Summary: In order to be effective witnesses, we must first be knowledgeable -- swallowing God’s word; must then be cleansed spiritually -- spitting out whatever is no longer appropriate; and then speak with confidence and passion. Mini-messages with props.
Our mouths get us into trouble. One of you said that to me the other day. You had opened your mouth to voice an opinion about something that should be done in the community where you live, and before you knew it, you were chairing the committee to get it done. Nobody had even noticed you were in the meeting until you spoke up, but after that, boom! Our mouths get us into trouble.
One of my old teachers used to admonish his students to make sure that when they stood up to speak, their brains were connected to their mouths. Apparently he had heard too many mindless messages and stupid sermons. We need to make sure that when we speak, our brains are connected to our mouths. Our mouths get us into trouble.
Sometimes the problem is not so much stupidity as it is that we, with our mouths, commit to more than we are really prepared to do. It’s easy, on the spur of the moment, to promise things. But when it comes to doing them, we disconnect.
Several weeks ago, when one of our seminary students was home, I took her out to lunch. Yolanda Sampson, that good girl, ordered a green salad; the pastor ordered burritos and enchiladas. As we attacked our respective lunches, Yolanda, staring at my waistline, asked me whether I am getting enough exercise. I brushed off the question with some comment about being too busy with spiritual things for that, but she wouldn’t let go. She lectured me about taking care of myself; she was kind enough to suggest that the church might need my services a little while longer, and that a corpse doesn’t make a very good pastor. She went on and on and on about exercise. And so, to get her off my case, I agreed. I admitted that typically I stay home on Fridays to prepare my sermon, and, yes, I could take a break on Fridays to do some vigorous walking around my neighborhood. She seemed satisfied, and I thought that was that.
I wish you could see my emails, every Friday since then. “Dr. Smith, do you remember what you promised me?” “Pastor, why are you at your computer and not out there exercising?” Yolanda discovered that there was a serious disconnect between what I said with my mouth and what I was really ready to do. The climax came this week, when she dealt with my most recent excuse and wrote, “All right, I am counting on you to step up to the plate and do what you promised to do.” I answered her, “Yolanda, stepping up to the plate is what got me in this condition in the first place.”
Our mouths get us into trouble. The mouth promises what the body does not deliver. Yet there is no other part of our anatomy that God asks for any more than this one. We are called to present our mouths as living sacrifices to God; we are called to use our mouths for justice, love, and witness.
There is one special kind of person in the Bible who can help us with this theme. The prophets. The prophets were forth-tellers – that’s what the word literally means – forth-tellers who felt a deep obligation to speak out on behalf of God and God’s kingdom. They were men and women who lived out their commitment to God’s reign, and who were not disconnected from the words they spoke. The prophets vigorously and effectively presented their mouths to God. I think we need to see how they did it. How do we present our mouths to God as living sacrifices, acceptable for His purposes? The prophets will show us that we do it by swallowing and spitting before we speak. Swallow, spit, then speak. Say those words with me: “swallow, spit, speak”. Swallow, spit, speak.
The strange but wonderful prophet Ezekiel gives us the first clue. You present your mouth to God by swallowing. By swallowing the word of God!
Ezekiel was one of the strangest characters in all of Biblical history. He saw visions, he dreamed dreams, he expressed himself in elaborate one-man dramas. Ezekiel got his start with a vision of an edible scroll. Swallow this, if you can:
To paraphrase these words just a little, God says to Ezekiel, “You know, it’s not like I am sending you to teach people whose language you don’t speak. It’s not like I am sending you to somebody who isn’t going to know what you are talking about. I’m sending you to your own people. Share your witness right where you are, among your own friends and neighbors.” God does not always ask us to cross oceans and climb mountains to be missionaries; usually He calls to be missionaries in our own homes and communities. Only a few will He send overseas, and, even there, we’ve found out that a person who won’t be a missionary in his own neighborhood won’t be one in China or Brazil either. God is telling Ezekiel, “Do Kingdom work, right among his your own people”.