Pastor Paul’s Lenten Message

Just Words

“Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov 12:18)

Friends,

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. That’s what they say, right? Well, I am not sure who “they” are, but they are most certainly wrong.

Another version of the saying ends, “and words will never hurt me.” ‘I usually (I don’t think) put things so bluntly, but that’s wrong too. I think most if not all of us discover this pretty quickly. Words most definitely can hurt. Though I do not want to minimize the profound tragedy of physical violence, I believe, in fact, that words can wound more deeply and with more lasting effect than any stick or stone.

It’s time to elect a President again. Public discussion on the critical issues we face needs to proceed. In our churches, school boards, council chambers, as well as in our personal relationships, I believe we need to give more thought to the words we use.

In Genesis, the Spirit of the Lord hovered over the deep and said, “Let there be … “ With words the cosmos came into being. God’s creative words bring life. One of the ways that we reflect (or not) the image of our creator is through our words. The words we use shape our reality. They effect perceptions. They can give birth to new thoughts and possibilities, or they can kill them. They can unite or inspire, or divide and discourage. They can deepen love, or spread hate. Words have power.

Too often, our words are chosen less for truth, edification, and nurturing community and more for their power to manipulate, obfuscate, and demean. Too often, this negative use of words is employed because it works. They are effective because we let them be so.

This may seem to be a rant, I know, but as we enter the season of Lent, it might be helpful for us to reflect on our words, and how we receive the words of others. Do they illumine? Are they helpful? Are they honest? Do they bring life? Or do they accomplish something else?

This season of Lent, let’s give some thought to our words. Let’s choose them carefully. Let’s let others know when their words hurt more than they help. Let’s not accept a public discourse that is less than the values of love, justice, and equality that we confess.

I confess that many words that I have uttered and written have been less than well chosen. Careless words and words that hurt escape all of our mouths at one point or another.

Thankfully, our language contains the word “grace” which can be one of the most powerful words we know. With grace, and nurturing habits of choosing life giving words, I believe we can reflect our creator and when we examine our words, the Lord will say, “It is good.”

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony … And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col 3:14,17)

–Peace, Paul

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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