Listen to the sermon here:
Scriptures: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 Psalm 19 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a Luke 4:14-21
Psalm 19: 11 says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
The Psalmist is asking God to accept the Psalmist’s words. What about our words? Are they worthy of acceptance by our God? Recently I was in a meeting when the presenter showed a picture of a young boy with a bar of soap in his mouth, supposedly to show that sometimes our mouths do not always yield clean, wholesome, uplifting words. The presenter asked how many people in that gathering had ever had their mouths washed with soap because they had uttered unhealthy words. I was surprised at the number of hands which shot into the air.
Words! James, in the book of James in the New Testament, says that our tongues are the most despicable part of our bodies. The same tongue that praises God can also hurt a brother or sister like deadly poison. This seems to be part of human nature. But does it need to be true of our very own tongue?
We mimic what we hear. That is how we learn our language. So if our early years are spent with people whose tongues are wild, we will acquire that same kind of tongue. If we are blessed with a childhood which only had kind words and tone of voice, helpful words, and uplifting words, our tongue will have that manner.
When we leave our close family nucleus and hear peers and co-workers using language that is demeaning and gross, will we acquire that language? Yes, we will if we are not asking God to close our ears to that language. First, we find that those words are forming in our minds. Next, we find those words springing from our own lips. We need to remove ourselves from that language if at all possible. Sometimes it is not possible, so we need to fill our minds with good words to overcome the awful words.
People who have scripture memorized or hymns memorized are blessed in these situations. We can keep them on file and start one playing in our heads whenever needed. That is when we talk to God and say, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
God’s words in his commandments are precious. Listen! “More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.” The Psalmist in Psalm 19 has more to say about these words. “By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward.”
Great reward! What could that be? The reward is a life lived in the presence of the Lord. Even when trials arrive, they are more manageable because our faces are facing the giver of instruction for our lives and we are renewed with strength and patience and trust.
Let’s find some words which Jesus spoke as told in Luke 4:14-21. He is beginning his ministry after his affirming baptism. Jesus in introducing himself to his home area of Galilee. When he arrives in his home town of Nazareth he appears in the synagogue on the Sabbath. It seems that he is asked to read the scripture. Luke 4:41-21 says that he was given the scroll with the words of Isaiah. He finds the words about himself which read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then Jesus said to the people in the synagogue, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Words! Words that God gave to Isaiah are fulfilled years and years later in God the Son come to earth!
Remember – words can be helpful or hurtful. Words can make us angry or words can make us feel wonderful, our souls can be uplifted by words, our human feelings can be brought to the bottom of the sea by words. The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians 12:12-31, reminds us that our bodies are made of many parts. Each part fills a needed function. Some parts we cover for the sake of modesty but they are still important. Some of us would like to cover our faces because we perceive our faces to be unattractive. No matter what we think about parts of our body, each part is precious.
Even our little toe is important – probably more important than the hair on our heads even though we may want to trade a toe for hair. Well, what about the tongue? I sometimes regret what my tongue says. Remembering James’ words about the tongue, I could wish that I did not have a tongue. But that would not be good. I could not praise God with audible words; I could not easily speak uplifting words to another person; I could not express my needs; I could not thank people who help me with my needs.
So how can this tongue fit worthily with the other body parts. This tongue has the power to bring chaos to the rest of the members of our body. This tongue has the power to bring chaos to community around us. How can this one body member help rather than hurt? I know. The hand can cover the mouth where the tongue resides. Or, what about this idea? The teeth could bite the tongue. Or the hand of someone else could place a bar of soap in our mouth as in days past. Oh yes, we have this proverbial saying about putting our foot in our mouth. Members helping members.
Maybe we could adopt the idea that the fewer the words the better. The lips could come to our rescue. If our upper and lower lip are together, the tongue is ineffective. Many members of our bodies can be protective and supportive of other members. Each member is needed. Just as in community. Each member is important – not to destroy, but to build.
Even if we have taken our bodies into destruction with our decisions and behavior, there is hope for the reconstruction of a good body. When we read Nehemiah 8, we are reading the happy point at the end of the awful exile to Babylon while the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed – all because God’s people chose to be disobedient. The happy point came when God brought his people home. Ezra was designated to be priest while Nehemiah was designated to be re-builder. The moment comes when it is time to dedicate this revival. How do they do this? What is the program? Guess! The program is words – not just babbling words or rambling words as some of us are prone to do. Just think! Ezra reads the basic scripture – the laws of the Lord, the commandments of the Lord! Did the people grumble? No. They cried. They were so happy to hear those precious words again after their long disengagement from those structured words.
These words are more to be desired than gold, more than fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. Yes, they cried. It was such a relief to have structure, not as in chains but in purpose. To be forgiven, to be received into the fold once again.
Can our own tongues be restored? Interesting question, don’t you think! Will our tongues always deceive us just when we are determined not to let it happen again? Well, think about this. Our tongues are attached to the whole body. That means there is a connection between our hearts and our tongues. If our heart is pure, if our heart is filled with love, that is the message the tongue will receive from that source. That also means there is a connection between our minds and our tongues. Oh, we said that determination would not control the tongue and determination comes from the mind. So we can say to our mind, “You are no help. Crawl into your cranial home and be quiet.”
But wait! Could we train our tongue as we train a pet or a child? Not by punishment, but by reward. Each time that we think before we speak we could reward ourselves. Perhaps we could keep a chart and add a mark or even a sticker when we were going to say something but caught ourselves in time because the words would not have been helpful but just the opposite. Or, we could reward ourselves with an ice cream cone every time our tongue was held. That is a very appealing method in my way of thinking, but my scale would not appreciate that method. Maybe we could allow ourselves 15 minutes of reading time or TV time if we thought before we spoke. But wait again! What are we reading? What are we watching? Beware of more bad influence. Selecting our reading material and TV material is a challenge in itself. Our guard shall be in operation mode at all times.
Good reading and good television or computer programming will push bad thoughts from the space? Then also God can help us with everything? If we invite God to control our thoughts and feelings; if we make room for God’s love, every member of our body can be what God has planned it to be. Our words can become kinder because we have allowed our mind and heart and soul to be filled to the gills with whatever it takes to encourage people, to change community by love, not by coercion, not by guns, not by nastiness, not by bullying, not by criticism, but by helpful words, loving words because the attitude in our hearts is love above all else.
Yes, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen