Sticks and Stones



Sermon Title “Sticks and Stones” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  I’m going to tell you some things this morning which you already know.  I assume that this is often the case when I preach to you. I respect your good sense, life experience, and biblical study and scholarship, but I also realize that there are things which it is good to be reminded of from time to time.  For instance, if it’s been a while since you told your spouse or your children “I love you,” because you told them that years ago — you might want to revisit that.  Good words are worth repeating.

The title of this sermon is “sticks and stones,” and I don’t plan to spend much time talking about either sticks or stones.  This is a reference to the nursery rhyme which says:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

This catchy rhyme is nonsense, of course.  Right up there with the cow jumping over the moon.  I am willing to bet that every person here, including me, has been hurt by something someone has said.  There may even be people here who have never gotten over that pain and are still hurting and acting in response to the insult  they received, even if that was years ago.  I have never been in a church meeting when folks were wielding sticks and stones — that would be pretty scary — but there are plenty of words which get thrown around, and sometimes they are aimed to do damage.

This is where our text for today comes in.  I was thinking about our Bee Team and went looking for biblical texts about honey.  As you might guess, there are a number of references to honey in the Old Testament, especially this evocative phrase about the land promised by God to the children of Israel.  Do you remember that phrase?  A land flowing with milk and honey; of which Larry the Cucumber in the Veggie Tales cartoons memorably said, “Sounds sticky.”  There’s kind of an odd passage in the story of Samson, where he scoops honey out of the carcass of a lion.  Hmmm.  But there are more poetic and metaphorical references to honey in Psalms — we used Psalm 19 as the basis for our call to worship, where the psalmist says that God’s law is sweeter than the drippings of honeycomb.

I don’t often preach from Proverbs: unlike psalms, the texts are not so much worship poetry as they are, well, proverbs — bits of wisdom and advice.  I remember a previous pastor, David Bibbee, saying that reading the book of Proverbs was like being on a long car trip with your mother-in-law.  Almost all the references to honey in Proverbs are positive: read Proverbs 25:16 if you want the exception — nobody’s going to be printing that verse on a bee T-shirt.  But Proverbs 16:24 hits the sweet spot (see what I did there?) of what I want to share this morning, which is not really about honey, it’s about words. Verse 24 lays out the metaphor: Pleasant words are like a honeycomb: sweetness to the soul and health to the body.  In the ancient world, and still today, honey is not just flavorful, it is medicinal.  It tastes sweet, and it contributes to good health.  I believe the way we interact with each other can be sweet — that is make the other person feel good — but it’s even more important that our interactions promote good health.  This goes beyond being kind or friendly or nice; it means building up the body of Christ.

I have nothing against kind and friendly and nice: those are all things which I try to be.  And when I can’t be kind or friendly or nice, I try to be quiet, which should be a low bar to clear, but I confess sometimes I don’t even do that very well.  The next few verses talk about things which words can do when used with evil intent: scorching like fire and separating friends.  I assume you have experienced words like these, and I pray that if you have been the source of words like these that you have found the grace to put out those fires and put those friendships back together.  It may seem easier to adopt a scorched-earth policy: after you have torched a relationships, turns your back on it and walk away, rather than doing the hard work of repair, but Proverbs cautions that this way leads to death.

You are probably familiar with the Golden Rule, which says Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Or if you don’t usually speak in King James English, Treat other people the way you want to be treated.  I was in a Christian Ed meeting when Judy DePue shared about an event she had attended, and something the presenter called the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated.  I believe Christians are called to an even higher standard than that.  I don’t have a precious metal to describe it, so I would just say, Jesus Rules: Treat other people the way Jesus would treat them.

You probably remember the WWJD Bracelets and t-shirts and whatnot which were popular 10 or 15 years ago?  This was a reference to remind people facing a decision about how to act or how to re-act in regard to situations or people — to pause and ask “What Would Jesus Do?”  Of course this is not that helpful reference unless we know What Jesus Did. The only original source material we have for this is the Bible, and the biblical accounts of Jesus in the gospels.  In many cases WWJD would mean being kind, but more importantly it means having an understanding of how Jesus actually treated people.   We know that Jesus was compassionate and kind, but he also called out hypocrisy and injustice, and advocated for those who were outcast or marginalized.  This meant that to many observers, especially Jesus’ critics, he was not “nice” or “well-behaved.”  If you are dealing with your classmates in a kindergarten room, nice and well-behaved is a fine standard, and maybe even a pretty high bar.  If you are speaking to people in power about their injustice or callousness toward vulnerable people in our society, nice and well-behaved are not going to get you very far.  If the goal of Christianity is to be as mainstream and inoffensive as possible, we have watered down our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We know that Jesus’ teaching was more than simply the words he said. He did share words which had spiritual encouragement and sweetness with people in need of hope and purpose; he also touched and healed some of those listeners and believers so that they could be healthy and whole.  This is an incredibly high standard; it is a divine standard.  Our actions should be consistent with who we say we are.  There are many versions of the Hippocratic Oath, the charge which physicians agree to before they begin practicing medicine and seek to be part of a vocation of healing.  Part of that oath is “First, do no harm.”  We may not be able to heal everything which is wrong with ourselves, other people or society, but we can begin by committing to do no harm — or no further harm. If we are using words with each other at Creekside, or with family members, or co-workers, or classmates which are designed to do something other than support or build up or heal, we are falling short of our calling. We are not building up the body of Christ or any other group of which we are a part.

Deana Ward and other members of the Bee Team understand way more about bee society than I do — that’s one of those things I referred to earlier which you already knew.  From the little I know, honey is not the beginning of bee society, it is the final product of a lot of hard work.  Lots of flying and gathering and communicating and building.  Lots of working with common purpose toward common goals.  There may be bees who are snarky mean-spirited gossips — I don’t know.  It’s hard to imagine how those bees would fit into building something good for the bee community.  I know people — and I could share some names which would be familiar to you all — for whom sweetness is their default setting.  Whatever circumstances they find themselves in, they have something positive and encouraging to say. That is not the case for all of us.  Pleasant words may not be the first thing which pop into your head in every situation.  Being kind is especially important at those times when it does not come easily.  Treating others the way you would like to be treated is especially important when you disagree with someone.  Jesus Rules: treating others the way Jesus would treat them is especially important if we claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.May the sweetness of God’s Word direct us, may we be inspired by communities who work together to create something which builds up soul and body, and may Christ, the Incarnate Word challenge us to be live and speak and act like Jesus every day.  God bless you.  Amen