Don't Throw Your Words Away

Christmas Day, 2005 - John 1:1-114

My brother was taking two of his grandchildren out to supper. He asked them where they wished to go, thinking they'd want some fast-food place for sure. The seven-year-old granddaughter spoke up: Welllllllll, we better go to some slow-food restaurant because you eat so slow, Grandpa.

Not only is my brother a slow eater, he speaks slowly also. You'd think he was born in the deep south (except for his New England accent) he speaks so slowly. But thank goodness. At least he doesn't zip through his sentences and words so that you are trying to understand what he said in his first sentence while he's is 5 or 6 further along.

We are part of a fast-food, throw away society. The title of the sermon is "Don't Throw Your Words Away."

Both the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the Gospel of John begin the same way: In the beginning…

And both are talking about words. God uses words to create. And by the way, biblical Hebrew doesn't have a past tense, so the word really reads, "In the beginning God creates…." I think that's wonderful. It means the writers of the bible knew that God isn't finished creating. God brings things into being through his words.

In the Gospel of John the opening words are: In the beginning was the Word (with a capital "W" on word). This "Word" is Jesus the Christ. John wanted us to know that Jesus was present at the creation of the world. Many people think that he came into being, or was brought into being by God the Father. But this isn't true, and we, believers in and followers of Jesus, state this belief when we confess our belief in the words of the Nicene Creed: "begotten, not made."

Words are important to Jesus also. In fact words were important to people of the Bible. They even had names that meant specific things-names for people, names for places. And for a father to speak to a son and tell him he was disinherited, or he was dead to the family, that was just like a death sentence. And if you 'cursed' someone, they understood those words to carry power and so a person or place was seen then as cursed.

Jesus understood this and chose his words very carefully. He also recognized the power of words and used them to forgive and to heal. I'm sure all of us have known a time when we said something that hurt someone and we really didn't mean it, and after having said it, wished we could take it back. If the person spoke words of forgiveness to us, I'm sure you had a feeling like I had-one of relief, one where a great load or burden was lifted off my back. Words are powerful.

Words can hurt; words can soothe; words can comfort; words can forgive; words can heal. There are so many important ways to use words, YET, we tend to just throw them away. We don't pay attention to our words, and we don't recognize the power in them. We can uplift a situation with our words, or we can oppress a situation with our words. We can encourage with our words or we can disparage with our words.

Sometimes people call on God in their words. Sometimes we have phrases that include God that express our utter frustration. A favorite of my mother's when I was, as she'd say, 'driving her to destruction,' was "Jesus, Mary and Joseph." To that she'd tack on the reason for her frustration like, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph will you never learn to take off your muddy shoes instead of tracking mud across my kitchen floor!?" I have some Roman Catholic friends who call upon God in their frustration and say, "Holy Mother of God," and then tack on their frustration, "will you never learn to eat with your mouth closed?!"

But many folks, both churched and unchurched, use God to curse. It isn't just a matter of breaking a commandment of not using the Lord's name in vain, but it's a matter of the power those curse words hold. We tend to throw around, throw away curse words. I hear them a lot in public places. It's sad, really. Because words are powerful tools, and so much good could be accomplished if words were used with care.

Instead of invoking the power of God as part of a curse, (and most folks don't even think that as they throw around curses out of habit) we can invoke the power of God for healing. And it isn't just a matter of folks not cursing, that's not my point. It's a matter of how we use our words-just throwing them away when they could do so much good.

In the Gospel of John Jesus tells us that we will do even greater things than he has done. Imagine; Jesus has empowered us to do even greater things than he has done. Through our words and actions we are given the power to heal, to build up, to bless, to forgive, to encourage, to support, to be compassionate, to spread the Word-the Good News of Jesus' love and forgiveness and promise of eternal life.

There is so much we can do with our words yet we choose to throw them away. It's like the story of a man who bought a chain saw at the hardware store. The salesman said it would save the man hours and hours of cutting or chopping wood. The man took the saw home and cut wood with it. He spent hours on cutting and was really disappointed because, if anything, it took him longer. So, he took the saw back for a refund.

"This saw is worthless," he told the salesman. "It took me a longer time, not shorter, to cut wood." The salesman said, "Hmm, I don't understand. Maybe it's not working properly." So he pulled the cord and the motor started up immediately. The man said, "Wow, what's that noise?"

In the same way the man had a power chain saw in his hands, but didn't turn on the power, we have words to use but don't use them with the power they hold.

We even throw away the words to the Lord's Prayer. We rattle it off as a bunch of words. We are SAYING it, not praying it. Many folks don't even know what they are praying for in the Lord's Prayer. For instance, when we pray "give us this day our daily bread," that isn't about food for sustenance because Jesus tells us that God supplies our needs like that, but it's about SPIRITUAL food. What we are praying for is for God to give us daily spiritual challenges that will help sustain us, help us grow. We pray for it, but we don't recognize it when God is giving it to us, or we even complain about it because we don't recognize the spiritual challenge as an answer to our prayer, to what we ask for in the Lord's Prayer.

Jesus came into being as a human being. He didn't come with extra, super powers. He came with the same power we have been given when we, like he, invoke the power of God. The powers we have been given by Jesus are real and can have an immediate effect. You can see immediate results when you choose your words carefully, when you use your words carefully, not throwing them away. Watch a child's eyes light up when you encourage them, or when you praise them.

And that's my last point. Children are open to receiving the words. Jesus tells us that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must become like a child again. That is, totally trusting, totally believing. It's a sad time, really, when children move from believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny. That is, it's the start of how we adults believe. It's the start of "we have to see it to believe it." It's the start of trusting the world around us more than we trust God. Adults are more defensive about letting the power of words affect them. They don't use them with God's power, and they have trouble receiving them with power as well.

So, start today. Just as we celebrate Jesus' birth today, born as a baby who had to learn as he grew, who had parents who used the power of their words to help him grow into manhood, let us use words that way with our children. And let us use words that way with each other-words used to heal, forgive, bless, encourage, uplift. And not only USE them that way, but RECEIVE them that way. Don't block them. Recognize the power that is coming to you through Jesus.

Many adults aren't open to the power because they don't want to take a chance on being hurt by words being spoken to them. But, even words that come to you to hurt or curse you don't have to do that. You can take the power that comes with words like that and transform that power into a blessing coming to you through the power that Jesus gives to us. The Holy Spirit will strengthen you. Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me. That's true, as long as you take those words and recognize the power and transform that power into a power to bless you. And you can then use that power to bless the person cursing you or bless others. Words have power. What you do with the power is up to you. But you have to believe like a child. Trust that what God says is true. Be open to receiving power through words. Be open to the true WORD, capital letters. The Word that is Jesus. The power that is Jesus. Praise God. Praise Jesus.

Thank you, God.


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