+ Recently I have been reading an incredible writer by the name of Pema Chodron. Some of you might know who she is. She is an American Buddhist nun, who currently lives at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. The book I’ve been reading, Living Beautifully, is one of those books I find myself having to read slowly. Every few pages there are nuggets of wisdom that makes one gasp. When I come across them, I have to set the book aside and ponder it.
One these nuggets certainly has been speaking to me lately. I have been, in my own life, dealing with a broken relationship—with a relative. In this case, this particular person sent me a mean-spirited letter recently. And, for a long time, I debated how to respond. My first reaction to send a mean-spirited letter right back. But, then, I came across this from Chodron,
“Once you speak or act, there’s a chain reaction, and other people’s emotions become involved. Every time you speak or act out of aggression or craving or jealousy or envy or pride, it’s like dropping a pebble into a pool of water and watching the ripples fan out: everyone around you is affected.”
I realize very clearly that the words spoken then really do have ripple effects. If we think, when we say something either on the offense or defense, that those words will not have consequences in the long-run, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Jesus tells his followers—and us—in this morning in our Gospel reading—
“it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. ”
These are words that hit home for me, and no doubt, for many of us. We were all raised reciting that little verse:
Sticks and stone may break my bones
But words will never hurt me.
The reality of the matter is that words DO hurt. In fact words do more than hurt. They do more than just create a ripple effect. Words can destroy. Words can tear down. And sometimes the words don’t even have to be directed at someone or something. Words spoken behind people’s backs, that we think won’t hurt them if they never hear them, hurt and destroy too. Words are oftentimes much more painful and hurtful than sticks and stones. And when it comes to our relationship with God, the words we say carry much weight.
In today’s Gospel we find Jesus making very clear statements:
“…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and this is what defiles. For out of the mouth comes” all kind of evil intentions.
“These are what defile a person…” he says.
Jesus is clear here about what makes one unclean. The words that come out of our mouth are really only the end result of what’s in our hearts. The words that come out of our mouths are really only little mirrors of what is dwelling within us. When we say dumb things, we harboring dumb things in our hearts. When we say hurtful, mean things, we are carrying hurt and meanness in our hearts. And what’s in our hearts truly does make all the difference. If our hearts are dark—if our hearts are over-run with negative things—then our words are going to reflect that.
When we talk about something like “sin,” we find ourselves thinking instantly of the things we do. We think immediately of all those uncharitable, unsavory things we’ve done in our lives. And when we realize that sin, essentially, is anything we chose to do that separates us from God and from each other, it is always easy to instantly take stock of all the bad things we’ve done.
But the fact is, we can truly “sin” by what we say as well. The words that come out of our mouths can separate us from God and from each other because they are really coming from our hearts—from that place in which there should really only be love for God and for each other. We have all known Christians who are quick to profess their faith with their mouths, but who certainly do not believe that faith in their hearts. And, I think, we have also known people who have kept quiet about their faith, who have not professed much with their mouths, but who have quietly been consistent in their faith. If we profess our faith with our mouths, but not in our hearts, we really are guilty to some extent.
Probably few things drive us away faster from church than those self-righteous people who shake their fingers at us and spout their faith at us, but who, in turn, don’t show love, compassion and acceptance to others. The name we encounter in the Gospels for those people who do not practice what they preach is “hypocrite.” And throughout the Gospels, we find that Jesus isn’t ever condemning the ones we think he would condemn. He doesn’t condemn the prostitute, the tax collector, any of those people who have been ostracized and condemned by society and the religious organizations of their times. The ones Jesus, over and over again, condemns, are the hypocrites—those supposedly religious people who are quick to speak their faith with words, who are quick to strut around and act religiously, but who do not hold any real faith in their hearts.
The Pharisees that Jesus is having trouble with in today’s Gospel, are not at all concerned about what is in their hearts. Their faith has nothing to do with their hearts. They are more concerned about purification rites. They are more concerned about making sure that the food one eats is clean and pure—that it hasn’t been touched by those who are unclean. They are concerned that they are the clean ones and they are concerned that there is a separation from those that are unclean. They are more concerned with the words of the Law, rather than the heart of the Law. They are more concerned with the letter of the Law, rather than the spirit of the Law.
We, as followers of Jesus, must avoid being those hypocrites. With everything in us, we must avoid being those people. Yes, I know: it’s just easier to stick the letter of the Law. It’s easy to follow the religious rules without bothering to think about why we are following them. It’s just so much easier to go through the motions without having to feel anything.
Because to feel means to actually make one’s self vulnerable. To feel means one has to love—and, as we know, love is dangerous. Love makes us step out into uncomfortable areas and do uncomfortable things.
But the message of Jesus is all about the fact that to be a follower of Jesus means not being a hypocrite. The message of Jesus is that to be a follower of Jesus means believing fully with one’s heart.
This weekend, of course, we are celebrating Pride Weekend. We are saying, not just by our words, but by our actions, that we are a people of a God who is love—we are a people here at St. Stephen’s who believe all people are loved and accepted, fully and completely by that God. And how do we do that? How do we show that and preach that? We do that by loving and accepting all people. We do that by knowing in our hearts that God loves and accepts us all, no matter who or what we are.
To proclaim the Good News, we need to do so by both word and example. It is to truly practice what we preach. It is to go out into the world beyond these walls and say, “this is a place—and we are a people—wherein love dwells. That radical, all-encompassing love of a God of love.
So, let us take to heart what Jesus is saying to us in today’s Gospel. Let us take his words and plant them deeply in our hearts. Let the words of his mouth be the words of our mouth. Let the Word—capital W—by our word. And let that word find its home, its source, its basis in our hearts.
When it does, our words will truly speak the Word that is in our hearts. Let us allow no darkness, no negativity to exist within our hearts.
Let us not be hypocritical Pharisees to those around us. But let us true followers of Jesus, with love burning within and overflowing us. As followers of Jesus, let love be the word that speaks to others. Let our hearts be the source of our faith in everything we do in faith. Let our hearts be so filled with love that nothing else can exist in it but love. Let us strive to live out our Baptismal Promises with God by proclaiming “by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”
And if we do, we will find that Good News pouring forth from our mouth and bringing joy and gladness and love and full acceptance to others—and even to ourselves.