Mark 1:9-11 NRSV
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Words. Have. Power.
Last Tuesday afternoon, when I was considering sermon titles for this past Sunday, I decided (after some consultation) on the title, “Words Have Power.” Little did I know that less than 24 hours later, the shocking events taking place at the Capitol would prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that words do, indeed, have power.
Or, as the Senate Chaplain so succinctly put it in his prayer, “These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, and that the power of life and death is in the tongue.” What none of reporters commenting on his prayer seemed to notice was that he was quoting the Old Testament (Proverbs 18:21); nonetheless, he was quoting it aptly. They were the right words, spoken at the right time.
Of course, last Tuesday afternoon, the powerful words I was pondering were those in the last verse of Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark, “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” These words of God at the baptism of Jesus - the words that tore the heavens open, the words that sent down the Spirit like a dove, the words that confirmed Jesus’ identity and pronounced the divine blessing on his mission and his ministry - these were the perfect words, spoken at the perfect time. Just as Jesus is beginning his public ministry, just as he sets out on the road that will take him to the Cross, at just that time, God voices the words that Jesus was going to need right away; in fact, according to Mark, he was going to need them immediately. Indeed, in the very next verse, Mark says, “Immediately, the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness” - where, for 40 days, he was tempted by Satan.
Of course, Satan wasn’t Jesus’s only contender. He also had to contend with some extraordinarily nasty human opponents, and he had to contend with the ongoing human sinfulness of both his followers and his foes. And as he carried out his mission and ministry in the face of considerable opposition, Jesus himself often spoke just the right words at just the right time: words of healing, words of blessing, words of rebuke and correction, words of encouragement and exhortation - every one of them words of power. It was all in a day’s work for him; after all, he was God’s beloved son.
So are we....God’s beloved sons and daughters, that is. If you have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, then you are God’s beloved child. You are also a living, breathing representative of Christ, as our 4th baptismal vow phrases it. A big part of representation is communication; our words as well as our deeds confirm our identity as God’s beloved children, and communicate our mission to serve Christ as our Lord. According to the first two of our baptismal vows, doing so requires us to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness and reject the evil powers of this world, all the while repenting of our own sin. Doing so also requires us to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. And if we’re going to accept God’s grace for ourselves, profess our faith openly, and lead a Christian life, then we’re going to need to align our words as well as our deeds with the words and deeds of the One we confess as our Savior and Lord. All of which is, frankly, way beyond us; but it is well within the vast power of the Holy Spirit, who deigns to live within us and who empowers our witness.
So if you’re a follower of Jesus and a Republican; if you’re a follower of Jesus and a Democrat; if you’re a follower of Jesus and an Independent or a Constitutionalist; if you’re a follower of Jesus and you have no political affiliation whatsoever: simply put, if we are followers of Jesus, then our first and final loyalty must always be to Christ. All our lesser loyalties must be just that...lesser. And our words must reflect our ultimate loyalty. The world now desperately needs the right words of Christians, spoken at the right time, and in the right way. My prayer for all of us is that in the weeks and months ahead, we who are followers of Jesus will use our voices to speak words that do not harm, but heal; words that do not curse, but bless; words that do not inflame, but inspire. Because words have power. May our words bear within them the power of the Savior.
“Open My Eyes” UMH 454, stanza 3
Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere;
open my heart and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood