Receiving His Riches – Proper 15 year C

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

It’s a lie.

I know that most of us were taught this little phrase by our mothers to help us manage the small cruelties of our schoolmates. I know that it probably prevented many a schoolyard fight. In my case, the fights tended to wait until we were on the way home. (I walked to and from school for several of my first years of grade school.)

It’s a useful old saw but it’s a lie, and I’d encourage you not to teach it to your children and grandchildren. If it’s true then it’s also harmless for them, for you and me, for anyone to call someone else any name they want, to say whatever comes to mind because “it’s just words.”

Brothers and sisters, words have power.  They have much more power than you or I usually imagine.

For years I’ve been fascinated with the origins and power of language.  I have discovered that language in a world broken by sin is in fact one of the enemy’s greatest weapons. It masks our true intent even when we think we’re being truthful. It creates realities for the powerful and the powerless just by the vibrations it sets loose in the world. It hides us from ourselves and the truest desires of our hearts.

It is no accident that it is by His speech God created the world. Words create realities, and since the Fall language has served to separate us from God and from one another. The Tower of Babel is only the easiest Biblical illustration of that fact.

God created by a word.  The enemy sowed the seeds of our Fall by a lie, by words, and James claims for the tongue this power of destruction in our reading for this week:

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:5-12, ESV)

We cause real wounds in each other by the way that we label each other, by the way we diminish each other with our words. It matters what we say and how we say it.

God created by a Word, and we have been given the gift of words by which to participate in His continuing act of creation. The world we see around us is largely a product of the way we have used our words. It matters what we say.

It also matters what we listen to.

What words do you put into your ears on a daily basis? Do you listen to words that proclaim the Lord’s majesty, His victory? Or do you listen to words poisoned by fear and anger? Those words do not only reflect your inner anger (some would claim that this is the only power they have) but they also create more of the same in you. In the same way that two speakers making the same sound in phase with each other create a much more powerful wave, this sound resonates with your own broken nature (for we have not been given a spirit of fear, but of adoption!) and makes it stronger!

And if you find yourself using language to condemn those whose language sets all those fires on television and talk radio, know that you are only setting a “backfire” of your own that will one day burn down your own home. That fire cannot be controlled.

So how then do we combat this tsunami of flammable verbiage that assaults us and our families every day?

Not by resisting with the enemy’s tools of name-calling, labeling, and condemnation.

We respond with the Word that redeems all our words.  We proclaim His Resurrection until He comes.  We proclaim God’s victory.

“But what does that sound like?”

When confronted by hateful utterance the one who knows the Riches of His Grace responds something like this, “Yes, perhaps, but this is just a part of the way the world works when it tries to govern itself apart from the Father’s love and guidance. Of course it’s broken! But the Blood of Jesus gives me, gives you victory over that.”  This will undoubtedly provoke some kind of incredulous question like, “Oh, yeah? HOW?” And suddenly you have an opportunity to witness to the power of the Cross in your own life. (This assumes that you know that power well enough to talk about it!)

There is a cost for following Jesus in this way. When we are confronted by this kind of fiery speech the pain it causes (when we haven’t given ourselves over to resonance with it) can be enormous. We want to bring a stop to it before we try to go forward.  This is where we fall into the trap of arguing, trying to silence the painful voices.  Of course, all this does is pour gasoline on the fire.

Our willingness to hear these words without trying to silence them is a part of our fellowship in Jesus’ suffering. (Philippians 3:10) It is also what Jesus speaks of in our Gospel text for this morning. It is a way of taking up our own crosses.

We absorb with Jesus the pain of a broken creation and we proclaim His resurrection rather than return evil for evil.  We restrain our tongues long enough to let Him speak in us rather than give back our own brokenness for the world’s brokenness.

One day “Shulammite Press” will be printing another book entitled “Speaking Peace” in which I’ll explore all the ways in which we can participate in God’s restoration of His creation through our words. There is so much more to be said, but this’ll have to do for today!

In Him,

Jeff

Jeff Krantz is an Episcopal priest, and has been the rector of the Church of the Advent in Westbury, New York for 12 years.  He’s been married to SaraLouise for more than 30 years, and they have three children and three grandchildren. A lifelong Episcopalian, Jeff experienced a crisis of faith after his ordination that led him into a life-giving way of being in relationship to his “Father” that he now wants to share. He leads retreats for men’s groups, parishes, and parish leadership groups. He is the author of the recently published “Hearing His Voice.”

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