Words have power. They just do. Our words have the power to shape our world…to shape how we feel about someone…to shape a relationship.
We have seen this in our lives. We have seen this in the world around us. We have seen this in our famly…and our friends.
A compliment can lift my spirits. Likewise, a critical word drags me down.
I remember when Lori and I started dating. I remember we had watched a movie at her apartment (the horror murder-mystery “Cape Fear,” because I was, after all, Mr. Romantic). After the movie, we were sitting on the couch talking…and we were kinda close to each other. And we hadn’t even held hands yet, because…you know…I was pretty terrified. And finally, I worked up the courage to ask a question: “You know, I’m generally a pretty perceptive person…and so I’m wondering…is this (and I pointed at the two of us) a “thing?”” And she looked at me kind of funny and said “I think so.” She said “I think so!” Score!
And with those strong words of commitment, our romance was launched. And almost 26 years, 2 kids, a dog, a cat and a mortgage later, life is so good.
Words have power.
Our Gospel text is the story of Jesus’ baptism, from Mark’s Gospel. The Gospel of Mark, which we’re going to be spending a lot of time in this next year, is an interesting Gospel because of the author’s perspective. Whereas Matthew is all about telling the reader who Jesus was as Messiah, and Luke is all about the things that Jesus does…his actions…the narrative, Mark’s focus is on Jesus’ message. It’s on what God is trying to communicate to us through God’s Son.
This baptism story from Mark’s Gospel is all about that message.
Because when Jesus is baptized, a couple of pretty amazing things happen that Mark really zeros in on:
The first thirteen words of the Gospel of Mark are the words “The beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” and then goes right into the baptism story. No story of Jesus’ birth…no manger…no angels…no shepherds. Simply, “The beginning of the Good news…” Mark’s choice of words was not an accident. He is intentional in paralleling the words from the creation story in Genesis 1:1.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” says Genesis. And Mark launches with “The beginning of the Good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark is trying to tell us something here. Just like God created the world in the beginning, here, in Jesus, God is creating something new. Jesus is a new start…a new beginning. And how does God do this new work? Well, with words. God speaks.
In Genesis, it’s “Let there be light…and it is good!” In Mark, it is “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased…it is good!”
These spoken Words of God…they matter. God speaks creation into existence. And God speaks Jesus’ identity: “…beloved…with whom I am well pleased.” And with these simple words, Mark tells us that the heavens were “torn open, and the Spirit descended.” I love that imagery…” torn open…” Nothing subtle…nothing low-key about that. The heavens were “torn open,” and as Don Juel, one of my professors at seminary used to say, God’s Holy Spirit was “set loose” on the world.
All, with just a word from God.
I think we sometimes forget how much power words really have. God’s words, and ours.
Our words have the power to create…and to destroy.
- Like Lori and I on that early date, our words can create and shape relationships
- Our words can bring joy
- Our words can break hearts
- We can initiate anger, fear and rejection
- we can ask forgiveness
- We can forgive
- We can build
- and we can destroy
We saw that this week.
With just a few simple words from our president, events were set in motion that shocked, horrified and created fear. People will be arguing for years about whether or not that was his intent. Either way, it happened. It happened because words have power.
And I think…at least I hope…that we can all agree, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, that what we saw at the capital…the destruction, the violence, the terror, was horrific. We watched our capital, a monument to freedom, attacked and occupied, out of hate.
At our special prayer service on Wednesday night I said, and I will say again now, that this is not God’s will. God gave us the power to use our words, and whenever we use that power to hurt or destroy, we are breaking a holy covenant with God.
I believe that’s what happened on Wednesday. And I’m going to call it for what it is: sin.
God has a different hope…a different purpose for words. God uses words to create, to nurture, and to bring life. Words have power. The theologian Eric Baretto wrote that: “True power does not lash out at any threat… True power is wise and full of compassion… True power would rather die for the sake of the other than kill in order to preserve what little power we think we have.”
This is what Jesus did.
Now let’s be clear, with a word, Jesus could have assumed power that was political, or even military. With a word, Jesus could have elevated himself.
But Jesus chose a different path.
- With a word, Jesus fed the hungry
- With a word, Jesus healed the sick
- With a word, Jesus poured himself out
- With a word, Jesus gave up human power to become the suffering servant.
- And with a word, Jesus climbed on a cross, and gave up his life. For you.
Words have power. Jesus’ words have power for you.
Hear again the word that God spoke as Jesus stepped out of the water that day: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And in that moment…when Jesus came out of the water and God spoke those words, everything changed. Everything! The world changed. The way God worked in the world changed. Even our lives…yours and mine…they were changed.
Remember that Jesus didn’t have to do anything except receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and God’s favor. It is a powerful word of identity, blessing and commitment. God’s words reminded Jesus who he was…and even more importantly whose he is…these words shaped his entire ministry. We hear the same words, you and I. We receive the same promises: “You are my beloved. With you, I am well pleased. And these words, these precious words, shape our lives.
Everything changed, when God spoke those words…out loud for all to hear.
Because words have power.
And right now…today…our world needs to hear words of love, and grace and acceptance. It feels like there is this underlying tension, a stress that is building. Do you feel it? I do. Our society is tired, patience is thin, and we are cranky, and I’ve seen more and more people respond to each other with unkind words than I ever have before.
We have the opportunity…no, I’d even say the responsibility, to be different.
Because you too heard God’s Words of love and acceptance in your baptism, you too can be confident that you belong to God, that God calls you God’s own. And because of that, you are able to share a word of love with those around you, confident that they too are a beloved child of God. Because of Jesus, a kind word…your kind words…can make a difference.
I have some homework for you today. I’d like to ask you to do something…to try something; an experiment of sorts. I’ll call it “Words of Grace.”
Today…and I mean today…I don’t want you to wait…today, I want you to contact someone. Call them…or text them…or email them…or message them…I don’t care how you do it. It can be a friend, or a family member, an acquaintance, or someone you don’t know that well; and I want you to use your words to bring kindness, or hope, or love, into their life:
- Thank them for something nice they did for you.
- Or offer to do them a favor.
- Or maybe compliment them on something they did.
- Or just say “I just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.”
- Maybe just tell them that you love them.
Try it. With no expectation of payback. Use your words, the words God has given you to share some kindness, some hope, and some love. I know…on the surface, it sounds kind of superficial, maybe even trite. But it’s not. If we’ve learned nothing else this week, we’ve learned that words have power, and in these days, that’s more important than ever.
And then please email me, or text me, or message me and tell me how it went. How did it feel? How did they respond? I want to know. Please email it to ToddB@tlcowatonna.org. In a world that can feel pretty dark, maybe in the name of Jesus, we can start a movement. Maybe because of our faith, we can help people realize their value. Maybe we can begin to change the world. Right here. With just a word.
The solution to unkindness? Is kindness. The solution to unkind words? Are kind words.
Because words have power; power to change and transform the world around us for the better.
“You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” These are powerful words from God to you, my friends. They are words that will strengthen and shape you. Now go…go share these words with others.
Thanks be to God!