Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and Stones”
A Sermon by
The Rev. Keely Franke
September 16, 2012

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

Welcome back!  We had a roaring crowd last week for gathering Sunday and today our programs have started off with a vengeance.  The readings have as well evidently.  James is warning us about our tongues being “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” and Jesus chooses harsh words saying that if anyone really wants to be his follower they have to “deny themselves and take up their cross.”  Aren’t you glad you came back?

We have certain sayings in our culture that imply words are not very important – “You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk,” “Actions speak louder than words,” or one of my favorites from St. Francis that I have hanging on my wall in my office, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.”  While these all speak to a certain truth, that without genuine action words carry little weight, I am reminded by this morning’s readings how powerful words really are.

Growing up I lived at the end of a cul-de-sac.  Outside my driveway was the arena for many a baseball or soccer or roller hockey game.  The neighborhood kids would gather outside my house and while I don’t necessarily remember the games we played in great detail, I do remember some of the painful things that were said in the midst of our heated competition.

One evening we were outside playing one of these games and the boy who lived next door got really angry with one of the girls we carpooled with.  We all knew this girl’s mom had breast cancer.  In his fury he said to her, “your mom doesn’t even love you because she is dying and going to leave you.”  To which she burst out into tears and came back with, “Oh yeah, well you are adopted so your mom never even loved you.”

I’m sure we can all remember painful childhood exchanges like this.  To which we were taught the appropriate response was, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  I think we all know that this is simply not true.  Words can be very damaging and very powerful.  The author of James says, “With [our tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the very likeness of God.  From out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing.”

In her blog on the Power of Words Professor Susan Smalley reflects on how scientists have proven the effects words actually have on people.  She says that in a study when people heard a few sentences about the elderly it actually caused them to walk slower.  Likewise in another study when individuals read words of “loving kindness” there was an increase in self-compassion, improved mood, and reduced anxiety.  If this is true, think about the effects simply reading the news every day can have on a person.

I was shocked when I recently returned from vacation.  I hadn’t read any news the entire time I was away and had turned my phone off.  When I fired it back up and went to one of my various news apps, the top 10 headlines all included something about killings, shootings, murders, bombings…some sort of disaster.  I was sickened and wondered if this really captured the most important things going on in our world on this given day.

We are however perhaps never reminded of the power of rhetoric more than every four years when election time rolls around.  This election season is especially potent with words.  Words that are oftentimes laden with fear in the hopes of persuading people to vote in one direction or another.   One set of words carrying a lot of emotional controversy is the Marriage Amendment.  I am sure you have heard about this amendment and I hope you have had time to think about it.  This summer St. John’s voted to allow for same-sex blessings.  Tomorrow night at our vestry meeting we will also be talking about ways we can support defeating the marriage amendment.

The marriage amendment takes advantage of words and uses them in a particularly tricky way.  It will be easy for someone to read it and think, well I support same sex marriage so I’ll vote yes, when they’ll actually be voting to ban marriage for same-sex couples. Here’s what the Vote No campaign wants you to understand:  “A ‘yes’ vote on this amendment would permanently and constitutionally limit the freedom of committed same-sex couples to ever marry in Minnesota, forever excluding future generations from participating in the conversation about marriage. A ‘no’ vote would not legalize marriage for same-sex couples, but would simply allow the robust conversation about marriage – and who should have the freedom to participate in it – to continue.”

Whether or not you are in support of gay marriage there are a couple things that get me about this amendment.  One is it feels like a bunch of bullies in my cul-de-sac growing up wrote it.  Marriage between same-sex couples is already banned, so this is throwing the last and final nail in a coffin that is already closed.  It’s simply mean.  Secondly, whether or not you are for same-sex marriage, it also limits same-sex unions and all civil rights for same-sex partners.

In the coming months we will have many opportunities to engage in conversation with one another around this topic and several others.  Our tongues, as dangerous and damaging as they can be, are also one of our most powerful tools for change.  Tuesday night Mark Osler, a professor from St. Thomas law school, will be coming to speak about how to have civil conversations especially around this topic. I encourage you to come to that.  Whether you are looking to participate in the Vote No campaign or engage in any discussion that you feel passionately about, it is crucial to know how to most effectively and lovingly choose our words to express our deeply held convictions.

In the gospel today, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  Many today use Jesus as their justification for their words of judgment and condemnation insinuating that he was a messenger of hatred and judgment rather than of love and freedom for all.  When in fact, in his own words he said, “Do not judge and you won’t be judged, do not condemn and you won’t be condemned.”  He also said, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.”  Just be sure you know what you’re saying yes to and to what you are saying no.

Words are very powerful and as human beings we’ve been given the gift of choosing how we use them every day and every minute.  When we choose words that are aggressive we ourselves feel aggressive and are aggressive, when we choose words of love, we are more peaceful and more loving.   Sticks and stones do break bones but bones heal.  Words stick with you forever.

“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.  My brother and sisters, this ought not be so,” says James.  At the beginning of this program year may we all be a little more mindful of our words to one another.  And may the words of all our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in God’s eyes, our strength and our redeemer.   Amen.

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