Message for Sunday 27th June 2021

A Sermon Revisited and Preached originally in the Huguenot Chapel of Canterbury Cathedral in 2012:

Please read, Proverbs 15: 1-8; 30-33; 7 Matthew 23: 1-12

 

“WORDS AND WISDOM…”

 

“I am pleased and surprised to be here. My wife, Susan, reminded me of a visit we made to the Cathedral some years ago before my ministry training began. “Just imagine, one day you might get to preach a sermon in this place…” Apparently, we laughed, not thinking that such a thing might be remotely possible.

 

I also remember the Principal of Spurgeon’s College (where I would eventually do my training), the Reverend Dr. Nigel Wright said there was (now) so much information available to us, so much knowledge in this technological age of ours; where billions upon billions of words are catapulted (moment-by-moment) along the Information Superhighway into the ether. He then asked his students whether they thought the world was any-the-wiser for our world-wide-web. It didn’t take more than a second of thought for us to conclude that, for all this knowledge and information, wisdom seems to be in such short supply! Our discussions concluded that, though we were certainly giants in information, we were comparative dwarves in wisdom!

 

And, so we come to WORDS and WISDOM from King Solomon which concern the tongue and the words we use – whatever language we speak!

The first verse in our Proverbs reading (15:1) tells us that “the soft answer turns away wrath…” That response is like water to extinguish a fire. By contrast, “the harsh (grievous) word stirs up anger…” This is like the fuel that fans the flame. It is not rocket science…we all know this is true.

We know exactly what author Mark Twain meant when he remarked, “it’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that give me the most trouble; no, it is those parts that I do understand that trouble me most…

We know the tongue is just about the most dangerous of the weapons that a human being can wield. We know that ill-spoken, ill-conceived words, badly-timed words can damage us and others…transmitters and receivers alike. The sadness is that just such words are a part of our church, too.

We also know that the person who said, “sticks ‘n’ stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me…” got it totally wrong! Careless words, more than anything else, can absolutely ruin our testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ…the One who speaks the truth and whose words bring pardon and eternal life. Our words often grieve the heart of God and do shipwreck to His mission…

 

And yet, for all our knowledge, we still become argumentative, we justify ourselves, we insist on having the final word, believing that what “I think” will win-the-day, the louder and the more aggressive our words are put forward. We have all been guilty. Watch any showing of PMQs…if you don’t believe me. We are no better than the politicians.

It is difficult to escape the world and its constant, godless chatter, its endless round of retaliation and retribution. I wonder, would we be more careful when we sent our emails and tweets if we took the time to breathe and remember that the eyes of the Lord (and the ears!), are in every place, beholding the good and the evil (Proverbs 15:3)? Jesus often reminded his hearers that their every careless word and whisper would one day have to be accounted for and played back to us. What a thought!

 

We think we’re wise. The tongue reveals the man and the woman. One is controlled by it; the other has control over it, so Charles Haddon Spurgeon reminded his congregation. But many is the time when my twisted words have wounded or crushed the spirit of another. It is impossible to take them back. Once young people (and not so young ones) have joined in the campaign of cyber bullying, it is impossible to undo the damage:

Careless words stab like a sword, but wise words bring healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

Well we know (sometimes from bitter experience) that communication can mean life or death. “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life.” (NCV, Proverbs 15: 4a)

Healing words are a vital, God-given tool for happiness and success…yours and mine. This proverb takes us right back to the creation story and asks us to consider that human speech is a mark of our creation in God’s image. Wise speaking points the way back to Eden…it can restore us to the condition of harmony with God and our fellow creatures. This is what we were created for. WORDS MATTER!

 

Have you ever been stopped in your tracks at the sight of a beautiful work of art or by the sound of inspiring music? God’s word says that speaking the right word at the right time is just like those experiences; words that may just draw our attention away from the pain and loss of life, away from the hurt and the heartache, and bring us renewed vision of the beauty and potential in life…

The right word spoken at the right time is as beautiful as gold apples in a silver bowl.” (Proverbs 25:11)

 

The sages were well aware that healing speech was not always comfortable speech; a bold confrontation is sometimes salutary and necessary. We all love words that bring us comfort and encouragement, but there are times when we need to hear the hard (uncompromising) words of God. Jesus reveals the truth about the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23 – they think they are wise before God, but they spurn his discipline; they refuse to listen to Jesus’ life-giving rebuke; they are not concerned with what God thinks but about receiving praise from men. They think they fear God…the beginning of wisdom. How often we are just like them! But even these words (hard words) are a tree of life, whose leaves can bring cleansing and healing to the people…

 

But, lest I leave you feeling bereft today, let me remind you of the One who spoke words of healing and forgiveness to the penitent thief upon the cross (Luke 23:38-43). He has spoken the same word to me!

 

Even today, you may have spoken the best or the worst of words, but let me remind you (with the writer to the Hebrews), that Jesus lives forever; he is our permanent priest. He is able to save (heal) completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them. There he is, speaking words to his Father on our behalf. Where our words have failed, his (for us) will not; where our words have so often been tainted with harm and hurt, his words will heal and forgive if we allow them. We hear him saying, “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more!”

 

For all our words, sometimes it is wise simply to be silent before this awesome God who alone is wise, who alone is the source of wisdom and all that is worth knowing!”

 

Rev Mark Faris-Robertson (22-06-21)


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