Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23 Words Can Make a World August 22, 2021


Words Can Make a World

Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23


(preached on Zoom August 22, 2021)


A pastor in Philadelphia likes to tell a story about something that happened when he was working on the porch of his house.  The porch railing had come loose, and, with a hammer and nail, he was putting it back in place.  Before long he found himself surrounded by curious young boys.  They were watching him carefully as he hammered away.  This went on for several minutes, until finally the pastor paused and turned to them.


He asked, “So, are you boys trying to learn about carpentry?”


One of them spoke up.  “No, sir.  We’re just waiting to see what a pastor says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”


Even pastors can lose their cool from time to time.  I think all of us, when we hit our thumb with a hammer, or get cut off in traffic, or have some other aggravation, might use words we wouldn’t use when things are going well. We might not be proud of using those words because words can make a difference.


Words have power.  That’s why I don’t agree with the children’s saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”  That saying is simply not true.  As a child, or as an adult, we can be badly hurt by words.  Our skin and bones can heal from the wounds of sticks and stones.  But it takes a lot longer for our insides, our hearts, to heal when cruel words are used against us.


Words have power.  When they are spoken and heard, words have the power to create a reality.  With the words we use, we have the power to make somebody feel good, or to make them feel miserable.  Words can make a world.  The words we use make a world where we honor God and one another, or a world where we spread degradation and despair.


Jesus knew that words have the power to honor or to degrade.  We see that in our gospel passage for today, where he speaks with the Pharisees, the leaders of the religious establishment.  These religious leaders are concerned about the outward observance of rules and rituals.  They’re concerned about what’s happening on the outside.  Jesus is concerned about what’s going on inside of us.


Mark makes a point of telling us that these religious leaders have traveled all the way from Jerusalem out to the countryside, to Galilee.  That’s a journey of about ninety miles, but they make the trip because they’re deeply disturbed by reports they’ve heard about the disciples.  The disciples are not washing their hands properly.


The Pharisees often criticized Jesus.  Here they are outraged that his disciples aren’t washing their hands before they eat.  They’re outraged about what the disciples are putting into their bodies on those hands.  But Jesus is outraged about what comes out of people.  He says, “Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person, from inside, contaminate them.”


Maybe we can understand the Pharisees’ concern.  It is a good idea to wash your hands.  And for the last year and a half, because of the pandemic, we’ve all become more aware that washing our hands is important.


But these religious leaders take the rules about handwashing to a whole new level.  Hands had to be washed, not just before every meal, but between each course of the meal.  The water used for washing was special water.  The water had to be clean in the ceremonial sense; that means it could not be used for any other purpose.  It was kept in stone jars that were designed to prevent anything from falling in from outside.


To us this may seem a little over the top, but the Pharisees were concerned about the outward signs of faithfulness.  They were concerned about being clean, in God’s sight.  Washing hands in that ritualistic way was the way for people to be clean in God’s sight.  They believed that to honor God was to follow, to the letter, these rituals of cleanliness.


Just before this conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus’ ministry has been growing by leaps and bounds.  He has fed five thousand people with a little bit of bread and fish.  He has walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee and calmed the angry winds.  And word has gotten out that he is a great healer.  Everywhere he goes, people bring their sick, their suffering, their loved ones driven crazy by demons.  With a touch of his hand, Jesus has healed them.


But these leaders of the religious establishment are not impressed.  The miracles don’t change their opinion of Jesus.  They are still shocked that he lets his disciples eat without washing their hands in the proper way.  He may have been healing and feeding and ministering to multitudes, but, as far as they’re concerned, he is still ignoring the cleanliness that’s next to godliness.


For Jesus, though, godliness is about something deeper than handwashing before meals.  He asks, what is inside us?  What is in our hearts?  And, since what we say with our lips is an indication of what’s in our hearts, do the things we say give honor to God?  Do the words we use express that honor?  Do the words we use create a world where we can honor the God who is love by loving our neighbor and ourselves?


Words can create a reality.  Words can make a world.  If the words we hear these days are any indication, the world is getting to be a pretty rough place.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the last couple of decades have seen a surge of just plain nasty speech.  What used to be called dirty words are heard more and more.  Popular song lyrics are laced with words that demean and degrade.  Social media posts are full of words that shame and inflame hostility.


Some would argue that this is the price we pay for living in a country that protects free speech, where every person has the right to self-expression.  Some would argue that self-expression has to be free of the restraints of what we might call polite society.  Freedom of speech is one of our most cherished rights.  I don’t think any of us would want our speech to be controlled the way it might be in a police state.  But still I wonder, what kind of a world are we creating when we so freely use all these hurtful, nasty words?  Is that really what freedom of speech is about?


The words we use can make a world.  With the words that come out of our mouths, we can make the world a place of degradation.  With our words we can make a world where the worst of what’s inside of us takes center stage: the jealousy, the fear, the anger.  Or with our words we can make a world where the best of our selves shines forth: the love, the beauty, the generosity.  We can make a world where the God who is love is honored and glorified, and where we as children of God receive that love and respond with love for God and one another.








Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

August 22, 2021