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The Blessing of the World
GENESIS 27:26-29, JOHN 15:12-17
We're talking about blessing. This is the third sermon in a series on the ancient ritual of blessing, which was an integral part of life in the Old Testament, and which Jesus continued, especially in the blessing of children. I'm trying to make the point that we have suffered and are suffering because our culture has lost the concept of blessing. Much of the seeking and searching by folks today is really a need for an improved relationship with their parents. Last week we began looking at what is involved in a Blessing. Blessing begins with touching: hugging, embracing, kissing. When Jacob blessed his grandchildren, he kissed them, embraced them, laid his hands on their heads. He touched them. Then Jacob spoke a Blessing. Next Sunday we will look carefully at what is involved in the words of a blessing. What we need to realize this morning is that the Blessing includes a spoken word.
Energy is communicated through touch. The beauty and importance of touch is that energy, power is expressed. Whether it is a gentle massage in a hospital, embracing a spouse or hugging children, healing energy is given and received through touch. Likewise, there is power in words. When you were teased, did you taunt, "Sticks and bones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." That slogan may help you cope with the name-calling, but it is not true. Names do hurt you.
In the book, The Blessing, the example is given of Mean Mike. When Mike was a toddler, he had a terrific grip. If anyone tried to take something away from him, he would snarl and hold on for dear life. So he was given the nickname, Mean Mike. But the nickname became much more than a humorous description of his tenacity, it became the way he lived his life. When Mean Mike grew older, he became a bully at home and at school. Mean Mike was too tough to get too close to anyone. Little by little, constantly hearing he was mean burned its way into his character. At the time of the writing of the book, Mean Mike was in a state prison in Arizona. We live up to our names.
Words have power. According to Genesis, God spoke the earth into existence. "And God said," and it was done. Words have power to fashion, to create, condition, affect. Brian Swimme in his book, The Universe is a Green Dragon, describes the power of words. (P. 167) "You become shaped by words. Your attention forms within words, your desires are shaped by words, your visions of the future are ignited by words."
In the Bible, words of blessing were believed to be of great significance. The Blessing shaped the recipient. The words helped shape the future. The words gave meaning to the person's life. The opposite of blessing in the Bible is curse. A negative blessing is a curse, and a curse, similarly, has tremendous power. A few months ago while preaching on prayer, I said that I believe intercessory prayer is the combining of our energies with the Holy Spirit in touching and blessing people. I said there is power in prayer. After the service, a man said to me, "If what you say is true about the energy released in prayer, do you realize that every day millions of Iranians are praying Allah for the destruction of the United States of America?" Perhaps that explains part of the trouble our nation is having. Perhaps increased violence, drugs, hatred, teen gangs are partly the result of being cursed?
What do you when curses are hurled at you, and at our country? What do you when you are given nicknames that are not positive image building? What do you when you are teased? What do you when you are called dumb, stupid, silly, foolish, fat, or ugly? First, don't believe them. Don't internalize those words. Don't let curses enter your psyche, influence your behavior and your opinion of yourself. Hold up a shield, like the medieval knights, and ward off the curses. Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:11, "Put on the armor of God." Yes, there is a lot going on out there from which you need to be protected. Put on God's armor, and especially carry a shield. 6:16, "At all times carry faith as a shield; for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One." Secondly, find yourself a place in the church, where positive words, where words of blessing, are spoken to you and about you (at least, most of the time.) Church is a fellowship where we try to surround one another with words of blessing, encouragement, and worth. Church is where you hear the words of salvation, where you hear how God loves you, how God created you, how God saves you, how God calls you to do something significant with your life. In the Gospel lesson this morning, you heard Jesus say to you, "I call you my friend...You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit." Get yourself involved, immersed in the church where you hear words of blessing.
Thirdly, when curses are hurled at you, bless them that persecute you. When Iran sends us curses, return blessings to Iran. Love your enemies, Jesus taught us. Why? Because love overcomes hate. Blessing overcomes curse. Light overcomes darkness. Let the light shine, for light reveals. Light brings to awareness that which is dark and forbidding.
Mark's mother held her new grandson proudly, looked up at her son, Mark, and with a grin asked, "How could anyone as dumb and ugly as you have such a good-looking child?" She was teasing, but Mark had had enough. All through his life, he and his brother and sister had been given negative words by their mother. When her youngest son was having trouble with math, she would say, "You might as well drop geometry; that's for smart kids." She would laughingly say to her daughter, "Nobody's going to want to date a fat mess like you." She would say to Mark, "You'd better hope you can find someone who can take care of you when you're older. You're so irresponsible you'll never be able to do anything for yourself." So when she held Mark's baby, and teased him about being dumb and ugly, Mark had had enough, and he confronted his mother. He let the light shine and revealed to her what she had been doing. He said, "Stop it! That's all I've ever heard from you. It's taken me years to believe I'm not ugly and dumb. Why do you think I haven't been home in so long? I don't ever want you to call me dumb again." His mother sat in stunned silence. Tears came to her eyes. For the first time, one of her children had the courage to confront her. She hadn't meant the teasing; after all, she had been kidded unmercifully by her mother, and so it goes...
Cheryl was reared in a home where the words, "I'm sorry," "You're right," "Please forgive me," and "I love you" were not part of the family vocabulary. Her home life was characterized by fights, criticism, ridicule, and competition. Then Cheryl went to a Young Life camp and became a Christian. She trusted Christ as her Lord and Savior. She trusted Jesus with her life. She began acting differently at home. Right in the middle of a fight, she would break her family's rules, and say, "I'm sorry; you're right. Would you forgive me?" She began saying, "Love you, Mom; love you, Dad." She began giving hugs. She began returning blessings for curses, compliments for ridicule, forgiveness when wronged. Over the next two-year period, by Cheryl's giving the Blessing to her parents, from whom she had not received the Blessing, and by giving the Blessing to her siblings, the entire family, one by one, became Christians and active members of a church. Such is the power of the Blessing, the power of touch, the power of words.
In our nation's history, the Civil Rights movement enabled black people and white people to become aware of the second-class status most blacks had been forced to take. Marches and nonviolent demonstrations helped raise the consciousness of the nation; but it took words to help black people break through the barriers imposed by society, and break through the injunctions of their own psyches. Black children were imprisoned by their own minds. Can you imagine the power of the phrase, "Black is beautiful." After generations of hearing black as a symbol of evil, as a symbol of inferiority, now children were being taught, "Black is beautiful."
A few Sundays ago, I poked my head in the nursery door, and greeted the children. I asked them how they were. Elliott Hendrix, who was three at the time, replied, "I am an amazing boy." We rejoiced with his good spirit. His mother, much to her credit, did not get embarrassed and try to put him down. I asked him, "What about your brother, Philip?" Elliott said, "He's amazing, too." And your sister, Gwendolyn? "She's amazing, too!" Three-year old Elliott blessed his family.
There is power in words. Words shape lives. Last summer at Church Camp in Monte Toyon (which is August 8 this year), we did Strength Bombardment in the adult discussion group. Strength Bombardment is where one-by-one each person is told by the rest of the group how and why he/she is appreciated. We had such a time of Blessing, it took three days to go around the circle. This morning we receive the youth confirmation class into membership. This is a service of blessing. The Blessing of Touch will be given. We will lay our hands on their heads. Words of blessing will be given, "The Lord defend you with his heavenly grace and by his Spirit confirm you in the faith and fellowship of all true disciples of Jesus Christ." It is a Blessing of protection. "The Lord defend you." It is a Blessing of assurance and confidence. "By his Spirit confirm you" -- confirm, make firm, make sure and steadfast. It is a Blessing of vocation and identity. Who are you? -- "a true disciple of Jesus Christ." When you receive those words and let their power fill you with purpose, who and what can ever defeat you?
What kind of words are you hearing, or have you heard in your life? What kind of words are you speaking to others?
© 1988 Douglas I. Norris