SERMON: What Does It Mean to Be Blessed?
BIO: Professor Elaine Bernius has been teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry at Indiana Wesleyan University for the past 6 years. She teaches Old and New Testament Survey, which are some of her favorites to teach. Elaine loves the chance to pass on her awe and wonder concerning God’s Word to students. She also loves to explore languages and enjoys the great privilege of teaching both Greek and Hebrew classes.
Lenny: Where did this message on blessing come from? Why were you compelled to preach on this topic? Did it surface in your own wrestling with the issue of blessing or through your observations of what students were experiencing?
Elaine: One compelling force was simply my love for studying the languages of the Bible. Words really do intrigue me. So the richness of this theological word grabbed my attention. However, the reason I wanted to preach on it was much more personal/experiential. I have had to personally struggle with how I understand the idea of God’s blessing in our lives (see story @ end of sermon), so I am very attuned to the way Christians use that word. It is becoming more apparent to me that so very often, we have a dangerous misconception of equating health, prosperity, and growth with blessing. So what happens when we are suddenly faced with sickness, poverty, and decline? For many, there is often a rejection of God at that point. I want to help students begin to have the right framework of understanding who God is and how he blesses, so that when those crisis moments come, when their world is completely shaken, there is a strong foundation that remains secure.
Lenny: In the beginning of your message you used humor quite a bit. Humor has been the focus of a few articles featured on Wesleyansermons.com over the past few weeks. Why did you use humor? What were you hoping it would do to listeners?
Elaine: Well, I’m just naturally an extremely funny person. No, not really . But I do like to smile and laugh, and I love a good joke. Plus, it is a great way to strike up a rapport with your audience. They settle in, sit back, and want to hear more. Even if you don’t sneak any humor back in later (though I think I did just a bit), you’ve caught their interest and gotten them to listen.
Lenny: One of the things I most appreciated about your message was its theological profundity. Some sermons today are so focused on life-application and human relevance that they don’t reveal anything substantial about God or living in relationship with him. People come away from these sermons with 7 steps toward financial freedom or marital bliss but nothing to assist their relationship with God. Your message said something substantial about God. In your opinion, do you think sermons today focus more on God or more on human relevance? Is it possible for a sermon to have theological weight and human relevance? What can the preacher do, in your estimation, to ensure that the sermon reveals God in a relevant manner?
Elaine: God. We must focus on God. Each human was created to know him, to interact with him, to reflect his very image! And he has spent the entirety of human history revealing himself to us so that we can fulfill that purpose for which we were made—to love and glorify him. How can we do this if we don’t even know who he is? The answer is simple—we can’t. The wonderful thing for preachers to know is that we don’t have to consider this a dichotomy; there doesn’t have to be a tension here. The MOST relevant thing to the human condition, to who human beings are, is God! The preacher’s job is simply to let us see that. The best way to do that, in my opinion, is for preachers actually to be interested in God. That may sound harsh, but sadly, I have heard too many preachers who get caught up in making a point, that they forget the “point” is always God. Solution—fall in love with God! I love sitting and listening to people tell stories of their loved ones—parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends. When there is an amazing depth of love between two people, there is a glow, a joy, an awe in the way that person speaks of her loved one that just draws me in. That’s how it should be when we preach about God. Capture people with the wonder of who he is—it’s easy to do!
Lenny: The focus of your sermon was clear and inspiring. Blessing comes not ultimately from the provision of God but our relationship with God. That is powerful! Toward the end of the sermon you developed a nice twist in the plot of your sermon. You shifted from how God blesses us to how we might bless him. Tell us why you felt the need to go there in your sermon?
Elaine: One, because the Bible goes there. God is often blessed. So how can we understand that? But I really think that idea provides a good key in truly helping me understand how God blesses me. It is so hard for us (just as it was hard for the people in the biblical text) to move away from the feeling that ultimately God’s blessing to us is the STUFF he gives (even if that “stuff” is spiritual “stuff,” like joy, peace, etc.). But if that is actually true, then when I flip the giver/receiver, it must be true that way as well, that the way I bless God is with STUFF. But that doesn’t work! First, because God doesn’t need stuff—any stuff!—from me, and second, because I know that I have absolutely nothing to give!!! There, then, is the key. My blessing God has nothing to do with me giving stuff; and neither does his blessing to me. The blessing, both ways, is in the being together, in the relationship. There is a mystery in that, but it is a beautiful mystery!
Lenny: While John Wesley maintained Scripture as the main lens through which he formulated his theology and practice, he allowed personal experience to also inform both. You concluded your sermon with a personal experience concerning your mother that seemed to shape some of your thinking on the concept of blessing. Tell us how the preacher can develop sermons that speak both the truth of Scripture and the realities of human experience without ignoring either.
Elaine: Many times, it is my own experience or the shared experiences of others that move my mind and heart toward contemplation of a spiritual/theological truth. Think of how God has chosen to reveal himself to us throughout history—within human encounters! So much of the truth of Scripture is told through the reality of human experience. (The great thing is…when you don’t have a personal story to go along with the truth you are preaching, don’t worry! The Bible often has a story to give you!) Ultimately, the message we are proclaiming is a message about God who is before and beyond us, and yet who created us just because he loves us. So, while I said earlier that the focus must be on God, I am so happy to say that we can’t talk about God without also talking about us, his image bearers!