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Sermon for Sunday 16 August 2015

FIRST READING    Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors — Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor — lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 14 Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

PSALM    Psalm 34:12-22

12 Who among you takes pleasure in life and desires long life to enjoy prosperity? 13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from lying words. 14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. 15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and God’s ears are open to their cry. 16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to erase the remembrance of them from the earth. 17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles. 18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those whose spirits are crushed. 19 Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them from every one. 20 God will keep safe all their bones; not one of them shall be broken. 21 Evil will bring death to the wicked and those who hate the righteous will be punished. 22 O Lord, you redeem the life of your servants, and those who put their trust in you will not be punished.

SECOND READING    Ephesians 5:6-21

6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be associated with them. 8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light — 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
GOSPEL    John 6:51-69

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

As many of you know Terry and I were involved in a car accident a little over a week ago. It was nothing like the accident Wade was a part of. Thank the merciful Lord, no one was hurt. A delivery driver was busy looking at his GPS and pulled right out in front of us over on Tryon School road. But it wasn’t what happened that I’m wanting to focus on this morning, rather it’s what didn’t happen.
Under normal circumstances, I’m sure none of you would have felt anger towards me if I, under those circumstances, allowed a little colorful language to fly. After all, I try very hard to take care of the vehicles I’m blessed with. I keep them clean, well maintained and I don’t abuse them. Terry and I have worked hard and we own our cars so a few choice words in all the excitement would have been excusable: right? I mean even the driver of the other vehicle, who was cited for the accident, would have looked the other way if I had expressed my anger in a less than articulate way: right? The officer, who writes up accident reports on a regular basis, would have been sympathetic if a few choice words were used: right? Not a person standing around observing the wreck would have thought twice about and expletive or two: right? Nobody would have given my behavior any thought the next day: right? That is until one final question was asked, who is your employer? By the way, I was actually working on this sermon the day of the accident.
Words, language, the ability to articulate a message or idea between people is a tremendous gift. It’s through our verbal communication that we share information, we teach, console, tell jokes, build up, or tear down. Yet, we often fail to recognize the power of our speech, our language, the words we use. A public speaker once began his address by commanding his audience to “stand up.” Then he said, “Turn and face the back of the church … now turn and face me.” Finally he commanded them to “sit down.” “The point I am making,” he explained, “is that words have power. What comes out of our mouths can be a blessing or they can destroy. Some call it the power of the tongue. The author of the epistle of James had some profound words to say about the influence of the tongue.
In James chapter 3 starting in verse 4 we read, “Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” And Jesus, in Matthew 15:18-19 said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Whether we want to admit it or not, downplay it or excuse it, what we think and what we say can be very powerful.
Words can make things happen. Words can be bullets which penetrate the heart, wounding the one for whom they are intended. Or they can bring joy, celebration and healing. Consider the difference between the two statements, ‘I love you; I hate you.’ Words can wound and words can heal.” I’ve shared this story with some of you, but I think it bears repeating.
Before I left the military, my last job was as the Squadron swing shift Production Supervisor. What this meant was that I was responsible for all maintenance and repair that occurred from 3:00 pm to midnight. Nine maintenance shops, over 150 technicians, all working to keep the 96 F-15Es assigned to Seymour Johnson AFB flying. This meant that I would go from repair center to repair center coordinating maintenance between my squadron and the flightline. One evening I was in the Avionics section yucking it up with the folks when one of the guys started giving me a hard time.
This particular individual I knew well and had supervised during one of my tours in the Middle East. Because of our association and service in the Middle East, a bond had been struck and even though I was his supervisor, we also were friends. His remarks were intended to be humorous and so were mine. However, what I said to him not only caught him off guard, it was hurtful. What I said in effect was, “since you, as a person, don’t mean anything to me, neither do your comments.”
