The Power of Words


Hab. 3:1-10(11-15)16-18; James 3:1-12; Luke 17:1-10

Our readings today are glimpses of God’s kingdom.

Habakkuk launches into one of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible, painting a picture of the mighty acts and wrath of God, but also expressing a deep trust in God.  From the bright rays of the sun to the deadly pestilence, from the rivers and the mountains, to even the moon standing still in its exalted place at the “light of your arrows speeding by, at the gleam of your flashing spear.”  Indeed, Habakkuk trusts in God’s power.

James, as well, is filled with fiery language.  His rhetorical attack on the sins of speech personifies the tongue.  “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire.”  He focuses on the power of people’s words to do harm – words that are used to slice and dice the community, poison it and destroy the Body of Christ.

Jesus speaks a number of miscellaneous sayings in Luke.  From forgiving those who have wronged you seven times a day, to explaining that “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you,” Jesus focuses on personal responsibility as well.

Sometimes I wonder why the church in America declined to where it is today.  Is it the culture of scientific inquiry?  Is it that people these days are demanding proof when faith is required?  Or is it the repercussions of a Christian Education philosophy of the 50s and 60s that cared little for personal faith and instead focused on lectures on theology and Biblical knowledge?  Is it simply God’s will that we be tested in this way?

All of our readings, in some way, focus on personal responsibility.  Habakkuk is a prophet, someone who is attempting to persuade and cajole.  James and Jesus are both directly addressing where the person fits in the community, with appropriate behaviors and actions.

And this is where I think we got off track.  So much of what I see the church focusing on is, “It’s OK to do whatever you want with your body or each other, as long as at the end of the day you know that God loves you.”

James and Jesus confront this kind of flimsy ideology you hear today head on.  They focus on the poison and destruction that words can provide, or inaction.  One cannot sit idly by and expect the kingdom to come.  It is clear that we play a part in this.

We must do our best.   And yes, we must ask for forgiveness if we fall short.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t continue doing our best.  Forgive each other along the way.  But get through the bumps in the road, and work for the coming of the kingdom of Christ.  Ready….Here we GO!


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