Cultivating Blessing

Cultivating Blessing

TEXT: Psalm 107:33-38; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 4:18-19; Revelation 21:1-6

God is good, God is faithful, and God is involved in the lives of people like you and me. That’s the constant refrain of Psalm 107 and the basis of our current series, “My Story, My Song.” Psalm 107 begins with the three verse refrain that declares that God is good, God is faithful, and God is involved in human lives. And then there are some six stanzas, each with anywhere from 4-9 verses each that explore different examples of how God is involved.

So far we’ve looked at the opening refrain and the first four stanzas:

vv. 1-3        REFRAIN – God is good, faithful, involved
vv. 4-9        God provides for the thirsty and needy soul
vv.10-16     God offers freedom for the captive
vv.17-22     God welcomes the foolish home
vv.23-32     God is present and guides in the storms of life

Today (vv.33-38) we are looking at how God can turn the powers and so-called blessings of this world upside down, offering true blessing to those who trust Him.

Curses into Blessings (Psalm 107:33-38)

This fifth stanza grabs your attention right off the bat! God “changes rivers into a wilderness and springs of water into a thirsty ground; A fruitful land into a salt waste…” (vv.33-34a)  What?! Why is that? It’s because of wickedness. Remember this Psalm is written to and about the people of Israel who experienced the loss of everything to the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires because of their persistent disobedience and disregard of the Lord. This is what it felt like to them – rivers and springs of blessing all gone, back to the wilderness and desert of their past.

But read on! The Lord also “changes a wilderness into a pool of water and a dry land into springs of water.” And there’s far more: “There He makes the hungry to dwell, so that they may establish an inhabited city, and sow fields and plant vineyards, and gather a fruitful harvest.” (vv. 35-37) And read closely: this is not (yet) a return to the Promised Land and Jerusalem, but this is blessing IN Exile. This is just what Jeremiah the prophet wrote to the Exiles, to trust in the Lord IN EXILE, to seek the welfare and blessing of their captors, and so experience the blessing of God where they were. God would take care of their future (“I know the plans I have for you”), but they were to become faithful in the present.

As our opening song (and scripture says), “The Lord gives and takes away” but God is with us and can bless us in plenty and in want. It is not the powers of this world who determine whether we are “blessed.” It is not how much we have or where we live or who we know that makes us ultimately “blessed”; it is seeking, trusting, and serving the Lord.

The double good news of that is that 1) God has more power than the things of this world; and 2) God can bless us in the midst of any circumstance. Our part is to serve the Lord and serve others, to love the Lord and love others. That is how we cultivate God’s true blessing in our lives.

Mary, Jesus, and the End of the Story (Gospels, Revelation)

Think this is an obscure, Old Testament, fringe idea? Consider similar language and teaching in the New Testament…

In her prayer, pregnant with Jesus, Mary lifts up a prayer to the Lord. We often focus on her humility and acceptance of what is happening, but listen to similar themes to our verses from Psalm 107, to God turning upside down the powers of this world and blessing those (including Mary) who serve Him.

Luke 1:46-55 – 46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

This idea was present in the ministry and teaching of Jesus as well. Here are three examples…

God’s blessing and invitation isn’t just for the successful, powerful, or influential of this world, but for all who will come.

Luke 13:29–30 – 29 “And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”

Jesus begins his ministry reading publicly from Isaiah and claiming the verses as being fulfilled in and through him. I’ve pointed to these before, but listen this time to how God promises to turn the conditions of those who suffer upside down in His Kingdom.

Luke 4:18–19 – 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And it seemed the disciples were not immune to the lure of greatness and a misunderstanding of what it was to be “blessed”:

Luke 22:24–26 – 24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.

To be blessed is to serve and love the Lord, to serve and love your neighbor. This is the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God and how we cultivate God’s blessing in our lives!

Finally, from the end of the book, a picture of God’s eternal future and the final setting right of wrongs…

Revelation 21:1-6 – 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.

…world turned upside down, all made new, with God on the throne and in our midst. This is the hope expressed in Psalm 107, the hope Mary prayed about, and the reality Jesus taught and lived out. It’s how we cultivate blessing in our lives and the lives of others: we serve and love the Lord; we serve and love our neighbor.

Cultivating Blessing: Your Story

What does it look like to “serve and love the Lord and others?” What does it look like to cultivate true blessing? How can this be your story and my story?

Let’s consider the verses we’ve already looked at:

Psalm 107:33-38 – We recognize God’s authority and power in this world and in our lives and we seek Him in all circumstances, for the Lord IS there.

Luke 1:46-55 – Mary’s prayer reads like a concise summary of Psalm 107. God is good, merciful, and involved in this world. Holy is His name! Mary seeks to align her life with God’s purposes and she recognizes that God is bigger and stronger than the powers of this world and the circumstances of her life. She trusts and serves the Lord.

Jesus’ Teachings – Jesus has several recurring themes in his teaching. Those who will trust in God and be in His Kingdom are not necessarily those the world favors or sees as “blessed.” In fact, God seems to have a special compassion for those who suffer unjustly, struggle circumstantially, and are pressed down by earthly powers. God will be glorified in turning those situations upside down. When his followers (including us) get things turned around and want to become great, he reminds them and us that what is truly great is to serve. And this is not just “do what I say” but “do as I do.” Jesus didn’t come as a mighty warrior, garner political power or great armies, or amass wealth; he helped the poor, healed the sick, visited the outcast, and brought Good News about God – the Psalm 107 God who is GOOD, FAITHFUL, and INVOLVED. We are to do the same!

Revelation 21:1-6 – This picture of God’s great purpose should inspire and guide us. This is the future towards which God is calling us and which God invites us to experience in degrees even now.

How can you do these things? How can you join in to the work God is already doing in the world? How can you love and serve others, seeking their welfare, their blessing, their SHALOM? How can you show the mercy and compassion, the HESED, of God?

I named this sermon “Cultivating Blessing.” That’s the difference between ordering food in a restaurant and gardening. In one case you go to be served – bring me my food! In the other you put in the hard work of preparing soil, planting seads, watering the garden, and finally enjoying the blessing of fruit and vegetable. It’s like that in the Kingdom of God. It is natural, especially if you are struggling, to want to know when God (or someone else) will serve you. The upside-down answer to that is to serve God and others and in their blessing you will find blessing.

May God give us ears to hear, hearts to believe, and minds to follow. Amen.

John Wright sharing “My Story, My Song” testimony

Some Music Used

  • Preludes
    • Trading My Sorrows
    • The Blessing
    • Come Thou Fount/We’ll Feast
  • Blessed be Your Name
  • CHOIR: All Things New
  • We Will Feast in the House of Zion
  • A Mighty Fortress