Words Matter. At Least to Us.

One of my dearest mentors, Sheldon Tostengard, said that as Christians we are not called to love everyone – because we can’t – but at least we can be polite.

These days, especially in the political arena, as well as the church’s own little sideshow tent, there is a lot of nasty rhetoric pitched back and forth. We’re all so familiar with it that it has become the new normal, whatever that is or was. Even in one of the latest Lutheran magazines, there was a little article reporting how pastors have become the targets for grumpy parishioners who might be angry at a lot of things and seem to think it’s ok to pummel their pastors with their little beefs. I doubt this is true only for the Lutherans.

Now, after the shootings in Arizona, it seems people are taking a good hard look at public rhetoric, which is a good thing. After lots of debate back and forth about words and what words can do, in some circles the bottom line boiled down to this: guns kill, words don’t.

But we, as Christians, know differently.

So let’s just get this out there and name it: we’re people of the Book. The big Book. The Bible book. And so, as Christians, we take the bible kind of seriously. We take the words in it seriously. We don’t worship the bible but we trust it to reveal a few important truths to us quirky and broken human beings. You know, all that stuff about not bearing false witness and love being the greatest gift and the meek inheriting the earth and even Jesus being the revelation of God.

Yet, as Christians we have even more to say about words. We believe that something happens when we speak in the name of God. We believe our words do something, that they are efficacious. That when we say “In the name of Christ, your sins are forgiven”, they are. When we say, “This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”, it is. We don’t believe it is about us, but we do believe that whoever we are and whatever our gifts and faults, God has chosen to attach promises to our meager words. So, we believe in testimony and healing and our ‘yes’ meaning yes and our ‘no’ meaning no. We believe in transformation and we believe that God chooses to work through our words to make that happen, here and now. We also believe God’s word works in time so though they are particular to time and place, somehow, simultaneously those words point backwards in history to God speaking creation into being as well as forward to our future, when God welcomes us all home. It’s crazy, delicious stuff.

Which is all to say that in the best sense, we, Christians, are counter-cultural. We will think our ugly little troll thoughts, but we get to say “Lord, forgive me”, which is all most of us can do. We speak truth and then we bite our tongues. We fall short and we imagine that those other than us might, in fact, be a child of God. We take the bible seriously, and more than anything, we trust the One who spoke “Let there be light” and became light for us. This Word made flesh, who dwells with us even now. This Word, who loves us and sticks with us and bears us up, who makes us alive, even in this fallen world.