2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2;
John 6:35, 41-51
Preached by Rev. Lou Scales
This particular time of the year makes predictable the images that will fill television, video screens, smart phones, notebooks, laptops, desktop computer screens and radio newscasts. The political primaries and runoffs are, for the most part, finished. As we prepare for the elections coming in November, we will spend much time and energy looking after what this or that candidate says (as compared to what he or she said about similar or different issues 3 or 5 or 10 or 25 years ago.)
As an example of what this has looked like in the past, eight years ago, in the hot summer of the national conventions when, like now, presidential nominations were at stake, one PBS news broadcast reported that there were approximately 5,005 Republican Convention Delegates, approximately 5,005 Republican Convention Alternate Delegates, and approximately 15,000 members of the media covering the words and actions of those delegates and alternate delegates, all present in Philadelphia that year. I don’t know, but I suspect the numbers will be similar in both Tampa and Charlotte this year. I’ll leave you to do the arithmetic and analysis about the extent and depth of coverage. Do I dare speculate that they were (and will be) listening to each other, or were they (and will they be) only talking to each other?
In either case, make no mistake, the words were and are important. What we say, and what we understand are critical to the ways we live and move and have our being. They are the ways we transmit ideas, and feelings and thoughts. They are the ways we provide guidance, orders, admonitions, warnings, praise, condemnation, despair and hope. It is with words that we encourage those who are downtrodden. It is with words we attempt to convey our efforts to solve the mysteries of disease and poverty, of peace and economic prosperity. It is with words that we search desperately for the viable alternatives to hostility and prejudice, hatred and war.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he speaks of falsehood, anger, thievery, evil talk, bitterness, wrath, wrangling, slander, malice, and grieving the Holy Spirit in general. And he was speaking to the Ephesians. Seems as though at times, Paul could just as easily been speaking to the Washingtonians, the Atlantans, the New Yorkers, …do I dare say the Augustans and even those in Columbia County? Paul points accurately to the ways we abuse our communication, sully our civil discourse, and make our basic conversations weapons of bloodless cruelty. Paul’s practical advice to the Ephesians, and to us, is, “This is no way to run a community, a village, a city, a state, a nation.” As you have probably noticed, there is seldom a week that passes without the media informing us of a politician, a city, county, state or federal official, who has come under fire for his or her use of words. Bottom line in some circles – What you say can get you fired.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is discussing the kingdom in terms of his relationship with God, and how what God has provided to Jesus will be made known to those who come to him and follow him. John’s gospel has regaled us with the stories of what Jesus did at the sending out of the disciples, the feeding of the five thousand, his early morning stroll on the Sea of Galilee. Up to this point, the crowd is with him, soaking up the spectacular demonstrations as veritable signs from God that something really big is happening. Jesus, WE might say, is on a roll. Seeing is believing, and even the storm-tossed disciples in the boat could not for long speak of ghosts once Jesus stepped out of the water, into the boat, and told the sea to be quiet.
After being fed miraculously and well with only 5 loaves and two fish, the crowd that followed Jesus catches up with him again, but doesn’t seem to know what it wants from him. Jesus then explains to them his relationship with God, and why Jesus has come into the world. Philip Apol suggests that this is where, in John’s account, Jesus really gets himself into trouble. It’s almost as though, in John’s Gospel, it is what Jesus says, more than what he does, that finally brings him to grief. If only Jesus had allowed the miracles to speak for themselves, he might have avoided significant unpleasantness. His works were getting rave reviews; it was his words that got him crucified.
Words do matter. They matter in the context of interpreting the miracles so that they point to the kingdom of God, not just to themselves as mere grandstand parlor tricks. Jesus was so sure of this that he bet his life the words were necessary.
Words do matter. They matter in the context of how we live together as people of faith in the community of faith. Paul was just as sure that words spoken in love and compassion, words spoken in mercy and hope, words spoken that bring God’s grace to life before our eyes—these are words that bring the Kingdom of God into our midst.
In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we welcome into the household of faith, really, really young people, young adults, and sometimes, those who have the wisdom of age and experience. This celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, as you well know, involves water, oil for anointing, and words. Words we ask the parents and godparents and other sponsors to say on behalf of our baptismal candidates; words we ask them to say concerning their commitment to these children and adults, and their growth in faith; words we, as a parish, as a church, affirm and support as we pledge to uphold them in their new lives in the Christian faith. Some of the things we will say are as old as the church itself. All of the things we say must be as new and renewing as God’s mercy every day.
Once the Sacrament of Baptism is completed, then the real work begins. Those children of God that we baptize in Christ’s name will continue that marvelous journey of growing and learning. And we will be here, showing them and telling them and teaching them. And, trust me, they will learn – for better and for worse.
We will teach them how valuable they are by the ways we regard and respect one another when they are around. They will see us in action; they will hear us in conversation. From us, these brand new Christians will learn compassion and caring, sarcasm and selfishness. They will be able to discern when we say words of grace and reconciliation, or when we say words of judgment and arrogance. We will teach them with our actions, and we will teach them with our words. In all these instances, let us ensure we teach all of them faithfully and well.
Our words and our actions matter in this business of faith, and in this business of living together as God’s people. I believe this, and I today I say it to you in the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit. AMEN.