WORSHIP SERVICE SEPTEMBER 12 2021 “Knowing What and When to Speak”
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, September 12, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “Knowing What and When to Speak.”
You are welcome to join us inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
MARK 8:27-38 “KNOWING WHAT AND WHEN TO SPEAK”
“No don’t tell me! I don’t want to know yet! It will ruin the show for me.” This is a cry we heard several times in our family last year as one of our three kids was tempted to reveal something about the plot of a television show to the rest of us. As we were spending more time together at home during the pandemic, we got into the habit of picking a television series that we would sit down and watch together as a family. This meant we were committed to being patient and waiting for that time together before anyone would watch the next episode.
Sometimes, however, one of the kids would become so emotionally invested in the characters they just couldn’t wait to see what happened. Would the character survive? Would the couple break up or stay together? Because they couldn’t wait, they would look up on the internet something about the show.
The problem was, then they would want to share it. They couldn’t hold that information in and it would come out sometimes while we were watching the show. The rest of us would groan and get upset because we didn’t want to know what happened. If the show had been over, it would have been fine, but the sibling spoke at the wrong time. They should have held their tongue and the rest of us would have been happier.
Have you ever spoken up at the wrong time? Has there ever been a moment where you looked back at a conversation and just wished you had kept your mouth shut? Spoiling the plot of a television show is not too serious of a situation, but there are other instances where saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can be very damaging.
The Bible reminds us today how powerful words can be, in the book of James as it says, “…the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. 7For every species of beast and bird has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue…9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”
James points out how damaging and hurtful words can be and how so often it seems like we cannot control our tongue. What we say or when we say it can cause more harm than good if we are not careful. The Scripture passage is a call to be mindful of our words and take responsibility for the things we say so that hopefully they will not hurt others.
We see how the power of words can affect people in the Gospel story today as well, even when those words may have good intentions. What a person says can tempt someone else to go in a different direction other than the direction that God might want them to go. This happens when Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter responds that he is the messiah, the son of God. Peter uses his words to make a powerful confession about the identity of Jesus. But as soon as Jesus begins to reveal that his identity and his purpose will lead to suffering on the cross, Peter uses harsh words to try and detract Jesus from his mission.
The Bible says that Peter pulled Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. The word for rebuke is a strong one. It is the same word used to describe what Jesus says when he casts out demons from people. Peter may have thought Jesus had a kind of demon as he was talking about this crazy notion of going to the cross. The word rebuke can also have the sense of telling someone to shut up. Peter may have been trying to shut down Jesus to get him to be quiet.
The disciple’s intentions may have been good. He does not want Jesus to have to suffer or die. But in trying to silence Jesus, Peter is tempting Jesus to leave the path that God has put him on. He is interfering with Jesus’ honest sharing with the disciples as he tries to explain to them what it really means to follow him and the consequences that come with it. Peter ends up saying the wrong thing at the wrong time because he cannot just be silent and sit in the emotions of the moment. He feels like he has to say something and ends up making things worse.
People who have worked as a chaplain and dealt with comforting those who are grieving have come to learn the importance of knowing what and when to speak. They have learned that sometimes just being present and giving their full attention to those who are hurting can be more powerful than actually saying something.
One chaplain who has seen this over the years is David Sparks who has served as a Chaplain at Dover Air Force base in Delaware. For the past twenty years, the air base has hosted what the military calls dignified transfers. These are the solemn rituals where a service members body who has been killed is transferred from the plane to the car that will carry them to their final resting place. Almost all of the 7,000 service members who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been transferred through Dover Air Base and Chaplain David Sparks was there for many of those transfers.
In a recent interview, the Chaplain was asked if he does anything to comfort the families of the service members. Sparks replied, of course, but it is not usually very verbal. When they have just seen their loved one come across the tarmac covered by a flag, there are not many words that are comforting. Mostly, it is just being a caring presence. They can feel that. There is also a team, he explains, that carries the loved one to the transfer vehicle. After they complete the transfer, they simply stand at attention and don’t move until the family has left the flight line. Many times, families will turn back to see the team still at attention and they will comment on how powerful that is for them.
