What is the gospel for those who have more blessings than they can see?
“They have a yearning to see the goodness of life as it is, to free them to love the Prodigal,” said the Rev. M. Craig Barnes at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.
His sermon title was “The Gospel for the Blessed,” and the Scripture was Luke 15:28-31.
The complaint of the Elder Brother in the story of the Prodigal Son was that the Elder Brother was faithful, responsible, dutiful and never got lost, but his Father never gave him a goat, much less a fatted calf.
The Father’s response was that everything he had already belonged to the Elder Brother.
“You’ve got it all, you have more blessings than you know,” the Father was saying.
Barnes quoted T. S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
“Most of us spend our lives in places we never get to know,” Barnes added.
The blessings that are most important in life are not on our resume.
“I have never heard a resume in a eulogy, but that is what we spend our lives trying to build,” he said.
The most important and valued blessings are the people we love, our families, health, country, heritage, gift or skill.
“You are grateful for them and you did not earn them,” Barnes told the congregation. “At the end of the day, blessings can only be given or received. They are evident of God’s unfolding creation of our lives.”
Not all people are blessed in the same way.
Barnes said his piano teacher told his mother to stop wasting her money on piano lessons for him.
“He plays all the right notes at the right time, but it is not music,” the piano teacher said.
Even when we do receive blessings, it is impossible to know why. Barnes said his favorite question during premarital counseling is “Why do you love this person?”
“They fumble around for an answer and finally say, ‘I’m just in love,’ ” he said. “That is why we call it falling in love; there is not a lot of rationality because you have been blessed with love.”
Then comes the rationality of building a marriage.
We receive blessings by the will of God from the hand of God and we can’t pry them out — they are only given. The Elder Brother could not see the blessings around him because he was blinded by the ordinariness of the blessings.
Barnes noted that in the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve most of the garden to eat from.
“We are created hungry to eat and when we eat doxologically, we show gratitude,” he said. “Important things in the Bible happen around food, from a bowl of pottage to the Passover Seder to the miracle at Cana, to the Last Supper and the messianic banquet.”
Because we are created hungry, we teach our children to say a blessing before a meal because no matter who paid for the food or who cooked it, the food came as a gift from God.
The Elder Brother “wanted an extraordinary blessing like his Prodigal brother, but he had daily blessings because God blessed him again and again,” Barnes said.
G. K. Chesterton wrote: “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”
“It finally occurred to me that God prefers routine acts of faithfulness,” Barnes said. “That is the message for today. Who created routine? Creation expresses doxology in routine.”
He noted that the electrons continually go around the atom, the planets go around their suns, the seasons follow each other again and again and again.
Barnes described the chaos of a typical house in the morning where both parents work, trying to get themselves and their children ready for school, getting themselves out of the house, taking the dog to the vet, then getting to work and finding lots of pink “Please call” slips, emails, meetings to attend.
“Exercise at lunchtime on the treadmill seems to be the metaphor for the day,” he said.
The end of the day comes, sleep comes and then it is morning again.
And in the morning, “the absolutely delighted God says, ‘Do it again,’ ” Barnes said.
It is hard to see the blessings, he said.
“But you have work, and there are people who would love work so they could go to your boring business meeting,” he said. “You have children, and there are people who would dearly love to have children.”
It was not enough that the son of God became human, lived in dire poverty and went out to teach and heal. God said, “Do it again, do it again.”
Jesus went to Gethsemane and asked God to let the cup of crucifixion pass from him, but God said, “Do it again, do it again.”
The greatest blessing, Barnes said, is that on the cross, Jesus made an eternal pledge of God’s eternal love to “do it again, do it again.”
“We get the blessing of what we need — communion with God,” Barnes said. “One test of spirituality is gratitude. You will know if you are paying attention by how grateful you have become.”
The Rev. Robert Hagel presided. Alison Marthinsen read the Scripture. She is part of a six-generation Chautauqua family. She sings in the Chautauqua Choir, is a volunteer for the Chautauqua Fund and is a member of the Smith Memorial Library board. She resides in Toronto, Ontario. There she is on the board of a ministry called Sanctuary, where people who are poor are particularly valued, and where she is in community with marginalized and street-involved people of Toronto. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in “How Can I Keep From Singing?,” by Z. Randall Stroope. The Gladys R. Brasted and the Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.