A few days ago, I picked up an old journal from Virginia Theological Seminary. And as I leafed through the pages, I came by an article with the caption Great Blessings Create Great Obligations. But as I read the article, I pondered over and over again about the caption. I have been blessed, and you have also been blessed. Each of us, in fact, has been greatly blessed. And whichever way we perceive those blessings in our lives, they nonetheless create obligations for us.
I had an uncle who was a Civil Engineer, and he owned his own firm. He was a man of significant means. Many of you have heard me preach about him before, but this story about him is very different from what I have previously shared about him. Being a man of significant means, and surrounded by family and relatives, meant that the demand for financial support was undoubtedly high. He supported a lot of people - a good number of which was his family.
He believed he owed a deep sense of obligation to all those whom he supported, but he had one principle that he never violated. The principle was this: he never gave out any loans to family, or friends, or anyone, for that matter. Whenever anyone - family or not - asked for a loan, he would respond with words similar to this:
"I have the money that you need but I cannot give you that money as a loan because if you do not pay it back at the exact date that you promised, that might create an uncomfortable problem for all of us and in fact put some strain on our good relationship. But because I want to always maintain the good relationship that I have with you, I can give you a part of what you need as a gift."
Even though people knew that he didn’t give out loans, every now and then people would reach out to him for one. And whenever they did, he would simply remind them of his principle.
He understood, quite clearly, that it is not always possible for people to be as gracious in the repayment of a loan and that, in itself, always risked the possibility of fraying an otherwise good relationship. His main goal was the preservation of his relationship with family and friends. And he believed that nothing - especially money - should be the cause of a breakdown in relationships.
In my relationship with him, and throughout the time that I got to know him, the part of him that always struck me was his sense of obligation. It was one which was grounded in the many ways he believed he had been blessed with life. Yes, he had a tough life growing up; he lost his father (my grandfather) when he was barely six years old. But he recognized that in spite of the challenges that he had to overcome, life had been good to him, and for that reason, he felt obligated to be as good as life had been to him. He understood what it meant for blessings to create obligations.
His deep sense of obligation, which he jealously protected and carried with him, reminds me of Jesus’ words in the gospel of Luke, when he says “…From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” He believed he had been given much, he believed he had been entrusted with much more than he ever thought possible, and so he joyfully embraced the demand that came with what had been given or been entrusted to his care.
What great obligations have your great blessings created for you? We cannot quantify our blessings, but we can count them. Listen to what the songwriter Johnson Oatman wrote many years ago in his poem Count Your Blessings. This is what he wrote:
Count your blessings name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God has done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
It is only when we count our blessings and actually name them that we come to see what God has done in our lives. We have so much to be grateful for! "Yes," you may ask, "I don’t feel any blessings in my life right now, so how do I see what God has done?" As I said before, the fact that we are having challenges, the fact that our lives are somewhat chaotic, and the fact that we are dealing with unsettled issues in our lives doesn’t take away the fact that we have been blessed.
As imperfect and often challenging as our lives may be, we have been blessed beyond measure - my beloved, it is still a blessing to have life. The daily blessings we experience in our lives do demand that we open up to the great obligations that come with these blessings.
One of the great obligations that we can create with our great blessings is our support for Christ Church. You bless Christ Church with many blessings, giving us the opportunity to deepen and expand our obligations to each other and to countless people in our communities and beyond.
As we bring our active Stewardship Campaign to a close, it is with a deep sense of humility that I thank each of you for the continual trust in your beloved Christ Church and the ministries that abound in this place. And so, this Stewardship season, I bid you to prayerfully consider pledging towards our common life. Remember, we are able to create great obligations with all of our blessings, and it is so gratifying and fulfilling to engage in this mission of transforming lives.
I am grateful to God for each of you and for the ministry we all share together. I have no doubt in my mind that we have been greatly blessed, and the joy of all these blessings is the opportunity it creates for us to bring meaning to each life and to each faith story.
Our faith story is one where God demands higher from us. And when we give our highest to God, it isn’t only as a sense of obligation, but as an act of honor grounded and anchored in gratitude to God. In reality, it is this same gratitude that creates our sense of obligation.
May each heart be filled with a joyful thanksgiving to God for God’s blessings on us and all those we love.
To pledge to Christ Church for 2024, please visit www.christchurchcolumbia.org/2024-pledge