Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sermon: Sticks and Stones and Murder

Matthew 5:21-26

Advice in life is often conflicting.

For example, one hiring and job experts says that for an interview for a new job should you dress formally another says wear what you’d normally wear to work. Of course that is small potatoes compared with dieting advice – don’t eat saturated fat from one expert, your body needs fat from another; eggs cause high blood pressure, eggs are a good source of protein and vitamins. Or parenting: one expert (your grandma) says start potty training early, another expert (your mom) says wait until later, and the child says, just try it I dare ya.

One area of conflicting advice is the power of words. On one hand we have the saying that “Sticks in stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” which implies that the words have no real or lasting effect, but on the other we have, “the pen is mightier than the sword” which implies that words can in fact be lethal.

Strangely, both of these sayings have their place. As we look around the world, it doesn’t take long for us to hear someone call someone else an abusive name. Sometimes it is done in fun, between friends, and we might say, “Sara, you are such a fool!” “Whoa, Fred you look bad today. I mean you like something I would draw with my left hand!”

But other times, the things we say come out as a result of our hard-hearts or our anger. When we speak hurtful words from those situations what we say is no longer innocent or fun, but it is intended to cause harm. If we were to say something truly hurtful and awful and then say “stick and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt” as if it is okay to say whatever we want because words aren’t powerful, that is misusing the statement. That statement is meant to help our kids overcome the hurt of being on the receiving side of hurtful words, but it is not meant to excuse us from speaking words of harm.

The advice to speakers about what we say is different than

The advice we give to those who are on the receiving end of the harsh words. We try to help the people who experience the harsh words to look past what was said and to shrug it off – because they need to do that to heal. But Jesus says quite the opposite about speaking such harmful words and how they affect the speaker. He suggests that the words that come out of our mouths impact us.

Listen to Matthew 5:21-26

“You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.

Jesus suggests that such actions lead us to be liable at the judgment, and he equates them with murder. This is a pretty strong statement. What he is reminding us is that it is the same kind of hard-heart that abuses others with our words that is willing to take another’s life. He is saying that the same hatred within us causes both. As much as we don’t like to admit it, we know that it is the same kind of hatred that draws a swastika on a wall as kills in concentration camps. It is the same kind of hatred that uses racial slurs that participates in lynching. And although those are extreme cases, Jesus is reminding us that it is the same anger in us that rears its ugly head when we bully, or spew verbal abuse, or call a person a name, as would commit murder of that person. Jesus wants us to get ourselves under control, and bring our hearts back to God, and to lead lives of integrity.

Thankfully there is forgiveness for our past on this matter.

None of us want our hearts to be filled with murderous intent. We don’t want God’s judgment upon us for such ungodly rage. Rather we want to be children of the light, who live in such a way that God is given glory. God can help us do that.

So each of you should have a slip of paper that was given to you earlier. Take a moment to reflect on the following: What word did you utter recently you wish you could take back? What easy lie did you utter this week?  In other words, as you hear Jesus’ teaching, and you reflect upon it, what words came out of your mouth that that you regret.

Use your fingertips (not pens/pencils) to write down your response, I don’t want anyone to actually read your confession, we want to keep that between you and God, so just use your fingertip and write those words, fold your papers, and drop (or throw) them in a garbage can that I will carry around.

Let’s put those words where they belong, in the trash, let go of them, so that they are no longer to be a burden to your soul. [walk around]

Jesus offers forgiveness to us when our words are rash and hateful, he also suggests that we should seek forgiveness from those we hurt with our words. And then he is challenging us to live differently in the future. But we have to be willing to see what is in our hearts and to change! And I think that is what Jesus is trying to tell us – words come from somewhere, they don’t come from nowhere. And if the words we speak are angry or hateful it suggests that there is something deeper there – probably something that needs more than forgiveness – it is probably something that needs healing quite honestly.

Anger doesn’t come from nowhere. Just like angry words don’t.

They have a source. And the likely source is something that is deep within you that is fearful, hurt, worried, threatened, -- in other words, the source of our anger is a lot of stuff that we don’t like to or want to deal with. Which is why we lash out when someone touches it.

When our anger becomes frequent, or especially hateful or violent, what has happened is that wound has become festered and swollen. And like those kinds of wounds, to heal them, we have to allow someone to touch them. We need medical treatment to deal with the infection and then to close the wound. But we know that when we allow the nurses to clean a wound or set a bone, it hurts – a lot.

The same is true with a heart that is overcome with anger. To heal it, we have to allow God to touch it. We have to allow God to deal with the infection, the emotions that have festered and the fears that have swollen out of control. We have to allow God to use sutures to bring closure to the past. And even though it isn’t physical, this sort of spiritual and emotional healing, hurts just like the cleansing of a wound or the setting of a bone.

But once we get past the initial pain and the hurt begins to heal, and the fears begin to fade away, then our anger is less.

When Jesus tells us that our words spoken in anger can condemn

us to judgment or to hell, he is being rather literal. We can begin to live our lives in constant pain of a wound that has never been healed, leaving us screaming in pain every time the wound is touched. That’s a lifestyle that is no fun, filled with suffering, and can get out of our control. And so he points out to us, that our words are deadly, if not to others, but to ourselves.

To change ourselves, we must see the problem, ask forgiveness, and finally seek healing for our deepest wounds. These are things that God can help us with. From the wellsprings of life, and the wondrous grace of the Christ, comes that which can save us from ourselves and deliver us and shape us into a new creation.

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