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Lombard CRC

Living the Blessed Life

Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Living the Blessed Life.

 

There are two ways to hear this passage of scripture:

the first way attracts us,

but doesn’t help us.

It sounds familiar,

maybe like something we’ve experienced,

something we know.

But it is not a hearing to be completely trusted.

The expected way to read this passage

is to read it as if it were a prescription:

if you do this then you’ll get that;

if you don’t do this, then you don’t get that . . .

If you fully obey the Lord your God

and carefully follow all his commands . . .

THEN all these blessings will come to you.

But this is to read the Bible as if it were a sales pitch,

a way to bargain with God,

as if karma was a way of life.

Look closely, there is no word ‘then’ in the verse.

 

Besides, life with God doesn’t work that way.

There is never a time when you or I as a creature,

as the sheep of his pasture,

would dare approach God

saying hey, I did this,

so you owe me that!

But more importantly,

there is never a time

when God fails you

or fails to have your best interest in mind.

Our life with God is not based on our performance

but on the worth of Jesus Christ,

who fulfilled the covenant promises God made

to be our God and Father

and the Shepherd of his people.

 

So even this passage of scripture is a word of grace.

The way to read this passage is not as a prescription,

but as a description:

a description of what an ongoing faith-relationship

with God in Christ looks and feels like:

and it looks and feels like a blessed life.

 

The Lord promises providence and care and salvation

we respond with faith that loves his way and his law.

Obedience to God is not the purchase price of blessing, it is thanksgiving for it.

 

I can imagine how this word was first received

by those Israelites waiting trans-Jordan

to finally journey into Canaan

and make it home.

It’s been forty years.

Except for Moses, Joshua, and Caleb

the oldest people in the crowd are about 60.

40 years before God

judged Israel for its sin

and the consequence of that,

according to Numbers 32,

is that no one over 20 would enter the promised land.

It’s forty years later.

Those in the crowd have basically grown up in the desert.

All they know is

wandering in the wilderness,

living a day at a time on manna.

Sand and wind and extreme cold and heat.

No fixed address.

Always journeying and never arriving.

 

To them Moses says you are blessed.

You are a blessed people.

They probably haven’t thought that

about themselves.

They probably described their lives with other words:

tired, hot, weary, thirsty,

hoping, anticipating . . .

Or maybe,

life isn’t turning out the way we thought.

Sure, we’re glad to be out of Egypt,

joyful at being slaves no more,

but really, who are we out here,

in the wilderness.

40 years,

my life is passing me by.

What more could there be?

 

To the weary, the skeptical,

the nameless and homeless

the LORD says,

because of my promises, you will be blessed.

Can we hear this as a word to us today?

 

I want to encourage you today

toward a life of blessing,

not just getting by or living for the moment.

I think there are many today

who have given up on blessing.

Each disappointment, buried hope,

lost opportunity, tempting desire,

sin or failure,

can move us on the track from

what’s wrong

to what’s wrong with me

to what’s wrong with God.

And for some this is a short path.

Taiylar Ball, is the Homewood Flossmor senior

prohibited from attending school prom

and almost prohibited from graduation

because of poem delivered

at her school’s talent show.

Foul language seemed to be the reason

she was disciplined.

But listen to a portion of her poem:

Dear Black Girls

"You will never understand how it feels

to walk this Earth as a black woman.

Do you know how it feels to be hated

for the best part of you?

The world don't love us.

We don't love us.

No one loves us.

The beauties, the curses and the burdens.

I am writing the black woman burden."

 

There are many who have given up

on a life of blessing.

 

But here stands Moses

before a people who had every reason

to think blessing had passed them by,

or who had every temptation

to get ready to head out on their own,

leaving God in the desert

while setting their own agenda for

what was left of their lives,

hoping just to make the best of it.

And the good news is:

the Lord will bless you and keep you.

 

Moses goes into great detail about what this means:

he talks about work life and home life,

about family life and about spiritual life –

the blessings are as much about

city and country, and babies and meal-times

as they are about peace and prosperity,

even holiness.

4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

 

Now, as soon as I say that

I have to admit that

I know Christians who are penniless

and with little prospect for anything beyond poverty.

And I know of Christians

who live in fear,

in prison,

who have been martyred for their faith.

And for some of us

the fruit of our wombs has not been blessed,

nor has everything we have put our hand to

brought sufficient return.

 

So what are we to make of this?

This is why we have to read this

and most all passages of the Bible

as description rather than prescription.

Moses is describing in the most real way that he can for his people

their new identity as the people of God.

This is not an individual word

to a random gathering of individual, separate people

prescribing how to get on God’s good side

for your own personal gain.

He is led by the Spirit to say

this is who we are now

as the people of God.

We aren’t just like everybody else

when it comes to how we order our days

or what we work and hope for in life.

God isn’t just a religion

with a few rituals

that measure who’s in and who’s out.

As a people you are no longer slaves

you are no longer desert wanderers

with no home,

you are home with God

and you are a blessed people.

All that you will have

and all that you will have to endure

is held in the hand of God who blesses you.

The blessing of God will reach deeply

even into your pain and brokenness.

The Lord will be there even when

you face threats and persecution,

he will not abandon you.

 

The Lord God will see to it.

Because of course,

Israel will not respond with obedience.

Most of the rest of Israel’s history

in the Old Testament details a disobedient people

who together did not live up to

the commands of the LORD.

