and all those who cry themselves to sleep in the cinders.
In fact be a servant and a blessing to all. Amen