May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Just a couple of weeks ago, I received a surprise message from a friend. It was late Wednesday evening, and it just popped up in my messages, and I opened it, and a strange voice began to speak. She had sent me a Video of a man in a car. He had tattoos on his arm, and he knocked on the car window as if to get my attention. And you know what the Message was? It was so simple: “Hey you! You’re awesome! Keep doing what you are doing! I love you.”
Well, I have to say that even though this was a simple message, and even though I didn’t know the guy in the video, something about these words was really encouraging to me, and so, I sat down on that Wednesday evening and I shared this video with a bunch of people I knew. Just randomly.
And it made me think about the power of words: our words. Simple words.
Maybe we don’t think enough about how powerful a few words can be. Right?
Last week we heard that words are not enough. We need to do things – works of mercy, works of love.
But this week, James is reminding us that words are powerful, that they can affect us in powerful ways. Word can help and they can hurt.
James, however, teaches us more about the power of words to hurt -- to set a fire we can’t put out.
The tongue is a small member, he says, but it boasts of great exploits.
Sure, we can say, as we did when we were children, that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” – but is it true?
Sometimes words wound more deeply than sticks or stones….
When I think about the power of words to hurt – it’s easy to go to the big abuses first – gossip and lies and slander.
Like a fire, a small hurtful untruth can spread into a huge forest fire of lies – There are also the ways words of can be used to make fun of or belittle people
– I think of the little girl I knew in kindergarten that everyone called “daddy long-legs” because she was tall for her age, or the boy I knew in Japan who everyone laughed at because he didn’t know the answers to the questions.
He was daydreaming and everyone thought he was stupid. Until one day he won a contest for the best invention in the prefecture.
I remember hearing a story of a woman who was keeping vigil at her father’s bedside when he was dying.
And when he awoke, he turned to her and said, “Well, I guess you wasted your whole life, didn’t you?”
What was it that made him say such hurtful words as he was dying?
James is telling the truth – our words are powerful. What we say to one another makes a difference.
And maybe we don’t think before we speak because – well – we just don’t realize how powerful our words can be -- or maybe – we really do – and there are times when the urge to hurt and destroy someone is inside us.
So there are a lot of examples of the ways that our tongues can be unruly – untamed, and that we can use them to hurt.
And even if we are wise enough to listen more than we speak, and even if we are guarded enough not to spread gossip
– I still think there are ways that our tongues are untamed – when we tell a secret without thinking, when we say something and then realize later it was insensitive.
There’s something larger going on here than any particular thing that we say – and it is reflected in verse 9 “With our tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”
Blessings and curses. It is about how we see others who are made in God’s likeness – and what we say to them, about them.
How can we bless God – and at the same time curse those who are made in God’s image? With our words. With our tongues….
So to train our tongue is not just a training in what NOT to do – to guard your tongue, be careful what you say and how you say it
– to train our tongue is to learn to bless each other rather than to curse.
It is one of the reasons that the final step in the Faith 5 – that we teach families – is Blessing
Every evening parents and children share the highs and lows of the day, read a scripture verse, talk about it, pray and – last of all – bless each other.
“You are an awesome child of God.” “Jesus loves you.” “May God hold you in the palm of his hand”
It is so important to learn to bless one another – with words of truth that God asks us to pass along.
This is not simply being Pollyanna, and it’s not about telling people lies in order to make people feel good.
God doesn’t ask us to give empty compliments, but he does remind us that every single person we meet is created in the image of God, not to be ridiculed, not to be diminished.
It’s a hard world we live in sometimes, full of meanness and tragedy and sorrow, as well as joy and abundance.
And God gives us the gift of blessing. Because words are so powerful. More than we know.
So I received that video, the one that said, “YOU are awesome!” and it warmed my heart somehow.
And I sat down and sent it ahead to a few people. And you know what? I was surprised to hear back from a few people right away.
A single dad, saying, “Wow, I really did need that right now.” A college student, saying, ‘You have no idea what that meant to me.” A high school student vowing to send it along.
The power of the tongue. The power of blessing.
I went to visit a shut in recently.
We sat and talked about our lives, our families, troubles and ailments. We read the scriptures, and prayed and we shared communion. And at the end, I said the benediction, the traditional one, the one I’ve known since I was a little girl.
May the Lord bless you and keep you,” I said.
“May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look upon you with favor, and give you peace.”
And afterwards she said, ‘You know, somehow when I hear those words, I feel calm. I feel comforted.
And I said, “Well then, the words are doing what they are supposed to do.
They are God’s words of blessing to us – and they were given all the way back when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness And we still say them today.”
And she said, “Well, it seems like we are still in the wilderness today sometimes.”
It’s true. And in the middle of the wilderness, God gives us powerful words, the gift of blessing.
Words not our own, words that belong to God, but can harness the power of our tongues for God’s purposes.
Repeat it after me, to your neighbor
“May the Lord bless you and keep you….”
May the Lord’s face shine on you and be gracious to you
May the Lord look upon you with favor
And give you peace.”
In the midst of all of the Bad words in the world – there is a Good Word – for you, from God.
His name is Jesus.
You – are Awesome. He loves you. He died for you. He lives in you. Pass it on.