Words are for Building Up, Not Tearing Down

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Mark 3:20-35. It was also the celebration of three baptisms — I’ve changed the names of the children baptized for this blog. 

Good morning, David and Lily. Good morning, Megan. I’m so glad you’re here today. I’m really excited that we will witness all three of your baptisms today. An infant, a toddler, and a teenager. And today God smiles on each of you. Today, the Holy Spirit comes to each of you in a very special way. Today, each of you receives new promises, a new name, a new identity. And that new name and identity is “God’s beloved child.”

So I want to talk about your baptism today, but I also want to continue in the sermon series I started last week about Words. Hopefully I can weave them together. Today’s topic is “Words are for building up, not for tearing down.” I chose this topic for today because in the gospel reading, we see some people using their words to try to tear Jesus down. Now everybody knew that Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee, teaching and healing, and casting out demons that were hurting people. But the scribes didn’t like Jesus, so they started spreading rumors around. They spread lies so people would stop trusting Jesus. They told people that the reason Jesus was able to cast out demons was because he himself was possessed by the king of all the demons. But when Jesus heard about it, he quickly put an end to the rumor. After all, it was a pretty dumb rumor. Jesus said to them something like, “So you think Satan is trying to defeat Satan? Seriously?” They thought they were clever, but Jesus got the better of them.

People used words to try to hurt one another back when Jesus lived, and it still happens today. David and Lily, that might come as a surprise to you. I bet most of the words people have spoken to you have probably been kind and loving. Oh, but Megan, it isn’t a surprise to you. I’m sure that you know very well about words being hurtful. Because you’re in middle school. Middle school is so often filled with rumors and gossip and lies.

Megan, maybe you’ve heard the expression, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I’m sorry to tell you that’s just not true. Words most certainly can hurt us. And we all do it sometimes. All of us in this room, at least all of us old enough to talk, have sometimes used our words to tear people down and rip them apart. We all do it. And it’s nothing new.

In the first reading, we saw Adam and Eve, hiding from God in the garden because they had just eaten the fruit God told them not to. God found Adam, and asked him if he ate the fruit. Adam pointed at Eve, and said, “It’s not my fault. It’s her fault.” Then God found Eve. And she said, “It’s not my fault. It’s the snake’s fault.” We come from a long line of people using their words to hurt one another. I for one wish I could stop doing it. I think many of us do.

So why do we do it? Why did Adam and Eve do it in the first place? Well, I have a guess. I think they did it because they felt bad, and they didn’t want to feel worse. Maybe they thought that if they could blame somebody else, God might not scold them.

And I think maybe we do it for similar reasons, because it helps us feel better about ourselves. We get so worried about how other people view us, and so worried about whether we are good enough. Especially if someone else has said something critical to us. I know those worries take hold of me sometimes. And somehow when we talk trash about someone else, it seems to make us feel a little better about ourselves. I don’t know if we’re even aware of it. But I think our worries about ourselves might be the cause.

But the good news, Megan, the good news, Lily, the good news, David, is that we don’t have to worry about those things. We don’t have to worry about what other people think of us. And we don’t even have to worry about what we think of ourselves. Because who we really are, our true identity, our true worth and goodness, doesn’t come from their words, or even our own words. Our true identity, our true worth and goodness, who we really are, comes from God. And God tells us that in Baptism. The words that really matter are is what God says to us in our Baptism. God says to us, “Here is your true identity. You are my beloved child. Nobody, nobody, nobody, can ever take that away from you. Nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change that. I love you, and I always will. I give you worth, and I always will. I give you forgiveness. I give you hope. I give you a life worth living, and I always will.” Those are the words we can rely on to tell us the truth about ourselves, the words God speaks to us all through our baptism.

It is hard to remember that sometimes. That’s why I say it so often from this pulpit. But when we do remember it, then we find that we are equipped to do the hard work of using our words to build people up instead. To use our words the way they were intended. David, Lily, and Megan, when you get to confirmation class, you will learn about the Ten Commandments, and what Martin Luther wrote about each of them. Here’s what he wrote about the eighth commandment. The eighth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Luther wrote: This means “we are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” That’s not easy! Luther says that it’s not enough to avoid mean words. We are to actually speak well of those around us, and explain their actions in the best possible light. Megan, you know that’s hard. It’s hard to stand up for people, especially when you feel hurt by them or you just don’t like them. Lily and David, you will learn that. But each of you can do it. At least sometimes. Because through your baptism you can remember that God loves you more than anything in the world. You can remember that God has given everything for you, and God has promised to always give you everything you need, and to guide you and to help you and to give you strength. And you can use the words God gives you to praise God and to build up one another. Welcome to Baptism. Welcome to a life of freedom, where you are set free to build one another up.

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