Thursday, November 10, 2011

Just Words

With visitors in town, I finally tracked over to the Tidal Basin to see the thirty foot stone statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a crisp fall day in Washington with hues of red, yellow and orange leaves dancing across the sidewalks leading to the Mountain of Despair that has been broken apart in order to lead visitors to the Stone of Hope from which the imposing Dr. King emerges. It is an impressive work of art that has been created by a Chinese master sculptor – the kind or art that compels you to sit down and stare in amazement as you are overcome with wonder.

With our backs against the waters separating Dr. King from President Jefferson and our bodies resting upon other pieces of cold stone around the monument, we watched as dozens of grade school children ran through the Mountain of Despair before plopping down in front of the Stone of Hope for a group photograph with Dr. King. We then made our way through the words carved into smooth stone walls that stand on both sides of the memorial. The words form quotes that have been taken from Dr. King’s sermons and speeches. As we walked along, we noticed that many people stopped to read the quotes while others brushed on by in hopes of finding the perfect photo op with the leader of the civil rights movement.

Though I was reading most of the quotes, my friend stopped me and said, “We have walked by these words as if they are just words! But these words were the life and the light of so many people.”

Just words.
The life and the light of people.

I wonder how often we mount the pulpit with words that are just words versus seeking to offer words that can provide light and life to people who are sitting in darkness. I wonder how often we fail to remember the power of the words we proclaim. I wonder how often we use just words when we have been given the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[1]

Our words are needed – not words that are just words – but words that make sense of senseless situations where the emotions of anger, hatred, revenge and despair are tangible to the sight, sound and touch. Our words are needed in the hurt, pain and frustration of the world in which we find ourselves.

Less than a mile from where Dr. King stands sit dozens of people who sleep in tents at night and huddle under tarps in the day. The Occupy Wall Street movement is in its third month of capturing the hearts of imaginative and passionate people who are demanding hope and healing in a landscape of economic despair. Signs with angry words can be found in corners of America stretching from New York City’s Zuccotti Park to California’s Port of Oakland. Most of the protestors know what they are demanding: a fairer redistribution of wealth, a less powerful financial system, and more assistance for the poor and powerless in our nation. And still, words that bring light and life to people are missing from their vocabularies. The message is becoming lost in traffic jams caused by their marches and angry slogans painted across pieces of poster board because the message is just words instead of words that can be the life and light of people.

We have the words needed. The first song in Luke’s Gospel is sung by a teenage virgin who sings about how the Lord has done great things for her, looking with favor upon the lowliness of his servant while bringing down the powerful from their thrones. When Jesus teaches a group of disciples to pray, he invites them to ask for a daily provision of bread. When God rains bread from heaven, the Israelites are instructed to take a day’s provision on every day but the sixth day when they take enough for the sixth day and the Sabbath day because anything else will spoil.

The Bible has plenty to say about people who take too much and even more to say about what those who have too much are to do with their excess bounty. We have been given the words needed for this time just as Dr. King was given the words needed for his time. But these words have been treated as though they are just words. The words are absent from a movement in which they could become life and light for countless people around the world.

What are the words that regularly flow from your lips? Perhaps it’s time for us to brush up on our vocabulary. Maybe it’s time for us to enlarge our lexicon with words that can become the life and light of all people. After all, the Word has become flesh and dwells amongst us.
[1] John 1:1-5.

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