Sunday, August 14, 2005

Proper A15, August 14 sermon, "What comes out of our mouths"

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 dirty words that we might hesitate to utter in this church building. 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.

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 people, 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 our observance of 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?

Last week I spoke briefly about the miracle of speech and the tremendous power that we weald when we utilize our unique power of words. In our Romans text last week, Paul spoke of saying aloud the “welcoming word to God.” Today we learn that it is what comes out of our mouth that defiles us. 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 it’s products went through my brain first though!

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 or 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. If the Holy Spirit leads you to do so, and if that person that you spoke hurtfully to is in this congregation of people, you might take this time to go to that person and open your heart to them and let them know that you are ashamed of what you said. Private confession with God allows for a certain degree of release, but I can tell you from experience that verbalized confession has the tendency to bring a great outpouring of release from the weight of the sin. 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.

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