What you say matters.
Obviously, right? Maybe not always? We were raised with useless rhymes like “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But we know deep down inside that words hurt more than sticks and stones ever could. Words shape the core of who we are. Words can form and mold our outlook on life and our perceptions of who we are in this life. Words can also shape reality around us. Just think about the first words spoken by God himself into the void of nothingness, “Let there be light.” Then there was light and it was what God wanted it to be. Words began the world. Jesus Christ himself is called the incarnate Word, God’s Word and intentions for his creation born in the flesh and made man for our salvation. We hear the Word of God and in the hearing of those Words about Jesus the Incarnate Word, faith is created and we are saved.
Words matter. Obviously, right? Well, you wouldn’t know it by how carelessly we throw around our words. Words like stupid, useless, loser, you don’t matter, no one loves you, are hurled in the heat of the moment or used with surgical precision to cut and bleed. Words like these can bruise and bind a person to a belief that they are useless and that they don’t matter. Words are like a bullet shot from a gun, they can’t be taken back. Words can change a person’s world.
Words matter. Think of some of the good words that are spoken that change everything. The great activist, pastor and devout Christian Martin Luther King Jr. spoke the words “I have a dream” in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963 and with those words united a passion to reach for that dream to live like all people are God’s Children no matter their color. Or the words that begin with, “I, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies” If you slept well last night, it was because of a solider who said those words. Or the words “I love you,” three simple words that can change the course of a life and a family, three simple words whose consequences can be heard reverberating for generations afterwards. Or “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” words that bring hope and life and salvation where there was none before. Or, of course, the words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”
Words matter so very much that we may be tempted not to use words at all lest we use them wrongly and cause hurt that cannot be taken back. Abraham Lincoln, paraphrased Proverbs 17:28 when he said, “it is better to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!”
But as Christians we are required to speak and not hold back the words that need to be spoken. Words that the world so desperately needs to hear. Words that can bring hope and healing in a world that eats up hope like candy. But what words are we to say?
There is a little prayer I say before I come up for our sermon together. I say to the Lord, “that I have nothing to give to them but what you have given to them and all that I have to give is all that you have given to me.” I know and believe deeply that the words of any sermon cannot be my words, my opinions, my preferences or my advice. I am only human and I have nothing different or wiser to say than you do to me. That is why the words of a sermon cannot come from me and my opinions but from God and his Words for us. It is only God’s Words that can save. It is only God’s Words that bring a hope that never fails. It is only God’s Words that hold the promise that His Words will not go out void but accomplish the good work that God planned for it. I cannot say that about my words or my opinions; I cannot rest my faith and hope or ask you to rest your faith and hope upon my words. Jesus alone is the one who has the words of eternal life.
In today’s reading from Acts 17:16-31, we are invited to follow Paul’s example and make Jesus’ words, our words and for us to speak the words of eternal life that Jesus has given to us. Paul was in the city of Athens and found himself surrounded by people who would believe and did believe just about anything if it suited what they wanted to hear. Much like today. But instead of yelling at them or simply telling them they were all wrong, Paul found an opening, a place where he could apply Jesus’ words of eternal life. “I see that you have a statute to the unknown God,” the just in case they missed a god and they didn’t want to tick it off kind of statute. But this was the perfect opportunity to speak the words of eternal life, “if you don’t mind, let me tell you about this unknown God and what He has done for you in Jesus.” Do you see how Paul has made the words of eternal life his own and applied them to the situation in his life?
When we approach God’s Word given to us in the Bible, our job like Paul, is to: Hear, Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest God’s Word. To see God’s word in the light of the cross by hearing it often, reading it daily, marking up and dog earring our Bibles, learning more and more about the depth and complexity that is contained in those pages, then- here is the really important word- digest it. Digest it, make it our own. Just like Paul did. To read and hear and mark and learn God’s Word so much that it becomes our own words and we begin to naturally apply it our own lives and to share it with others. For us to speak the words that really matter: the words of eternal life. Let me give you an example from Romans. There is now therefore, now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It sounds nice and is kind of pretty but none of that really means anything unless it is real and applied in your life.
For example, think about those horrible, hurtful words that people throw around so carelessly that hurt more than sticks and stones ever could. Words like stupid, dumb, loser, useless. These words are used to condemn, to allow someone else to place themselves in judgment over someonelse and to condemn them with these hurtful words. These words are meant to condemn and bind a person to a belief that they are useless and stupid. But this is where the healing words of eternal life are spoken for you. To make the healing words of Jesus your own. Say, “I am in Christ Jesus, because of my baptism, Jesus has promised me that I am not condemned to believe those lies that people say about me. More than that, I am not those things, God does not make junk. God made me, loves me, died for me, if God loved me that much I can never be condemned by those hurtful words but instead find my strength and self-worth in the love of Jesus.” There is therefore, now no condemnation because I am in Christ Jesus.
Now that you have made it your own, it is time to share these words of healing and love for someone else that believes the hurtful words that have been said about them. You can see their hurt written all over their face. You are obliged, called and even commanded by God to tell them about how much God loves them, how he died for them, how someone who is loved that much could never be useless or worthless. Remind them that there is now no condemnation for them because of Jesus.
It is our privilege as Christians to digest the words of eternal life and make them our own. To speak God’s Words in the midst of all of the hurtful and broken words that this world throws at us. Then to take those words of eternal life and share them with someone that needs to hear them. Don’t worry about quoting them word for word, instead let God’s healing words be spoken through you, become part of your own language, because what you say does matter. Use your words wisely. Say the words of eternal life. Amen.