Chilmark Community Church
February 8, 2016
Rev. Armen Hanjian
LET THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH BE ACCEPTABLE
James 3:1-11 Matthew 12: 33-37 Psalm 19
If we are to take all Jesus has to offer us, we are to move more and more toward “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” It follows that not only my deeds must be measured by the stature of his life, but so must my words. The importance of the use and misuse of words in our daily relationships was made clear to me when Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36)
Why was Jesus so concerned about mere words? Because the words a person uses are an important indication of his or her character. Jesus was saying in effect that the quality of our inward life determines the character of our speech. You don’t get good fruit from a dead tree. Then the saying follows: Take with you words and you have taken with you the mother of deeds.”
To the thoughtless, nothing is so trivial as a word. Jesus and the people of Israel were taught differently. They were taught to attach the greatest importance to a solemn vow. In contrast, how lightly people take their vows today – baptismal vows, membership vows, marriage vows. Whenever I find myself letting my word or vows become trivial, void of significance, I find my inner integrity has begun to erode. I need Jesus, I need the scriptures, I need you, the faith community, to help me in my keeping my vows, filling my life and words with meaning and thus prevent mass erosion.
The fact that words are symbols was driven home to me back when Vicky and I were discussing desserts in front of our preschooler Clark. Clark was by-passed only two meals when ice cream was discussed by spelling. The next time Clark said, “I want some I-C-E.”
A word is a flash of understanding between two minds. It may be spoken, written or even a gesture. A word is an external act which carries meaning. If then words are the mother of deeds, if words are freighted with meanings, then it follows that our words can hurt and our words can heal.
In Charles Dickens’ novel, “Dombey and Son” there is the lovely little girl, Florence. Her mother had died and nothing of a mother’s love is in the father at all. His whole demeanor is icy and frigid and there is no expression of affection at any time. Dickens points out how this little girl tries to win her father’s love and wonders if she is doing everything she ought to do to melt that icy exterior. He speaks no good word of love with his tongue. What a tragic situation. The tiniest expression from his lips of affection would have meant everything to her. Words can hurt because they are never said.
It is strange that a soft substance like water has the power, under certain conditions, to burst pipes that hold it. Ordinary things can have unsuspected power. That is true of water; it is also true of words. They seem so innocent; yet, they can cut and burn and humiliate. The danger is not in sharp penetrating words; we know from Jesus that there are times when piercing speech is necessary. The danger comes in the motive behind the words. Digest these two proverbs:
“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels”
(There is a difference between gossip and goodnews.)
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
(Motive makes the difference.)
I am sure you have experienced times when even while you were speaking you knew your words were hurting and unjustifiably harsh. Yet, you were unable to quit, unable to ease off, unable to turn from the negative to a positive conversation. Here are 3 things I have found helpful. 1) Go through your vocabulary and weed out those terms you use when you really get mad. I am not saying don’t express your anger. Weed out those words which cut, which close off conversation. I believe I made a big step in the right direction when I ousted “shut up” from my vocabulary. But there are other words I unthinkingly use which my dear friends could bring to my attention.
2) I have found that I have been able to turn the tide from negative repelling relationship to positive one by prayer. By asking God to help me be Christ like in this matter.
3) The next time you find yourself stewing in self pity, take this positive action of prayer early in the period of tension. The longer you stew, the harder it is for reconciliation to take place. In these matters, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This brings me to the other emphasis I wish to make. Words not only have the power to hurt; words have the power to heal. Before I likened words to water which seems innocent enough, but can do damage. Well, there are words like faith, hope and love, which seem innocent enough, yet which can likewise become powerful forces that can do what nothing else can do. They can break through artificial barriers of suspicion and prejudice and make life clean and sweet.
Every couple (and I’ve married 240 couples) hears me emphasize two things needed for a lasting marriage: out-going, self-giving love, obviously and forgiveness, necessarily. These words seem innocent enough, but how powerful they become when we include them in our daily living: “I love you,” “I am sorry, will you forgive me?” These are healing words as sure as any medicine can heal. But these are hard words to say honestly. Once a word issues forth and we see it in its starkness, we would retract it but pride says, “Let it go spoken lest the blame be shifted back on me.” The best way to maintain a healthy relationship with family, fellow workers even with God, is to be in the habit of saying words like, “I love you,” and “I was wrong; will you forgive me?”
Other words too should become more and more part of our vocabulary as a Christian; words like: “nevertheless” and “in spite of it all”. You know the story of Robinson Crusoe. The original of that story, the man who really was cast on a desert island, was Alexander Selkirk. He wrote the poem beginning “I am the monarch of all I survey. My right there is none to dispute.” He was rescued after being on an island alone for four years. The sailors from the rescuing ship found him on the beach wildly waving his arms to them. They reported, “He was a Scotsman, but he had so much forgotten his language for want of use that we could scarce understand him.” Let that sink in “he had forgotten the language for want of use.” We can forget the great language of our faith, such thrilling words as “forgive us our trespasses,” “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”. Only as we use that language everyday can we keep it fresh in our vocabulary and in our activity.
Do not underestimate the healing ministry of your words. Alice Freeman Palmer taught a Sunday school class of girls in her younger years. One day she went to visit a class member who lived in a dingy tenement. While there she happened to say that the sunshine made the little girl’s hair so pretty. This chance remark had a strange effect. For the first time this girl saw beauty even in her dingy, drab home.
She began to look for it everywhere. This habit became a beacon for her spirit. Later she worked her way through college and was happily married. Years later, this woman told. Mr. Palmer that she owed everything she was to the lady who taught her to look for beauty everywhere. So even our chance remarks may have results beyond all belief.
Don’t underestimate the healing power of your words. I am in whole-hearted agreement with the man who wrote: “An inferior man will make more impressions on hearts by a single word animated by the spirit of God, than another by a whole discourse which has cost him much labor and in which he has exhausted all his power of reasoning.” –Louis Lallement
Addison has a passage (in the Spectator) about the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, how some authors must stay there until the influence of their evil writings has disappeared. But who can tell when that influence will end?
The wonder and the danger of it all is that no one can tell where the influence of our words will end. Thanks be to God that God works with us in our ministry of healing and reconciliation.
Before we share in the opening of our lives to the presence of Christ by way of communion, let us share in the prayer which preceded the sermon. Would you repeat after me? Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my rock and my redeemer. Amen.