I received this month’s Amor enewsletter. This is the letter from Gayla Cooper Congdon, Founder and Chief Spiritual Officer of Amor ministries. Please read.
The Power of Our Words
“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and it is those things that make a person unclean.” Matthew 15:18
“The Church ought to live out love. Woe to her if she does not do that! Woe to her if by her silence and by all sorts of dubious excuses, she becomes jointly guilty of the world’s outbursts of hatred! Woe to her if she adopts words and slogans that originate in the sphere of hate.”
This is an excerpt from a letter by Pastor Walter Hochstadter, a German pastor and hospital chaplain in France during the Second World War. He secretly sent a letter with this in it to 1,000 German soldiers at the Russian Front.
We all have heard “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” And we all know that isn’t true. Words are powerful and when spoken with anger and a mean spirit they can leave an indelible print on someone long after a bone has healed.
Long before the shootings in Tucson and the discussion it created about our national rhetoric, I had been thinking about some of the most surprising things that have been said to me these past two years, especially in reference to Mexico. Rhetoric from fellow Christians that I have come in contact with while traveling and representing the Ministry.
Imagine how I felt when a couple of years ago I was sitting with a pastoral staff and church leaders discussing their church’s upcoming trip to Mexico when one gentlemen informed me that there were people in the church that just hated Mexico and Mexicans! In my most diplomatic voice – and those of you that know me know that I don’t really have a diplomatic voice – I spoke very softly and told him that given the words of Jesus to “love our neighbors” hating Mexico and Mexicans is just not an option for Christians.
I have honestly been appalled at how many folks have taken it upon themselves after I have spoken at their church to tell me what they think about Mexico, immigration issues, gun control and even our president. And the anger in their voices belies an attitude that borders on the hate that Pastor Hochstadter speaks of in his letter.
You can imagine my shock when once a complete stranger walked right up to me after the service and told me that they would never go to that “Godforsaken country of Mexico!” Why would someone feel a need to say that to me?
Last fall Chuck Colson and Jim Wallis came together to create a “covenant of civility” for those in the Church to express differences in a kind and thoughtful way that would reflect respect for one another. Many well known pastors signed it.
As bothered as I am about our national rhetoric, I am more concerned about what is being said in the Church. This passage in Matthew really speaks to the fact that what comes out of our mouths is a true reflection of what is in our hearts and I’m saying that some of it is just not good or acceptable.
In Proverbs this is an important topic. There are references to words, lips, mouths, tongues that appear about 150 times in the 31 chapters. Why? Because our tongue is moving all day long and it tells the story of what is going on in our hearts at the moment. And what we say is not always in harmony with the holiness of God. I also believe that this is a spiritual problem we all face, some more than others, in that we all have problems with our mouths!
Years ago when my friend Mike McClenahan was the youth pastor at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church, he started making the yearly trip to Mexico each spring with his group. Our staff loved eating with them because they had become well known throughout our Ministry for their delicious meals. But what affected me most was how he and the other leaders created an intentional atmosphere of kind words and encouragement with over 100 students.
As the students lined up for their food you never heard, “ugh I don’t like that” or anything derogative about what was being served. Their thankfulness to the servers as well as for the food was so evident and it had such a positive impact on their group as well as those of us that came in contact with them. After eating you always walked away fed and with more than just food!
My challenge to all of us during this season of Lent and Easter is to use words that genuinely reflect Christ’s nature and his character of love. Let us remember the power of our words. And may those of us in the Church be unified in civility towards one another in spite of differences. It is my prayer that those who are marginalized in our world hear and see the love of God in the power of our words and deeds! That is why Amor Ministries exists.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14