Because he saw me not only as an authority figure, one that he respected, and as a friend that he could trust, my comment hurt him deeply. Even though I apologized for the insensitive remark, he was still hurt and our relationship was never the same. My remark had caused him to question our relationship, it created doubt and the trust he placed in me was damaged. I was reminded that day that words can hurt, can damage relationships and alienate people even when said light heartedly.
Our epistle lesson appointed for today is particularly poignant. For many of us, we spend a great deal of time thinking and talking about our diets. A good many people are pre-occupied with what we eat, how we eat, when we eat. For those who pay attention to their diets, they give great consideration to what goes into their mouths. But the question is, are we as interested in what comes out of our mouths? And as parents, we have an even greater responsibility, the care and training of our children.
How many have taken the time to listen to the conversations of your children? How many of you pay attention to what is on the airwaves of music television or on your child’s iPod? There have been some pretty interesting music groups who have popped up in main stream media; groups with some pretty unique names, such as Arrested Development, and Porno for Pyros. There’s a group called NWA that sings “Takin’ out a police will make my day.” There’s another group called Public Enemy that sings a tune that boasts, “beat(ing) down a woman (pejorative bitch) ’til she almost died.” The lyrics are controversial, bigoted and offensive. But as parents we’re told to loosen up, because using foul language or language that promotes violence or hatred is no big deal. It’s simply a reflection of life in the real world.
Meanwhile we live in an age in which teenagers are being entertained by video games that are filled with violence, sexually suggestive material and the chat rooms of the game are replete with aggressive and derogatory language. And yet we ask ourselves what’s going on with kids today. I know, I know I sound like my grandparents when they complained about Rock and Roll in the 50’s, but the fact still remains that words have power and left unchecked, can have a lasting effect on how one sees the world. Partially to blame is, of course, our changing view of the world, shifts in values and even what we’re taught in regards to proper parenting.
Proverbs 13:24 tells us, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” And in in chapter 22 verse 6 we read, “Train up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old they will not depart from it. CSS published a book that is a parental guide to raising children. One of the chapters on discipline suggested that there are occasions when it would be appropriate, even wise, to paddle a child. The book sold extremely well. However, one day an irate day care owner returned the book with a letter that stated, “I won’t carry a book in my day care that advises corporal punishment of a child.” It’s obvious that views on proper child rearing have changed.
When I grew up, “a trip to the woodshed” was a real thing. My grandfather had a lighthearted saying he liked to use when he was displeased with how a child was acting; he would say, you need to mash their little head while it’s soft. His meaning was clear to the family, proper discipline when children are young is good parenting. Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that corporal punishment is the only way to discipline a child nor am I advocating crushing the skull of a small child! Proper disciple must to take into account the offense and the child. However, my next question is a valid one: has tolerance gone too far? As I said, times have changed and with it the attitudes toward child rearing. Today it seems like we value tolerance more than anything else.
Some might even say that we’ve gone too far and even OD’d on tolerance in our society. It does make you wonder if we’re more concerned about a child’s bottom than with their brains. Are we somehow more interested in their clothes than in their character? Are we more concerned with what goes into their mouths than what comes out of their mouths? And the harsh truth is, it all starts in the home. And I’m not just talking about discipline, I’m also talking about the communication environment.
How much positive speaking is there in our homes, between husband and wife, parent and child? How do we converse with our children? How often do we compliment? How much do we criticize? How much do we allow when the children are fighting with one another? As I read in last week’s epistle lesson, Paul said, “Do not let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) Mother Teresa once was quoted as saying, “Let no one come to you without going away better and happier.” Each of us has that power to use words and language that provide healing to those who hear them. We have the ability to inspire others.
A young girl was asked why she had broken up with her old boyfriend and taken up with a new one. She answered, “When I was with Robert, he impressed me with how great he was. But when I was with Jonathon, he made me feel great about myself.” Our words can tell others a lot about who we are and how we feel about ourselves and those around us.
