The Power of Words

Reverend Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 22

Mark 10:2-16

October 7, 2018 – Year B

The Power of Words

         Early in my teaching career, I worked with teenagers who had gotten in trouble.  They were hurt and angry and chose to strike out at others.  To say they had closed off their hearts was an understatement.  Though they were young, they were masters at figuring out how to push people away with their words as well as their actions.  When feeling cornered or vulnerable, some would use just the right words to shock and anger the adults around them.  Though they were young, they were masterful at this game of word play and distraction. 

         The owner of the school where I worked would come from time to time and hold workshops for us.  He had worked with young folks for a long time and had a wealth of knowledge.  One of the most important skills he taught me was the power of words.  He would demand that we were very intentional with our word choices – he would show us how certain words shut folks down and how other words made it safe for someone to talk.  He pointed out what words pushed people away and what words whispered of hope.  To this day, I hear him in my head and practice that which taught. 

         This week’s Gospel contains words that are hard to read and to hear.  How many of us, upon hearing these words, felt our hearts sink a bit?  How many have tried to make a marriage work, and yet ending the union was wiser than continuing in pain?  Our words can act as a dagger to the heart sometimes. 

         I have to ask though…is the question of whether it is okay or not, in God’s eyes, for a couple to dissolve their union, really what this passage is about or no?  Key words that are often overlooked in this piece of scripture are actually back at the very beginning of the reading.  This entire exchange is around Jesus needing to explain why the Law of Moses recognized divorce.  Jesus responds by saying, “Because of your hardness of heart he [Moses] wrote this commandment for you.”

         The passage in question, found in chapter twenty-four of Deuteronomy, doesn’t authorize divorce, but simply admits that it takes place.  Jesus points out that hardness of heart required this law.  He identifies that the closing of ourselves off to one another…is actually the problem. This is not just for those who have walked that painful journey of divorce, but it’s a problem for all of us.

         When we harden our hearts – regardless of the reason – we close ourselves off to love – to gentleness – to others.  Many of us have experienced events or relationships in life that caused us to close down parts of ourselves.  No one wants to get hurt, so to harden ourselves against that pain makes sense, and yet, Jesus tells us that hardening our hearts is not the way of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging to figure it out by ourselves but offers us the example of young children.  Think for a moment as to how you’ve witnessed little ones treat one another.  Yes, little folks can say mean words sometimes – say things that hurt another – but they are also wonderful at forgiveness and love. 

         This past week, like many of our previous weeks, has been filled with lots of words and harden hearts.  Regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we have all heard a barrage of angry, hurtful, and derogatory words.  It’s hard not to be impacted somehow by what is currently going on in our country.  And as we approach Election Day, I can only imagine the world around us will fill even more with words of accusations, distrust, fear, and anger.  For folks, who are simply trying to live out their lives and do right by those they love and their neighbors, it’s both exhausting and disheartening. So, how do we find our way through this?  The disciples would tell us to look to Jesus – look to his words and to his example. 

         Today our Gospel writer shares that interaction between Jesus and his disciples where our guidance may be found.  “Let the little children come to me…Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”   Yes, we’ve heard these words before.  We’ve heard how Jesus cherished children and welcomed them with open arms.  We’ve heard how we must be child-like to enter the Kingdom of God.  What if we applied this concept now?  What if…we chose to slow ourselves down, to breathe before we spoke, and what if we reached out to one another in kindness rather than anger? 

         Words ARE so very powerful.  Sometimes words can lift folks up and make them feel great, and other times, words can feel like a punch to the gut or hurt someone to their core.  Sometimes it’s clear what words are hurtful or damaging.  The ones, that are the trickiest, are the words that for us, aren’t hard, but are painful for another.  It’s in taking that breath before we respond that can help us to not step on those emotional landmines.  And it’s IN recognizing that something we said was upsetting and apologizing for our ignorance.  By reaching out and acknowledging the conflict, we show compassion.  By showing compassion, we keep the conversation going instead of shutting it down, and we extend love to another.

         In these days, weeks, and months ahead, let us look to Jesus as our guide.  Let Jesus’s words and actions help us to determine our next steps and the words we choose.  Let us each take a deep breath before we respond – especially if we are angry.  Our anger may be justified, AND we can still take a deep breath and choose our words carefully. 

         Throughout time, God has called us into community.  Throughout time, God has called us to love one another regardless of how hard that might be.  May we all find the strength to take a deep breath…the wisdom to intentionally choose our words…and the courage to show kindness TO ALL – no matter what! 

Amen -


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