St Augustine's Grove Park
March 1st, 1992
The Power of the Spoken Word
Ecclesiasticus 27: 4-7
1 Corinthians 15 54-58
Luke 6: 39-45
"in a shaken sieve the rubbish is left behind. So too the defects of a man appear in his talk: a man's words betray what he feels. Do not praise a man before he has spoken since this is the test of men."
Have you ever stopped to think about the power of the spoken word?
If we call someone a strong man we're probably thinking of someone who can lift heavy weights or work for a long time without getting tired.
But a moment's thought shows that this is only one kind of strength, physical strength. A strength to be admired, perhaps, or feared, or put to good use, but only one kind of strength.
But think for a moment how people like Hitler and Saddam Hussein use the spoken word to rule the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. At their command people are willing to go to their death. There's real power for you!
Let me explain how sounds work. A man speaks like I am speaking to you this morning. His voice sets the air vibrating and this in turn causes the whole building to start moving. That is why sound, unlike light can travel round corners and you come hear a fire engine approaching from a side street even though you can't yet see it.
The sound waves are picked up by the ears of those listening and the brain instantly translates it into a message.
Now think about this. Many things that you and I do can be undone if we realise we've made a mistake. If you write a letter to someone and then think better of it you can tear it up and start again and nobody need be any the wiser. If you add up a column of figures and make a mistake you can take a rubber and erase what you have written.
But a word once spoken is indelible. You can't "rub it out". The best you can do is to correct it with a further word. But the faulty word will still have been heard by anyone who was listening.
So words are powerful; words are permanent; but words are one of the things we all create. You may not think of yourself as being a very creative person. That's to say you don't write books, or build houses or make furniture or wedding cakes or whatever.
But every time we speak, you and I are creating something that has never been there in the world before. Everything we say is a new creation whether it is a request "please may I have he biscuit?" or an order "stop wasting time" or a statement "I love you" or "I believe in God" the air begins to move, the room we are in begins to vibrate, people hear us and they at once begin to evaluate our new creation with a view to deciding what their response will be. Mum gives a child a biscuit - or she doesn't. The standing person sits down - or he doesn't. Mary says to John "I love you too" - or she doesn't. God hears those who believe in him.
You see how important the spoken word is? Always new, never unsayable, charged with power. As the lesson said, "the defects of a man appear in his talk: "praise no man before you have heard him speak". "A good tree produces good fruit", said Jesus, "a bad one of rock and brute. The most obvious fruits that you when I produce are our own spoken words.
For the Christian, that involves a heavy burden of responsibility. At home, at work, at play, at Church we are all the time producing the fruit of the spoken word and those who hear us are continuously judging us by what they have had to say.
No use having a pretty face, or fine clothes, or a fast car if our minds shows to be spiteful, mischievous, or untruth full. People will sum us up more accurately by listening to what we say than by any of those other things. It only takes one hasty or ill-considered remark to turn people off us completely, and not only off us, but off everything we believe in. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are also his spokesman and ambassadors in this world. It what we say gives offence to others because it is arrogant, scandalous, or simply untrue we shall have as effectively put a barrier between Jesus Christ and them as if they'd seen us breaking someone else's windows or damaging their garden.
For scandalmongering and gossip do untold damage, especially of they're said behind people's backs. Remember, the spoken word is indelible, it cannot be unsaid; and if the person it is spoken against is not there, it cannot be denied or countered.
But from our personal position it does but damage too. Those who hear us speak ill of others behind their backs may well wonder what sort of things we say about them when they are not present.
We are entering the season of Lent. I do Most strongly advise you to examine the way you use the spoken word.
Like all good things speech can be misused. And like all misuse we can only guess at the harm which in the end it does.
But don't just think of the negative side of these things. Words are creative: the word of praise, the word of encouragement, the word of thanks, the word of comfort, the word of prayer when said at the right time can do as much good as the word of slander can do harm.
Paul reminds us in the second reading that we are working towards an end, a victory which death itself cannot destroy. The final reward that God has in store for those who remain faithful to him his to hear him say to one us those blessed words "well done good and faithful servant, into it into the joy of your master".
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