by Rev. Doug Gray
When we look around at our world, most of us are aware that some things are not quite right, and some things really stink. We instinctively know that things could be better, but there are so many hurting people, so many ways we see people hurting each other. It’s incredibly easy for us to see what is wrong with the world—with our job, our city, our country, our neighbor, the driver who cut us off, the waitress who messed up our order, our kids, our partner. We hear people using words to be cruel, to get an edge, to cut others up or cut them down to size. It’s so easy for us to hear what is wrong with the world—with a song that glorifies hurting someone, politicians that cut at each other or simply lie, the neighbors that take their pain and frustrations out on each other, the person who fails to be polite to us. It’s harder for us to see and hear what is wrong with our own lives.
James challenges us to give up the fracturing ways of the world, and become people of integrity. If I swear by God, then I’m really telling the truth, then what does that say about our regular words. Instead, we are called to be transparent people. Let us be willing to say what you really feel. If you believe how you feel isn’t how you want to be, say that. But when you say yes, mean it. Don’t say yes out of obligation, and if you don’t really like doing something …for God’s sake—yes I mean that literally!—don’t do it! If you say yes, then choose it with your whole heart. Grumbling, muttering, sarcasm—that’s not worthy of our life together, of the loving and gracious spirit of Christ in our midst. Let us say the truth in love, but we have to be able to be real with each other. That’s the path of integrity.
James challenges us to give up the words that push people away and divide us from others, and to take up the words that bring us together. The other day, I went into a store looking for a couple things—I mean I was on a mission, and I really had to get back. So I grabbed my gear—I think I had it right—and I headed for the check out. I made one small mistake. I asked the cashier how her day was going. You know, “How you doin’?” They say, “Fine.” “Yeah me too.” Only this time, when I asked, “How you doin’?” she starts telling me her entire life’s story! Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for this. I caught myself up short. Her trouble was going to isolate her, just like I wanted to get away as fast as I could, nobody would probably actually listen to her. And in that moment, I realized that I shouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to hear…and then I thought how blessed I am that she would share her troubles with me. Thank You, God! As it turns out, I was not having a really fun day, but let me tell you, compared to her—I won the lottery! James recognizes the logic of our competitive and fearful world. If someone’s in trouble, we don’t want it to stick to us. If someone’s sick, we don’t want to get infected. If someone’s happy, well, that might be catching and overwhelming too. So we push the troubled and sick off into safe places—hospitals, homes, prisons, treatment facilities—away from us and society. Watch how James talks about words—Are you in trouble? Let your words and your heart pray. Are you happy? Let your words and your heart sing! Are you sick? Let your words and your heart summon the elders of the church to your side. As you pray and sing and summon, others can share the moment with you, include you in their thoughts and prayers, even be moved and changed by the chance to be together. Worship and church are great places to be however we are. Words can bring us together.
Words matter. When we speak with fracturing, hurtful words, then our fractured and wounded hearts are revealed. When we speak as Jesus would, our words can heal, and fill with hope. When we speak falsely or from ulterior motives, then our fearful and divided hearts are revealed. When we speak as Jesus would, our words can bring peace and forgiveness. Words matter. They show us the truth of our hearts, that we too are fractured, wounded, fearful and divided. We can say with Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am a person of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” How can our hearts ever become right enough that our words can truly be love? In that moment, we can pray to God words like those of the band, Evanescence
How can you see into my eyes like open doors,
leading you down into my core
where I’ve become so numb.
Without a soul,
my spirit sleeping somewhere cold
until you find it there and lead it back home
Wake me up inside
Wake me up inside
Call my name and save me from the dark.
Bid my blood to run
before I come undone.
Save me from the nothing I’ve become!
Now that I know what I’m without
you can't just leave me.
Breathe into me and make me real—
Bring me to life
God’s words speak life. We want God’s words to become our words, because God’s words are life and wholeness. Imagine God going with us into our world, inspiring our words every day!