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Epiphany 4C – January 30, 2022

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

We are a people who take it as a right to speak. Some of that understanding probably comes from our culture, enshrined in the first amendment to the United States Constitution. We are a people who speak, speak loudly, and sometimes speak stridently.

Yet, I keep thinking about how God calls us to speak, about the images of speech in the Scriptures, and about how we – as a community that later today will gather together on Zoom for our Annual Meeting – how we can be people of proclamation, prayer, and – sorry for no alliteration here – love.

In the reading from Jeremiah, we come to our first Scriptural teaching today about speech. Jeremiah says that he does not “know how to speak”, for his is only a boy. When we usually think of children’s speech, we might think it simple. But we also might think of it as truth-filled, perhaps words that aren’t yet censored by social convention.

How many of us remember the story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson, based on an older tale from a collection of medieval Spanish cautionary tales? In it, crooks, posing as weavers, propose to supply the emperor with magnificent clothes that they say are invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. No one during the “weaving” process or even when the emperor is ostensibly dressed in his invisible clothes wants to say anything so as to not appear inept or stupid. It is only when a child speaks, pointing out the obvious, that the emperor is wearing nothing at all, that the truth of the situation is put out into the public sphere.

Generally, I am one to support truth-telling. As a culture, we say that we value truth, but we often obfuscate, tell little-white-lies, and keep things hidden or unsaid. And occasionally, maybe not saying everything that comes into your head is a good thing. I remember my nephew, who at the age of 3 or 4 was in San Diego with his mom and me. We were walking along a trail back from the beach when a woman approached us on the trail going down towards the beach. Tyler in his outdoor voice said to his mom, unfortunately loudly enough so the woman could hear, “Mommy, look! That lady has fat thighs just like yours!”

But, in spite of this example, we are people who are called to speak the truth. Jeremiah is reminded that he can speak, that God will give him words. To illustrate this, Jeremiah relays that “the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” How might we find God’s word put in our mouths?

I think our various Scriptures and the collect (that short prayer after the Gloria) gives us some examples of how we might speak.

First, it is with the presence of God upon us. I know that I have been given – and I’m guessing the same for you – unexpected words when needed. I know that sometimes I have prayed for people, having no sense of what is helpful, healing, or otherwise appropriate. And yet the words that God puts in my – and your – mouth are the words that often the other person delights in or desires to hear.

Secondly, we are to speak and pray with love. 1 Corinthians highlights that for us. I still think of one of my aunts, a school-teacher and principal for years, who rather than being what I might imagine as an authoritative individual, always came across as a kind, interested person, someone who told me stories of history, wonder, and even where the next ice-cream vendor could be found. She talked and no doubt prayed (being a lifelong Anglican) with love. And Jesus calls us to do the same, even to those imprisoned or those who are our enemies. No one is outside the circle of those to whom we speak and act in love.

The last thing is to be aware that sometimes truth-telling or proclaiming the good news of God will not be taken well. In our Gospel lesson, did you notice how quickly the people in Nazareth changed from speaking well of Jesus to being filled with rage and trying to hurl him off the cliff on the outskirts of town? Sometimes it seems as though our words are not heard because we’re considered too young, too offensive in what we have told of the truth, too old, or too something else.

But we are to continue speaking with truth and love. We are to continue in relationships. We continue to pray, both speaking AND listening to God. We ask for what we need and on behalf of others, just as in the Collect, we ask God to hear our supplications. But we are also to reciprocate and give time and space and silence for a response. And just as with other relationships, I would propose that relationships deepen over time.

In a piece I was reading about paying attending when other people speak, the author reminded the reader to allow for space and time for the speaker to say what they need to say. As part of the discussion, there was mention of “Genjo Marinello, a Zen abbot and guest at one the residencies [the author had completed. Marinello] mentioned that when you have been a Zen monk for at least thirty years the community starts listening to what you have to say.”1 Whether you are a longtime member of this or other communities, hopefully we find that we are heard both by God and within the communities of which we are a part.

And my guess, at its best, for those who have long friendships, long participation within various communities, or just long lives, those to whom we speak know that we do it in love. But however long we are in relationship, we need to be aware of the way we may come across. My experience in Covid-times is that people aren’t speaking or always acting in love. So, I call on you to think about how what you say may be taken by others. Within community, when we offer ourselves, share our openness to doing something towards the challenges of the world, that comes across as loving words. When we say “You need to do this or that.” or “How could you do that!”, those phrases don’t come across as loving. At the worst, they come across as critical, angry, or short-tempered. When we say, “I’d love to see our community do such and so; how can I lead the charge or help with that?” or even a simple “Thank you”, those words come across as words of love and appreciation.

Today, at the Annual Meeting, I’m hoping that we’ll be aware of all the words that will be prayed, articulated, uttered, and yes, said in love. I hope in your personal life, you will also find ways to nurture relationships both long-term and new ones with words and actions of love. And I would hope we would continue to channel the words of the Collect, may God hear our supplications, and – we pray – may God grant us God’s peace.

Amen.

1 David Robertson, “The Art of Spiritual Direction as Improvisation”, Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction, Vol. 13, No. 2, June 2007, p. 11.



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