Section 1: Opening Prayer
Let us pray. Give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good, for God’s mercy endures forever. God provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they cry. God is not impressed by the might of a horse, and has no pleasure in the speed of a runner, but finds pleasure in those who fear the Lord, in those who await God’s steadfast love. Amen.
Section 2: Say What?!?!
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” This might be commonly accepted wisdom on the playground, but most of us know how much power certain words can exert when spoken into our lives.
Words have power. As people living a life of faith, we must remember that the words that we speak, and the words that are spoken to us, have power in our lives.
This is one of the reasons why Confession and Forgiveness are central actions in the Lutheran style of worship. There’s a powerful honesty for us to say that we’re broken, that we’ve failed, that we need God’s help because we can’t save ourselves. At the same time, the forgiveness that Jesus speaks through the pastor or through the congregation reminds us that we’re not defined by those shortcomings or destined for failure. Instead, these words place a claim on our lives, one that begin in creation, that was sealed in our baptism, and continually supported in communion: we’re citizens of God’s kingdom, bearers of God’s image, the very daughters and sons of God. Our words matter, and the words of our liturgy remind us that the world we live in views our faith and our God through the words that we use.
As people blessed with this identity as God’s children, we’re called to act and speak in ways that reflect that grace.
Section 3: Why Words Matter
Kid President speaks some real truth here. We should incorporate more meaningful language into our lives.Sometimes silence is what we need. Using words well means knowing when to listen, that the power of speech is using it effectively and not just often. Sometimes laughter is what we need. Sometimes we need to disagree, but we can do that while still communicating our value and appreciation of the person(s) with whom we disagree. The language that we use ought to give life, ought to strengthen others, ought to point us toward God’s goodness. Words of hate and spite don’t do that. Phrases meant to hurt others aren’t words of life.
James 1:22-24 reminds us, “22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like.”
When we say that we’re doers of the word, part of that means that our lives and our words ought to align with one another. We typically refer to this as hypocrisy. We say that someone who doesn’t do what they say is a hypocrite. This isn’t just for those who say good things and do bad, but for those who do good things and say bad. Consistency matters in our faith because we’re called to consistently give witness to our God.
This is also important because, if we speak the truth, we may also teach ourselves and one another how to live the truth. Just as we say our bodies reflect what we take in – “You are what you eat!” – so too the things that come out of our mouths can help to shape our behaviors. Remember that Jesus even said that the things that come out of our mouths can make us dirty or make us clean. Speaking the right things, the good and beautiful and true things of the world, can help us to reflect Jesus, the best, most beautiful, truest thing in the universe.
We’re a people based on a book full of words inspired by the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. Our faith is built on the Word and our story is told by God’s words. The language that we speak, the words that we say and write, are how the world looks at Jesus. So, before we speak or type something, we ought to ask ourselves, just for a second, how this will reflect on Jesus, on the church, and on ourselves.
How often do we hear the phrase, “I don’t care what other people think?” Too often, at times. Yet, as Christians, we’re called to live precisely in the opposite direction. We’re called to care for others first, to be more concerned with others than with ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we’re called to be people pleasers, just doing or saying whatever we think will satisfy our critics and pacify our enemies. It means that we’re called to use our words in ways that bless others. We’re called to use our words in ways that make sense to others. If we’re trying to communicate our faith to a friend, we have to learn how they communicate in order to best share with them the importance of Jesus in our lives.
Section 4: It’s Not Just What You Say…
…but how you say it. The right words in the wrong way aren’t the right words. This is one of those things that most of us know to be true and yet rarely pay enough attention to change that behavior. If someone screams “I love you!” and later whispers the same phrase, we’ll feel that meaning differently. If someone tells us we’re forgiven with a furrowed brow, wide eyes, and a red face, that’s not nearly as believable as when we’re told the same words appear with a soft voice, a smile, and an embrace.
Question 1 – How can you use your body and your voice to help communicate what you mean more clearly? How can your words combine with your actions to reflect Jesus?
…and when you say it. The right words for the wrong time aren’t the right words. Telling a baseball player how they could have won just after they lost the World Series isn’t the right time. Telling a cellist why their strings squeaked after opening with the New York Philharmonic isn’t the right time. Sometimes, the right words need to be words of consolation, support, and compassion so that later, our words of how to fix the problems we noticed will be appreciated and more easily put into practice. Timing with what we say can make a joke funny or fall flat, and timing can also help people see Jesus more clearly or turn them far away from seeing God’s good work.
Question 2 – When have you said the right thing at the wrong time, or when has someone done this to you? How could that change so that the truth could be better heard and those words would support a better engagement with God and one another?
…and why you say it. The right words for the wrong reason aren’t the right words. How often have you heard someone say, “I’m sorry,” or perhaps offer a compliment that they didn’t really mean, but not actually meant the words that they said? Or spoken in a passive aggressive manner? Perhaps they just wanted to avoid (or end) an argument, but they didn’t mean what they said. This doesn’t seem too bad, until later it becomes obvious that there’s a chasm of disagreement in the relationship. Sometimes, the best way for us to come together in a relationships is to admit our faults and accept responsibility. Sometimes, the best way for us to learn what our gifts are is to learn what we can’t do all that well. Rather than being passive aggressive, we’re better served by words of authenticity and truth, even if they’re difficult to say.
A side note to this is that sometimes we don’t mean what we say, but we want to, and so saying them helps us to learn to mean them more. It’s hard to forgive someone who hurt us, but offering words of forgiveness can help to break down walls that separate us. If we want to mean what we say, and we want our actions to coincide with our words, we can say things that we want to mean, even if we don’t fully believe them yet, to help us behave more like the person that we want to become.
Question 3 – How can I learn to say what I really mean, and to mean what I really say? How can my words reflect my desire to become more like Jesus?
This song, simply called Words, talks about the power of words and expresses a simple desire: “I don’t want to say a word unless it points the world back to You [God].” That’s a good goal to have as we use words. Though we will fall short of it at times, we remember the words of Confession and Forgiveness that enable us to live and speak as God’s people who seek to more and more reflect the goodness of our God.
Section 5: Closing Prayer
Opening and Closing Prayers from Sundays and Seasons.com. Copyright 2016 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission under Augsburg Fortress Liturgies Annual License #25165.