“The Meaning of Our Words”

These are my thoughts for 9 January 2011, the Sunday in the lectionary cycle known as “The Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. The scriptures for this Sunday are Isaiah 42: 1 – 9, Acts 10: 34 – 43, and Matthew 3: 13 – 17. I hope that what I write in this message holds to the thoughts and meaning of the Scriptures for today.

Six people were killed last Saturday; a congresswoman from Arizona was severely wounded as were some twelve others. But they weren’t the only ones to die by gun violence last week. There was the shooting incident in Omaha with a frustrated high school student; there was an earlier shooting in Arizona as well. And we are justifiably shocked by what occurred last Saturday. And we should be; but we should also be shocked by the simple fact of the matter that it happened in the first place.

But it strikes me that we are going to put labels on the victims, not so we can identify them but so that we don’t have to identify them. It becomes so much easier to label a victim because that way, once everything settles in and we get back to normal, we don’t have to think about it.

Let’s face it; we are not willing to accept the idea that six people were killed last Saturday. We are not willing to accept the idea that two people were killed in Omaha last week. And how many other people were killed by senseless acts of violence last week. As long as we can put some sort of label on the victims and the crimes, it becomes very easy to forget about what happened.

Labels make it easier to do things; after all, if we don’t label the files on our computer, we could spend ½ of our time looking for the one file that we need. But when we put labels on people, it becomes very easy to forget them.

If you follow this blog, you know that my wife has started a feeding ministry on weekends at the church. Primarily for the children of the neighborhood, we are not going to tell others that they cannot eat at the table. We are mindful of certain regulations and rules but we will never turn away a hungry soul.

On Sundays, because of the Sunday School, the breakfast is in the community room instead of the gym. About two weeks ago, one member of the congregation came up to me while I was at the serving table and asked me if this was the “poor” people’s food. My response was, essentially, that it was food for everyone. I could not help but think to myself that this person saw food given without question to someone poor or homeless was somehow different from the food that members of the church might eat. We make no distinction about who may partake of the food that we serve. The food, by the way, is prepared fresh every weekend and the ingredients are high quality; Ann doesn’t take any shortcuts when it comes to cooking.

But we are mindful of who does come to the table we prepare. This is the prayer that I wrote for the kitchen:

Our most gracious Heavenly Father, please bless this food and the workers who have prepared it this day. Help us this day to understand that it will be your Son, Jesus Christ, whom we feed this morning and may we treat Him well. May what we do this morning and in the coming mornings better express Your Love and help others to find Your Grace. AMEN

I am sure that every church in this country did something for individuals and families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am just wondering how many churches are continuing this throughout the rest of the year. Hunger and poverty do not magically appear in the middle of November nor do they likewise magically disappear at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

I am withholding judgment on what cause that young man in Arizona to go on that shooting and killing spree. It is interesting to note that witnesses stated that he was trying to reload his weapon while individuals were tackling him and stopping him from shooting. But we have to wonder if the words of hate and violence that have so dominated our culture did not somehow play a role in his decision process.

But, words cannot hurt people, you say. Was it the healing of the sick and the feeding of the poor that caused the religious and political authorities to fear Jesus? Or was it what He was saying?

It has been the words of many who have inspired others to do many horrible and terrible things; it has been the words of many who have inspired others to do many great things. We are seeing an epidemic of what is called cyber-bullying – the spreading of gossip and lies about individuals over the internet. The consequences of these words are now just beginning to be visible. Ask the family of the fourteen-year old in Ohio if words do not hurt people.

And then we say, sometimes to ourselves, sometimes out loud “How can these things happen? We are a Christian nation!” Personally, I wish we would quit saying that we are a Christian nation. We are a nation that loudly proclaims that we are Christians but we haven’t a clue what it means to be a Christian. Go back and read the words from Isaiah for this Sunday and tell me if that is what you do. Go back and tell me if you are like Peter, telling others what Jesus has done and then doing it yourself. How many of us are willing to go out and fight the system that says the poor must suffer while the rich enjoy the good life? How many of us are willing to let the rich keep getting richer while the number of those in poverty get bigger every year?

If we were a Christian nation, we would be a nation that speaks out when one individual has no health insurance. If we were a Christian nation, we would be a nation that made sure that every individual had the same opportunity. Christ did not check the identity papers of those who followed Him; he really didn’t care where they came from. Maybe His disciples were a little leery of letting those who weren’t clearly Israelites get close to Him but He didn’t care. He gave the same opportunity to everyone whether they were a Jew or Gentile, an adult or a child, a man or a woman. Can we, who proclaim that we are a nation that follows Christ, say the same thing?

Yes, there were times when Jesus was angry but where was His anger directed? It was towards those who oppressed the people, not the oppressed people. And when Peter attempted to use the sword to stop the arrest of Jesus in the Garden, Jesus stopped him (and healed the wounded soldier). Violence is not the path that we should be walking. We should be walking and building a path of peace.

If you want to express anger and hatred towards others on this planet, go right ahead. But don’t tell me you are a Christian. If you want to exclude individuals from your church because of the color of their skin or the nature of their lifestyle or the status of their checkbook, go right ahead. But take the Cross off the wall over your altar (if there is one even there) and take the word Christian out of the name of your church.

When Jesus came to John at the Jordan River some two thousand years ago, it was to affirm the purpose of His ministry. John wanted Jesus to baptize him and that is what we often want to do. We want Jesus to affirm what we do, not the other way around. When we are baptized, our old life is washed away and we begin a new life. I don’t think it matters when one is baptized; as long as one knows that they have been baptized and been raised with the understanding of what that means, the baptism holds.

That’s why it is so important for each and every one of us to stop and consider the meaning of our words. We proclaim by our words that we are Christian; we allow everyone to think that we have been baptized and have begun a new life. But do our words reflect the meaning of what we say?

If we have been baptized, if our sins have been washed away, then it is time that we start living the life that comes anew in Christ. It is time that the meanings of our words reflect the baptism that we sought.

1 thought on ““The Meaning of Our Words”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.