Epiphany 5C

When we were young, we all learned the rhyme, “sticks ends may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” 

and, while technically, words can’t do physical damage, 

they can certainly harm our psyche. 

Whether it's our ego self-worth and self-esteem, or our feelings, 

words can hurt us on the inside in ways just as painful as a broken bone or a bruise. 

Moreover, words can drive us to action. 

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” reflects this concept of ideas winning over might and strength. 

Also, “a person is only as good as their word,” speaks to the reliability of one's promises. 

In fact, I would venture to guess that most of our greatest regrets in life 

revolve around not saying something to someone while we had the opportunity to do so, 

or saying the wrong thing when the opportunity arose, which made matters worse.

As you reflect on your life, I'm sure you can remember words that affected you tremendously. 

How about when you heard, “I now pronounce you man and wife?” 

or, what about when you heard that the World Trade Center was attacked and collapsed? 

Or that challenger or Columbia were destroyed midflight? 

Or how about the words, “it's a boy!” Or, “it's a girl!” Or, “it's not cancerous!” 

words often break the news of tremendous journeys ahead both good and bad 

and help navigate us through those journeys 

and describe the path to others after we've reached the end of those journeys in life.

Today in our readings we learn that God's word is for the purpose of healing and salvation. 

It begins with our Old Testament lesson where we hear about a fantastical scene described prominently with angels. 

And in this vision God himself is being attended to by them while Isaiah cowers in fear, 

because a sinner like him should not be found among such a holy audience. 

But Isaiah’s concern was alleviated

when one of the angels brought a hot coal from the altar to purify Isaiah’s lips, saying, 

“behold, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 

fire burns off impurities and makes things sterile.

since we are made holy in God's image, it was not Isaiah’s being or presence which was unholy before God, 

but that which came out of his sinful heart as expressed by his words. 

And, and so, in Isaiah, we get the lesson that God can even make clean that which comes from our sinful hearts and minds.

In the epistle, Paul is counseling the church in Corinth concerning their speaking in tongues. 

Always viewed as a gift from the Holy Spirit, Christians were ecstatic when they heard it in their worship together. 

And, yet, when asked what the words meant, neither the speaker nor others hearing them, could interpret them.

What’s the point? 

Why speak in tongues unless it can build up us and others, either in mind, or in our spirit? 

Therefore, plain language, which needs no interpretation, is always preferred to speaking in tongues. 

And, even if we don't speak in tongues, we should still be careful with our speech. 

Sometimes, we in the church use churchy words that no one else uses. 

And we need to be on guard to either provide for their translation and interpretation 

or find better ways to proclaim them to our audience.

And we only have to look to the gospel lesson to see that God's word should not be reserved for the insiders. 

Jesus was followed by folks from all walks of life and various kinds of faith who were seeking good news. 

And Jesus spoke to them in a way that they could usually understand. 

But also, with authority; Like he knew what he was talking about. 

Because he did! He WAS those very words, translated into human flesh. 

And he was sent to earth so that he could deliver the good news personally. 

Through his preaching about God and his plan to forgive and save sinners, 

by his very presence; That the word of God would dwell among us, 

and, finally, by demonstrating that good news by becoming our sin and hanging on the cross in our place. 

Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of the holy words Isaiah was given in a vision. 

He also made sure his message was apprehensible  and understandable, 

as Paul recommends to the Corinthians.

As his church, you and I are called to project words that heal and save as well. 

Sometimes we fail at that task when we are silent. 

If no one knows you are Christian, then your silence on the matter is deafening. 

Sometimes our actions and words run counter to those that project Christ. 

What we say and do not only reflect on us, but on Jesus and his body, the church. 

And, therefore, if our lives mirror those who are not Christian, 

then our words and actions are worthless. 

But if those words and actions separate us from the world, 

it is a positive sign that they are working in the world around us. 

And when we speak the saving words of the gospel, they also bring healing to those that hear them. 

Because the most troublesome aspects of life come from shame, guilt, and regret, 

so that when one hears of the forgiveness of Jesus, then their heart is healed. 

And when the pain and suffering is physical and tangible, 

the good news of the resurrection to eternal life for believers delivers peace to those seeking relief and comfort. 

Speaking the gospel, then, is the work of healing and saving the world. 

Because there is not anyone that Christ did not die for, 

and God wants all people to know him so that they might be saved

One thing I like about this set of readings this week is the clarity of mission they hold out for us. 

In addition to the sayings I mentioned earlier, another is also important. “actions speak louder than words.” 

we can say a lot of good things. 

But if our actions don't match those words, then those words lose their meaning. 

That's why every ministry activity and project of a church should be assessed by this criteria: 

“what does it say about us, our God, and our savior?” 

and we would be wise to remember that, at times, silence is deafening. 

Therefore, we can't pretend that whatever we do here at Saint John only affects us. 

Whether we designed it that way or not, it affects others outside the church, 

and if we are to be the church that reflects Jesus, 

we will be at church that looks outward for our ministry and our future.

This week I hope you spend some time considering what words or messages your relationship to Jesus, and his church, gathered at Saint John, sends out to the world. 

Is it a case of radio silence, where no one would ever know or suspect you are Christian, much less an active member at Saint John? 

Or would your words and actions lead others to believe followers of Jesus don't care about sin, or loving our neighbors as ourselves? 

Or do others see and hear from you the fact that, despite your sinful ways, 

you trust in the forgiveness of Jesus? 

And that, because of that forgiveness, you can't help but respond 

in kind, in kindness, and with generosity, 

as you give him thanks and praise 

and as you share this good news with those around you. 

And after this time of reflection, I'm sure all of us will see ways we have fallen short. 

But, in that realization, I also want you to know you need not be ashamed. 

But rather, pray all the harder for God's intervention and the encouragement of his Holy Spirit. 

So that, you would know the forgiveness of Jesus Christ in your life, 

and that you would have the strength to be bolder in your witness of that faith in the future.

It was by the words and the name of God spoken over you at your baptism that changed your whole life. 

And, except at the baptism of Jesus, it was ordinary, sinful, men and women who proclaimed that washing of your souls. 

That this profound, transference, of circumstances, 

from sinner to saint, has been placed into the hands of humanity 

only solidifies how important our own words are to the mission of expanding God's Kingdom.

May each of us, in Word and deed, 

always speak words of healing and salvation, 

until the day our Lord finally calls us home to our eternal reward. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.