Sunday’s sermon: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

roosevelt-quote

Sermon title: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Texts used – Isaiah 12 and Ephesians 1:11-23

  • It was January 26, 1900. The then-governor of New York was writing a letter to Mr. Henry L. Sprague, a member of the New York state assembly from New York County’s 13th The letter read as follows: “Dear Harry; — Your letter of the 25th really pleased me. Of course, I shall not feel real easy until the vote has actually been taken, but apparently everything is now all right. I have always been fond of the West African proverb: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.’ If I had not carried the big stick, the Organization would not have gotten behind me, and if I had yelled and blustered as Parkhurst and the similar dishonest lunatics desired, I would not have had ten votes.”[1] Roughly 18 months later, that same man, now Vice President of the United States, gave a speech at the Minnesota State Fair that would later be dubbed his “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” speech. In it, he said, “A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick – you will go far.’ … So it is with this nation … Let us make it evident that we intend to do justice. Then let us make it equally evident that we will not tolerate injustice being done in return. Let us further make it evident that we use no words which was are not prepared to back up with deeds, and that while our speech is always moderate, we are ready and willing to make it good.”[2] And only a few short weeks after delivering this speech, upon the assassination of President William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt would be sworn into office as President of the United State of America on Sept. 14, 1901.
    • “Speak softly and carry a big stick” sort of became America’s foreign policy motto for a long time
      • Roosevelt’s own foreign policy dealings[3]
        • (Probably) most well-known: establishment of the Panama Canal (1901)
        • Also: mediated the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) → earned him a Nobel Peace Prize (first American to do so – 1906)
      • Other e.g.s
        • Actions and attitudes that led the U.S. into WWII
        • Actions and attitudes that carried the U.S. into and through the Cold War
        • And I’m sure we could think of a lot more.
    • Look up the meaning of phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick” in a phrase dictionary = “a proverb advising the tactic of caution and non-aggression, backed up by the ability to do violence if required”[4]
    • But as Christians, how are we called to go about being in this world? How are we called to intertwine our actions and attitudes with our faith? In what way are we called to speak? And what are we to carry with us?
  • BEFORE WE CONTINUE: I have to take a minute to explain to you how I plan my sermons. Trust me … today, it matters.
    • Explain sermon planning retreat – May 2014 (1.5 yrs ago – planned all the Scripture readings and main ideas through the end of this year) → foundational planning ahead gives me the chance to get more done during the week in general.
    • Certainly nothing set in stone – make adjustments here and there as my schedule or as current events dictate → But that’s not what happened this week. These are the Scriptures I planned to use a year and a half ago. This was the general theme that I chose a year and a half ago. I truly believe that the appropriateness of it in the face of all that is going on in our country right now is one of those funny God moments in life.
  • So when you look in the bulletin this morning, you’ll probably notice something a little different about the sermon title. You should have seen the look on Sue’s face when I told her that yes, I did indeed want it crossed out like that in the final copy of the bulletin. J “Speak softly and carry a big stick” … crossed out. Here’s the thing: I think that as Christians, we are called to do and be and say and act exactly the opposite of this.
    • Is passage = great testament to how we are supposed to speak … And here’s your spoiler alert: nothing about it is soft! – text: And you will say on that day: “Thank the Lord; call on God’s name; proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples; declare that God’s name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, who has done glorious things; proclaim this throughout all the earth.” Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion, because the holy one of Israel is great among you.[5] → Doesn’t sound a lot like “speaking softly” to me. But we don’t just have to take Isaiah’s word for it.
      • Ps 98: Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth! Be happy! Rejoice out loud! Sing your praises![6]
      • Rev: Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.”[7]
      • 2 Chr: Moreover, [the people of Israel] made an oath to the LORD with a loud voice, with shouting, with trumpets and with horns.[8]
      • And that’s just a few examples. Over and over and over again throughout Scriptures, we are encouraged to give voice to our faith strongly, boldly, loudly and exuberantly, with great gusto and joy! “Speak softly” is not a part of that.
        • Plenty of Scripture about speaking from a place of honesty, a place of compassion, a place of wisdom and self-awareness … but always comes back to the Good News of God being shared with conviction and passion → And for anyone who’s ever tried, speaking about anything quietly but also with conviction and passion is basically impossible! You get excited. You get worked up. And you just can’t keep it in anymore! That Good News has to just explode out of you!
  • 2nd half of the phrase – tackling the idea of “carrying a big stick”
    • Inherently threatening
    • Inherently aggressive
    • Inherently forceful
    • If the first half of the phrase is the “diplomacy” portion, this is the “my way or the highway” portion. This portion implies the notion that, if we can’t come to an agreement or a compromise through dialogue, not only will I take my blocks and go home, but you’d better believe I’ll take your blocks, too. And probably the bag they came in … just for the principle of the thing! → certainly not the way we are called to go about being in this world as Christians
      • Jesus’ own words
        • In Lk: But I say to you who are willing to hear: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.[9]
        • In Mt: You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment.[10]
