Sunday, August 13, 2006

August 13 Sermon--What Comes out of Our Mouths

Sermon Texts
Ephesians 4: 25-5:2
Matthew 15: 10-20

Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.
I remember my mother drilling this into me as a kid. I’m sure you are unsurprised to learn that I was a dorky, nerdy little kid, and so that little mantra was an important part of helping me develop a good self esteem despite the fact that I’d heard a lot of taunts and jokes.
Despite my mother’s best intentions, I’m afraid the mantra is a bit off the mark. It’s a little bit of wishful thinking. Words can and do hurt us, sometimes more than broken bones. The words don’t have to be name calling. Sometimes they are simple words that carry a large weight in meaning. “You can’t,” or “You should.” Sometimes even nice words can be hurtful if they are turned sideways with the intention of cutting. William Blake wrote, “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” How true!
In Ephesians we hear that we are to be tellers of the truth in Love. We should save our speech for building up others, not tearing them down. The words we speak should represent the purity and forgiveness we find in the sacrifice made by Christ. They should be a fragrant offering to God. They should echo the words of our savior. We should be like little children imitating their parents.
(((((((Story about Wesley mimicking me the other day at youth group.))))))) I was launching into some monolog at youth group while the youth dutifully listened. Wesley climbed up in the chair next to me an sat facing the youth and started saying “jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab…” He kept speaking as I stopped talking and everyone looked at him, laughing. Yes, children do imitate their parents!
Jesus and the leaders of the early church were less concerned about the ways that we honor God in our rituals and customs and more concerned with how we honor God through our actions toward one another and the way that we speak to one another.
Christ was sick of the religious know it alls claiming to know all about purity. God’s statutes carried down through the ages were designed to preserve a sense of culture and community, but Jesus saw them destroying community. The Pharisees observed the fact that Jesus and his disciples neglected to wash their hands before eating. They had probably noticed the repulsive filth that Jesus chose to fraternize with, and were especially concerned that those types were washed off of your hands before one put food and drink into the body, which was a temple of God.
Jesus knew that the Temple of God was soiled more by our intentions than by neglecting to observe ritual and custom. What proceeds from the mouth comes from the heart, but what goes into the mouth merely passes through our body. The rituals we believe make us holy and acceptable in the eyes of God are merely transitory, but the words that we say are permanent impressions left on the world. Do we hear this message today?
Jesus doesn’t define these things that come out of our mouths “words,” he calls them evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. If “words” may never hurt me, then why does Jesus equate them with murder? Have you ever murdered someone with your mouth? I would suggest that many of us have at one time or another. We get so carried away with voicing our anger or our frustrations that we may indeed find ourselves alone. We’ve murdered our relationships and people have fallen away from us one by one.
Have you ever committed adultery with your words? Many of us have spoken with lust and desire about a person other than our spouse, many of us in heated arguments have said things to our spouse that we may later regret. How does this amount to adultery? Jesus tells us that it does!
You see, God’s temple within us is attempting to bubble up affirmation, hope, agape. When we force aside these things in favor of gossip or rumors or lies or hurtful words, we desecrate God’s temple within us. This is what Jesus means my defiling the heart. The heart is such a strange organ isn’t it. It wields such power to hurt or to heal. It seems as though it is connected directly to our throats. Sometimes I wish its products went through my brain first though!
Now, it doesn’t defile the temple within us to simply get angry. Ephesians tells us it does us well to be angry. Anger is an emotion that can be led toward positive ends. Many systems of oppression and injustice would not have changed in the world if people believed it was unholy to be angry. When we allow our anger to consume us—when we give it more time than it is due—it provides a foothold for the devil. Prolonged anger at other people may open us to the temptation to display behavior that is not reflective of our life in Christ.
So what can we do to stem the tide of anger? Address it when we feel it! Don’t be nervous ninnies when it comes to confronting a problem. If we are honest about our anger or our hurt feelings to our neighbor or family member by speaking the truth in love, we may find that our anger dissolves instead of erupting in our life. If we’re open and honest in communication, we may find that problems resolve instead of spiraling out of control into hurtful messes.
We can also live a life that is propelled by the Spirit by practicing edifying speech—speech that is constructive, rather than destructive. Complaining all the time is destructive. Accentuate the positive, eliminaaate the negative is how Baloo the bear tells Mogli the “man cub” in the Jungle Book. I’ve always loved that song. That’s what Ephesians tells us as well. Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
30Don't grieve God. Don't break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don't take such a gift for granted.
31-32Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.
This way of life is living the good news. You know, from some of the conversations I’ve had this week, I’ve gathered that we can sense there are expectations to discipleship that we don’t really feel from anyone in the church. There is no accountability—we’ve become satisfied by merely coming to church, hearing a good story or two, singing some hymns, and then going on with our daily lives. But we are called to more. Discipleship and membership in the church means that there are goals we strive to live up to. One of the purposes of us gathering here is so that we might encourage our brothers and sisters in faith. The text in Ephesians says it quite plainly: 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
How many of us have experienced the opposite here in church? When we forget our purpose and forget the grace that has been given us, it is time for us to be renewed in hope and perfected in love. We do have an obligation—it is to build each other up, as we focused on at the beginning of August at the church retreat—as we spoke together when we received John into membership in this church last month. Our church states that each one of you who are baptized is a minister of God. Your bulleting says it right on the inside—Ministers—all of the church!” What does it mean to minister to someone? It means building them up. It means carrying out the virtues and the ethic that has been spoken of today in our Ephesians text. It means that we live as a purified sanctuary of God—that we aren’t despoiled by what comes out of our mouths.
Today I’m calling you to respond to this sermon in an interactive kind of way. On this altar is a trash can. Traditionally we’ve put on the altar those things which are most important to us—we celebrate the scripture and the Lord’s table on the altar. In the days of Jesus, a sacrifice was made on the altar in the Temple for the sins of Israel. Today I’d like us to offer a tangible form of repentance on this altar. Take some time while the following song is playing to remember an instance in your life when you have let your words defile the dwelling place of the Holy within you.
Your heart has a long memory. Though we may convince our minds to forget our darkest moments, they make an imprint on our heart that can only be relieved by God’s forgiving grace. God’s forgiveness is so much more sweet when we reconcile our wrongs within the community. We have all said things that have hurt others, sometimes in spite, sometimes in ignorance, sometimes in frustration. Let your heart search itself for a time when it gave birth to words that defile. Write those words on the slips of paper that I have put in the pews, then bring it to the urn here on the altar. I will take these papers and burn them and add the ashes to the burned palms for our imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday next year.
As the song “Sanctuary” plays, you may join in singing if you wish. The words bring home the message of today’s scripture. We call on God’s grace to prepare us to be the Sanctuaries of God’s Spirit. The things that come out of our mouth that defile this sanctuary cannot be erased—but they can be forgiven. We cannot take back the words that we give life to, but we can add other words of repentance, hope, love, compassion, and joy. If we continue to ask for God’s preparation in our lives, God’s inspiration will guide us toward more filling and creative lives.
After you cleanse the temple through this silent time of confession, think of what you might say to someone else in this congregation to build up the body of Christ in this congregation. Who have you been impressed by, who has deserved a congratulations? Who has needed encouragement? After church—tell that person what has been laid on your heart. If we think it and don’t say it, that stifles the movement of the Holy Spirit. Don’t be embarrassed! Build each other up—It is a mark of our baptism for our words to give grace to one another. For we are members—one of another! Amen!

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