Care with Words

I’m not sure if you are a fan of Shakespeare. I am, to a degree. In all honesty, I can only take him a little bit at a time. What I mean is that I can read through the entirety of one of his works, but then I won’t pick up anything else he’s written for quite a while. It’s pretty intense stuff.

I do appreciate his usage of language. Believe it or not—and I hope this doesn’t offend you—but I think I find his insults the most intriguing. I didn’t say enjoyable. I said intriguing. Because Shakespeare has such an inventive way with language, he can say things that while on the surface appear to mean one thing, in their core, mean something completely different. And then of course there are those times when he hides nothing and just lets the innermost thoughts of this or that character pour out like lava from a volcano. But no matter the circumstance, it would seem that in almost every instance, the insult is witty and sharp in the moment, but it never helps to change the situation. It never ends well.

“Mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms!” he calls out through Gadshill in Part I of Henry IV. Funny, but poorly played in the moment.

“O wonderful, when devils tell the truth!” he writes as the angry Lady Anne to Gloucester in the first act of Richard III. Doing this, she comes very close to alienating a character teetering as an ally—at least that was my interpretation.

Now on the other hand, while I wouldn’t encourage you to insult anyone, there’s something to be said for not shying away from calling something what it is. While the rest of the world looks the other way, the Bible calls sin a sin. And there’s something to be said for steering directly into those troubling situations we’d much rather avoid—defining the challenge at hand in clear terms and then taking action to deal with the challenge—all the while knowing that it won’t be easy. There’s something to be said about thinking through the words we would use and then speaking in ways that we hope will help rather than harm.

Words matter. Care with our words matters a lot. Notice how Saint Paul highlights this when he brings together the courage to face challenges measured by self-control when he writes: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). In other words, we don’t need to be afraid to deal with difficult things—people, situations, jobs, you name it. By virtue of our Baptism into Christ, we are new creations, and with this, we’ve been given Christian courage. This same courage draws us to reflect before we act, understanding that even as there is a time for everything, to set our hearts on Christ and His love in order that we would be self-controlled is to do everything in its time—the right time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Will our words in the midst of an event stir love or discord? Will our subsequent actions bring peace or strife? Are we seeking the will of God or our own wills toward personal gain?

As the summer months roll in, I would encourage you to ponder these things. It never hurts to consider the sanctified encouragement of God through His Word as we live according to the Gospel promise that even as we fall short in so many ways, we are forgiven. This forgiveness empowers us to be those who face off with the world, and yet do so in love to the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbor. And while it is happening, our faithful God continues to love us and promises to keep with us each and every day, His steps matching our steps in every circumstance.

Don’t forget that. It’s everything to us.

See for Yourself

The first week of summer break is upon us, and I just have to say (as I shared in a recent Facebook post) that even though I’m glad for the slower schedule, I miss the high-fives, hugs, and loving interaction with the students. It’s always a strange and alien thing to see the hallways of the school empty and then also to experience the silence of that emptiness.

Still, I’m not going to wish away the summer. Heck, even add a month to it, I say.

Anyway…

I’m thinking on the appointed texts for this Sunday, and as with every other sermon—for me, at least—there’s usually one particular phrase that stands out at any given moment. Right now, it’s the following sentence from the Epistle reading from 1 John 4: “We love because He first loved us” (v. 19).

That sentence is incredibly packed. And for some, it might sound (at first) as though it is describing what we do. You need to know that it isn’t. Its drive is the love of God for us. That’s the Gospel.

I’m sure that once I sit down to start tapping away at the computer, by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit will do the appropriate unpacking, especially since the whole point of that statement, again, is the Gospel of our rescue in Jesus, and also because the whole point of preaching is to make sure that you, the listener, hears the wonderful proclamation of salvation through the person and work of Jesus.

That, of course, leads to the cross, and the proclamation of the cross is in that sentence from 1 John. The Gospel proclamation always leads to the cross. In fact, I’ve heard it said to preachers that if Jesus didn’t die in your sermon, you didn’t preach the Gospel. That’s a pretty solid maxim to which I subscribe.

So, whatever happens this week in the preparations, this Sunday, listen for the death of Jesus for your sins. It’ll be there.

And now, on to the news… which I intend to keep brief.

“Sure you do, Pastor,” you say.

See for yourself.

The Connection of Joy to Suffering

How’s that song go? School’s out for summer…

Well, it’s almost out. My kids have already said three or four times this morning, “Two and a half more days.”

“Yes,” I say in return. “You’ve already said that.”

As much as I love education—in fact, just ask Jen and she’d tell you I could sit in a classroom pretty much all day long—still, I’m glad the school year is coming to a close. It means time is a little more flexible for rest from busy schedules where every minute is accounted for, people’s spirits seem much calmer, and perhaps the doors and windows of opportunities for more fellowship with one another begin to open. In all, the sky’s deep blue feels just a little kindlier and the sun’s rays seem somewhat more caressing.

You can’t beat the feeling of summer. It can be very joyful.

In my morning reading from Luther, the good Reverend wrote the following regarding faith in Christ resulting in the joy of life and life’s deeds: “…the better you know it, the more does it make your heart joyful, for where there is such knowledge the Holy Ghost cannot remain outside. And when He comes He makes the heart joyful, willing, and happy, so that it freely goes and gladly with good heart does all that is well-pleasing to God, and suffers what has to be suffered, and would gladly die. And the purer and greater the knowledge, the deeper grows the bliss and joy” (Sermons from the year 1523).

Do you know how Luther claims this joy is planted specifically; that is, the springtime sowing that produces the summertime image he just described? If you guessed Word and Sacrament—the holy Word, Holy Baptism, absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, the Lord’s Supper—if you guess these things, then you’re right. It’s through the reception of these Gospel means that the perpetual summertime heart of the Christian is strengthened for real joy—come what may.

How’s that song go? More than a feeling…

Faith in Christ results in so much more than a feeling. It results in life—life lived together as a community of believers here in this place—caring for one another, opportunities to serve the needs of a suffering world, prayer, study of the Word, reception of the gifts of grace, and so many other things I could add.

Notice Luther connected joy to suffering and death.

Summer ends. Fall comes. A new school year begins, and with that, the schedules increase and the days seem to get shorter. But the Christian heart fed by Christ’s perpetual springtime love for a truly endless summer of joy knows this and is well stocked against anything that would try to steal it away.

Don’t lose Word and Sacrament this summer. Don’t stay away. Keep in holy worship. Be strengthened by the means of grace. This is your lifeline for joy—real joy—into and beyond the summer of 2017.