        • “Golden Rule living”: Do to others as you would have them do to you.[11] → sort of flies right in the face of the whole “carry a big stick”/” the tactic of caution and non-aggression, backed up by the ability to do violence if required
      • Other Scripture
        • 1 Jn: The one who claims to be in the light while hating a brother or sister is in the darkness even now. The person loving a brother and sister stays in the light, and there is nothing in the light that causes a person to stumble. But the person who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and lives in the darkness, and doesn’t know where to go because the darkness blinds the eyes.[12]
      • Also about representing God and Christ appropriately – Paul in Eph: We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ.[13]
        • Gr. “honor” = praise, approval, recognition → Our lives are to be that living testament to God’s goodness and glory – the love that God shows us, the grace that God freely gives to us, the way that God cherishes our uniqueness, the way that we are – each and every one of us – made in the image of God, carriers of the divine spark.
          • Similar sentiment (stated a little more clearly) in Col: Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.[14] → That doesn’t mean God has given us carte blanch to do whatever the heck we please as long as we tack Jesus’ name on to the end of it. Far from it. We are to act as Jesus would have acted … and something tells me that in all his dealings with the sinners and the lepers, the women and the tax collectors, the demon-possessed and the Samaritans and the prostitutes and all the “wrong people” … something tells me Jesus wasn’t wielding a big stick.
            • Wielding compassion
            • Wielding a helping hand
            • Wielding open arms full of welcome
  • And yes, we’re going to go there. We’re going to address the elephant in the room. Because I believe in my heart that we can’t not address it this week. The election. Now, before we go further, hear me this morning. I’m not talking about who won or who didn’t. I’m talking about the ugliness that has followed. I’m talking about all of the pain and anger and hate that have completely boiled over and turned this entire country into one that I don’t recognize anymore. Friends, this is not how God calls us to be!
    • Pastor friend’s comment about everything being out in the open: “Now we know. We’ve been hiding how broken we are for a long time. It’s out. No more lies and pretending. We are a hot mess and the whole world knows it. There is some relief in having the secret finally out for all to see.” → We have long tried to tell ourselves that we are a better country, a safer country, a country that has evolved beyond the point of blatant and vicious discrimination based on race, gender, country of origin, etc. We have tried to tell ourselves that – to reassure ourselves that the smattering of stories that made it into the news were anomalies. That’s not how most of us feel or think or, even worse, act. But friends, this week has shed an ugly, ugly
      • Just a few of the stories
        • Graffiti in neighborhoods: “Black Lives doesn’t matter and neither does your vote”
        • Women grabbed in appropriately on the subway, not surreptitiously but openly and deliberately and unashamedly
        • Kids in school taunting their Hispanic classmates by chanting “Build the wall!”
        • Muslim women having their head scarves ripped off in public à also lots of accounts of Muslim women forgoing wearing their head scarves out of fear of being recognized
        • Anonymous notes and death threats left for same-sex families (families, ya’ll … including children)
        • Running errands with the boys this weekend – wore a shirt that says “Just love, No hate” → And I was nervous walking through Walmart! Not for myself. I’m a big girl. I can handle it. But I didn’t want that ugliness to rear its head in front of my boys. I don’t want them to see that.
        • And all sorts of vitriol and violence and evil spewing from people’s mouths that I cannot read from the pulpit. And yes, some of them have happened and are happening in Minnesota.
      • Important distinction to make: speaking BOLDLY and with gusto ≠ hurling slurs and obscenities as loudly as possible at everyone not like you → Frankly, I think that all of this hate and ugliness would have boiled over no matter who was declared the winner on Tues. night/Wed. morning! Yes, as Christians, we are called to speak loudly, but we are also called to speak from a place of love and compassion and appreciation of the many and varied gifts that God has given to us and to the people around us.
        • Paul in Eph: I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming power of God’s greatness that is working among us believers.[15] → It’s about being confident in our faith but humble enough to share it in ways that are life-giving, in ways that glorify not ourselves and our walks of life but God and God alone.
          • Quote from Glennon Doyle Melton: I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God. I am humble because I believe that everyone else is, too. They go hand in hand. They’ve got to. If I am humble but lack confidence, it is because I haven’t accepted that there is a divine spark inside me. … If I am in the habit of turning my back on others, it is because I haven’t learned that God approaches us in the disguise of other people.[16]
  • Leaving you with an object lesson this morning – explain safety pins
    • Began when UK voted to leave the EU back in June (referred to as Brexit) → unleashed a lot of racism and violence against immigrants in Britain
    • People started wearing safety pins – signify they were safe
      • Safe to talk to
      • Safe to sit next to on the bus or the subway
      • Safe … period: A marginalized person who is being harassed will look to you to help keep them safe. By wearing the safety pin you make a public pledge to be a walking, talking safe space for the marginalized. All of the marginalized. You don’t get to pick and choose.[17]
    • The pin is not about fighting back. It’s not about shouting down the aggressor or challenging them. It’s about the victim. It’s about engaging not with the hate but with the one who is vulnerable and afraid – seeing her, talking to him, placing yourself between the hate and the target. Be safe, obviously … but not too safe. Because that is where we are called to most boldly and passionately declare God’s Good News – to the dark places, the hard places, the uncomfortable places, the fringe places, the places of pain. Amen.

