Summary: A sermon on the tongue or the words that we use (Material adapted from Ben Patterson's book, He Has Made Me Glad, chapter 8 Words That Give Life; Opening illustration and title from Joey Fann's book, The Way Back to Mayberry, chapter 25)
“Opie’s Newspaper” is an episode on the Andy Griffith Show. Opie’s friend, Howie, received a small printing press as a gift, and the boys decide to go into the newspaper business. They work hard and produce an initial issue of what they call the Mayberry Sun. The boys soon find that business is pretty slow, so they ask Andy and Barney for advice. It seems that the boys’ newspaper is full of information about their class at school, but that’s about it. Barney advises Opie that they need to widen their scope to attract more readers. Opie and Howie decide to examine the real Mayberry paper to determine how they might improve their own publication. After reviewing some sections they come across one called “Mayberry after Midnight”, the gossip column. Howie and Opie conclude that if they are going to be successful, their paper will have to contain similar information. So they put on their reporter hats and set out to gather as many “exclusive stories” as they can. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how we look at it), there is no shortage of such news in Mayberry. Opie and Howie collect all this information for their second edition of the Mayberry Sun. Barney, Andy, and Aunt Bee are all in the Taylors’ kitchen when Opie delivers the second issue of the paper. Opie leaves to continue his delivery, and at first no one notices anything wrong. They compliment the hard work and effort of the boys and how they are really trying their best. But just as Opie is getting ready to leave, Barney notices a headline, “Barney Fife says Sue Grigsby Blonde from a Bottle.” Then it all breaks loose! The scramble is on to retrieve all the newspapers before it’s too late. The consequences of this are minimal because Andy and the others involved are able to gather up all the newspapers before anyone has a chance to read what was printed. That is, except for the preacher. Andy is forced to endure a very embarrassing moment on the preacher’s front porch because of the “dry as dust” sermon comment from Andy. The irony in the situation is that Andy was actually in the process of giving the preacher a compliment when that particular comment slipped out and got into the paper. He was really commenting on how blessed the town was to have a preacher such as this man, but the uplifting comment by Andy never made it to press.
The main theme of this message is the tongue, but in today’s time we need to include not only our speech but also what we type on the internet. It can be like the newspaper that Opie and Howie published and the consequences can be quite severe. Many have lost their jobs, their marriages, and many friends because of what they typed and published on the web.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” This is a lie. Bones broken by sticks and stones usually mend. But wounds inflicted by words may never heal. But it works the other way too. Our words have an awesome power to do good, to impart grace and therefore bring joy.
The gospel makes it clear that when God sends out his word, it is God himself who goes. His ultimate word is Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:1, 3, 14, NIV. When God spoke his heart to us, he spoke Jesus, full of grace and truth. He used the power of his word to bless, not to curse; to create, not to destroy.
Since we are made in God’s image, it should not surprise us that our words also have power. Something powerful happens when we speak. The ancient Hebrews understood this better than we do. We have difficulty understanding the blessing from Isaac to Jacob and Esau. When Jacob duped his father Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for his brother Esau, Isaac could not take back the words he had spoken. They had done their intended work. We wonder, why couldn’t Isaac just revoke the blessing and give it to the one he meant it for? We think that way because we regard words lightly. Think of it this way: Has anyone ever lashed out at us in anger, later regretting it and apologizing by saying something like, “I didn’t mean that?” We accept the apology but the words were agents of the person who spoke them, and they did their work. We may forgive and be healed, but we know the words were meant when they were spoken, and we know the damage that they did.