Jesus said, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean.” (Matthew 5:17) What comes out of our mouths reveals what’s really in our hearts. Do we fill our minds with unhealthy images, thoughts or violence? Do we tend to brood on personal hurts? Do we dwell on insults? Are we filled with bitterness, contempt, anger? If these emotions are devouring our minds we must prayerfully seek a cleansing of the heart so that we can refill ourselves with love, compassion, and forgiveness.
One thing I’ve found is, that it helps immensely to pray for that person with whom I am most disgusted or who has hurt me the most. Praying for the individual softens the contempt and bitterness in my heart. Besides isn’t this the reason we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others?” Some anonymous person wrote, “I cannot pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.” Even more to the point, we must forgive others. In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Forgiveness on our part isn’t an option folks. It’s a command.
I recently wondered to myself: If someone followed me around for a day with a digital recorder, how would I sound when it was played back at the end of the day? What would have been the tone of my voice? What kind of words and language did I use? What would the recording reveal about my character? It’s a challenge to keep our communication at home, at work, and at school on a higher plane. Think about some of the conversations you have during the day.
Does our verbal exchanges reflect the fact that we’re a Christian? If you were to tell everyone at school, where you shop or at work that you were a Child of God at the beginning of the day, what would be their response at the end of the day? As sinful creatures, what we say can so easily degenerate into evil speaking or into complaining.
Remember, it’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but what comes out of your mouth. Our vocabulary is an indication of our intellect. Our words provide a window to our character. Our grammar reveals the degree of our refinement. Our speech is a reflection of our spirit. And try to deny it if you want, but it all begins in the home. Therefore, we must always be careful how we speak to one another in the home.
A public service advertisement for the national committee for the prevention of child abuse reminded us, “words can hit as hard as a fist.” It listed phrases that some parents say to their children. “You disgust me, just shut up. You’re pathetic, you can’t do anything right. You are really stupid. Don’t you know how to listen? Get out of here. I’m sick of looking at your face.” Accompanying these comments, that some parents make to their children, is a picture of a child with tears in her eyes, along with the caption, “Children believe what their parents tell them.”
When a parent tells a child that they’re stupid, they believe it and that belief will be carried into their adulthood. When they’re told that they’re disgusting, they will develop that self-identity, and will forever reflect it in their behavior. We must be careful how we speak to one another in the home. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15, “Be careful how you live,” and to “Live as wise people.” That certainly applies to what comes out of our mouths.
In marriage counseling there’s a technique that can be helpful; it can also tell a lot about a couple’s backgrounds and the future of their relationship. Anytime I see a couple that is having difficulty communicating, I ask them to write down three compliments they have each received from each other during the past few days. If they can’t remember anything positive their partner has said, it’s not a good sign of a solid relationship, is it?
It reminds me of the story about the guy who is sprawled out in front of the television with popcorn and empty cans all around him. His wife is standing in front of the television screen with her hands on her hips saying, “I want to know right now. Do you love me more than you love football?” There’s a long silence. “Well?” she asks. Finally, he replies, “I love you more than hockey.”
Each one of us needs to hear reassuring words of love and comfort from time to time. Such language is healing. It builds bridges of understanding and loyalty. It engenders an environment of gentleness and patience. If we’re constantly critical, we will get criticism in return. If we’re complimentary, chances are we’ll receive compliments. Ask yourself: does your spouse or do the children have any reason to look forward to you coming home at night? Does your spouse feel better about themselves because of your presence?
I like the anonymous writing that goes like this: I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for putting your hand into my heaped up heart and passing over all the foolish, weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there, and drawing out into the light all the beautiful things that no one else had looked quite far enough to find. I love you because you are helping me to make of the lumber of my life not a tavern, but a temple, out of the works of my every day not a reproach, but a song.
During these final vacation days of summer, let’s all take some time to reflect upon our language, upon words that hurt and words that heal, remembering this good exhortation of Saint Paul, “Let no bad word pass your lips, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs.” (Ephesians 4:29) Let’s use words that are gracious, uplifting and a means of healing to everyone who hears them. Let what comes out of our mouth reflect the fact that we are indeed children of our heavenly Father.

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