[1] From the “American Treasures of the Library of Congress” website, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm139.html.

[2] Ben Welter. “Sept. 3, 1901: Roosevelt ‘Big Stick’ speech at State Fair” from Yesterday’s News blog via the Minneapolis Star Tribune website, http://www.startribune.com/sept-3-1901-roosevelt-big-stick-speech-at-state-fair/273586721/. Posted Sept. 2, 2014, accessed Nov. 10, 2016.

[3] Jonna Lorenz. “Theodore Roosevelt’s Accomplishments: Teddy’s Foreign Policy Legacy” from NewsMax, http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/theodore-roosevelt-accomplishments-foreign-policy/2014/08/26/id/591078/. Posted Aug. 26, 2014, accessed Nov. 12, 2016.

[4] “Speak softly and carry a big stick” from the Phrase Dictionary website, http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick.html.

[5] Is 12:4-6 (emphasis added).

[6] Ps 98:4.

[7] Rev 19:6.

[8] 2 Chr 15:14.

[9] Lk 6:27-28.

[10] Mt 5:21-22a.

[11] Lk 6:31 (NRSV).

[12] 1 Jn 2:9-11.

[13] Eph 1:12.

[14] Col 3:17.

[15] Eph 1:18-19a (emphasis added).

[16] Glennon Doyle Melton. Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. (New York, NY: Scribner, 2013), 174, 175-176.

[17] Isobel Debrujah. “So You Want to Wear A Safety Pin” from her blog What a Witch, https://isobeldebrujah.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/so-you-want-to-wear-a-safety-pin/. Posted Nov. 12, 2016, accessed Nov. 12, 2016.

Sermon: Practicing Faith

So I’ve been a little behind lately … a lot behind. There were a few weeks of different services in there. We had a guest preacher. And life has been busy. Just. Busy. So here are a few sermons from a few weeks back.

