More Than Words

Matthew 5:21-26

Preached on Feb. 12, 2017

Words are powerful!

Put together in the right way, they can tell a story…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Words can profess love…

A million stars up in the sky

One shines brighter I can’t deny

A love so precious, a love so true

A love that comes from me to you

~Mrs. Creeves(you can use that for Valentine’s Day:)

Words can inspire a movement…

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream.  

Words are a powerful force for good.  But, Words can also hurt…

            An insult on how you look

            A put-down on what you’ve done

            A judgment on what you believe to be true

            And sadly, a single word of rejection is much louder—and longer lasting—than 100 words of praise

 

Words have real power.  Through God’s words, the world was created:  Let there be light, and there was light!  God created humankind and gave us the power to communicate through the spoken word.  It is a gift.  A powerful gift.  And with it comes a great responsibility.

Words do more than convey information.  Our words have the power to destroy or the power to build up. 

Our words can stir up hatred and violence or initiate peace.  Our words can cause wounds or help heal.

Words have the power to destroy or the power to build up. 

Our ancestors did not use their gift of words well and so in time, God’s Word had to become flesh in Jesus. 

Jesus knew the power of words and used his words for good.  He showed us that…

 

Words can shape a religion…redefine what people think, reshape how they live and love, change the world for good and for God…

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” 

 

We know that murder is bad and should be punished in some way.  But Jesus says, if you are angry with a brother or sister, then you will be liable to judgment…if you speak hurtful words against someone, you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Surely these were just words to get our attention. 

He was probably using hyperbole—exaggerated words to underline an important point.

We use it all the time: 

·      I am so hungry I could eat a horse. 

·      If I can’t have the latest i-phone, I will die.

·      When I was a child, young man, I had to walk 20 miles to school, each way, uphill, in the snow.

 

So was Jesus just using hyperbole to talk about the sin of anger and words of hate toward our brothers and sisters? Surely anger is not as bad as murder; surely it is not bad enough to send us to the fires of hell, right?

 

The first reading today--Psalm 119--is the longest psalm in the Bible with 176 verses—and each and every one of the verses talks about God’s Law.  It’s important.

Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it and internalize it.  He showed us how to live the law, to seek God’s way not only with our actions, but with our whole hearts. Not only behaviors but attitudes and emotions fall within the Law.  Jesus connects the dots: Internal emotions can lead to external behaviors.  Anger can lead to murder.  Insults can lead to eternal judgment in the fires of hell.  Anger and hostility are outside the bounds of God’s kingdom.  The law and the will of God is not just that humans don’t kill each other, but that there be no anger and hostility between them.    

 

But, we are strong and resilient.  Surely we can withstand some bumps and bruises along the way.  People say words and they hurt, but we get over it and we move on, right?

And, surely the God of the Universe has bigger worries than our anger…

There are national and global, ethnic and racial, gender and social, and economic conflicts all over the world.

Where does my whimpering fit about someone who said something mean, hurt my feelings, made me mad? 

Surely Jesus doesn’t mean that anger is as bad as murder.  He is exaggerating.  We don’t take his words literally, right?  But, God knows that the only way to solve the bigger problems in the world begins with the relationship between two people.  Reconciliation and overcoming anger and hatred is essential.  “The Word of God became flesh” means that God is present in the flesh and bones, the heart and soul of our lives.  When we hurt, God hurts. But, how can we heal our hurts? How can we resolve our differences that divide us?

Jesus tells us how: ”So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” 

Surely, Jesus does not mean for us to leave worship to go and talk with someone who has hurt us or who we have hurt?  It would be chaos, and we are Presbyterians, we like things done decently and in good order.  Jesus is just exaggerating, right?  No, Jesus meant what he said—every word of it!

So when you are offering your gift at the altar…

Worship is very important.  In fact, we are made to worship God and enjoy God forever.  Worship is how we develop a deeper relationship with God.  So it is important to come to church, the altar, and worship God and offer our gifts of praise and thanksgiving. 

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you…

At the altar, in worship, we can focus, and be open and vulnerable; we are not comparing; we are not competing; we are not defensive; we are not distracted…we are just here before God, just as we are, and sometimes there is a moment of truth.  It is then, that we remember that which we have done or left undone.  That hurt which we have managed to push down deep inside, at the altar, somehow comes bubbling up to the surface.  And we remember…

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you…leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,

            Reconciliation and overcoming anger and hatred is more important than worship and prayer and hymn singing (as much as God is glorified by that).  There is an urgency of reconciliation before arriving at the final judgment of God.  Do not delay. Anger will fester.  Unresolved hurts will ache.  Resentment will harden hearts.  Estrangement will build a wall between you and a loved one that you cannot break down. 

So, go and apologize for words said or left unsaid, be reconciled to your brother or sister,  

…and then come and offer your gift at the altar. 

I am sure he has forgotten about it.  Plus he is no longer in my life, thank God.  I know I was not very nice to him.  But, he was a real pain in the you know where.  He was always bugging me when I was trying to get my work done.  Always asking me questions and pointing out what I had done wrong.  Always had a better way to do things.  He really got under my skin.  I resented him.  And so I told the boss that he was not doing his job.  I had to tell a little white lie to justify my recommendation that he be fired—he was. I’m glad.  Life is good again at the office. I don’t think about him. Except when I see him occasionally, but he just walks the other way.   

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 

My sister and I have never gotten along.  We are very different.  She was a reader; I was an athlete. She was in the band; I was on the track team.  She loved meat; I was a vegetarian.  She was a shopper; I was a saver.  She liked to debate politics; I preferred poems.  She wanted to argue; I wanted peace.  And so, in the interest of peace, I have not talked with her—for many years—ever since she said something, off the cuff.  She had had too much wine that night, I am sure she didn’t mean anything by it. But it felt like a sword that pierced my heart.  In time, the scab covered over the hurt.  It’s best not to pick at it.  Let it be.  It’s just easier this way.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 

            A friend who is now 68 years old told me the story of her childhood. She remembers a very happy time—at least for the first 10 years:  We were always laughing at the dinner table—it was something I looked forward to every night.  Dad would come home from work, kiss mother, twirl her around the kitchen, and then hug us. We would sit around the table—sometimes for long after the meal was finished, to share stories of our days.  But, one night, I overheard my mom and dad arguing, yelling at each other for the first time.  When we came into the kitchen, they stopped yelling and were silent.  Mom put the dinner on the table, and just said, “Let’s eat.”  We did not laugh or even talk at the table that night.  The next night, when Dad came home, I noticed that he did not kiss Mom.  He did not twirl her around.  Mom did not ask him how his day was.  Dinner was quiet, no jokes or laughing.  The next night was the same; and the night after that and the night after that.  In time, over the years, we talked just a little and laughed even less.  But, dinner time was forever changed.  Mom and Dad never got over it, never dealt with their anger.  It was never a joyful time for our family again.

 

Words are powerful…

Our words have the power to destroy or the power to build up. 

Our words can rip apart or reconcile relationships.

Our words can cause hurt or help heal.

Our words have the power to change the world for ill or for good, one person at a time. 

So if you are at worship and something comes to the surface, don’t delay, it will fester…go, take care of it, You can come back later and worship.  God will be glad to wait, waiting for you to return with open arms.

 

 

Note:  I remember hearing a sermon preached by Fred Craddock on this text years ago, and it made such an impression on me that I remembered it years later.  So, I give credit to Fred Craddock for some of his phrases and I give him thanks for preaching such a powerful word.