Freeport/Merrick “Sept. 16, 2018
A stock boy at a grocery store was asked by an elderly lady, “can I buy a half of head of lettuce?” He walked back to the manager’s office, not realizing the lady was following him. He said to the manager, “There’s an old bag who wants me to sell her a half a head of lettuce.” He turned around and saw her standing right behind him. Quickly he added, “And this fine lady would like to buy the other half!”
Words. We are immersed in them. All creation declares the glory of God. The world’s creatures communicate with one another with sounds, chemical reactions, nonverbal means – and even with us. It is said that the average person spends one-fifth of his or her life talking. If all our words were in print every day we would create a fifty-page book. Among all those words there are bound to be so spoken in anger, criticism, carelessness or haste. Imagine: up to 20,000 words a day. Over 3,000,000-7,300,000 words a year. Do you know that that is a lifetime? The average person speaks 474,000.00-860,341,500 words in their lifetime. In one lifetime, the average person speaks the equivalent of the entire text of the complete 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary more than 14.5 times.
Imagine the magnitude of our words. Imagine the capacity we have to harm or to heal. The destroy or to build. To stagnate or create. Right there, on the tip of our tongue.
God’s creation comes through the spoken word and is blessed. Jesus is called the Word made Flesh, full of grace and truth. The scriptures are the words of God from which we learn how we bless ad how we curse. Proverbs tells us: “Death and life are the work of the tongue.” Prov. 18:21. Also, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence” (Prov. 10:11).
All our tongues have been infected, without even thinking, by meanness or cruelty at one time or another. Someone once said,” Remember your tongue is in a wet place and can slip easily.” Managing our tongue is one of the key spiritual tasks of our lives.
When we go to the doctor, one of the first things she examines is your tongue. It tells her a lot about your physical condition. If it is coated, you probably have a fever. If it is yellowish, your digestive system may be out of sorts. The tongue is the first line of defense for the body.
Similarly, by a tongue examination, we learn quite a bit about a person’s spiritual condition as well. Justin Martyr, Church Father and Apologist, wrote “By examining the tongue of a patient physicians finds out the diseases of the body; philosophers find out the disease of the mind, Christians find out the diseases of our soul.” A careful study of our words reveals the spiritual diseases of our soul.
Words that are positive, blessing and life-transforming makes us spiritually healthy. Think of words that confirm, affirm upbuild, compliment, strengthen, bless. The affects of such words can last even a lifetime or change a life – both the speaker and the recipient.
So, the scriptures insist we think deliberately what we will do. We will choose our words to critical or offer praise? Do we choose our words to convey fear or hope? Do we choose our words to blame or forgive? Do we choose words that build up our own power or our own self-esteem, or use words to strengthen the precious people God has put in our lives for us to support their spiritual growth? Choose wisely. Choose consciously not words that cause pain, anxiety or despair but instead bring hope, encouragement and joy.
Look at the intense conversation in the Gospel of Mark today. Jesus begins to speak openly and plainly about his identity. Jesus tells a truth people don’t want to hear. The Messiah will not be a powerful political king as what they have poured out prayers for. Thus, Jesus states the truth. The Messiah must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the religious leadership, killed and then rise again. Peter has the audacity to rebuke Jesus. This is one of the strongest words of reproach and to put one in one’s place in the bible. Amazing, Jesus is rebuked by a disciple who just proclaimed him messiah! Jesus isn’t having it. He in turn rebukes Peter, calls him Satan, the name of the great deceiver and liar. Jesus will stand by the truth at all costs. So, we must be willing to speak the truth and be willing to bear the consequences of speaking what is right. In this manner we take up the cross of discipleship. Will we speak or hear the truth in love—or speak what only pleases us? James reminds us: from the same mouth comes blessings or curses. It is our choice to control.
We spoke about bullying last week. So as a child growing up, like many children, like the experience of many here, I faced teasing. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is not really true. As I shared with our youth, I was on the teasing end of the bullying spectrum, with my name, as my family pronounced it, Moira, twisted into an extremely negative work by my classmates, Moron.
That wasn’t all. I was soon called “Zombie” even before zombies were cool and a hot TV item. It took more twenty years and a couple of graduate degrees before I realized I might have some smarts up here. That’s just an ordinary consequence of people using the tongue the wrong way. How has it affected you? There are many people here who were the victims of name-calling. Is this not true? Because if it has, I have to say, hear the life-affirming words of God that the youth & children heard today: However, using the right words can have the same life-changing circumstances. Hear this: You are special. You are loved. You are gifted. You make a difference.
Many Ann Bird came to the world with multiple birth defects: deaf in one ear, a cleft palate, a disfigured face, a crooked nose, lopsided feet. Every day she endured stars and taunts of other kids at school. She felt highly self-conscious and embarrassed until she met Ms. Leonard, her third-grade elementary teacher.
Each year the children had their hearing tested. The teacher would call each child to the front and have the child cover first one ear then the other. The teacher would whisper something such as “the sky is blue.” If the child could repeat the phrase they passed the test. Mary Ann always cheated on the test, casually cupping her hand over her one good ear so that she could hear what the teacher said.
When the time came for Mary Ann’s hearing test, she cupped her hand over her good ear and strained to hear what Ms. Leonard would whisper. She said, “I wish you were my little girl.” Those seven, positive powerful God-drenched words produced a watershed moment for Mary Ann.
At one level nothing changed. She remained disfigured and ridiculed. But at a deeper more profound level, her life completely changed. She realized that the taunts of her classmates didn’t have the final say. Something deeper, divine, penetrated her heart and transformed her soul so deeply that she herself became an acclaimed teacher, telling her story in the book, The Whisper Test.
What will we choose? Will we choose to bless or to criticize, often without thinking? The health and the revitalization of our lives and of our church depends on our choice. The cross represents our commitment to choose to be truthful and see people, no matter who they are, through God’s eyes- eyes that see the best, that love the most, that are willing to risk compassion.
An anonymous poem puts it this way;
A careless word may kindle strife
A cruel word may wreck a life
A bitter word may smite and kill
A brutal word will accomplish nil
A gracious word may smooth the way
A joyous word may brighten a day
A timely word may lessen stress
A loving word will heal and bless
What words will we choose with each other? Will we consciously choose to focus on the good in each other, words that upbuild, instead of nitpicking the faults, and bringing people down. Let’s bring each other up. What a difference we can make. A difference between dying and living. A difference between wilting or blossoming. A difference between being stuck and finding revitalization.
May we have the courage to take up the Cross and follow the Word made Flesh. May our words build a positive, caring inclusive community, a community whose words blesses, affirms, upbuilds. Word by word may what we choose to be acceptable to each other, and to our God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.