As a chaplain, Sparks does need to speak to the families and at the memorial services. When asked what he does say, he replied that he tries to say something significant in the prayers in order to challenge the folks who are there to live up to the core values of the service, to live up to their own core values and to live a life that is honoring of those who have given their lives, in order to do what we can do. Sparks also said that he is aware of times when he did not have the preparation for a particular moment—times when he was not sure what to say and yet the words came up out him from somewhere outside of himself. Those were very spiritual moments.
I wonder if the Spirit was guiding Jesus in the Gospel story today when words come up out of him directed towards Peter. These words are not the gentle words of a chaplain, but more like the harsh words of a prophet trying to call someone to account. After Peter has tried to rebuke him, Jesus turns around and rebukes Peter back. He shuts him down by telling him, “Get behind me, Satan!”
This sounds like it might be a bit of an overreaction, but perhaps it tells us something about how important it was that Jesus stayed on the path he was on and not be tempted to go astray. It may tell us that sometimes, strong words are needed to make a change in someone. Jesus may have needed to get Peter’s attention to get him to go a different direction. It may be that scripture is telling us there are times when we need to speak up and not be silent. Times when a truth needs to be told or an injustice needs to be made right.
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks on September 11. There have been memorial specials and remembrances throughout the week, culminating yesterday on the actual day of the attack. Some of these reflections have included remembering the sacrifices of the first responders who rushed to the scenes in New York and the Pentagon. As buildings were collapsing, many of these first responders lost their lives.
What has sometimes been forgotten, however, is how all of the first responders who survived and those who worked for days afterwards searching through wreckage and cleaning up debris had their mental and physical health affected for years afterwards.
In the first few years following the tragedy on that day, a victims compensation fund was set up and congress appropriated resources so that those first responders who were affected could have access to healthcare. While many have been helped, it has not always been an easy road to keep the necessary funding for the original bill that was passed. Because of this, there have been people who have decided it was time for them to speak up and make a strong statement.
One of those people is John Feal. He is a first responder who lost his foot to an 8,000-pound beam of steel and donated a kidney to another first responder. Over the years since 9/11 Feal has attended 181 funerals for fellow first responders, and he has been to Capitol Hill dozens of times to urge lawmakers to pay more attention to his dying friends. “There are men and women, uniform and nonuniform, responders and survivors, that are panicking,” Feal said, “and for many, knowing that they have healthcare is a lifeline.”
Feal has also teamed up with celebrity comedian and director, Jon Stewart, to advocate on behalf of 9/11 first responders. Stewart has spent the past decade repeatedly speaking up to Congress, calling them out for delays in funding health care for ailing first responders and survivors who risked their lives on 9/11. Stewart’s fury on the issue has been nearly unparalleled among other public figures, emerging louder than arguably anyone else on Capitol Hill or in the media each time money for first responders’ health care has been at risk of evaporating.
When the funding was threatened in 2010, Stewart was there advocating in the capitol. When the five-year extension ran out in 2015, Stewart was there again, and when another five-year extension threatened to run out in 2020, he was there once more speaking out emotionally for the roomful of first responders that had come with him to address the House Judiciary committee. Finally, a new bill was passed guaranteeing funding through 2092 which essentially provides healthcare for 9/11 first responders for life.
Scripture reminds us today of the importance of knowing what to say and when to say it. The tongue can bring both a blessing and a curse. Speaking up at the wrong time can cause problems and pain, but speaking up at the right time can also bring comfort and make for change.
Jesus says today that if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. This tells us that Jesus died and rose again so that we might respond with a willingness to sacrifice. Jesus died and rose again so that we might respond with a willingness to use the power of our words not to bring hurt or harm, but rather to bring healing and hope.
-Pastor Erik Goehner