“I will bless the LORD at all times; the praise of God shall be ever in my mouth.” But what’s coming out of our mouths?
11th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) – August 9, 2015 – Psalm 34:1-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Praise In Your Mouth – Pastor Evan Davis
The part of Ephesians we’re hearing this week and the next two is about that very different kind of life, and particularly the very different way of speaking, the Spirit creates in those God loves. Paul urges those reborn in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, to speak truthfully (and act truthfully) and to speak not from malice, wrath, or bitterness, but in a way that “give[s] grace to those who hear.” He teaches us to speak in a way that builds up the Body of Christ rather than tearing it apart.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I want to speak less than the truth so that I can avoid conflict. Because if I speak the truth, I might make somebody mad and I don’t want to do that. You ever feel that way? But Paul teaches that by the Spirit we can speak the truth from a motivation of love, of building up, of giving grace, rather than hurling what we think is the truth only out of malice, only to tear someone down.
But hear this: “I will bless the LORD at all times; the praise of God shall ever be in my mouth.”
At all times? Seriously? Yep, that’s what David prayed and sang in the psalm today. He wasn’t always good at it, and neither are we, but what a beautiful image of how we might speak. Whatever else may be coming out of our mouths, the praise of God will be there along with it. I think it sums up a lot of what Paul is saying in this section of Ephesians.
So maybe this week we ought to think about what makes it into our mouths…and what effect those words have…do they tear down or build up? Do they judge from on high or give grace? Sometimes our mouth is moving, our brain’s on vacation, and our heart is checked out, and we think to ourselves, “did that really just come out of my mouth?” Well, let’s consider some things:
“Bless her heart.” Y’all know what that means. It either means you pity that person, or you think they’re absolutely nuts. She’s doing what? Oh bless her heart. Maybe we can bless the LORD instead so her heart actually gets blessed….
I’m generally a pretty mellow guy, but as Brett can tell you, I am more than willing to let the person on TV, or the director of a show, know exactly how I feel. Those circuits, those LCD panels just love to listen to me! But, you see, now we have this insidious thing called facebook…and we’re looking at people’s posts and, all of a sudden, we find someone on the Internet who’s WRONG! Oh dear. And we channel our fury into every keystroke as our inhibitions are gone because it’s just us and a screen until we realize, after the fact, that, in fact, the whole world can experience those words. It takes some extra effort to share a more measured, more respectful difference of opinion….to praise God in our disagreement.
Lord help our politicians who speak as if there is no truth on the other side, who speak dangerously about entire groups of people as if they’re less than human…these are dangerous ways of speaking that usually in history have encouraged violence toward whatever group is being scapegoated or dehumanized. Unfortunately, sometimes we do this too.
Then there’s those times when we have a comment for Suzy, but instead of talking to Suzy we go complain about her to Jane. It’s what we call “triangulation.” It flourishes in pretty much all family systems, including churches. We don’t have the courage to share our thoughts with Suzy face-to-face so we triangulate Jane. Parents triangulate their children, or vice versa, and church members triangulate each other. One little rule that has stuck with me comes from a monastery, where they have a rule that you cannot speak in the third person about anyone who is not present in the conversation. It’s a good rule, one we all struggle to follow, to bless the LORD in our courage to be direct.
But I think we know what kind of truthful, loving speech that blesses the LORD that Paul is talking about: I can tell my friend who is an alcoholic that he has a problem and I care about him and he needs help and I’ll help him get that help. I can tell my sister in Christ that I believe the Church needs to speak up about climate change even if that person disagrees with me and we can have an honest, respectful, loving conversation about it. Because to not share what I truthfully believe or observe is to deny part of myself to my sisters and brothers, and in the Church, when we are members of one another, of the Body of Christ, we have to share the truth. Secrets dismember us.
We know we’re supposed to speak this way. And that when we hurt one another, we are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us. And that all this is how we imitate God and live in love. But we want to hold on to that grudge. It feels good. It makes us feel righteous. We can’t resist the urge to go talk to Mike about Johnny rather than speaking the truth in love to him directly.
That intention in David’s heart, to bless the LORD at all times, it doesn’t come from nowhere. This psalm comes from a time when David had been saved by God from his enemies. The experience of deliverance from God as a sheer gift, as God’s pure grace and favor, changes his heart.
What I hope you heard last week, and if not, hear it right now, is that God really does love you. Right now. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. No terms and conditions to agree to. That’s why God comes down and offers himself to you as the Bread of Life. When you are loved like that, you can trust the One who loves you in a way you trust no other. You can stake your whole life on that God, you can entrust the fullness of your soul to that God.
Think about it. You wake up in the morning…and you remember that no matter what anybody says, what they do, what happens to you, God loves you enough to die for you. And that same God has death behind him. He lives, and so his words are final words….you also will be raised up on the last day. Nobody can threaten you. Nobody can really hurt you in a way that will last forever. Nobody can say anything final about you, but God has already said THE final word about you – God’s called you, “beloved child,” and that’s all that matters.
So you can begin to see other people as God sees them….not as threats, not as enemies, but as broken-yet-beloved children of God, just like you….fellow sinners being made saints by the grace of God alone. You need not pretend you’re the only one carrying a cross, because your neighbor has her cross to bear too. You can learn to extend grace to others as God extends grace to you, as God gives himself to you today.
Our speaking and doing and loving are changed. We bless the LORD at all times. Whatever’s in our mouth, we’re praising God in the saying of it. We’re sharing our witness – our stories of where and how God has changed our lives. There are lots of people out there, our fellow beggars, looking for God, reaching for God, for a glimpse, a taste of that Bread of Life. Give them your witness, give them a piece of that Bread, so they can “taste and see that the LORD is good.” Amen.