This is the 3rd in our sermon series on the book of James
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
When I was in high school, eons ago, one of our favorite games was the ‘put down.’ You might remember it – we would try to come up with disparaging remarks about each other. If you got a good one off, the others in the group would congratulate you. I’d give you an example, but I really can’t remember any.
What I do remember is how it felt to be on the receiving end of the put down. It was all in fun, and I knew my friends liked me, but still…it hurt. After a while, it stopped being fun to me. And I figured if it wasn’t fun to be on the receiving end of a put down, then maybe I shouldn’t be playing the game at all.
So I stopped.
Some things never change. You don’t have to spend much time watching TV, surfing the web or even listening to the conversations around you to realize that there’s a lot of “put downs” passing for civilized conversation these days.
- Campaign ads that say “The other guy is awful, possibly evil – so vote for me.”
- Comments for articles on the news feeds often descend into “Anyone who would do/think/vote the opposite of what I would do/think/vote, is an idiot and shouldn’t be allowed to breed.[i]”
- Videos are posted that ridicule someone or vilify a person, ruining reputations, causing intense pain.
- Speaking of videos, there’s this week’s tragic attack on our embassy in Libya – the attackers were deeply offended by an offensive video belittling Mohammad.
- Snarky, even outright mean remarks are posted on facebook and other social media sites – whether they are true or not doesn’t seem to matter.
- Reality TV shows where catty remarks and insults are the routine dialog.
We used to teach “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Now it’s more like “If you say something nice, you’ve lost out the chance to score points, be funny, or have your 15 minutes of fame.”
But, it’s just words. Just shrug them off. After all, the children’s rhyme goes “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
The thing is –they can and they do. Word can hurt and inflict deep seated wounds. Think of the young girl who was the victim of cyber-bullying. She received hurtful texts and was the subject of vile facebook posts. Those words cut deep into her soul, so deep that she decided that the only way to stop her pain was to end her life.
Some of us here carry those kinds of wounds – wounds from reckless talk, innuendo, gossip, slander. Some of us have those words etched in our memories, speaking to us again and again – even though it’s been years since the words were uttered.
Words have power.
- Maybe there are things you don’t like to say out loud. I read one time that you should never say, “I think I’m getting sick,” because once you say it, your body believes it and it happens. Now I don’t know if that’s true or not, but we do hesitate to talk about something we want for fear of jinxing it, and we are reluctant to talk about something bad happening for fear our words will make it come true.
- There’s those self-fulfilling prophecies – for example, a child hears, “You are so good at math,” and then tries very hard to live up to that expectation. Another child hears, “You are just not good at school,” and something in them just stops trying.
- We’ve learned about the power of affirmations – post an affirming saying on your bathroom mirror, and say it aloud repeatedly each morning while getting ready. Over time those words change you.
- We wait for those three little words – I love you – and when we hear them, the world is a brighter place.
Words have power.
There’s power in words – God’s speaks and the world is created. God speaks through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, the Living Word. God speaks through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the church, in believers everywhere. God speaks the Word of Life through the church.
Word of Life in a world that so often speaks words of death.
So, do we speak words of life, or words of death?
Or maybe we do a little of both.
There’s a SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon in which SpongeBob learns his very first ‘bad word.’ He goes around saying it over and over and it’s not long until he’s acquired a whole vocabulary of ‘bad words.’ He lets a string of them fly, and the trash man working nearby, looks as him and says, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
James hears our words of death, our put-downs, our careless wisecracks, and asks us, “Do you bless God with that mouth?”
James challenges us. With our words, we bless God, the creator of all life, and with our words we curse those created in the image of God.
How do we speak blessing?
Where do we speak curse?
James challenges us to speak blessing - words that build up, like:
- Jesus loves you very much.
- You are a beloved child of God.
- I love you.
- I forgive you.
- Let me help you.
- I’ll listen to you.
- I respect your thoughts, your beliefs.
- You are welcome here.
- You have value.
We are called to speak words of life – words that are true, grace-filled, loving.
We are called to proclaim Living Word, to a world mired in put-downs and death-speech.
In the older children’s bulletin this morning there is a maze – find your way through the maze following a path that uses the words in a godly manner. And written on that maze are words like praise, friendship, kindness, encourage, honor, truth and words like curse, gossip, insult, tease, mock, lie. You have to wind your way around all the put-downs that speak death to find the build-ups that speak life.
The world we live in is a lot like that maze. We travel a maze of words, words that build up, that bring life, and words that put down, and bring death. The implanted word of life (remember James 1:21) that is growing in our hearts opens us to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit leads us through that maze. Sometimes we don’t follow the Spirit’s leading and we go down the dead end of hurtful speech. If we want to get out of that dead end, we have to back up – repent and ask forgiveness – so we can get back to the words of life.
We do have the Word of God implanted in our hearts, and that plant grows true. We are children of God, with God’s words of life and love and grace and mercy implanted in our hearts.
James asks if a spring gives both fresh and brackish water, if a fig tree produces olives, if a grapevine produces figs.
No. Grapevines grow grapes, fig trees grow figs. Fresh springs give clear, cool, water.
Hmmm…Figs…Grapes…Springs of water…
Our words of life are fruit to a hungry world, living water to parched souls.
Oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer, let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be your powerful words of life. Amen.