Power of Words
Life Together: Speaking Life
My sermon notes from January 29 2023 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family and friends and all who have gathered for worship. Welcome, and welcome to all who are gathered online. As we go into our scriptures again for a time, may the words of my moth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I’ve been so energized by our discussions around the foundational practices of building life together! Thank you! I want to begin with gratitude! Our conversations in coffee hours, in the midweek study and the times in between have been rich, encouraging and so helpful. So far we’ve talked about the scriptural call to 1) be a people who listen well, 2) who ask good questions from a caring curiosity, and 3) who give the benefit of the doubt choosing to believe the best of one another.
All this is modeled on what we see in Jesus and from a basis of valuing one another and a desire to create the best possible space for our relationships and communities to grow. Today we make a little shift of sorts, from the way we might be responding and reacting to the way we are leading, projecting and actively shaping our conversations, interactions and relationships. We’re talking about the way that we are called to be a people who speak life, speak light and speak goodness into the world and the lives of the people around us.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
So then, putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Those who steal must give up stealing; rather, let them labor, doing good work with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
We hear in our readings today from scripture that our words have power and we are called to use that power to build up and bless, not to tear down and destroy. All of us!
The Greatest of Gifts
Have you ever been part of study on spiritual gifts? Have you ever done one of those spiritual gift inventories where you answer a lot of questions and get assigned a gift at the end? That was very in vogue when I was a young Christian. We would synthesize the various lists of spiritual gifts that the Apostle Paul gave in letters to the churches, then try and figure out how we might identify which gift we had each been given. It was a faithful effort to see and hear God in our lives, a faithful effort to get at what God might be doing in our lives. Those were fun exercises, though I’m afraid we sometimes missed the point a little. Those discussions from Paul were not in the context of deciding how to interpret a distribution of spiritual gifts, but reminders that we all in our various gifts and abilities share the work and shouldn’t ignore one another’s participation simply because our gifts were different. We are all called to ministry.
Those discussions in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 were far more about what brings us together than what separates and differentiates us. Paul wanted us to understand that we all carry the work of the church, all have our ministries and our parts to play in God’s redeeming work in the world. To be honest, we tend to know already who has gifts of hospitality and service, teaching, preaching and so forth. Paul doesn’t speak of any special way to discern your gifts, but speaks to us about making sure we accept the variety of gifts God gives to the church.
He also wraps up the discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 by elevating love above all other gifts and encouraging the church to seek it and let all other things flow from it. You know the passage, 1 Corinthians 13… Love is…
1 Corinthians 12…
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work powerful deeds? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 13…
If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
A Shared Calling
Whatever else God has done in your life to equip you for serving the church and the world around you, you are called to love and to let that love shape your speech and action. We each and every one share the call and the gifting to build one another up! To speak light and life into the lives of people around us. Pardon me for sounding like this is some incredibly deep theological concept, it’s really so simple… it’s often a thank you, job well done, you did great, you are wonderful, you did a great job, keep on you’re getting better, I love the way you said that… simply speaking from love and with intention, spreading encouragement and upholding other’s efforts and achievements.
Isn’t such a shame we have to grow up? We know how powerful our words are and we make sure that in every way we can we communicate to our children: job well done, you’re doing good, thank you, excellent work, look at you! We put stickers on their homework and shirts and we celebrate them and their successes and growth. But somewhere along the way we decide that we grow out of this, that we don’t have to be as expressive and speak that kindness and encouragement to one another. We’re all grown up, we should just do what we ought to do and mind our own business. Or worse, in the void of encouraging words we see critical words and more negative habits find a home in our hearts and minds and therefore in our speech.
It’s so simple and yet so powerful. We are every one of us called to build one another up and encourage one another. We are each called to throw off anger, wrath, bitterness and slander, and speak well of and to one another. We don’t grow out of this call, we don’t have another gift that supersedes it and negates this call.
Tend the Heart
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45
And so we prepare the soil of our hearts; we till the soil and remove the stones of our anger and bitterness and aggravation. We plants seeds in that soil which will grow fruit to nourish us and those around us. As children we were warned that garbage in gets garbage out, and there’s truth in that. If we wallow in the anger, nurture the resentments and injuries, and allow habits of criticism and judgement to predominate our hearts and mind, we’ll speak out of that… they’ll show themselves in our speech and action. But more than just avoiding the garbage, what will we plant in ourselves to grow the good stuff?
We have scripture. We have prayer. We have one another. We can be wary of the voices we allow to dominate our days, in news, in entertainment, in literature and music. We can choose wisely the streams of goodness and encouragement with which we feed ourselves. And we can practice, practice and practice. Don’t hold back the gratitude or the compliments.
When critical thoughts and words arise in us, we can choose to set them aside. It may take some real effort and it make take some time to develop that habit, but we are called to be a people who speak life. We can be a people who yearn to be together, who hold one another up and build one another up. We can be a people who choose to revel in all the joy and life giving goodness of all our words can accomplish.
This is our call.
This is our shared ministry.
This is our future.
Amen, amen and amen,