“I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse….” (Genesis 12.3b). Abram is being asked to abandon the security of clan and homeland to become a kind of karmic God-mirror to the world. What at an odd role, but one which fits with the betwixt and between character of any who dare mediate between heaven and earth. As the peoples bless Abram they will, in turn, be blessed. Blessing, like light, can be reflected. The nations will get what they give. But James Mctyre points out the mirror also tips to a 45 degree angle to reflect God’s blessing down and out. Abram/Abraham has been made into an instrument, a tool, an operator in the divine plan. Are we mirrors, too?
Of course we are, and we are flattered to think so, but that doesn’t make us so special when we consider all the other mirrors scattered around. Consider this week’s Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills-from where will my help come?” (v.1). What do you see when you look at those imaginary hills? Mount Zion-beacon of hope? A treacherous pass that must be crossed before the snows come? A storm on the horizon? Others think of majestic wilds that have awakened the existential imagination. What you see in these first verse of Psalm 121 says as much about you as any Internet personality quiz.
So much of the holy juju of what we talk about when we throw around terms like “blessing” and “curse” seems to flow through the process of apprehension. What is prejudice except another name for the evil eye which curses as it sees and poisons both the seer and the seen? Some years ago I was enlightened by Rob Voyle’s Appreciative Inquiry training into the power inherent in controlling the frame through which the world is apprehended. Merely changing the way you ask the question can have profound therapeutic impact. “What’s wrong?” becomes, “What would you like?” The eyes are lifted up from the block in the road toward the hills beyond.
Nicodemus is another mirror (John 3.1-17). Many have seen in him the lack of insight that they secretly fear for themselves. “Poor Nicodemus,” many interpreters have shaken their heads, “he just doesn’t get it. Tut tut.” But what if he does “get it”–what if he is genuinely seeking the kingdom? He isn’t foolishly taking Jesus literally when he talks about birth, as many suggest, but simply speaking in the same poetic language that Jesus uses–isn’t his question (as Richard Swanson puts it), “What is the real connection between spirituality and physicality?” He’s asking Jesus how this process of spiritual birth works. Jesus, characteristically, doesn’t exactly answer. “It just does,” he says, “The spirit blows like the spirit blows.”
Unsatisfied, Nicodemus presses again, “How can these things be?” (v. 9). This is not the question of one who lacks the ears to hear or the eyes to see. This is the question of a faithful Jew wrestling with the Torah. He has heard what any Rabbi would hear–Echoes of Genesis 2 and Ezekiel 37–breath and life. Like an inquisitive preschooler who asks where babies come from, he wants to go deeper into the mystery of God. If Jesus has reflected the light of revelation down onto Nicodemus, he’d like to look back through that mirror upward toward God–a sight that Jesus is unable to give him.
My four year old often uses me as a mirror to reflect with. “Why?” he asks reflexively. Giving the “Just because” answer always feels like a cop out. I try to give him real answers to every question, but sometimes I just can’t give him an answer he will understand. Sometimes I give him an answer that I know is above his head. On such occasions he often responds with silence as he tries to figure out the meaning of what I just said. My words must feel like Zen Koans to him. Jesus probably felt a similar frustration to any parent trying to explain difficult things.
How will your people respond to your mirror-that-is-a-sermon this Sunday? Will they hear what they want to hear and thus receive the blessing with which they bless? Hearing the hope they bear within themselves already (thanks to grace) reflected back at them? Or will they walk away pondering your words in confusion?
Perhaps faithful questioning leads to confusing answers–my son’s pondering is like Mary’s–the consequence of knowledge-that-blesses. I suspect that where we might fail, as preachers, is when we refuse to be mirrors of God’s grace and instead insist on being the image itself. Perhaps we do this because we are afraid of the holy confusion we might cause. Or perhaps we try to “Fake it until we make it” rather than genuinely reflect the anxieties, hopes, loves, and fears that are coming at us. Don’t do that. Just stand that there and reflect, no matter what furrowed eyebrows it might cause.