A Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, June 2, 2002, Pentecost 3, dedicated to all the men and women who have chosen First Church as the place to begin their lives together in marriage or covenant union and always to the glory of God!

"Blessings and Curses"

Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28; Matthew 7:21-29

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Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This story, recorded in the Talmud, speaks, of a ring, a king, and curses and blessings.

King Solomon was wise and powerful with riches beyond compare, and yet, he was not content. One day he told his wise men, "I am too often depressed by life. If things go my way, I do not trust that they will last. If they do not, I fear my woes will never end. I have dreamed that there is a ring that contains the knowledge that will bring me peace of mind. Please go and find this ring. I wish to have it by Succoth, six months from now."

The king's advisors each went their own way, asking in each place for this marvelous, powerful ring that would bring their king peace of mind. They went to the finest jewelers and goldsmiths in Jerusalem and described the magic qualities of the ring, but no one had heard of it. They traveled to Damascus, Babylon, and Tyre and spoke to traders and merchants who had traveled the seas, but no one had heard of such a ring. They traveled to Egypt and many other places - but nowhere did they find it and no one knew of such a ring.

Many times the king asked them if they found the ring, and they replied, "Not yet your highness." Solomon's hope was fading.

Six months passed. On the eve of Succoth, the advisors still had not found the ring. They had given up. All save one, the youngest. Unable to sleep, he walked through the city streets all night. In the morning he found himself on a street with the poorest houses. He saw an old man setting out his simple jewelry and trinkets for sale. In one last attempt he described the ring to this man.

The old man was quiet for a while, and then he smiled. He went inside his simple dwelling and returned with a plain gold ring. With a sharp tool he engraved something on it and laid it in the advisors' hand. As the wise man read what was written on the ring, his heart filled with joy. "This is the ring," he exclaimed. He gave the old man all the money he had and hurried back to the palace.

That evening at the Succoth feast, King Solomon silenced the crowd. He asked, "Advisors, have you found me the ring of my dreams?" All were silent except the youngest advisor. He stepped forward as he spoke, "We have your highness." The king looked at the ring and read the Hebrew words engraved there, "Gam Zeh Ya'avor" - "This too shall pass." He handed him the simple gold ring. As he read the inscription, the king's sorrows turned to joy and his joys to sorrow, and then both gave way to peace. And the king was reminded in that moment that all his riches and glory were impermanent, and all his sorrows would pass away as do the seasons and years, all his blessings and all his curses would pass away.

From that time on, King Solomon wore the ring and was reminded - in blessings and in curses, in good times and in bad, that "This too, shall pass." ("This Too Shall Pass is retold from Talmud by Elisa Davy Pearmain in Doorways to the Soul, Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1998, pp.20-21).

We are all reminded in the law code of Deuteronomy that blessings and curses, that life and death visit all people. In Hebrew, the word barakh commonly translates to "blessing" and is a standard invocation to prayer ("Bless ye the Lord") and is used in benedictions for giving thanks and praise to God, not only for God's benefits, but also for such misfortunes as one is called upon to suffer. The common belief is that not only can God bring good fortune or misfortune, blessing or curse, upon a person, but that this power is invested - albeit indirectly - in humans who can invoke God's blessing or curse on others. The Hebraic tradition lives deeply in the beliefs that "the curse of a sage - even when undeserved - will come to pass." (Berakhot, 56a) and that one should never regard lightly the blessing of an ordinary person." (Berakhot, 7a). Blessings and curses both come to pass and pass by in themselves.

This truth is like the parable of the man who held a precious and rare bird cupped in the palm of his hands. He knew that if he continued to hold it tight, the bird would eventually suffocate. However, if he opened his hands the bird would fly away and he would lose it forever. So, he asked a wise man what to do in this dilemma. The answer came back, "it is as you will it." So often the blessings and curses of life are as we will them. If we hold on to our blessings too tightly, we suffocate them and they become curses. If we let them go, they fly away and we lose them to the winds of time and change. The same, though is true for curses. If we hold them tightly, they suffocate us. In our pain and in our suffering, if we release them too quickly, we fail to learn from them. They may or may not glance us, but they do not impact us for change.

In the New Testament, blessings are frequent and curses are rare - because of Jesus' words not to curse another. Perhaps the most well known blessings are found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-11& Luke 6:17-26. Although Jesus taught his disciples to "Bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you," (Luke 6:28) he was not beyond proclaiming grief or "Woes" when faced with the curses caused by those who were rich and acted unjustly to the poor, who were well fed and mistreated the hungry, who laughed in the face of others' pain, or who allowed others to falsely speak well of them, for the false prophets had done the same in generations past (Luke 24-26).

The five books of Moses from Genesis to Deuteronomy, deal with blessings and curses as an organizing concept throughout. In the closing chapters of Deuteronomy, God offers these words, " . . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses . . . choose life so that you and your descendants may live!" (Dt. 30:19).

Given time, joys And sorrows; glories And suffering; blessings And curses all pass away. And it true that how we face these life challenges And these life delights reflect largely on how we "will it." That said, it is often harder for most of us to face the suffering, juxtaposed to embracing the glory.

I am reminded by the words of James Baldwin that "not everything that is faced in life can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced." Rudyard Kipling says it this way in his poem "If": If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same . . . you will be a man, my son."

Facing the blessings And the curses are that which God calls us to do. In closing, perhaps you and I can learn a lesson from J.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, which my son Daniel and I are reading right now. When faced with having to pass through the evils of a deep forest called Mirkwood, the advice that the wizard, Gandolph offers the dwarves and the Hobbit known as Bilbo Baggins is simply this "Stay on the path. To venture off the path will bring untold misery." You and I often seek brilliant, intellectual wisdom, but perhaps we simply need to remember the way of life is the path between fire and ice. The path through the middle isn't dramatic or sensational, but it is the way of life and by choosing it, we choose life.

I invite you to come to Christ's table of grace. Here we come to know and feel that our sorrows turn to joy and our joys turn to sorrow and both give way to peace, a peace that passes human understanding. Amen.

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