More than Words, Last Words
This is the third week of our series we are calling More than Words.
Our words matter. The words we speak shape the way we look at life and they greatly influence the people around us. By your words you are either bringing positive or negative expression to every aspect of your life.
Words have power. And that’s what this series is all about. Today, we want to look at how, sometimes, a key word, the right word, a well placed word, remains with us through many seasons of life, and can clarify the direction of our life.
If someone tells you early in life that you are smart, it can set direction for the way you look at education. If someone told you, you were very athletic when you were young, it might have shaped the way you pursued sports. On the other hand, many people struggle in school and throughout their lives being labeled with words that are ungenerous, unkind, or untrue. Words are spoken over us and they have power over us. They can even set the direction of our lives, for better or worse.
However, rather than allowing the random words of others (who may or may not care about us, who may or may not know us) to set our direction in life, we can choose great words that give direction to our life. And we can choose God’s words.
Throughout the Scriptures, God speaks to his people to help them clarify their direction and the plan he had for their lives.
For example, The book of Genesis tells us about Abram. Abram was childless. He wanted a son, and as each year passed it looked hopeless. Just as he was losing all hope, God changed his name to Abraham, which means “father of a great multitude” not to be ironic, but as a sign that one day he would have children. And he did. He became father of Israel.
When God invited a man named Gideon to defeat Israel’s enemies, he called him, “Mighty man of valor.” Gideon was actually a bit of a coward. God was shaping him into the man he wanted him to be and knew he could be.
When Jesus appointed Simon to be the head of the Church, he said to him, “You are Rock” which means “rock” in the sense of a huge boulder. And he promises that on this Rock he will build his Church. But Peter was anything but rock solid. He was emotionally volatile, he was, on occasion, untrustworthy, and he sometimes had a problem with the truth. Jesus called him rock because he was clarifying his direction in life. And, over time, Peter became the foundation of the Church. He grew into that role.
God also uses simple words or phrases to set direction for the whole Church.
One of the most important examples of that in all of Scripture comes in today’s reading for the Feast of the Ascension. The passage we read comes from the final chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus assembled the eleven remaining loyal apostles. Then Jesus said to them,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. As the ruler of heaven and earth, he is passing that authority over to the apostles. This is a huge moment, as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, he defines their mission as a group which tells them why they exist. These are his final words before he leaves. Jesus, knowing the importance of these words, phrases them very carefully.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and… What? make up a lot of religious rules that are difficult to follow? No. Have long boring ceremonies that people hate. No. Play bingo! No.
Of course he does not say those things. But as a Church we do all sorts of things that are a waste of time because as a Church we have forgotten the words Jesus spoke to the apostles. We have lost sight of the very simple words Jesus gave us that bring clarity to the mission of the Church.
The main reason a lot of parishes are no longer growing and flourishing is because they’ve lost sight of these very words. Jesus said, Go and make disciples. That’s it. That’s why the Church exists. That’s why this parish exists. To make disciples by sharing Jesus with the world. Those words bring clarity to our life as a parish. We are to go and make disciples, make followers and friends of Christ. That is it; everything else is a distraction.
In the same way, there are words in Scripture that can give you clarity and direction.
And that is my challenge for you this week. Spend some time – 10 to 15 minutes identifying a verse or story from Scripture that speaks to you and helps you to clarify the direction and work of your life, or clarify the direction and work of your current season of life. Maybe there is a verse that you know in the back of your mind but don’t know where to find it in the bible. Google it, and look it up that way. Or maybe just open the bible and read it until a passage seems to be speaking about you, not speaking to you but speaking about you.
Maybe God won’t lead you to a single verse but to a whole story that sounds like your story. Is there a character from Scripture that you like or have an affinity for? You may not have thought about why you like their story but somehow it appeals to you. Take some time this week to read through the book of the Bible that tells their story. You may discover a verse or greater clarity for the direction of your life there.
Here is how this has been helpful for me personally.
It is the story of Simon Peter, Saint Peter. I chose Peter for my confirmation name in 8th grade. It seemed like I was always in trouble, like Peter, no big trouble, just trouble and struggle. I’d do something great and then do something wrong. Like Peter, I could not get it right. It was an emotionally and psychologically turbulent time in my life. Peter would do something great and then do something wrong and get chastised, but Jesus loved Peter and destined him for good things. I treasure the story of Peter to this day. I try to do a lot of things, some go great, others not so great. And sometimes I still get chastised. Saint Peter please pray for me, and Jesus please help me to know you love me.
So for me, it is not necessarily a single gospel passage, but Simon Peter’s story.
I will make mistakes, and success will come at a price just like it did for Peter because in the end, Peter’s love for Jesus, and his desire to follow Jesus’ command to make disciples cost him his life. When Peter is threatened physically by the authorities not to share Jesus with the world, Peter boldy says it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard. It is impossible for us not to share Jesus with the world. That’s the reason our parish exists. That is the reason I am here. These words of Peter are in the bible which makes these words God’s word. It is impossible for us not to share Jesus with the world.
Words have power. God’s word has God’s power.