Concert-Football Collage.jpg

Texts used – Genesis 22:1-14 and James 2:14-26

  • I’d like you to picture two scenes with me this morning.
    • FIRST: Concert hall with a full orchestra
      • Before the conductor takes the stage – moderate buzz of conversation all around punctuated by laughter here and there
      • Conductor walks out – deliberate hush washes over the crowd = silence full of anticipation for what is to come
      • Conductor bows, turns to face the orchestra, and raises the baton, and the music starts
        • Flutes trilling
        • Violins & violas singing
        • Horns resonating
        • Timpani thundering
      • As the music swells, you find yourself bathed in a wave of beauty, passion, tenderness, and dedication.
    • SECOND: Football game at a giant stadium full to capacity – Vikings vs. Packers, maybe?
      • Crowd is cheering and chanting
      • People around you are talking and laughing and whooping
      • Vendors walking up and down the aisles are hollering out their merchandise
      • Game = down to the wire → last minute and the game is close
        • Players line up
        • Ball in motion
        • Hear the pads crashing together
        • QB launches a long pass
        • Watch it sail through the air
        • See the receiver simultaneously catch the ball and slip into the end zone
        • And, as they say, the crowd goes wild!
      • In that moment, you are completely overwhelmed by this display of action, strength, endurance, and dedication.
    • Believe it or not, these two scenarios have a lot in common, especially in regards to the people involved.
      • They have a spark within them – a burning desire
        • Desire for their chosen field, be it music or sports
        • Desire to perform to the best of their abilities
        • Spark = crucial → drives them to continuously develop their particular gift
      • But in order to do that, all of these people have to practice.
    • Practice is what James is talking about in our passage for today – practicing our Christian faith to its fullest potential.
  • Practicing faith = theme woven throughout Scripture
    • Various texts:
      • Jesus in Matthew – But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand.[1]
      • 1 John – Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.[2]
      • Paul in Galatians – Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.[3]
      • Paul again, in Ephesians – We are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.[4]
      • Earlier in James: You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves.[5]
    • James even gives us an example of “being a doer”: What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions.[6] → brings us to our OT text for today
      • Probably one of the more challenging and problematic stories in the Bible
        • God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son → gathered what they needed to perform a sacrifice → head up the mountain
      • Isaac: “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?”[7]
      • Abraham’s response: “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.”[8]
      • Set up the altar and the pyre for the offering – text: Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.[9] → But at the last minute, an angel stays Abraham’s hand and God provides a lamb instead.
      • This is a tough one, right? Can we even begin to imagine how Abraham must have been feeling at this point? This task loomed before him – an unthinkable act, the outcome of which seemed impossible at best. This story makes us ask difficult questions about God and obedience. “What kind of God would ask someone to do this? Is this the kind of God that I want to follow? Where am I in this story?” And so on. This Old Testament tale doesn’t seem to jive with our preferred image of God as Compassionate Parent, Loving Caretaker, Benevolent Keeper. But still, it has been a foundational text for both Jews and Christians.
        • Jews refer to text as “the Akedah” = “the binding of Isaac”[10]
          • Practicing of placing ashes on the head during fast days = “reminder of the ashes of Isaac”
          • Story read on the 2nd day of Rosh Ha-Shanah, “Jewish New Year” → ram’s horn (called the shofar) is blow – could be linked to this story as well
        • And as Christians, this is a plot line all too familiar to us. We cannot help but read the death of Jesus – God sacrificing God’s only Son – between the lines of this OT story.
      • I will name it and claim it right here: this is a story to wrestle with. We have these “bedtime Bibles” that we read with the boys before they go to bed at night – truncated, child-friendly versions of Scripture stories with colorful pictures. It probably won’t surprise you that this story isn’t one of the ones in that “bedtime Bible.” Because it’s an uncomfortable story. It’s a hard story. It is, quite frankly, a chilling story. And it’s always going to be.
        • Scholar helped shed some light on how this story can inform our conversation of how we practice our faith today: The true act of faith on the part of Abraham is not the blind faith that often has been the dominant message emerging from this text, but rather the ability to recognize God’s provision in the ordinary, especially in those circumstances when everything appears to be futile.[11]
          • In text, Abraham names the place “the Lord sees” – Heb. “see” = can also mean “provide”
          • So in terms of our faith and how we practice it, even the most challenging, the most unthinkable situations are opportunities for us to practice our faith – for us to rely on God and trust in God’s presence and provision.
            • Another scholar: The story of the akedah makes a claim on us: All that we have, even our own lives and those of the ones most dear to us, belong ultimately to God, who gave them to us in the first place. The story of the akedah assures us that God will provide, that God will be present.[12] → This belief inspires our faith. It strengthens our faith. It informs and transforms our faith so that we may practice it in new and different ways every day.
  • Now, turning back to our New Testament text for this morning, this is also a text with which we need to be a little bit careful. In this passage, and with this example, James isn’t saying that good works in and of themselves provide our salvation.
    • Previously stated in James: it is “the implanted word that has the power to save your souls”[13]
    • Salvation by faith comes up again in today’s text: So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend.[14]
      • Abraham believed → not earned, not claimed, not worked for
      • Scholars
        • Interpretation: “There is no salvation for the person who stops short of discipleship. If faith is only intellectual … it will not save.”[15]
        • Question: “What would faith look like without any deeds?”[16]
  • I want to turn that question around. What would faith look like with deeds?
    • James begins by borrowing Jesus’ own words as an e.g.: Text: Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs?[17] → Sounds a lot like Jesus in the gospel of Matthew:
      • I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me. … I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.[18] → This teaching of Jesus’ comes from a parable that he told – the parable of the sheep and the goats – words that would have been circulated endless throughout his followers. They would have been so familiar with this parable that they would have heard it echoing as they read James’ words. And Jesus’ implications are pretty clear: love people (help them, care for them, provide for them) as you love me.
    • But let’s look at Abraham’s example again. James: See, [Abraham’s] faith was working along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions.[19]
      • Faith was already there, already working
        • Wasn’t a question of a conversion moment → didn’t go from no faith to faith in 10 seconds flat
        • Question of maturity → Abraham’s faith was made complete – a faith maturing through works … through practice
        • Scholar: “There is a mutuality: Faith informs and motivates action; action matures faith. James is not rejecting one for the other but is instead insisting that the two are totally inseparable.”[20]
    • Think back to the professional musicians and athletes that we talked about earlier.
      • In order to live into their fullest potential, all of them have to practice – to continue to develop and mature their God-given talents.
        • Spurred on by the initial spark within
        • Practice → fruits of their labor: beauty, passion, tenderness, action, strength, endurance, and dedication
      • So how does this translate into our lives?
        • Beauty: worship – praise God in song, Word, and prayer
        • Passion: reading and learning about God’s Word
        • Tenderness: caring and praying for one another
        • Action: mission
        • Strength: sense of Christian community
        • Endurance: even in those lowest of moment, those most difficult and depleting of moments, we turn our face to God
          • May cry out “help”
          • May cry out “why”
          • May cry out all sorts of things
          • But we cry them out to God, having faith that God will be present with us every single, ugly, slogged-through step of the way.
        • Dedication: following Christ’s example – prayer, hospitality, compassion, discipleship, etc.
  • We need to practice our faith, not just talk about it – to continue to develop it and help it mature. That initial spark of faith within us is a gift from God, and by practicing our faith, that spark can grow into a powerful, warming, light-giving flame. Amen.

