Summary: Sarcasm betrays anger at ourselves or at others, but we cannot let it fester. We need to come to the Cross, where there is reconciliation.
Words have power. The things we say to one another have power. Kids may deal with smart-mouths in the schoolyard by chanting, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." But that’s rubbish! Don’t you believe it? Names do hurt. Words hurt. The things we say to each other do matter. They have power.
If names never hurt, why is there such an issue right now over racial and sexual tags being tossed around by police officers on their email systems? Names do hurt. Words hurt. The things we say to and about one another matter. And they matter not only because they are like barbs that sting; they matter also because they are indicators of what is really going on inside us. Our words are like little thermometers that measure our emotional temperature. They are powerful; they have power to affect others. And they measure who we are.
In the Middle Ages, some of the kings employed a court jester, sometimes known as the king’s fool. The court jester, the king’s fool, was sort of like the investigative reporter of his day. He was supposed to tell the truth, even the unpleasant truth, to the king. He was supposed to be a gadfly to those in power. He was to needle the pompous and poke holes in the powerful, and he was to do it all with humor. He was to point out that the emperor had no clothes, if you know that old story. He was to tell the truth about the king and the court, and they were to let him do it as long as he was funny. The court jester was something like an Old Testament prophet, but with an extra – in addition to saying, "Thus saith the Lord", he was to do it with a smile and a wisecrack. And that was supposed to make it all right.
But I can just about guarantee, can’t you, that those to whom the king’s fool spoke seethed silently anyway? Nobody really, deep down, enjoys being the object of criticism. And nobody really, deep down, likes being the butt of jokes. I’ll just bet that these medieval kings wished they could have to put their jesters and their fools out in the cold. Because words have power, words reveal feelings, words are living, breathing things that take us over and shape us, like it or not.
April Fool’s Day reminds me that I love to tease people. I love to say things that interpret what I see, with a slightly sarcastic twist. But I’ve found that my brand of humor s not always appreciated; most of you are SO serious! Especially are you serious around the pastor! But deeper than that, I’ve discovered that my playing the fool sometimes reveals more than I want it to. I’ve discovered that it can uncover hidden angers, buried anxieties, and unresolved tensions. Playing the fool can tell others who are listening at the deeper level much about our spiritual health.
And so on this April Fool’s Day, in the midst of our pranks and our jokes, we are going to look with Jesus into the meaning of what we say to one another. We might discover significance at a level we didn’t expect. But thanks be to God, not only will we find out what our words mean; we will also find out what to do about that issue; and, best of all, we will hear the Good News about what God in Jesus Christ is doing for us. I’d like for you then to hear today, as if you had never heard it before, this immensely important teaching of Jesus:
In this passage, Jesus identifies three levels of foolish speech. Three layers of fool’s talk. Let’s look closely at each one.
First, Jesus teaches us that what we say to others often comes out of our anger, and that our anger is about ourselves. Anger is not really about that other person. Anger is about our own stuff. Anger is not really about what others have done or not done. Anger is about what we are feeling, sometimes way down deep. We need to identify it. We need to acknowledge it and see where it comes from.
Jesus says whoever is angry with his brother or sister is "liable to judgment." I think that’s His way of saying that when we allow anger to fester, when we do not acknowledge or understand our own angers, it is going to destroy us. It’s going to judge us.
Anger is like a cancer. Once it begins to grow, it will grow out of control into something that cannot be managed, but which will destroy. We need to understand that many of us have deep angers that have never been understood, have never been acknowledged, and have never been healed.