May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I pray that, or a variation on it, practically every time I preach.
Words and thoughts go together, not just in the pulpit – and may honour or dishonour God as they leave our mouths and begin to set up the reverberations that can continue beyond any expectation, or any desire.
Of course, words can be slippery creatures, their power magnified in this age of instant communication. As one who tends to over-communicate, I have to remind myself that when I tweet “That was the WORST DAY EVER!”, actually meaning “Things went a bit wrong for a while this afternoon...” there will be people who assume that a Serious Disaster has struck...As one who thinks aloud, I need to preface some responses with “I’ll know what I think when I hear what I say” - and that’s just when dealing with well-intentioned, day to day conversations.
This week guidelines issued to candidates standing for General Synod from a particular tradition in the Church of England, suggested careful phrases behind which to disguise their views, and likely voting preferences on some of the bigger issues that divide the Church today. That anyone should seek to win votes IN THE CHURCH on the basis of a clever deception seems deeply troubling….giving away something about the inner reality of those who suggested this behaviour.
You see words, even words intended to deceive, may reveal more than we plan…
James’s insistence that you should not be able to truly praise God and curse our neighbour underlines this. Our words will often show others more of the truth of who we are than we would ever choose, for good or ill.
Sometimes, this is a lovely surprise, as I discovered a week ago, as it was getting dark. I was walking down Hill Top, ...and saw a group of youths coming towards me who looked, if I’m honest, really rather scary.
There was no diversions possible so I pressed on, with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and one hand clutching my keys firmly, just in case.
As we passed one another, one lad, seeing my cross and collar, called
“God bless you, Mother” - a joyful blessing revealing a kind heart that was at odds with his tough guy exterior, and reminding me that words can be a window onto our true selves.
The words of our mouths, the thoughts of our hearts – and of course, the direction of our lives.
Things we simply MUST take seriously, aligning them as best we can with the way of the Kingdom, the way of the Cross.
You see, no matter who we are can get things disastrously wrong…
Enter, Peter who in one short reading swings from trimphant epiphany as he recognises the truth of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, to missing the point entirely, and finding himself equated with Satan.
It’s easy to imagine how it happened. Try putting yourself in his place just for a minute.
Imagine, you have enjoyed the daily companionship of Jesus…have listened to his teachings…broken bread with him…watched him transform the lives of men, women and children by his presence as much as his miracles.
You have gladly given up everything for the sake of his company – just to be with him, to be known as one of his followers.
I would guess that each of us is here because at some level we’ve made the same choices as Simon…
But what if we had to take Jesus out of the equation…if we had to imagine life without him. I’m sure that is what prompted Peter to take him to one side and try to persuade him to see sense.
The very clarity of vision which had enabled him to recognise the Messiah meant that he was horribly clear what life would be like for him if Jesus went to his death.
He was very sure that he understood how a Messiah should behave – and “suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes and being killed” simply wasn’t on the agenda.
Of course, there was this baffling line about being raised on the third day – but that just didn’t make any sort of sense…it certainly wasn’t something to rely upon.
No…Peter was adamant.
Death should not touch his Messiah.
Oh…where would we be without Peter?
So often, he models faults that we too struggle with…and, once again, his words are a dead give-away of the fightings and fears within that I recognise only too well.
Here he has decisively proved that one can proclaim Christ as Lord without really grasping what that means in real life. Peter is convinced that his Messiah will triumph through strength…He’s completely floored by the way of the Kingdom.
then Jesus tells him what it means to line up words and deeds in
perfect accord…To actually LIVE the gospel...right through to death
“If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will gain it”
It’s all a bit Alice in Wonderland isn’t it?
If we pursue our goal, we will never reach it…but if we focus instead on a different way – why then all, all will be ours.
He knew the right words, but the living reality was altogether too much for him.
He wanted to keep his version of Jesus safely confined in a box tailor made for the purpose. That can be a problem for us too. We don't fully understand God and so we try to fit God, in all his greatness, into our understanding. We baulk at the effort of expanding our views to encompass God..., rand whether we want to or not, our words will probably demonstrate this.
Yes. Your words as much as mine.
Whether you’re setting out to teach or not.
Take this seriously. PLEASE.
The words of our mouths, the thoughts of our hearts, the course of our lives...need to line up.
That the old “sticks and stones” adage is often dreadfully, catastrophically, WRONG. Wounds left by words can hurt far more, and may never fully heal.
Each of us carries a potentially deadly weapon around with us, every single day, and sometimes it seems so much easier to blame than to praise, though we all know from experience the disproportionate power of criticism, which stays with the recipient long after affirmation has been dismissed. That’s a strange bit of human wiring – but one we need to recognise and attend to all the time. While St Francis encouraged his followers to practice “Custody of the eyes”, our readings today remind us that we alone can keep custody of the tongue – and it’s important that we do so.
How will you use your gift of speech to encourage, what kind words will you share this week?
Remember, our words reveal the truth of our being, and the complex reality of our life as citizens of the Kingdom.
May all that we speak be to the glory of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.