Sermon August 12, 2018
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
I hope that most of us do realize that there is power in words…spoken, written…even thought. But how often do we consider the impact of our own words and tend to them before and after they have left our mouths? Here in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he reminds his readers that what we say has consequence for good or ill and we have some measure of control over the effect. He cautions the faithful to “speak only what is useful”….what is necessary…”so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Think about your recent conversations…you offhand comments to loved ones or strangers. Did your words give grace to those who heard them?
Our Holy Texts include many references to the power of the word. God spoke into the nothingness and a universe was formed. God’s voice rang in the darkness and brought forth light. God’s love was given voice and all that lives came into being. This glorious creation and all of the beings that are a part of it are the living, breathing love song of God.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was and is the the Word…the Divine Logos manifested in human flesh sent to bring us the Good News…testimony of God’s sacrificial love. Words that give us new life and purpose…instruction in how to be love in the world.
Further on in our reading from Ephesians, Paul tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” and to “live in love.” This is a lofty expectation and yet Paul says it so easily…fully convinced that this is something that through God’s grace all of us can achieve. To be imitators of God is to move beyond vain attempts to be “good” striving for more…seeking to “become” love.
While it is admirable to be a moral person, morality is a human construct subject to the changes in cultural expectation and individual human perception. Some behaviors that were once considered moral are now unacceptable and there are things that we do and say today that would have been considered wantonly immoral in the recent past. We cannot judge right and wrong…good and bad…by what society finds acceptable.
We have evidence every day that despite the widespread, albeit false, opinion, that this is a “Christian nation” many of the elected officials to whom we have given position are driven by greed and a lust for power to make laws and ordinances that perpetuate injustice and inequality while ignoring the suffering of the weak and vulnerable. They sell influence to the highest bidder and pad their bank accounts with blood money that is the poison fruit of foreign wars. All around us the citizenry clamors for entertainment and seeks to feed an insatiable appetite for scripted reality…for false drama. We have become increasingly uncivil airing evil thoughts in online screeds and spoken rants in public places.
The righteousness of God’s children must be different…must be more than the merely “acceptable” behavior. We must strive to manifest God’s love not only in our actions but in our thoughts and emotions. We must work to change our inner self into a dwelling worthy of the Holy Spirit and that resident grace will show itself in our actions.
Paul is very specific in naming those things we are to avoid. He writes: ”Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Becoming a new Creature in Christ…a creature that imitates the God who made us is a process. From the moment of our baptism when our former self dies so that we can be raised in the likeness of our Lord…in our shiny and newness, we begin the process of “becoming” Christ. We are seeking to be perfect, “as our father in heaven is perfect” and it is in the striving that we find our purpose. It does not come all at once and we must diligently nurture godliness and faithfully cultivate righteousness. Of course, we will fail…over and over….often many times in the same day. But in Christ Jesus we have the assurance that if we repent, forgiveness is certain.
Because we have been forgiven we have the incentive and the ability to forgive others…eventually even those who have injured us grievously. Do not despair if that forgiving is difficult or if you are not able to do it quite yet. God knows our hearts and understands that some offenses cause horrible damage to the mind and the soul. Forgiveness in those instances can take a while and our Lord does not condemn us for having to work through the suffering to hopefully come to a place of peace.
I know that many of you are thinking…how can I…just a regular human…flawed, broken…prone to mistakes…even think to imitate God, as Paul suggests? But remember that God alone knows our potential…knows who and what we may be and through the Holy Spirit calls whom he wills. When our Incarnate Lord Jesus was calling his disciples he did not seek out the powerful…the successful…the important people. He called the poor, the broken…the flawed…simple people with one thing in common….they heard Jesus’ message and were willing to go when called.
In our Gospel today we read that the people who knew Jesus growing up…who knew his parents were skeptical when he told them he had “come down from heaven” and that he was the “bread of heaven” sent to give life to the world. They could not fathom that God’s deliverance…God’s provision for his people would be incarnate in a regular person…someone they knew. But why would it not be so? The spark of life that is in all living beings was put there by God. The divine love of the Creator is infused in all that he has made. Therefore every plant…every animal…every creature that lives is a miracle waiting to happen. We do not yet know what we are becoming but God who draws each of us toward the future that he has planned sees all that we are and all that we may be both in this life and in the life to come.
We engage with the miracle of becoming God every time we come to the Altar and share in the Blessed Sacrament. We do not know how the ordinary elements of bread and wine become the bearers of the Real Presence of Christ but we believe that it is so. We cannot know exactly when these creatures of earth become the instruments of heavenly grace but all who partake of this heavenly bread….this body of Christ… become one with our Lord and with one another. It feeds our souls and heals our bodies and our minds.
In our Old Testament lesson today from first Kings the angel told Elijah to “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” This journey that is our life can sometimes seem way too much to us and we need the life-giving sustenance of the heavenly bread for strength and comfort and as a constant reminder that we are one with Christ Jesus.
For a time in the early Church when one of the faithful died the priest would put a piece of consecrated Communion bread under the tongue of the deceased as part of the “Last Rites”. This was called the “viaticum”….”food for the journey”. It was believed that holy bread would give the soul the strength to pass through death into the eternal life that waited beyond the grave. While this is no longer the practice of the Church we still believe that there is power in the Blessed Sacrament to strengthen us for whatever will come. In the bread and wine, we take our Lord into our very bodies and with it all of the grace to help us become “imitators of God” in our words and our life. In the gathering together at the Altar, we join with all the saints who have been and who will be….all of us united in Communion with God. In that moment we join with the dear ones we have lost and with those we have yet to meet all together in this Eucharist that is every Eucharist.
This is mystery. This is grace. This is miracle.
This is God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth made present in this old earth and its old heaven. It is here that the power of our words fail us…for who can describe the glory of God’s kingdom and the joy of God’s people gathered together in the love of the one who made us and loves and gave himself for us?
So brothers and sisters…you who are the followers of Christ…you who would be the imitators of God….speak your love into the world…give your tender thoughts voice and let those words take action so that others will be able to hear and accept the message that you share. We are the heralds of the Good News….let our words be healing….let our words be true….let our words be love.