Creative Power of The Word


The Pas Proper / Ordinary 22 – Pentecost + 15 – Trinity + 14
Year B
2 September 2018

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Compassionate God,
you touch those rejected by the world
and those despised by false piety:
guide us away from a false purity
which hides misshapen hearts;
and lead us to the joyful feast
in which all are renewed;
through Jesus Christ, the beauty of God’s faith. Amen.

Did you know that words have strength?

Words, especially the words that we speak in our day-to-day interactions, in our lives, have the ability to shape the reality in which we live, the way we live in the world, and what it is we want to get out of the world, every day.

We can see this in the rhetoric, the catch phrases that are used in public rallies, in public speeches, and especially in election speeches and promises.

Interestingly, though, we know those darn politicians are lying to us, but we so much want to believe that their vision, their words will come true that we vote for them.

We can also see this when nations are called to war, and the public is needed to support the effort to defend loved ones at home.

We can see this when we declare vows of love and promises of marriage; when we welcome new members into our families.

Unfortunately, we can see this on the negative side of the spectrum, as well. When situations have tension, or don’t go the way we want them.

Then negativity, negative words, whether due to natural disaster, family disagreement, personal issues, or medical situations have a tendency to drain the colour from our world, our day, our perceptions, our words ,and this is communicated, almost more easily as the positive, to those in our lives.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is, once more, surrounded by a group of Pharisees who think their lives, their patterns of religiousness are what will open God’s love, God’s mercy to them, and to them alone.

At the same time, the gospel doesn’t say this, but perhaps they’re trying to figure out where and how Jesus fits into their models, patterns of religious observance.

Mark tells us: “3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)” (Mk 7:3-4)

Now, we’ve all heard the phrase that ‘cleanliness is close to godliness,’ at some point in our lifetimes. But to make such a phrase as this the hallmark of your religious life, seems a little over the top.

And so, in the light of such catch phrases, we wind up replacing the positive, life giving, loving words of our lives with words that have the ability to require regulatory, and strictness, and can take life away.

And if we look at it, in such a light as providing rules over accepting the love of God, that seems a little bit of a waste of the creative power that is within each one of us to lift up, or to put down.

“5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”” (Mk 7:5-8)

And this is a very, very old teaching – that words, our words, especially words from our hearts, have power. Our words have power; they have strength. With our words we are able to shape reality; we are able to create.

At the same time, Jesus didn’t answer their question. Instead he reminds them of the words of prophesy, words that point to their adherence to tradition in order to cover their lack of faith.

Looking back at the absolutely creative power of the spoken word, and thinking about it, we are able to see that in the beginning, God spoke.

God spoke creation into being. God said, “let there be, … [and] God saw that [it] was good.” (Gen 1-3)

And we can remember the other instances of God speaking, as well. When God spoke to Abram, promising descendants to a childless couple that would number more than the stars.

We can remember when God called Moses from the midst of the burning bush, and God told Moses to lead God’s people to freedom: a journey that took 40 years for the people to learn what it means to be free, to learn what it means to be the people of God.

Words, all words, especially those that we speak aloud, and to each other, have strength. They have the power to shape the world in which we live.

There are words of encouragement such as ‘you’re doing a good job’, or ‘I’m proud of you’, and then there are words of love.

On the other side, though, there are words that discourage, that hurt, that damage, that cause people, including those we love, those with whom we share our community. We can be a factor in others making choices that are not good for their lives, our lives, or even for our communities because not only do they respond to our words, but they’re carrying their own words in their lives, as well.

In today’s gospel the Pharisees’ say to Jesus: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” (Mk 7:5)

The Pharisees faith is found in their actions, in their words, not in their hearts. And yet, over and over the prophets, and the New Testament writers have told us to be sure to live by the words that come out of our mouths because they reflect the state of our hearts.

James reminds us, today “19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (Jas 1:19-22)

James tells us that the word that will save, that will allow God into our hearts is “humbly planted” not by us, but by God. That it’s not something that comes along with marching bands, and loudspeakers in grand and flashy ways, rather it will come to us, and humbly enter into our lives, changing absolutely everything, when we are able to open our hearts to God’s love, to God’s words, to God’s grace and mercy.

At the same time, we want, we desire, we long for God to be an active, loving, guiding influence in our lives, and this is at war with James’ description of the “humbly planted” word.

Unfortunately, we want it all, and we want it on our own terms. Like the Pharisees we want to be God in God’s place, in our lives, in the lives of others, and in our world.

“6 [Jesus] replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”” (Mk 7:6-8)

Because the disciples are hungry, and unable to wait until hands have been washed, they receive criticism from the Pharisees.

Still Jesus reminds us: “15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”” (Mk 7:15)

We create our own reality because words, our words, give form to ideas. They give shape to the way things will go from the moment they depart our mouths and enter the world.

There was a great post on the internet. A mother was talking to her daughter about how what we say influences the world. She told her daughter to take a tube of toothpaste, and to squeeze it all out onto a plate. Then she told her to put it back into the tube.

When the daughter pointed out that this was an almost impossible task, the mother said that the words we speak are like the toothpaste coming out of the tube, and when we try to take it back, its like trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Our words go out into the world. Whether for good or bad, they’re out there. And people in the world react to what we say, not what we think we say, or what we mean to say. They’ll react to what passes their ears.

And it all starts with open and honest communication.

It starts with laying bare the pains that surround our lives, not to wallow in them, but to show them to the light of God’s love and allow God’s love to fill our hearts and lives. To help us to heal, to bring us to the light of God, in our actions, and in our words.

James reminds us that the love of God comes to our hearts humbly, patiently, waiting for us to notice that it is there, that God loves each one of us.

He says: “23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (Jas 1:23-25)

There are already those dealing with the effects of toothpaste in their lives, and we need to find a way to step out of the mess. We need to receive the love and support and help to straighten out such instances, and step forward into the light of God, so that we can, in turn, help others to see and come into the light, as well.

We, each and every one of us, are able to choose what comes out of our mouths. We are able to choose the words that we speak, and so we create our own reality, our own circumstances, our own world.

Together, our words of love, of God’s love, of inclusion, of support creates a world that is so much better today than it was yesterday.

Together, we create our world through the words we choose to use, through the images we create so that God can continue to say, “it is good”.


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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