In the name of the God the Creator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. AMEN.
In school yards all over the United States you can heard kids saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” They are taught these words by parents in an attempted to protect them from the cruelty of words spoken either without thought or with the very thought of inflicting harm. It is a phrase I used myself many times growing up. And even when I used them, I knew it was not true. Those words really did hurt. And they hurt in a way no sticks and stones ever could.
In my childhood I grew up with a lot of discipline. Now I know that is hard for most of you to believe now, but back then those around me often found the need to correct me. I remember clearly the hardest punishment I ever had to endure. It was at the time in my life when I had grown too old for my parents to believe that spanking would do any good any more and my mother used five words to discipline me. Those words were: “I’m very disappointed in you.” They stung me more than any other punishment I had ever received in my life. It hurt me in that deepest place inside of me.
The truth of the matter is that the spoken word is very, very powerful. The spoken word can do powerful good in the world or it can inflict powerful pain and evil. It is all a matter of how you choose to use it.
Ezekiel and Jesus demonstrate the power of the spoken word in the lessons today. Words spoken for great good. Words of power that brought new life. New life to some old bones and new life to Lazarus.
When Jesus gets word of the illness of his good friend Lazarus he does something very strange. He hangs around for a few days before heading off to visit him. He seems unmoved by any sense of urgency at all. Dallying around until, by our understanding it is too late. Lazarus is gone. The mourning is going full blast. Wailing women running around all over the place.
One of the strangest things in this story for me though is Jesus telling them to move the stone for him. Here is Jesus the son of God. He is going to, by the power of his spoken word, raise a man from the dead. Certainly he could move a stone just as easily as bring a man back to life. But he doesn’t. Jesus didn’t perform any of his signs or miracles for a show. He did them to change people’s lives. The same thing happens in this story. He could have moved the rock in a nice show. He could have done a lot of things. But he relies on his word to heal a man and to heal a family. His work it to touch lives, not rocks. And in this action he invites others to participate in his work.
Jesus used words for great good. He used words to heal people’s physical bodies. He used words to raise a body from the dead. And he used words to heal people’s inner hurts, to touch their souls. That is what he did with the woman at the well a few weeks ago in the Gospel lesson.
What do we do with our words? Does our language and words heal or do they sometimes hurt? The difficulty with the power of the spoken word is that it is so hard to control. Words spoken in jest can be taken seriously and cause immense harm. Words spoken without thought can cause the same harm. It is important that in our life, in our relationships with others that we remember the power of words. Just like the words of Ezekiel and Jesus, our words can bring life to those around us. If we choose them wisely. If we use them wisely.
Jesus gives us the example to follow. The only people he ever spoke harshly to were the self-satisfied religious leaders of his time. Even at his crucifixion he did not utter a harmful word. In fact, he spoke words of forgiveness. What an amazing example to us. No matter the provocation, nothing excuses a harsh word. We had a very public example of this in our own paper the week before last when David Calvert was attacked in a letter to the editor. No I don’t know David or the author of the letter. I’m quite frankly shocked that the paper even published it. The attack was cowardly at best, and mean spirited at worst. But it does demonstrate the power of the word.
Let us all commit to following the example of Jesus. We must choose the higher calling of Jesus. Remember, words have tremendous power. Use them wisely.