Preacher: Rev. David Exley,
Scripture: Genesis 1:1-5,
Like many of you, I heard this phrase a lot growing up: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” If I had a dime for every time I heard that phrase I would have been a wealthy young kid. I’ve thought about that phrase a lot in the past year or so. Not because I’ve been called names and not because I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood. I’ve thought about that phrase a lot because—at this stage in my life—I’ve come to realize just how hollow and untrue those words really are. In fact, I would say that the phrase has it backward. Words will almost always hurt us. They may not have the ability to literally break our bones but they have the power to do something even worse. They have the power to destroy everything that is good within this world.
When the current U.S. President established himself as a candidate for the highest office in the land, he did so by calling his opponents names. It started with non-Americans. He made disgraceful comments about Mexicans. He then moved on to his Republican opponents. He called them names. He made fun of people with disabilities. And then, he turned to his Democratic opponent. The chants began—“Lock her up!” Some people saw it as a sideshow, something that was just a distraction—nothing too dangerous. Many people assumed he would tone it down as the campaign went on. Instead, the chants only grew louder and more slanderous. As the protesters spoke out at his rallies he encouraged the crowd members to rough them up, saying that he would pay their legal fees. And so, when the results came in from the November election, many people from around the world (and the majority of the people of the United States) breathed a sigh of relief. I’m sure there were many that thought to themselves, “Thank God. We made it through that four years without too many people getting hurt.” Even though he lost, it seemed like he had discovered a way to win (he unlocked a new way of winning a political race). Take the gloves off and call your opponents every name in the book. That was going to be the new way to win in the Republican Party.
And then, January 6 happened. All those words that were said at Rallies over the years, on the News channels, in the newspapers, on social—all those words provided more than enough fuel to ignite what erupted in D.C. at the Capitol Building. What we witnessed this past week following the “Stop the Steal” rally came as a result of years and years of name-calling; years of treating others like the enemy; years of dehumanizing others. And though the President never picked up a stick (never threw a stone) the words he’s been using for years provided all that was needed to inflame the masses and inspire the riot.
Words have power. Words matter.
In a year where we need to come together—for our neighbours, for our loved ones, for the world—this moment is being used (by the President and others like him) to speak words of division and destruction into this world that is already so full of darkness.
Words have power. Words matter. We are what we create. And, Creation isn’t God’s alone—God chose to share in the gift of Creation with all of us. And so, I suppose it’s fitting that we hear these words from Genesis One today.
Here we are, just days into the beginning of a New Year. It’s in moments like these where we can look at the world with fresh eyes and consider what it means to be “Created Anew” in the image of God. What does it mean to honour and celebrate God’s creativity in this season of new beginnings? I love these words from the opening verses of the Bible. These words allow us to drift away from our present moment and to imagine what inspired God to speak creating words into the void—into the nothingness that came before time. The Common English Bible translation reads, “When God began to create… the earth was without shape or form… it was dark.” This is what inspires God to speak transforming words (creating words) into the void. And, what does God say? God says, “Let there be light.” God speaks… and there is light. The universe begins to come alive.
At the very beginning, what does God do? God shows us that words have power, that words matter. Just a simple phrase like, “Let there be light” can bring goodness and life into being. It was true before time even began, and it’s true now.
The goodness that God sees after speaking that first sentence inspires God to speak more words of creation… more words that build up rather than tear down. This is who God is. The writer of Genesis One inspires us to see that God is not a God of destruction and darkness—God is a God whose very breath has the power to bring life into the world. When the text goes on to say that humankind is created in God’s likeness, it is a reminder that we too have these powers that are not unlike God’s power. We too have the power to bring life, to bring energy, to bring goodness into the world with just a simple sentence. What a gift this is to know that we can bring goodness into the world with something as simple as the words we choose to speak. But, of course, there is a flip-side to all this. Our words not only have the power to bring goodness into the world… our words have the power to undo all that God has created—to take us back to that place of nothingness… of darkness… that place where the world is without shape.
When we read this text we are reminded that God did not intend to create in order that we might destroy and tear down. God first created in order that we might be inspired to create too. God spoke words of love and light in order that we might see the value of speaking those kinds of words into the darkness that surrounds us. The question we must ponder as people of faith always takes us back to that moment where time began—where the world began. God created… now what? The “now what” is “now… it’s up to us”. God has set the example and given us words of compassion, words of understanding, words of love. All we need to do is choose those Godly words rather than the words that lead us back to nothingness.
Each and every day as we awake we inherit a void—a nothingness that we will speak into. We will create in each and every moment. And, as we begin each day (each year) we must choose to speak with our very lives… with the words we choose we create each new moment. Like God, we can say to the world, “Let there be light” and watch as goodness emerges from our world. Or, we can choose to go another way. My prayer (God’s prayer) is that we will choose the former. God’s prayer is that those first words that God spoke might inspire us to do the same.
Let me close with these words.
The world that we see—the one that often emerges from the pages of the newspaper and from the news networks—is one where we see a great deal of darkness. There are weeks like this week where we wonder if the darkness is just too powerful. Perhaps God’s light will one day get snuffed out by the winds of hatred and division. But, I’m constantly reminded that God’s light is more powerful than the other forces of this world.
There is a great scene from the final episode of the television show called True Detective that aired a few years ago. It’s a pretty dark and disturbing TV drama but the closing dialogue of season one between the two main characters (played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey) is beautiful. Perhaps you might remember me sharing this story before…
In that final scene, Harrelson’s character is pushing McConaughey’s character in a wheelchair outside a hospital where the two are recovering from injuries they suffered in the line of duty (they’re FBI agents). McConaughey tells Harrelson about his life as a youngster growing up in Alaska. He tells him that when he was young, he used to look at the night sky and make up stories. And, he recently thought about that practice while he was sitting in his hospital bed recovering from his injuries. Just the night before, he looked into the sky and thought, “you know, it’s all the same story… light versus dark.” As the two of them stare up into the night sky, Harrelson’s character says, ““Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.” McConaughey’s character initially agrees and there is a long pause. Finally, he breaks the silence and says, “Actually, you’re looking at it all wrong… you see, once there was ONLY dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”
On a week like this, we may think that the dark has a lot more territory. But, we’re reminded that God, our Creator, empowers us to be light in this world. We’re called to listen for those stories of hope where God’s love is made visible to the world. Sticks and stones can break our bones AND names can also destroy us and tear us down. But, words of hope—words of light and life—can bring forth goodness that will always overcome the darkness of this world. Friends, we are what we speak into the void of this moment (of this day). Let us choose our words wisely. Amen.