Summary: Words are the tools we use to bring the healing Living Word, the Christ, to those in grief.
SPEAK THE WORD JOHN 4__16—26
What did he say? Did he say anything; anything that made sense? Such questions arise after the usual Sunday morning sermon.
Words, words, words. In this time and place, do the words uttered in church mean anything?
One doesn’t have to search very far in our world to realize that we live in a culture that doesn’t trust words very much. We are the “Information Age.” We process words by the billions, but we don’t trust them very much. We know that words can be slippery weasel things. Words can be used to conceal, to deceive, to distort. Words are so commonly misused during the much too long electoral process that our people rate our executive and legislative branches of government as the worst ever.
Words are cheap; people can hide behind words. The confusion in the Christian world and the extravagant claims of preachers cause people to mistrust what comes from religious sources. Likewise, when a politician gives a speech, what do we say? “Promises, promises.” We don’t trust words.
Talk is cheap. People don’t want talk; they want substance. As Eliza Doolittle said to her two suitors in My Fair Lady: “Words, words, words. . Is that all you blighters can do?” Or, as Edgar Guest put it, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”
This distrust of words is nothing new. Reading in Genesis the story of Adam and Eve, the misuse of language in Eden began when the serpent raised the possibility that words just might not be all that they seem. God had made man in his own image; and hence man was a living, immortal soul. The serpent asked, “Did God say you shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”
Eve understood what God said, for she repeated it accurately. “You shall not eat the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden; neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” Satan said, “you will not die. No, you will not die. God knows when you eat that fruit, you will be like God, knowing good from evil.”
Satan’s words were deceptive and vicious. Adam and Eve, having been made in the image of God, were already like God in their immortality. Was Satan correct in saying their eyes would be opened and they would know good from evil? Apparently not; our tribe is still learning right from wrong.
Words are a gift from God. They were, in a sense, the first sacramental elements of communion. Whatever else we lost in Eden, we lost the trust-worthiness of language. Men and women became afraid, and because they became afraid, they began to hide from God and each other, They hid behind fig leaves and behind lying words.
God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?”
Cain’s response was, “I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Now all of this should give us some concern as we contemplate the work of a mission church in the world. The church has few tools with which to work. It has little influence the state. We haven’t enormous wealth; we have only words. Sermon words, prayer words, liturgical words.
Where there is sorrow, pain and death, the Church has words of comfort.
Where there is injustice the church has prophetic words.
Where there is complacency, the church has challenging words. Words, words, words.
That is why it is important to hear this day the claim of the gospel that,
in Jesus Christ, we get our words back, that the words we speak can
become filled with grace and truth, instruments of redemption.
The story of Jesus and the woman at the well is illustrates the redemptive power of good words..
What did Jesus really do for this woman? He did not heal her of any disease; he did not raise her child from the dead; he did not dazzle her by turning the water into wine. He simply talked to her. Words, words, words. But the words he spoke were so radically different from the other words she had heard. Jesus’ words were filled with grace and truth. After hearing them she was never the same again.
Notice that this story does not begin with words. It begins in silence. Not gentle, tranquil silence, but hard, cold silence because she who came to the well was a Samaritan and he who rested at the well was a Jew. She who came to the well was a woman; he who rested at the well was a man. Between the Samaritan woman and Jewish man there was a wall of silence; each brick put in place over the years with prejudice and hatred. No word was allowed to pass the wall between Jew and Samaritan..
“Would you give me a drink of water?” said the Jewish man to the Samaritan woman, and the wall came tumbling down. One word, one seemingly ordinary phrase, a quiet word cutting against the grain of the culture, and the wall came tumbling down.