The word ‘if’ in this passage

is not setting up a condition: if you  . . . then I . . .

The word ‘if’ is more prophetic:

foretelling Israel’s unfaithfulness

and knowing God’s faithfulness will be required.

So God came in Jesus Christ

to be the obedient one,

to be holy

to deliver from sin and for holy living.

 

These words declare not only God’s intention,

but also create a longing in Israel for grace,

for when she falls short of the glory of God.

The ultimate blessing is found in Jesus

who fulfills the law of God

and raises us up in this blessing.

The result is my assurance and my freedom.

My assurance when life does not go as I had hoped

and my freedom from running after

the things of this world as if

that will make it all better.

 

As a people we ARE blessed.

Most of the time we don’t know how blessed we are:

we take for granted the shared resources

of love and help,

of prayer and the sharing of burdens

that mark us as the church of Christ:

the spiritual brothers and sisters

for us when we are without family,

the spiritual children we all participate in raising,

the spiritual sons and daughters we are

to the aged.

Have you taken time this week to thank the Lord

for such blessings that surround you

each and every day

and have made such a profound difference in your life?

 

Then notice that

being a blessed people is for the sake of the world:

vs 13 - You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

Meaning, in Christ you have so much to give.

But again, not from yourself but of Christ.

 

So here’s where the obedience comes in.

If we have understood in some small way

this morning

the benefits of the Triune God

freely given to us . . .

If in any way we have paused to count our blessings

and can sing from our hearts

how good is the Lord . . .

Then how can we respond in any other way

but to say yes to the commands of the Lord.

 

This is what a blessed life looks like,

scripture says:

it looks like Jesus

who loved even when he didn’t like,

who brought justice and mercy,

who added to each of the commands of God

his heart for the care

and forgiveness of sinners like me.

The best we can do to look like him

is to do what he said:

love God,

love your neighbor,

love Christ’s church.

And by such a thankful response

others are blessed.

 

I mean,

imagine a world where

people can take you at your word,

where there was no stealing,

where families were places of honor and care,

where the relationship of husband and wife

was one of exclusive and sacrificial love,

where people weren’t used

or reduced to objects,

where war was a last resort

and peace was the goal of government . . .

that sounds a lot like the ten commandments.

Does that sound like your life?

This scripture says you are blessed

so that it could be, it should be.

 

Moses teaches,

13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.

9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him.

 

It’s his way of saying

dare to be different.

That’s what holy means,

being different for Jesus’ sake.

Be the head, not the tail.

Don’t just follow the latest trend

or the popular choice

or living to have what everybody else has

and justifying what you do

because everybody else is doing it.

You have been set free to serve the Lord

with what you say and what you do.

Your only task is thanksgiving,

so pour yourself into gratitude:

and bring blessing to our Father’s world.

So take the lead in what is right and just.

 

I could cite many examples

of what our world is looking for,

but let me use just one:

from Gus Speth –

leading environmentalist

who says,

I used to think the top environmental problems

were biodiversity loss,

ecosystem collapse and climate change.

I thought that with 30 years of good science

we could address those problems.

But I was wrong.

The top environmental problems are

selfishness, greed and apathy . . .

and to deal with those we need

a spiritual and cultural transformation.

And we scientists don’t know how to do that.

 

What he says about the environment

could be said about

almost any ongoing problem we face:

racism,

violence brought about by gangs and drugs

economic injustice,

even our own failings and regrets . . .

 

It isn’t a matter of better government

or the next president

or more knowledge

or a cure . . .

 

What’s needed is a change of heart,

and only Christ can accomplish that.

WE are his witnesses.

We are to be stewards of our Father’s world.

We are to practice reconciliation.

We are to be peacemakers,

doing justice and loving kindness.

If we don’t show a change of heart, who will?

 

Perhaps it starts with confession for us.

For taking God’s commands too lightly,

or rationalizing our disobedience and neglect

too easily.

And then learning to love the call of Christ,

one act of obedience at a time.

 

We have every freedom to confess,

because Christ has taken away the sin of the world.

So how about some real confession.

Daniel Taylor begins his book

Death Comes for the De-Constructionist:

Everyone these days is confessing everything,

which leaves no space for genuinely confessing anything. Confessions requires a standard, an agreed upon line that has been crossed. It requires ‘ought’ and ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘forgive me’ and “I will not do that again.” Not for us. We confess and absolve ourselves in the same breath. “I did it. I wouldn’t change anything. It’s whom I am.”

 

This is not who we are:

blessed to obey the Lord is who we are.

 

What God says to us through these ancient words of Moses is:

you are blessed

let obedience to Christ be shown by

such love for the Lord and your neighbor.

1 John 5 says,

3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world.

 

We all want to have a good life.

And we all have to sort through a million voices,

including the voices of our own wills and heart,

telling us what makes for a good life

and how to get it.

Sadly, there are many human stories

of those who devoted their lives

to what they thought

would bring them happiness and goodness,

only to find out otherwise when it was too late.

What do we do in such times?

Come back to the Lord in trust.

A trust that simply takes the Lord

at his word obediently,

and in such faith

you’ll find the patience required for restoration.

 

Israel couldn’t follow through.

But Jesus did for Israel.

Overcoming sin and death,

his last act before his ascension

was to bless his disciples (Luke 24). 

‘He will come back in the same way you have seen him go,’ the angels told the disciples.

The Lord of promise, this God of covenant,

is the God alone who blesses.

 

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