 

[1] Mt 7:26

[2] 1 Jn 3:18

[3] Gal 5:6

[4] Eph 2:10.

[5] Jas 1:22.

[6] Jas 2:21-22.

[7] Gen 22:7.

[8] Gen 22:8.

[9] Gen 22:10.

[10] “Judaism: Akedah” from Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0001_0_00627.html, accessed Oct. 30, 2016.

[11] Juliana Claassens. “Commentary on Genesis 22:1-14” from Working Preaching, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=965 (emphasis added). Posted June 26, 2011, accessed Oct. 30, 2016.

[12] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker. “Commentary on Genesis 22:1-14” from Working Preaching, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2138. Posted June 29, 2014, accessed Oct. 30, 2016.

[13] Jas 1:21.

[14] Jas 2:23.

[15] Peter H. Davids. James (New International Biblical Commentary series). (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 64.

[16] Luke Timothy Johnson. “James” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 198.

[17] Jas 2:15-16.

[18] Mt 25:35-36, 40.

[19] Jas 2:22.

[20] Davids, 69.

Sermon: It Is What It Is

So I’ve been a little behind lately … a lot behind. There were a few weeks of different services in there. We had a guest preacher. And life has been busy. Just. Busy. So here are a few sermons from a few weeks back.

michael-scott

Texts used – Jeremiah 1:4-10 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

