Why It’s Okay to Curse Others in Church

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I am spending the week preparing a sermon about why we sing songs when we gather to worship God.  This meant I spent the week falling back in love with the great Hymn book of our faith, the Psalms.

The reason I love the Psalms is because they easily shatter any box we try to put the Scriptures into.  if Scripture is God’s love letter to us, than what do we do with the 6th Psalm, which appears to be a love letter from us to God?

If the Bible is “Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth” than what do we do with the 72nd Psalm that seems to consist more in Basic Instructions for God while we live on Earth?

If the Bible is the grand narrative of God’s workings in the world (which admittedly I fall back on) then what do we do with the very 1st Psalm that doesn’t narrate anything but makes a simple and poetic comparison?

If Scripture is just meant to comfort us by God’s presence, why am I not comforted when I read the 120th Psalm which begins happy enough but ends in despair?

And if Scripture reveals to us a God of forgiveness and grace as opposed to a God of rules and laws, why is the 119th Psalm (the longest chapter in Scripture by the way) sing nothing but unashamed praises for God’s commandments?

Yet perhaps the Psalm that stands out the most is the 109th one.  It is what we call a Psalm of Cursing where the writer/singer just doles out curses against his enemies while praying to God.  Here are some of my favorite lines from this piece of art:

8 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand.  (We will taken evil guy over this guy!)

9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
    may they be driven from their ruined homes.
11 May a creditor seize all he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
12 May no one extend kindness to him
    or take pity on his fatherless children.
13 May his descendants be cut off,
    their names blotted out from the next generation.
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
    may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.

Now I must confess I have been angry at people a time or two in my life and maybe wished they would be fired from their jobs because they were lousy at them.  However, I have never gone so far as to curse their grandparents, parents, spouse, children and grandchildren.  They are singing, “God just do away with the whole lot!”

I used to work at a Rescue Mission and after reading this Psalm in chapel, a homeless man said, “Whoa, that guy is pissed!”  And he is right.  The writer of this song was pissed.

It is made more entertaining by the fact that although one person initially wrote it about one group of people, the ancient Israelites were so spiritually moved by it they decided to get together and sing it in their worship services.  Could you imagine showing up at church one morning to hear your worship leader say, “We are returning to one of the ancient greats today but it will be new to some of you.  It is hymn number 1-0-9.  Once again that is 1-0-9.  We are going to sing out the wonderful words, “Appoint someone evil oh God, appoint an evil man to accuse!”  It kind of sound like a rap song actually!

But here is the thing, this man or men, or maybe even women, were hounding to death the poor and the needy.  A God of compassion does not tolerate injustice towards the poor and needy.  And maybe there is room in our worship services to name and reject and even curse the intolerant, unjust, wicked leaders of our day.

I don’t necessarily think God answers the prayer requests, especially the one ” to make his children wandering beggars.”  In fact, I am very uncomfortable with a God that would answer that request.  But I have no problem with a God who hears us when we pray our curses, who is on the side of the poor and needy and is working to remove from power those who “hound to death the brokenhearted.”

So I think there is room in our worship to be honest about our righteous anger towards those who refuse to be compassionate.  Although I might not go so far as to write songs that curse them, I would leave room for those prayers and even scripted poems in the liturgy of our services.  It seems a Psalm like this one has a role to play in aligning our hearts to beat with God’s compassion.  And compassion has a dark side, which I call “wrath.”  And that wrath is expressed towards those who refuse to show love and care for the least and lonely.

Until His Return.

Preaching the Eucharist in a World At War

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I spent the week doing many things, not least of which was preparing a sermon on Communion in my sermon series on “Why We Worship.”

As many of you know evangelical churches seem to be falling back in love with the sacrament after about 70 years of forgetting about it.  I managed to get in early on this trend because I was lucky enough to attend a youth group in high school where my youth pastor celebrated the Eucharist every week.  In fact, I would have liked to preach 6-8 sermons just about Communion but my preaching calendar prevented me.

So I have to try to scratch the surface in one sermon.  But what do you say in one sermon that summarizes the 2,000 year tradition of eating bread and drinking wine together?  This has been my question and my problem.  I started with John 6 where Jesus says, “unless you eat my body and drink my blood you have no part in me and I have no part in you.”  This verse leads to the wonderful sentiment expressed by many lately that when we partake of the Eucharist we don’t just recall Jesus’ death but we are “re-membered” into Christ’s body, meaning we become members of Jesus’ body again.

One of the central acts of the Eucharist is the breaking of bread to remind us that the body we are membered into is a broken one.  I absolutely love how vague Paul is when he recounts the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11.  Paul says that Jesus took the bread, broke it and said, “do this in remembrance of me.”  Does “do this” mean “eat this.”  Or does it refer to “break” so that Paul meant, “Break in remembrance of me?”

If it is “break in remembrance,” then maybe when we eat the broken body we become a broken body.  The Eucharist does not stop there.  We go one step further and drink spilled blood.  The blood and water that poured out of Jesus’ side are contained for us in the Eucharist goblet of wine.  This reminds us that the solution to the world’s suffering might not be in taking the blood of others but by shedding our own.

And in a world saturated with conflict, especially over the last few months in places like Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and now Ferguson, MO, it might be important for the church to be re-membered into Christ’s broken body.  Many in our culture currently seek to label the good guys and the bad guys in any given conflict, then encourage us to exercise violence accordingly.  When we listen to them, we find ourselves looking for the good lions who will rush onto the scene and destroy all the bad guys in paw’s reach.  We cry out, “Who will break their bones and take their blood?”  In our prayers we ask God to send down those lions.  And we are not surprised when many hurt and broken people volunteer, excited they finally get to execute “swift justice.”  Then we are surprised when the media puts them under a fine microscope and shows us they are no conquering heroes, but very flawed individuals whose pursuit of “swift justice” destroyed what they were trying to protect.

In such a world, in such a time, the Eucharist reminds us that to save the world, God didn’t come as a lion but as a lambe.  God’s body was broken and the blood shed and that begins the process of making things right.

When I finger those small pieces of unleavened wafer in my hands on Sunday mornings, I find myself asking the question a popular worship songs asks, “Who could have thought a lamb could rescue the souls of men?”  Who would have thought that a broken body and shed blood saves the world?  Then when I eat and drink, I become re-membered into that body, a broken body that refuses to break other’s bodies (even the most vile) and all in the hope of resurrection to come.