Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14
1. What does it really mean to bless/curse another person with language?
2. In what ways have I been a recipient of both blessings or curses? How have these things impacted my life?
3. What might we need to do to grow as a community who “blesses and does not curse?”
Below is my message from Sunday:
The Power to Evoke
Language is powerful. Scripture is chalked full of references to blessings and curses, to the power of what we say, and to how we say it.
We can come up with all manner of examples at how language has an effect on our lives. Language has the power to open and to close possibilities for us. Heres a funny, example from Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff (a fictional story about Jesus and his childhood friend Biff who go on a mission to seek out each of the three wise men and their encounters with these men):
Josh (or Jesus) and his best friend Biff met the 2nd Wise Man, Gaspar, and this is the story:
Sitting was what we did. To learn to sit, to be still and hear the music of the universe, was why we had come halfway around the world, evidently. To let go of ego, not individuality, but that which distinguishes us from all other beings. When you sit, sit. When you breathe, breathe. When you eat, eat, Gaspar would say, meaning that every bit of our being was to be in the moment, completely aware of the now, no past, no future, nothing dividing us from everything that is.
Its hard for me, a Jew, to stay in the moment. Without the past, where is the guilt? And without the future, where is the dread? And without guilt and dread, who am i?
See your skin as what connects you to the universe, not what separates you from it, Gaspar told me, trying to teach me the essence of what enlightenment meant, while admitting that it was not something that could be taught. Method he could teach. Gaspar could sit.
The legend went (I pieced it together from bits dropped by the master and his monks) that Gaspar had built the monastery as a place to sit. Many years ago he had come to China from India, where he had been born a prince, to teach the emperor and his court the true meaning of Buddhism, which had been lost in years of dogma and overinterpretation of scripture.
Upon arriving, the emperor asked Gaspar, What have I attained for all my good deeds?
Nothing, said Gaspar.
The emperor was aghast, thinking now that he had been generous to his people all these years for nothing.
He said, Well, then, what is the essence of Buddhism?
Vast amphibians, said Gaspar.
The emperor had Gaspar thrown from the temple, at which time the young monk decided two things; one, that he would have a better answer the next time he was asked the question, and two, that hed better learn to speak better Chinese before he talked to anyone of importance. Hed meant to say, Vast emptiness, but hed gotten the words wrong. (Borrowed from Link)
Words are a big deal. In this story Gasper experiences how words have the power to open up or close down possibilities. Gaining an audience with the emperor is a big deal, unless you say the wrong thing.
Or you can think of protests. From this week in Cairo to the protests that happen here in Clark County. One hope of many protests is that what we say will be heard by someone else who has power to change things.
So we use words to describe reality. A protest, quite often describes an unsuitable reality, an injustice, a place where discrimination and oppression have taken place. And this is very much needed in our society and around the world. There are many people who are constantly being exploited, whose voices are not heard or projected by the major news outlets. If your position does not buttress our own, then we will silence you.
In todays world we see that often in order to be right, you have to shout the loudest, twist the truth just enough to catch peoples attentions, or have enough anger to incite fear. A Quaker theologian writes:
If language is viewed primarily as a vehicle whereby experience is articulated in a descriptive fashion, then the language used to speak of our world, ourselves, will be violent. In fact, we could conclude that our speech must be aggressive in order to speak truthfully with integrity.
But language isnt just descriptive.
It opens up and closes down possibilities.
For instance, the word Protest was historically understood in the positive, to protest was once to bear witness to something and only as a consequence of that allegiance to bear witness against something else (MacIntyre, 71).
I wonder how this view of language would change the grounds for which we continue to hear pleads for civil discourse today.
We are comparing these two things: Opening/Closing — Blessings/Curses
In Scripture these two these of blessings/curses — openings and closings appear in many places. The most powerful of these stories is of course in the beginning chapters of Genesis 1-3.
In the creation poem of Gen. 1 we see how language moves from being descriptive to evoking a whole new reality.
A philosopher by the name of Wittgenstein once noted that:
To utter a word is to create, to give birth to realities that may not have existed previously. Words may call forth by evoking that which is latent, waiting to be inspired, summoned, given life. Yet, our speech may actually create new and inhabitable worlds, not simply describe presently existing ones.
Gods work of creation always comes through a word. Here, God is a poetry, painting the goodness of creation and blessing it.
And so it is blessing (and opening) that is the first framing of creation. Brk (berek) In Gen. 1 and 2 we see the opening creation poem declare repeatedly that it is good and God blessed them, saying… (1:22, 28). In chapter two God blesses the seventh day, as a day of rest where human relationships and community can be enjoyed and rest can be restored.
Now what about curse?
What imagine comes to mind from these creation stories that remind us of curse? The serpent. In Gen. 3 we learn that the serpent is the metaphor for curse, for closure and a breakdown of relationship.
The word curse first appears in chater 3 when God curses the serpent and the ground.
Interestingly, while we have a lot of theology that speaks of the fall those words never appear there in the story, nor are the man and woman cursed by God. The only character to receive the strict language of the curse is the snake. Yet, clearly Adam and Eve suffer from the recourse of the curse, that recourse being a break down of relationship, a closure of possibility between them and God, a closure of the garden of eden. Here the curse signifies not so much sin or a fall but a disruption of the original shalom (or peace) of creation.
If in the opening two chapters of the creation story we see blessing and an opening up of possibilities and worlds through the power of language, we see the reverse take place in chapter 3. The curse signifies a closure of that reality and a disruptions of the original shalom (peace).
And it is these two realities that battle back and forth through all of scripture.
Sometimes there is blessing and sometimes there is curse. Sometimes the people of God embrace openings and sometimes they embrace or are faced with closures.
Our own Speech/Language
When we move to Pauls letter to the Romans and our short passage for today a challenge is put forth.
Which reality will we as the church live under? The reality of blessing, openings, and shalom or the one of curse, closure and brokenness?
For Paul, those in the church, those who allow themselves to be made new through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, do not have to live under the Gen. 3 framework of reality.
In Christ, the original shalom is restored and we are invited to live in a manner that reflects that restoration. Thats why Ive talked about Easter Sunday as the first day of the New Creation (John 20ff).
Now what does this have to do with the way we speak and how we use language?
Paul says to Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.
In our speech, in the way we speak to one another, we can embrace one of two realities.
We can embrace the world where curse reigns, where NO is central, where what we are against is more clearly marked out than what we are for. People know when we work out of this Gen. 3 version of reality. When we use our language in this way, people feel not-listened-to, they feel closed down, they experience embarrassment or shame. We have all experienced this in our lives, and my guess is at least most of us have made others feel this way.
Friends, I believe that this is the easier of the two choices.
Curse: It is much easier curse than it is to bless. I think we let ourselves off way too easy when we give a response that simply puts a hand up, or closes down other possibilities than it is to genuinely have interest in what the other person has to say or why he or she believes/thinks what they do. It can be easier to say no then yes in this instance, because with a yes, comes the commitment to actually enter into a persons story and hear them as a Child of God.
[ILL — LA] And lets face it — Often speaking blessing is seen as suspect in our society. I remember when we first moved to LA I used to walk down the street of sunny Pasadena and try and make eye contact with everyone and say at nice hello those those I passed. I very rapidly learned that this was not the thing to do if you didnt want to look stupid. People rarely looked up at all, and if they did look up they rarely responded to my friendly hello in kind.
I know that growing up I was always told If you cant say something nice, dont say anything at all. (Cartoon?) And maybe that is a good response, but Id like to ask, why can we not say something nice? What internal work do we need to do in order to behold the very face of God in another individual, even those whom we feel persecuted by?
I know for me I am most likely to offer a curse when confrontation arises. In these instances, Id rather close down a situation, offer a brief, short response, to avoid an uncomfortable position than respond with a blessing and enter into a difficult, but relationship grounding conversation. (How many of you know what Im talking about?)
Blessing: Or we can choose to follow Paul and become a people who offer blessing, even in the middle of persecution.
Blessing, in Greek, is eulogeo – which is where eulogy comes from. It means to say something commendatory, to speak well of, or to ask for bestowal of special favor, especially to call down Gods gracious power on others.
To bless and not to curse for Paul was to follow this but to take even further steps and bless even those who are out to get us. Blessing for Paul is to actually work at this kind of bestowal of special favor on others. Even when it is really hard work or in his instance, when his life was a stake.
Paul believed that that the church was a community of people who, even in the face of their deepest persecution are able to hold their ground, and let grace season their speech.
To bless and not to curse is to work towards a life that is formed by announcing Gods favor on each person we encounter – friend or foe.
Sometimes we literally speak that blessing, other times that blessing comes in the form of standing with people. Sometimes it comes in the form of just genuinely listening to another.
To bless and not to curse is to be a peacemaker with our language, and we know that language has as much to do with words as it does with our bodies.
To bless is to be the kind of people who can see the inherent goodness of Gods creation all around us. To speak blessing requires people who have eyes to see, mouths to speak, and bodies that act.
To bless and not to curse recognize God in the other.
As Karl Barth Says:
to bless and not to curse…This blessing means that in the midst of the human struggle for existence honour is paid to God, and in the most impressive manner we recognize the One in the other. (Karl Barth – Romans 459)
To bless and not to curse to recognize the One in the other.
To bless and not to curse is to participate with God in Gods work.
Pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the justice of your own cause for mercy; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in Gods own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share Gods own audacity. (Barbara Brown Taylor ht: Rogue Reverend)
To bless and not to curse is to begin each day ready to experience grace.
“On awakening, bless this day, for it is already full of unseen good which your blessings will call forth, for to bless is to acknowledge the unlimited good that is embedded in the very texture of the universe and awaiting each and all” pierre pradervand
To bless and not to curse is to refuse curses their role in seeking to close down the Kingdom of God, as the way to Eden was closed down. Instead we to make blessing others a part of what it means for us to be followers of Christ and to recognize the One in the other.
So when we are with our loved ones, our children, our friends, people right here, and those we disagree with, those who are enemies to us. How will we use our language. What kind of reality will we evoke? One of blessing or curse?
Let us now share communion together with the Spirit of Christ in the manner of Friends. In silence we believe that God comes to us and speaks. Let us sit and wait for God to speak a new word to us, a word that brings us together, that draws us in, that nurtures and mends. As we share in waiting worship this morning, if you are prompted to share something, and you know its meant for the group rather than just for yourself, will you please stand and share that word with us?