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Oh, What We Do To Each Other!
April 23, 1995

JOHN 20:19-31

As you heard and read the Scripture Lesson today, were you struck, as I was, with the authority Jesus gave the disciples? John 20:23, If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. Did you hear that!!

Is it possible to have that kind of power over one another? Can we actually forgive the sins of one another--and not forgive one another? Do we have the authority--the power--to prevent someone from being forgiven his/her sins? Oh, what we do to each other!

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. Little by little, constantly hearing he was mean burned its way into his character. At the time, the book, The Blessing, was written, Mean Mike was in a state prison in Arizona. We live up to our names, or down to our names, as the case may be.

Words have power. According to Genesis, God spoke the earth into existence, And God said... Words have power to fashion, to create, condition, affect. We are shaped by words. In the Bible, positive words are called blessings. Negative words are called curses. Both have tremendous power and influence over people. In Palo Alto church, I preached one Sunday on the power of intercessory prayer. I believe that, through intercessory prayer, God combines our spirits, our energies, with the Holy Spirit to bless people. 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?" Perhaps one explanation for the increased violence, drugs, hatred, bombings we are experiencing are partly the result of being cursed by millions of Iranians!

What shall we do when curses are hurled at us? What shall you do when you are cursed? What shall you do when you are given nicknames that are not positive image building? What shall you do when you are teased? What shall you do if you are called dumb, stupid, silly, foolish, fat, ugly, or mean?

1) Don't believe them. Don't internalize the negative words. Don't let curses enter your psyche, influence your behavior and your opinion of yourself. When you are cursed, hold up a shield, like the medieval knights, and ward off the curses. Paul told us in Ephesians 6:11-16, Put on the armor of God...Carry faith as a shield, for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One.

2) If possible, confront the curser. Marks' mother held her new grandson proudly, and looking up at her son, Mark, with a grin asked, "How could anyone as dumb and ugly as you have a such good looking child?" She was teasing, but Mark had enough. All through his life, he, his brother and sister had heard negative words by their mother. When her younger son was having trouble with math, she said, "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 had 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 Mark about being dumb and ugly, Mark had had enough, and he confronted his mother. 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 ugly 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 had not meant the teasing; after all, she had been kidded unmercifully by her mother, and so it goes...

3) Bless those who curse you. Jesus taught us to love even our enemies, and to bless those who persecute us. Cheryl was reared in a home where the words, "I'm'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, and began to take his teachings seriously. 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, "I love you, Mom. I love you, Dad." She gave hugs. She returned blessings for curses, compliments for ridicule, forgiveness for blame. Over the next two-year period, the entire family, one by one, became Christians and active members of a church. The power of blessing, the power of words, the power of touch cannot be overestimated.

Watch how you treat others. Watch your words. Bless, and do not curse. Remember, what goes around comes around. You reap what you plant. Bless and you will be blessed; curse and you will be cursed.

We as a congregation will soon have opportunity to be a blessing. Next week we launch a capital campaign called Expanding Our Vision. Each of us will be given an opportunity--actually, a privilege--to give and/or make a three-year pledge to very special causes--new church development and building new campground facilities. The goal for the conference is $7 to 10 million. Our goal is to raise $200,000 -- $100,000 towards the $7 million goal; in other words, $100,000 for others, outside our congregation; and $100,000 for ourselves, to refurbish our 40-year-old facility so that we might better serve God in this community. We want to complete the courtyard project, construct a play yard for pre-school children, refurbish the Social Hall, carpet the Sunday School rooms, remodel the chancel.

We are very blessed. We have excellent facilities. 40 years ago our congregation, which included some of you, made good choices, and built here a facility which is functional and of which we can be very proud. God is good to us. I have told you often, and I mean it sincerely, you are an exceptional congregation. There is much love and joy here. We support, encourage, and help one another. I am proud to be your pastor. I like it here!

We are blessed, and we now have an opportunity to be a blessing to others, to share our blessings. On Sunday, Mother's Day, May 14, we will participate in a dedication service when we will each present our pledge to the campaign.

You may be asking, why are we being asked to help build new churches? There are two easy to understand answers. 1) Because Methodism has not built new churches in recent years, we are declining at an alarming rate. In 1906, 10% of church members in California were what we now call United Methodist. Today, less than 3% of church members in California are United Methodist. In northern California and northern Nevada, in 1964, we had 130,788 members; today we have 94,000. Between 1940 and 1965, 105 new churches were chartered. Between 1966 and 1991, 22! Look what happened to California's population during that time, and we built only 22 churches. A major reason for the decline is our lack of starting new congregations where the people are moving.

2) A major reason for failing to start new congregations is the lack of finances. We are being asked to help because there are new congregations ready to build, but no new congregation has enough money to build. Building costs today, as you know, are prohibitive. No congregation can do it alone. Fresno Fellowship is ready to build in north Fresno, but they need help, either as grants or loans. Watch the news on TV and you can readily see the desperate need for churches in Fresno. The reservoir to help churches build is dry. By 1994, there was less than $8,000 available for capital investment in new churches. What can you build for $8,000? How much land can you buy for $8,000?

There are many more reasons for us to participate in the Expanding Our Vision campaign. You are being invited to the home of one of your fellow members where an informal presentation will be made. Please come.

Oh, what we do to each other! We can bless or we can curse, we can be positive or negative. Sisters and brothers. let's be a blessing.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris