Sermon for April 25th, 2021
There are 4 people in the world that you never want to trust, or at least I should say, you don’t want to trust them completely. Not really people actually, but professions. There are 4 professions that you would be wise to be very cautious around and I’ll explain why. Here they are: politicians, preachers, lawyers and journalists. I’ll say that again for those of you who are taking notes: politicians, preachers, lawyers and journalists. You have to be very careful with these people. It’s NOT that you can’t trust ANY of them, there are good, honest people working in all 4 of those professions that do amazing things, it’s just that you have to be very careful because the potential for abuse is so high. As we are sitting here right now, you can probably think of multiple scumbags in every category I just mentioned. Please don’t embarrass anyone by saying them out loud though.
Why are those 4 professions so tricky? Why are we rightly suspicious of politicians, preachers, lawyers and journalists? It’s quite simple really: all 4 of those people get paid to use words. Words are their raw materials, their product and their currency. Politicians, preachers, lawyers, and journalists all make their living by using and manipulating words. They aren’t the only ones, most professions use words to some degree, but those 4 especially do. And your success in one of those 4 professions is quite often linked to how cleverly or how skillfully you use words. People in these jobs become masters of word use. We know which words will make you laugh; we know which words will make you cry. We know which words are going to make you angry. We know how to make you feel proud of yourselves. We have an arsenal of words, because that is how we make our living. If we don’t have the right word, rest assured we will make one up. And just so that you don’t forget that we are masters of words, every now and then we will throw in a Latin word just to remind everyone that we know more words than they do. And you know what, sometimes, a lot of times, knowing lots of words is not a bad thing.
When politicians use the wrong words, they can cause great harm, but a politician that uses words effectively can make good trade agreements, settle shaky markets, calm public emotions, pass good laws and create peace treaties. When a preacher uses the wrong words, he or she can get people hoping or believing in the wrong things, but when a preacher uses the right words, to direct people to God and to Jesus Christ, well that has the power to save peoples’ lives as well as their souls. Those words have the power to give meaning to a meaningless world. Lawyers? Well we all love to pick on lawyers, and it’s all fun and games until you need one. In a world where people do NOT always have the best intentions, a good lawyer can protect you and defend you with their carefully chosen words. And yes, we all know how manipulative journalists can be with the information that they convey and how they convey it, and yet we also know that some journalists go to extreme lengths and take huge personal risks to share important information with us. The words of a good journalist have the power to reveal truth and connect us to the rest of the world.
There are good and trustworthy people in all of these professions, but whenever you encounter someone who uses words for a living you need to be very careful. Because words are so cheap and easy to use. It is so easy to manipulate people just by using words. You know, there once was a time when the printed word was quite costly. Certainly in the ancient world and the medieval world, not everyone could read or write, paper, parchment, vellum and papyrus were all expensive, so writings, the written word, that was a precious thing. Our word scripture, comes from the Latin word for writing. (See what I did there, I used a Latin word. I am earning my money this morning).
But even long after the invention of the printing press, the written word was still highly regarded and trusted. So was the spoken word on radio and television. Words, themselves, have always been cheap, but broadcasting those words to people who aren’t standing within earshot of you, well up until very recently that has been very expensive. But not so anymore. Think about this: this service is being broadcast on the internet this morning, we have been doing this for over a year now. Lots of churches have had to do this over this past year. We had to make an initial investment in the equipment, but beyond that it doesn’t cost us a whole lot to do this. My words can be heard anywhere on earth by anyone with internet access and a computer or phone. That should kinda scare you. Because what if I were a crackpot? What if the words I used up here had no relationship to reality or truth? Words are cheaper now than they ever were, not just for politicians, preachers, lawyers and journalists, but for everyone.
You have in your pocket or in your purse, or if you are watching at home, in your hands, a device capable of sending words around the world. You can put words in print and you can broadcast them in ways that even our grandparents never would have imagined. Now everyone is discovering what politicians and preachers and lawyers and journalists have known for a long time, everyone is learning just how easy it is to use and manipulate words and how cheap they really are. Anybody can go online and say anything they want. A teenager can create graphics and memes and webpages that say anything. Doesn’t have to be true. Words are cheap. The internet is cheap. Why shouldn’t I share my opinions about molecular biology, epidemiology, or economics? Does it matter that I am in no way qualified to talk about those things? Doesn’t everyone want to know my opinion on everything? Does it matter if the things I say and share, either in person or online, are in any way connected to the truth? If I type in the right words to form the correct opinion that is sure to gain approval from my very carefully cultivated group of friends, can I go home and congratulate myself for a hard day’s work?
Some people are so courageous these days…some people will even go to the length of changing their Facebook profile photo, adding a few words to show the world that they support a particular cause. I mean, if I don’t go out of my way to tell people that I think something is wrong on my Facebook page, then how would anyone possibly know what I stand for? And if I do that, and if you do that, and if we all just agree to use the right words and say the right things, then we can solve all of our nation’s problems overnight right? Does it matter if the words we say are true? Does it matter if we ever back them up with action? It is so much easier to take moral stands on issues when all it involves is issuing a public statement with a few carefully chosen words. So there will always be this temptation to just use words.
Well for the average online pundit, words may be enough, but they are NOT enough for a committed Christian. Manipulating words might make you successful as a politician, a preacher, a lawyer or a journalist, they might even make you socially popular in person and online, but words alone will not make you a follower of Jesus Christ, because Jesus taught us using more than words.
“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, NOT in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
Words are great. Words are wonderful. Words are powerful. I love words; I’m a preacher and I get paid to use them, just like politicians, lawyers and journalists, but words need to be connected to truth and action. Not just for those of us in these sketchy professions, but for all of us, especially for those of us who bear the name Christian, because our words and our lives need to bear witness to the truth of the gospel. All of our words. The words we say in person, the words we share online or in print. People need to be able to trust that when we are talking about the love of God, we really mean it. People need to know that we aren’t just using words to manipulate them, but are actually sharing truth that is reflected in our actions and in our lives. In John’s epistle he’s talking about the word love, and he says how can you go around saying that you love people or using the word love if that word doesn’t seem to have any relation to truth or action in your life? If someone says that they love you with their lips but then mistreats you with their hands, where is the truth? It’s great for someone to say they love you, but if you have to choose between someone that says it and someone that shows it. Pick the person that shows it, because words are cheap, and they are getting cheaper all the time, not just for politicians, preachers, lawyers and journalists, but for everybody. Christians have no business using love, or any other word, unless those words are connected to truth and action. Before you post something or share something or say something, online or in person, ask yourself “is this true?” “Do I know this for a fact to be true” AND “am I willing to actually DO anything about it?” “Am I willing to put my money, my time or my life on the line for this?” Am I using my words to spread actual truth, not just uninformed opinions? Am I using my words to inspire real action, and not just self-righteousness? Because words are cheap. The word “love” is cheap, but true love, the love God shows us in the gospel, well that can cost you everything.