In 2017, together Bill and Melinda Gates have a net worth of approximately 89 billion dollars. They have contributed technology to the world that shapes many of our day to day lives, and also they been have been working to eradicate malaria and polio from the world in sustainable and incredible ways. I stand amazed at the impact that two people can have on the health of communities around the world in communicable diseases.
And I heard just this week that the Gates family knew that they could do more. Perhaps, they were called to do more. Bill tells of the effect that Alzheimer’s has had on men in his family and could have on him as he gives his blessings to use his power for good. His money is taking research in a new arena from the purely diagnostic and late stage to earlier stage activation of the brain’s own immune system and ultimately preventive measures1. And for you and I, we do not live with concerns of malaria or polio, but Alzheimer’s threatens like a monster under each and every bed.
As we prepare for Thanksgiving, we do more than count our blessings. We use our powers, our blessings, all that we have been given for good, God’s good. God’s good invites us beyond surface of kindness to actions that are truly reconciling and redemptive. We, too, are called to lives that use our blessings to be God’s very hands in the world.
Last week, we left the brothers of Joseph hoping that he would treat them well when they were most in need. Joseph, who had been sold off to Ishmaelites as a slave, falsely accused of seducing Potiphar’s wife, interpreted dreams in jail, made his way out on a dream scholarship. And dream interpretation took him to the top ruling just below Pharaoh, and managing the resources of famine prone land.
The brothers were amazed. For chapters, they lived in fear. They were convinced that their brother Joseph, who had every right to give them what for, would indeed. Joseph was more than expected. He surveyed his blessings, and he shared amply. He offered reconciliation and redemption, where he could have offered condemnation and payback. This moment changed the course of the family dynamics forever. Each of our blessings, each of our gifts, each of our circumstances are ways through which God can redeem and reconcile the world. Redemption that is liberation from the chains that have tied us, kept us down, held us back. Redemption is for all of God’s people. Reconcile us with those we have been distanced from, disconnected from and broken away from.
John 3:16 is arguably the most known verse in the Christian New Testament. If I begin, For God So Loved the World… I imagine that you could continue … that he gave one and only Son that whosoever believed in him, shall not perish but have eternal life.
And with this familiar verse, many conversations about life, death, and life after death have begun. Unfortunately, I believe more have sought rightness over goodness. More conversation has stopped at John 3:16 and left off 3:17. The Gospel writer of John had more to say. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Goodness and Blessing, redemption and reconciliation are always the way of Jesus.
You and I are called to use our power for good! Like superheroes, called to use our blessings, our gifts, our specific giftedness for the good of others. Using your blessings for the good of others takes a bit extra, something more, a little je ne sais quoi. Originally as I was thinking about this concept, I thought that the opposite of using your what you have for good was using it for evil or ill gain. While there is evil as surely as there is good, and that temptation is real, for most of you the spectrum is small. The temptation is less to do evil as it is not to do good. My friends, I have come to realize, that is takes very little to miss the mark here. How easy, like sin, it is to let our blessings miss the opportunities to be used in redemption and reconciliation.
Redemption comes in the person of Sara Josephine Baker, who is credited with saving over 90,000 children! Public health was her mission field. At the turn of the 20th century, she was a tireless advocate for education and prevention of epidemics in overcrowded tenements. With a third of children born in the slums dying before their fifth birthday, Baker famously remarked that “It is six times safer to be a soldier in the trenches than a baby in the United States.”
Her commitment to human health and relational redemption was lived out by overseeing the Health Department’s newly formed Bureau of Child Hygiene. Among her most successful initiatives, she sent nurses to visit all new mothers within a day of delivery to teach them about proper infant care, including encouraging breast-feeding, regular bathing, and fresh air. She changed requirements for midwives to be licensed as well as administration of medication. Within three years of launching her programs, the infant death rate in New York City dropped by an astounding 40%.
In a Victorian age of decorum, how simple it might have been for Ms. Baker to determine that she keep her knowledge to herself or only to share it in safe spaces. However, it was her early Quaker faith in caring for the most vulnerable including children that drove her commitment2. And truly drove her as she had to fight to become a doctor, to be taken seriously, and sometimes, even to care for her patients.
We are being called to take our blessings, and let them offer reconciliation and redemption in ways that we could not have imagined, only God’s fullness through us, could bring about. For some of us, we may be like Bill and Melinda Gates changing conversations and changing conversations. We may be giving significantly and urging others to change their ways of thinking in order to seek health and wholeness for the world. Others of us might be like, Sara working uphill against a system that thinks it known better than us at every turn. We may need to repetitively have small conversations in order to seek health and wholeness in larger ways that we might never see. Or we may be like Joseph, acting with compassion, when people expect condemnation. Offering grace, when begging was a foregone conclusion.
This thanksgiving, as you gather with family, with friends, you may practice counting your blessings. You may very well regularly give thanks to God for the much that God has given you. This week, I challenge you, not only to give thanks for your home and family, health and sustenance, but then use those blessings that you offered thanks to God for, as superpowers that can do good in the world.
A home can be a place to welcome others, especially those who are lonely.
A family can be treasured as you adopt an older person with a grandchild nearby or adopt a young family without a grandparent to dot on them nearby.
Health can be cultivated in relationship with others.
Sustenance can be shared, especially food with the hungry.
Let God move your heart to use your blessings as superpowers for good.
This is the Good News, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 47:1-12
So Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan; they are now in the land of Goshen.” From among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our ancestors were.” They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to reside as aliens in the land; for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, we ask you, let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land; let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know that there are capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”
Then Joseph brought in his father Jacob, and presented him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to Jacob, “How many are the years of your life?” Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my earthly sojourn are one hundred thirty; few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn.” Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from the presence of Pharaoh. Joseph settled his father and his brothers, and granted them a holding in the land of Egypt, in the best part of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had instructed. And Joseph provided his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.
Gospel Lesson: John 3:16-21
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, November 19th—Saturday, November 25th
Sunday: “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3: 16-17. The love of God is for the good of the world. Where do you see God’s good?
Monday: “And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 We too have loved darkness. Today, ask God, who is always light, to dispel the darkness in your life.
Tuesday: “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” John 3: 20. Pray for those who struggle this day.
Wednesday: “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’” John 3: 21. May God’s light shine so that you might choose a life of drawing nearer to God.
Thursday: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.” Psalm 100: 1-2. On this day of thanks and giving, let your thanks be abundant and your giving be generous!
Friday: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.” Psalm 100: 3-4. Where do you need to let your voice be heard giving praise to God?
Saturday: “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:5. As you give thanks to God for the littlest ones, give thanks to God for the generations who have come before.
2Marching to a Different Drummer: Unrecognized Heroes of American History by Robin Kadison Berson, 14-20.