The Power of Words

Posted on 29 Dec 2019, Pastor: Evelyn Morgen
  • John 1:1-18

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

    There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

    He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

    And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

When I agreed to the daunting task of preparing a sermon today, I thought to myself that at least it is a familiar Gospel – one I have thought about and have some basic understanding of.  Then I started digging into it. “Word” in Greek is “Logos.”  It is much more than Word.   It carries the idea of active power. God spoke the universe into being as we learned in Genesis. I had never considered before that God brought things into being by saying them. The first words in Genesis are ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  God said “Let there be light” – and there was light.’   God continued naming things and they became and he noted they were good.   How powerful is that!   John reminds us in today’s passage that the Word was the beginning.   The Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.  Later John says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  So the Word is also Jesus. 

Photograph by Robert Frank Gabriel

That’s a lot to unpack.  Years ago I was listening to a Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert was a guest.  Someone (I don’t remember who) challenged Colbert saying that Christianity would never be successful because you can’t summarize it. It’s too complicated. There’s no one phrase you can use to explain it. Without even blinking, Colbert immediately quoted John 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The person conceded Colbert’s point.  I was blown away. That is Christianity in a phrase.  25 words. 

So at this point in writing this sermon, words are swirling all around me.  I’m trying to make sense of them all. What are words?  In the history of the world we are now exposed to more words from more people than ever before. And as Shakespeare said, they are often “full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”   In John’s era, only a few people’s words were listened to and repeated.  We are still reading and studying John’s words. They are still meaningful. How did we get to this point in almost 2020 where we hear people we don’t even want to know shouting at us?   Why is it now OK for even our leaders to use angry hateful words? 

Perhaps we believed the childhood ditty “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  It’s not true.  Words do hurt. Words can kill.  Bullying with words has caused suicides. Hateful words have caused murders.  Words can be used for good or for evil, and it’s our choice.  I can barely stand to listen to the news, to read Facebook messages and comments, to listen to political discussions.  And yet I feel as Christians we must somehow counter this pollution of angry words with healing ones. 

This past summer my sister and I bought tickets at Tanglewood to watch YoYo Ma teach a master class to four cello students.  It was even more amazing than I expected it to be. The music was wonderful and amazing and rich and healing.   But it was YoYo Ma’s words that have stuck with me.  He taught each student individually for about 30 minutes.  He first asked them to explain why they had chosen the Bach cello concerto they would play.  Then he listened to them play it.  He focused on each cellist’s interpretation of the piece.  He noted the sarabande movement is a dance – did it make people want to dance?  He even invited a member of the audience to come up on stage and try to do an Irish dance in time to the music as the student played.  Suddenly the sarabande movement became a dance – not just a bunch of fast notes that didn’t hang together.  We need to think about what we are communicating.  There are perfectly proficient musicians playing very complicated difficult pieces with no feeling.  When I hear them I find myself counting the minutes until their piece is over. Then there are musicians playing very simple pieces that communicate the essence of music.  I want to listen to them forever. 

And so it is with words.  Words can sound important but be meaningless.  They can be empty platitudes that we have heard and repeat because we can’t think of anything better.  A resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  They can be angry and manipulative and untrue and cause real harm.  Or they can communicate Love, forgiveness, grace, and beauty.  They can be kind and truthful and change a person’s life.  

John 1:14 says “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Let us all begin to think about what words we use, how we use them, and whether they are furthering God’s message in this beautiful world.  Are they full of grace and truth.  Let it be so.

 Amen. 

Preached by Evelyn Morgen