By Rev. Canon Renee
I bless your eyes that you may see God’s
image in everyone.
I bless your ears that you may hear the cry of the poor.
I bless your lips that you may speak nothing but the Gospel of Jesus.
I bless your hands that everything you receive and everything you give may be a sacrament.
I bless your feet that you may run to those who need you.
I bless your lips that you may speak nothing but the Gospel of Jesus. What is the Gospel of Jesus? It is the Good News of God’s love. It is that which binds up and heals, and shows understanding and compassion. It is that which nurtures and fills and gives life. It is truth spoken in love.
The words we speak really do matter, because in many ways we are our language. We are our words. We become what our words portray. If we speak tender, gentle, loving, holy words, we become tender, gentle, loving, holy people. If we speak harsh, judgmental, angry, evil words, we become harsh, judgmental, angry, evil people. You remember what Jesus had to say about this in the Sermon on the Mount. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘you shall not murder.’ But I say to you that if you even call your brother or sister a fool, you are in danger of hell. For you have already committed murder in your heart.” In essence, Jesus was saying, “you have become your words and your words echo throughout eternity.”
I would guess that all of us here have, at some point in our lives, said something stupid. Something which we were later sorry for having said. Something which was said in a moment of passion that we would like to “unsay.” Somehow, life experiences can cause an energy to well up within us that simply will not be silenced. We feel as though the words must be said or we will burst. Rather like the Psalmist, who in Psalm 39 says, “I will keep watch upon my ways so that I do not offend with my tongue. I will put a muzzle on my mouth while the wicked are in my presence. So I held my tongue and said nothing, I refrained from rash words; but my pain became unbearable. My heart was hot within me; while I pondered, the fire burst into flame; I spoke out with my tongue…” We, like the Psalmist, have the greatest of intentions, but our heart gets hot within us, the fire bursts into flame, and out come those words that are complaints and judgments. Words that hurt and demean. Words that are gossip and rumor. Words that are untrue. Words that are hateful. Words that are angry. We have the mistaken notion that if we just “say it out” we will feel better for having said it. Yet after those words are out, and we’ve had time to reflect on them, we are often regretful and wish we could take them back.
On the other hand, we have also uttered tender and loving words. Just as our heart can be hot enough to pour forth words that should never be spoken, so our hearts can be so full of love and compassion that we cannot keep our mouth from speaking words that heal. Our heart bursts into flame, and out come those words that lift up another. Words that acknowledge the pain of another. Words that bind up wounds and give new life. Words that show unconditional love. Words that bespeak understanding and give hope to another. We are even sometimes amazed to see how powerful our words have been in easing another’s burden. And we find that our own heart is filled with delight because of the words we have spoken.
I am reminded of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was born into a priest’s family–he was a P.K. (priest’s kid.) As if that wasn’t enough of a burden to carry through life, God had called Jeremiah to be his prophet even before Jeremiah had been born. Then, when Jeremiah was about 20 years old, the word of the Lord came to him saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” And Jeremiah said, “Oh, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!” But the Lord said to him, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid, for I will keep you safe.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched Jeremiah’s mouth, and the Lord said to him, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” Jeremiah began his ministry then, prepared to speak the words of God. But life did not always treat Jeremiah as kindly as he might have liked. He suffered insults and difficulty for speaking God’s words. In one portion of the book, Jeremiah is at one of his lowest points. His heart became hot within him and he poured out his anger in words to God.
He reminded God that it was because of God that he, Jeremiah, had suffered insult and pain. Jeremiah told God, “Look at all I have done and how well I have borne up under my trials. I once found joy and delight in your words and I was glad to be called by Your name, but WHY has all this trouble come upon me? Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” Then Jeremiah blamed God and said words he would later regret, “Truly, God, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.” In Jeremiah’s part of the world, as in ours, the rivers were full of water in the spring, but were dried up in the heat of the desert sun. Jeremiah felt that God could no longer be trusted. He felt that God was like one of those dried-up rivers. He began to wonder if he had been mistaken. Maybe God was not there at all. Maybe God never really called him at all. Of what use was his life anyway? It felt like an apparent failure.
Then God spoke to Jeremiah and said, “Jeremiah, if you will turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me.” And then God said these beautiful words, “If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth.”
I love what this tells us about God. It tells us that the words of God’s mouth are precious words, not words that are worthless–or vile, as the King James Version calls them. It tells us that if Jeremiah is to be like God, he must speak the words of God–precious words, true words, life-giving words. The message is the same for us.
We all feel like Jeremiah at times. We are fed up with being nice. We are tired of doing what we’re supposed to do. We think that kindness and compassion don’t get us anywhere. We don’t see any results. We are angry with our spouse, or our friend, or our boss. We are hurt by someone we love. It just doesn’t seem like being God’s spokesperson is all that wonderful or effective. And the words we speak at those times are not precious! Our ego starts bubbling up inside of us, our heart gets hot, bursts into flame, and out come those words that leave us feeling sad and empty inside. God reminds us, as God reminded Jeremiah, that when we continue to choose the precious words–the precious response–we are going to delight in the taste of truth. Our hearts will become pure.
There was once a blind man who used to sit outside the temple where Bankei, the Buddhist master, used to pray. Bankei died and when the news of his death reached the blind man he was very sad because he felt that Bankei was a very rare person. “You see,” said the blind man, “since I am blind I cannot watch a person’s face, so I must judge his character by the sound of his voice. And this is what I usually hear. When most people are given the news of another person’s good fortune or success, of course they congratulate the fortunate person. But almost always, beneath the words of gladness, I hear another note, a secret note of envy, envy that it is not they themselves who have been so fortunate. Again, when most people are given the news of some calamity that has befallen another person, of course they express their sorrow towards the afflicted person. But almost always, beneath the words of condolence, I hear another note, a secret note of pleasure and satisfaction that it is not they themselves upon whom the calamity has fallen. With Bankei, however, it was not so. When he expressed his gladness at another’s good fortune, all you heard was gladness. When he expressed his sorrow, all you heard was sorrow.”
You see, Bankei had purified his heart by prayer and the words he then spoke were words of life and truth. Our words are a good indicator of the condition of our heart and soul. Think about your heart. Think about your words. Think about how you have been empowered in baptism to speak the words of God.
I bless your lips that you may speak nothing
but the Gospel of Jesus. I bless your lips that you may speak nothing
but the Good News of God’s love. I bless your lips that you may speak
nothing but the precious words of God. Amen.
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