  • March 24, 2005 was a banner day for television. On that day, we were introduced to one of the most uncomfortably loveable, one of the most awkwardly and sometimes inadvertently outspoken characters in recent TV history: the self-proclaimed World’s Best Boss … Michael Scott.
    • Show: NBC’s “The Office”
    • Michael Scott = played by comedian Steve Carell
    • Role = regional manager at a small paper company
    • Setting = Scranton, PA
    • Now, I know that the type of humor represented on “The Office” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Frankly, when it first aired 11 years ago, I thought it was one of the dumbest things I’d ever seen.
      • Humor = awkward, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes admittedly a little crude
      • In particular: Michael Scott’s humor = built on cringe-worthy moments of saying the wrong thing at the WAY wrong time, blowing past boundaries, frequently coming down on the wrong side of stereotypes – all stemming from Michael’s fundamental and utter lack of self-awareness
        • Socially awkward at best
        • Unwittingly and unintentionally offensive at worst
    • So with all of these painfully obvious flaws, why does the character of Michael Scott continue to be so loved by so many fans around the world, even 3 years after the show’s final season? Because despite all his imperfections, Michael Scott wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s honest to a fault – painfully, awkwardly, uncomfortably, and endearingly honest. Even when he’s saying something horribly politically incorrect, 9 times out of 10, he isn’t saying it to be malicious or rude or hurtful. He’s simply speaking out of a place of naiveté.
      • Blogger quote describing Michael Scott: “[The] colorful contradiction of being fundamentally simple-hearted along with his dismal lack of control over actions and helpless self-indulgence made him instantly lovable.”[1]
      • When it comes to Michael’s sense of humor, it simply is what it is. There’s no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives, no secret meaning to uncover. For better or for worse, Michael Scott speaks his truth in love.
  • Speaking truth = hard, hard, hard
    • Dozens of self-help books out there to help with this
    • Countless seminars and retreats and workshops offered across the country
    • Websites and blogs galore devoted to this topic
    • 2 extremes when it comes to speaking truth
      • Speak out-and-out truth, no matter the cost
        • Blunt
        • Stark
        • Possibly hurtful or brutal
        • “This is my You don’t have to like it. You just have to listen to it. So there!”
      • Speak a tempered version of the truth
        • Watered down
        • Couched in hesitations and qualifiers
        • Truth through rose-colored glasses
        • “This is the truth for me, but you don’t have to like it or respect it or even listen to it if you don’t want to.”
      • Hard to strike that balance between speaking truth with conviction and speaking truth with compassion
    • But as Christians, this idea of speaking truth in love is part of our heritage … it’s part of our tradition … it’s part of our shared story.
      • Ephesians: By speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ[2]
      • Today’s Scripture readings = all about speaking truth in love
  • NT text = 1 Corinthians → “the wedding passage”
    • Passage all about how important it is to speak from a place of love
      • No matter the language: “tongues or mortals and of angels”
      • No matter the rationale: “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge”
      • No matter the faith: “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains”
      • No matter the sacrifice: “if I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast”
      • No matter what, “If I do not have love, I have nothing … I gain nothing … I am nothing.”
      • Gr. in this text is probably not surprising – “love” = agape love: Christian love – faith-driven, inspired by the love that God and Jesus had for one another and the love that God has for us
        • Unconditional
        • Unearned
        • Undeservable
        • Not a kind of love that comes with hidden agendas, ulterior motives or secret meanings to uncover
        • “No strings attached” kind of love
    • Easy to understand why this passage is read at so many weddings – the importance of having love like this in a relationship is paramount → If, in contrast to our Scripture, the love you share is impatient, if it is unkind, if it in fact envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, if it is insistent on its own way, if it is irritable or resentful, it is not the kind of love that’s going to last. Sometimes, it’s easy to say that in the midst of all the flowers and guests and joy of a wedding day … and much harder to remember when you’re in the trenches of day-to-day life, juggling work and kids and dishes and various other commitments and trying to hold onto some semblance of yourself. It’s easy to be impatient and irritable. It’s easy to slide into a place of resentment. It’s easy to find yourself saying something that is rude and unkind – speaking something that may be a sharpened version of your truth, but speaking it from a place that is definitely not
      • Certainly doesn’t only happen in marriage
        • Friendships
        • Work relationships
        • Certainly see this in our current political environment: Can anyone remember the last time they felt like they heard a politician on the national stage speaking from a place of self-sacrificing, good-of-the-people, merciful love? Hmmmm.
  • Brings up an important point that’s also emphasized in our OT reading this morning: essence of speaking the truth in love as Christians is the idea that isn’t not our truth … it’s God’s truth
    • Now, before we go any further, let me be abundantly clear this morning. I am not saying that just because we are Christians, whatever “truth” (and yes, I’m putting that word in very heavy and deliberate air quotes”) we speak is automatically a word from God. Just because we are Christians, we do not speak exclusively for God. Every word that comes from our mouths certainly is not God-breathed or God-inspired. And just because we say it and claim, “But I’m a Christian!” doesn’t automatically make it God’s truth.
    • God’s truth = difficult
      • Time and time again throughout the Bible, those whom God has called on to speak truth have tried to wriggle out of doing so … sometimes quite dramatically!
        • Moses called by God at the burning bush: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt? … My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you’ve been talking to your servant. I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue.”[3]
        • Jonah ran in the completely opposite direction of where God was trying to take him to speak truth[4]
        • Peter denied Jesus three times instead of identifying himself as one of Christ’s disciples[5]
        • Gideon’s reply to God’s call: “With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household.”[6]
        • Today’s text: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”[7] → Heb. reveals that this is more than a gentle chiding on Jeremiah’s part – “Ah” is not soft or tempered or benign but a cry of alarm
      • Sometimes difficult to grasp/understand – NT passage speaks to this: For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. … For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.[8]
      • Sometimes difficult to fit into the fabric of our lives
      • Sometimes difficult to convey
    • We know that God’s word comes to us in love because we know that God loves us. We know that God desires good for all God’s children – a peaceful existence, basic securities (food and shelter), companionship in our relationships with each other and our relationship with God. And we know by our own experience how comforting and strengthening and empowering it can be to put our trust in God during difficult times – times of struggle and stress, time of challenge and change, times of weariness and worry. Why, then, if we know all these things, is it so hard for us to speak God’s truth in those moments that are presented to us?
      • Moments when we hear someone belittling another beloved child of God – inappropriate joke, snarky comment, prejudiced remark
        • “All Muslims” … this
        • Or “all immigrants” … that
        • “All black people” … this
        • Or “all Republicans/Democrats” … that
        • Jokes about women, about LGBT people, about those struggling with this mental illness or that disability
        • We know we hear these things, and we know that they are not God’s truth.
      • Moments when we hear someone justifying something hateful using faith → So much evil throughout history has been done in God’s name – things that I cannot believe God would truly condone: slaughtering of thousands during the Crusades, torture during the Spanish Inquisition and Salem witch trials, slavery, forced obliteration of culture for hundreds of thousands of American Indians … the list goes on and on. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”
    • Friends, the thing about God’s truth is that it is uncomfortable because it is meant to change lives – to change them for the better. Jesus’ entire ministry was spent preaching and teaching and embodying God’s truth, and it made the wrong people uncomfortable, and they killed him for it. God’s truth is uncomfortable. God’s truth is extreme because it ignores all the boundaries that we put up between each other. God’s truth ignores the “us” and the “them.” It ignores the “haves” and the “have nots.” It ignores all the ways that we try to separate ourselves.
      • Time and time again – God to those whom God has called to speak: “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”[9]
  • Speaking God’s truth of love, of grace, of forgiveness, of justice, of peace is hard. It just is. Because it is an uncompromising truth. It is love for all. It is grace for all. It is forgiveness and justice and peace for all. The lines that we draw, the distinctions that we make, the walls that we put up between us and other people – those who look, think, speak, believe, understand differently than us – don’t matter in the face of God’s truth. And that’s a hard thing to say, both to ourselves and to the world around us. But we find ourselves in this crazy time – this time of division, this time in which so many people from all sides are trying to drive home all the ways that we are different: politically, economically, racially, socially, and so on. In the face of all that tries to pull this society and this world apart, God calls us to cry out God’s truth: “Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things! Love never ends!”[10] Like Michael Scott, God is asking us to wear a heart on our sleeves. Not our own hearts … but God’s heart.

BENEDICTION: Beatles said it best: “Spread the word and you’ll be free / Spread the word and be like me / Spread the word I’m thinking of / Have you heard the word is love?”[11]

[1] “Why I love : The Michael Scott character of The Office (U.S.)” from Flawsophy: An Out-of-Context Approach to Finding a Problem with Everything (Rated: PG 13). http://www.flawsophy.net/2011/08/why-i-love-michael-scott-character-of.html. Posted Aug. 14, 2011, accessed Oct. 21, 2016.

[2] Eph 4:15.

[3] Ex 3:13, 4:10.

[4] Jonah 1:1-3.

[5] Lk 22:54-62.

[6] Judges 6:15.

[7] Jer 1:6.

[8] 1 Cor 13:9-10, 12.

[9] Jer 1:7-8.

[10] 1 Cor 13:7-8a.

[11] “The Word” by The Beatles, written by Chris Lake and Sebastien Leger, released on Rubber Soul album Dec. 3, 1965.