Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Oh, but yes they can!
Words have the power to destroy confidence, frighten and intimidate, shame, judge and break your heart. On the other hand, words can inform, inspire, heal, encourage and fill your heart with love.
That little nursery rhyme might have been given to children to offer protection from name calling and taunting.
Words fill our days especially in this present age of technology with way too many communications devices being used for way too many hours. It's not about operating only a single device, for "multi taskers" might possibly be texting, checking email, listening to music, watching TV, surfing the web and playing video games, actually managing several of these actions all at the same time.
I wonder if with so many words bombarding us so much of the time we may not be doing much listening. As our last presidential campaign wore on and on and became so saturated with negativity, criticisms and spitefulness I stopped listening. The same words and talking points were heard over and over. It was a huge relief when it all came to an end.
The mood changed as plans were revealed for the Presidential Inauguration celebration. TV commentators dug into the history of words used in previous inauguration speeches in anticipation of the speech President Obama would deliver to the nation. Words of hope and new beginnings as well as future challenges are common themes in these speeches. Even in the midst of an over abundance of words there will often be a phrase that pops out, something that grabs your attention, something memorable, something important. Famous quotes almost take on a life of their own as they are repeated generation after generation.
Let's take a look at some often quoted words which may sound very familiar to you. You may even remember who first said them.
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nations wounds. Abraham Lincoln
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt
"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country". J. F. Kennedy
"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." Bill Clinton
And the last one, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. It is our light not our darkness that frightens us. We ask, Who am I to be brilliant, talented and fabulous? Actually, Who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Nelson Mandela (quoting from a book called, “A Return to Love”, by Marianne Williamson)
Observances of the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King were held earlier this week. The Daily World reprinted his entire "I have a Dream" speech. Who can forget those words, "Free at last, free at last, thank Almighty God, we are free at last." His words were heard by a historic number of people gathered in a demonstration for freedom. His words changed the lives of millions of Americans, black and white.
President Obama's inauguration words presented the many challenges facing our country, especially social, economic and environmental issues. He declared the need to bring greater equality to women, gays and immigrants. He reminded us that "if we are truly created equal then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." We would hope his words also make a difference in the lives of many.
Today, we look to the Gospel to hear Jesus' Good News for us. We have the account of Jesus first act of public ministry as recorded in the book of Luke.
Following his baptism, wilderness fast and temptation, Jesus returns to his home country of Galilee. He was about thirty years old at this time with years of prayer, study of scripture and teaching behind him. Now he stands before his own town. Reports about him have been spreading through the population, so everyone was there eager to hear the local boy who's made a name for himself. He enters the synagogue on that Sabbath morning in Nazareth as was his custom. Mary and Joseph had prepared him well, raising him faithfully within their Jewish tradition.
He was asked to read as a bulky scroll was handed to him. There was no lectionary to consult, the choice was his. Unrolling the scroll he found a familiar text from the book of Isaiah and he began to read. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
He then rolled up the scroll and sat down. It was the custom for teachers to sit, so the people waited expecting some commentary on the text which they would have know well.
He says simply, "Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." The passage Jesus quotes describes the character of the long awaited Messiah. All are astonished at the words corning out of his mouth. He is the one anointed by the spirit of the Lord. He claims those ancient prophetic words as his own personal mission statement. This is Jesus' "Inaugural Address." This is Jesus' first public words. These words change things, nothing will be the same.
Borrowing words from the prophet Isaiah Jesus sets forth his agenda--bring good news to the poor, release the captives, bring sight to the blind, set free the oppressed, proclaim God's jubilee year, cancel debts and return the land.
These words most likely startled many of the people at synagogue that day. They continued to hope for the Messiah, the anointed one who would restore there nation to the glory of the days of King David. Jesus proclaims the true identity of the Messiah as one bringing good news to the poor, well how about all the faithful Jews? Release the captives and the oppressed? Really?? Yes, these are gracious words but Jesus seems to be reaching beyond the chosen people. How did the people hear his words spoken that day long ago? Were they comforted or challenged?
If you were one of the poor and oppressed, you would welcome them, if you were longing for a King to restore the wealth of the nation, you would have been disheartened.
Jesus takes these words of Isaiah as his mission statement, he is not content to merely leave it as a string of honorable words. Everything that follows in his life, all the stories we hear of his teaching, preaching and healing are stories of the action he takes to bring about life giving change to the people who had no power or voice.
Jesus is still doing those things because the church continues his mission. His mission now is our mission as the body of Christ in the world.
Please pick up your lectionary and we'll all read together the words of Isaiah as Jesus did except for the word me, let's substitute the word us.
The spirit of the Lord---You are always welcome to take the lectionary home with you. Perhaps you could read these words again and ponder them in your heart.