|photo by llee_wu / flickr|
One of the books that has meant a great deal to me is a little book called, The Power to Bless. It was written by a Pastoral counselor, Myron Madden. He said that the great power of primitive religion was the power to curse. This was a most fearful thing—to be cursed. But beginning with Abraham a new dimension was added to religious history. It was the power to bless. And over and over we read through the Bible these wonderful words: “I will bless you and I will bless your descendants.”
Now the great news is that the power to bless is much stronger than the power to curse. This is the heart of Judea-Christian religion. Instead of giving us some curse for our cussedness, God graciously holds out a blessing instead.
Now we all know something about the curse. It’s those crippling messages we have heard all our lives. That we don’t count. That we’ll never amount to anything. That we are dumb, lazy, sissies. It is the feeling that we are just not important. And this curse cripples us. It shrivels our self-image. Sometimes it makes us too dependent and we keep hoping somebody will bless us. Or often we just put a shell around ourselves and won’t let anybody in. It hurts too much.
But we also know something about the blessing. To be blessed is to be accepted. To be blessed is to be brought into the circle. To be blessed is to belong—to be a part. When your parents gave their blessing to your marriage, your career, your dreams. It is to be accepted by another person—though they know us warts and all. It really is amazing grace. Remember how the old father blessed that boy that came back home in rags and shame. What did the father say? “My son…my son.” It is knowing that we really do matter. That we are truly loved.
So the gospel holds out a great promise for all of us. We are blessed despite all sorts of obstacles that are thrown in our path. Or that we throw in our own paths. The New Testament reminded us that little group of scared believers—always in the minority—always seeming a little strange by most folks. “Once you were no people…” they were told, “but now you are God’s people.” You are somebody.
In the patriarchal period the dying father blessed the eldest child. And we see this clearly in the Jacob-Esau story we read this morning. Esau was the oldest and the birthright belonged him. But the Mama wanted the youngest child, Jacob to have the blessing. So they tricked the old blind father into giving the rightful blessing that belonged to Esau to Jacob. Jacob disguised his voice…he wrapped his wrist like hairy Esau. And the father gave the blessing to the wrong son. It was a terrible thing to steal one’s blessing. Esau had loved his brother and could not believe that his brother would steal what belonged to him. And that love for his brother turned to hatred. And he vowed if he found Jacob he would kill him. To steal a blessing is a terrible thing.
Moses blessed his people. Aaron later would bless the people. In the early synagogue service there were eighteen benedictions. And when Matthew put together Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount over and over he said it: You will be blessed…You will be blessed…You will be blessed. And it finally got into their heads—that they really counted.
The common people kept following Jesus because he made them feel good about themselves. You know how it is when you are around somebody who makes you feel good about yourself, that maybe makes you laugh, when you can put your defenses down. You are accepted and you know this. This is to be blessed.
On this Father’s Day we stop and think about that powerful figure in our own families that shaped or mis-shaped our lives. Some Daddies pass on the curse and not a blessing. “You really think you are something, don’t you.” “You’ll never to anything.”Making fun of you. Always sarcastic when they talked to you. Which translates really means that you are a nobody.
Those that study that long parade of those who have taken guns and caused such terrible grief find an enormous similarity. In almost every single case either they came from a home without a father or a house that was a nightmare of a home. Dylan Roof, 21 years old white supremacist in Charleston stood up in that Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church and mowed down the Pastor and eight others. Nobody doubts that somewhere along the line he was crippled by somebody or a whole lot of some bodies. And all he ever learned was how to curse the world around him. He came from a broken home and attended seven schools in nine years. Nobody ever took him in their arms and said: “My son…my son.” He felt rejected everywhere he turned. And what if somebody or a whole lot of somebodies had reached out and helped? Teachers, somebody in Sunday School, scouts—maybe a coach, a relative. Somebody. We all have the power to bless somebody.
You probably know Coach Dabo Sweeney’s story. Life was pretty good for him until his high school years. His
Daddy’s business slowly failed and as the bills mounted he turned to the bottle. And when he drank—he was violent especially toward his family. Dabo left the house, would stay in their backyard or sit on the roof of his home. Some nights things got so bad he slept in the family car. Finally his parents divorced—but they lost their house and lived in motels and were finally evicted because the Mother could not pay the rent. For three years she lived with Dabo and they both slept in the same room while he went to college in Tuscaloosa.
|photo by nutternumberone / flickr|
Dabo could have just crumbled. But his Mother loved him and stood by him. And when he thought he had to drop out of school because he didn’t have the $1,000 he needed to continue in school—a check came in the mail from somebody out there. There were teachers and coaches that helped him. And we know the rest of the story. He has led Clemson to win two National Championships. And he cares about his players and he is a great model for young people. Dabo Sweeney knows first hand the power to bless. Why do I tell you this story? Because none of us know when we reach out to somebody out there—what miracle might just take place.
Let’s come back to the Jacob and Esau story. The years went by. And Jacob profited again and again from the birthright he had stolen. But the brothers never saw each other. But as their hair turned grey and so many years had passed—both still remembered what Jacob had done. But Jacob wanted to make amends with his brother. But he was still afraid of Esau and he remembered Esau’s rage when he said, “I will kill you if it is the last thing I do.”
So Jacob decided to send his older brother a peace offering. He couldn’t sleep. He was afraid every day. He remembered how he had betrayed his brother. So he sent Esau: “a hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys.” (Genesis 32,14-15)
And for a little while there was a silence. And Jacob wrestled with an angel. And he dreamed dreams. And one morning Genesis 33 says that Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming. Jacob was petrified. And when Esau got there what did he do? This great big hairy man who had been betrayed. What did he do? He stretched his arms out as far was he could, there was this enormous smile on his face and there were tears running down his cheeks and he said:”Jacob…Jacob…Jacob. I love you. I have always loved you. I don’t need all these animals you sent as as peace offering. No peace-offering needed. Just to see you standing here—To see your face is to see the face of God!” And Esau brought his own cadre of animals and he told Jacob he had to take them. The man who did not get the blessing…blessed there man who had stolen the blessing. And there was peace with the brothers after all those years for each brother blessed the other.
Isn’t it what we all have to do? Give a blessing and not a curse to one another. Some of you old timers will remember World War II. A lot of things were rationed then and one of the things that you could only get in small amount was sugar. There just was not enough on anybody’s table. Some people would go into a restaurant and empty the sugar bowls and it became quite a problem. So the restaurants decided to take sugar off the tables. And if people wanted sugar it would be put in the coffee or tea in the kitchen. So this man came into a diner one morning for breakfast. He ordered eggs and the trimmings and then he said, “I want some coffee and I want some sugar.” The server brought his breakfast and set the coffee down on the table and left. In a few minutes the waiter came back and the man barked “I think I ordered sugar with this coffee.” And the waitress put her hands on her hips and said: “Mister, stir what you got.”
Some times we ask for what we already have. We have all been blessed and not cursed. And so what we need to do is to stir what we got. And then don’t stop there—but start in this room…take that blessing out to your home or job or wherever you meet other people. “Stir what you got…brothers and sisters, stir what you got.” This power to bless can change us and we can pass it on.
(This sermon was preached at the Providence Presbyterian Church, Powdersville, SC, June 16, 2019)
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com