Friday, January 27, 2017

A Time to Speak (Exodus 20:16; Matthew 21:28-32) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Is communicating with people easy?  Do you ever have communication problems?  A mother writes: “My husband and I were taking turns teaching our 4 year old daughter Sarah how to ride a training-wheel bike.  Every time I went with her, Sarah would bounce on the seat. I asked why she was doing that and she replied, "Daddy said."  “I told her, honey, you don't need to bounce."   I was curious about my husband's instructions.  A few minutes later, trying to encourage her, I said Sarah try to balance yourself a little more.  Immediately, she started bouncing again.”

The challenge of communication is constant.  The late Peter Drucker, called the Father of American Management, claims that 60% of all management problems were a result of faulty communication.  Without question good communication is critical?  We know that communication problems are a fact of life.  Sometimes the people closest to us, family members, close friends, are the hardest ones with whom to communicate. Have you found this to be true?  Do we find any help from Scripture about communication?  We do.

The first biblical principle is that words have power.   In the Old Testament, the book of Proverbs says: “Reckless words pierce like a sword.”  Proverbs also says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”   Now that’s a sobering thought.   In the New Testament the letter of James says: “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.  How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire.  And the tongue is a fire.  With it we bless the Lord and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”

We certainly see this in politics.  Think of all the things that were said by President Trump, and Hillary Clinton and the candidates for president over the past year.   Incredible.  Our words can engender hurt and pain or comfort and healing.    Words unite and divide, words build up and tear down, words can coerce or care, and words can manipulate or collaborate.  Words can spread lies or tell the truth.

A man writes: “When I was eight years old I broke my arm playing football in the backyard.  When I was eleven I broke my leg playing sandlot baseball.  Both of these were painful experiences, but as I look back on them, I don’t remember what the pain felt like.  However, there are other scenes from my childhood - like the time at a Little League game when the coach yelled at me and told me I was an embarrassment to the team, or when my dad said I was stupid and that I would never amount to anything.  The pain of those moments remain fresh, even after all these years.”   Yes, death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Jesus wants us to be known for our graciousness.  As someone said: “Kind words cost little, but accomplish much.”

A second biblical principle is that God calls upon us to tell the truth.  We read in the letter of Ephesians – “Speak the truth in love.”  Proverbs 15 says: “Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right speak the truth from their heart.”  How we communicate the truth is equally as important as the truth we communicate; not out of anger, or spite, or jealousy or revenge, but in love.  God calls us to communicate to another person out of concern for this person.  And the ability to do this requires spiritual maturity.   It requires going to God in prayer, seeking God’s guidance and wisdom, before we engage in a difficult conversation.

Yes, there are sensitive and insensitive ways to tell the truth.  Like one Sunday in the greeting line after worship, a man shakes hands with the pastor and says: “Reverend, that sermon gave us food for thought, but we prefer fast food."  We are to speak up for truth when we witness injustice.  We are to speak up for truth when we witness corruption.  And this of course requires courage.

Can you think of examples in your life where you regret saying something to someone?  Yes, you can never take it back.   Do you recall when someone said something hurtful to you?  Can you recall when you spoke in a positive and constructive way to someone or someone spoke good words to you?  An author writes: “We create an environment for either good or evil with our words and we will have to live in that world we’ve created.”

It is amazing to me that out of 10 commandments, God includes two that warn us about false speech:  The third command says: “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” that is, don’t dishonor God by disrespecting and abusing His name and the Ninth command: “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.”   God is deeply concerned that people tell the truth in court, because without truthfulness there can be no justice.

But this command goes beyond the courts.  This command demands respect for persons.  We are commanded to respect other people and treat them fairly and we do so by speaking the truth.  A person’s reputation is a priceless possession.  To destroy a person’s good name is in a sense to destroy the person.  So this command also speaks to the destructive power of gossip, and slander, and defamation.  Propaganda and lies have led to wars and riots and genocide such as we saw in Nazi Germany.  And we see the terrible cost of false speech on race relations today.

I believe it’s a worthy goal to think before you speak, and to try to say the right thing at the right time or to keep from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, although admittedly this is a work in progress.  Proverbs says: “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.”  And James says: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”

A third biblical principle is keep your word.   Jesus says be reliable.  Be dependable.  Honor your word.  Jesus was deeply concerned about how insincere communication was having a negative effect upon relationships.   Matthew tells a story about a father who had two sons.  The father went to one and said, “Son, go and work in my vineyard today.”  The son said, “No, I'm not going, but later he changed his mind and went.”  The father went to the second son and made the same request and the son answered: “Yes Sir, I will father, but he didn't go.”  Jesus asks the crowd, which of the two did the will of the father?  The crowd replies: “The first.”

This is a parable that all of us, including children immediately understand.  I remember my father telling me to mow the lawn or take out the trash or do the dishes and I readily said: “OK, just a minute,” but then got distracted and never got around to it.  After he badgered me, I finally did the chores, but without his badgering, it never would have happened.

Jesus is speaking about how paramount integrity is in our relationships.  What we say should match what we do.  Is that ever an issue for you?  Jesus expects consistency between what we say and what we do.   What we say should match our actions and what we do should match our words.  Jesus wants us to be Christ-like examples to others, and to honor our word, our promises, our commitment, to follow through on what we say to someone.   Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

We pay a big price when we don’t follow through.  We lose the respect, trust and confidence of others.  We are seen as persons whom you can’t count on or depend on.   People say: “She or he is a flake, you can't count on them.”  Conversely, when you keep your word, you gain the respect and trust and confidence of others, who feel you can be counted on in the best of times as well as in the worst of times.

A final biblical principle is to listen.   Someone said: “When it comes to communication, there are two kinds of people in the world - those who love to hear others talk and those who love to hear themselves talk.”   You can tell if someone is really listening to you, can’t you?  Of course it goes without saying that all of you are listening to the pastor this morning.  Communication is more than talking.   Listening is an integral and essential element of communication.   When we listen, we are showing respect, we are showing we value the thoughts, feelings and ideas of the other person.

The letter of James says: “Dear friends, be quick to listen, slow to speak.”  Ecclesiastes says: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to speak and a time to keep silent.”    Communication is so important.  May we strive to follow Jesus in our communication with others.  Amen!

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