Watch your mouth! That’s right. Watch your mouth! That’s the theme of the scripture readings today. The sage, Sirach, tells us in the first reading: “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.” Jesus broadens the theme while at the same time bringing it into focus.
“A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you what to know who the other person is, watch his mouth, watch her mouth. If you want to know who you are, listen to what comes out of own mouth.
In1948, I was born in a tenement on East 74th street, the silk stocking district, the Upper East Side. I lived there until 1961. The railroad flat had no central heating and no hot water. It was tiny and cramped, and certainly not luxurious, but it was home, and my parents, sister and I were happy there. However, we weren’t the only residents there. We were in constant battle with the roaches – the most resilient creatures on the face of the earth. We would occasionally see roaches during the day. But in the night – in the night the roaches ruled the kitchen. A flick of the light in the middle of the night sent what always seemed like legions of them scurrying back to their hiding places.
I’ve been using this image to describe the present state of our country, and many countries throughout the world. We go through periods when there is enough light to keep most of the roaches in hiding. But now and again, the light fades and the roaches begin to emerge.
During my lifetime I’ve witnessed periods of light and darkness. The civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s brightened the light. It seemed that we had turned a corner with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Things quieted down. Then the protests against the Vietnam War peaked in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. I was in college and graduate school during those chaotic years. The light returned with the resignation of Richard Nixon and the end of the war in 1974 and 1975, and things calmed down again.
Much has gone on since then, but perhaps the last ten years have been the most disturbing. The light has been weakening. Daily, darkness washes over our nation like a tide. It isn’t all political. The darkness is washing over our Church, too. Witness the scandals and the cover -ups. The Pastor’s Reflections 2 How difficult it is to have dinner with friends. We don’t dare speak about anything of value, or if we do, we end up fighting. We can’t discuss. We can’t learn anything from one another.
The politics we hear is rhetoric of fear and accusations. The dynamic goes beyond political parties. We mired with racism, anti-Semitism, extremism; left verses right, conservative verses progressive. Everything is black and white. People speak out only to fight with other people who speak out. Their interactions are unproductive and inflammatory. Those who remain silent only increase the darkness. I point to the leadership of our church and our elected officials. The Gospel is speaking so loudly to us today. “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” What has happened to our hearts?
What has happened to our hearts that we speak what we speak? What has happened to our hearts that we speak the way we speak? We’ve abandoned love! We’ve buried our hearts in the darkness of the grave. How we need Jesus to scream out, as he did at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, “COME OUT!”
I’m concluding this reflection with two quotes from a book by Marianne Williams. Please read what she writes as a prayer.
“Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. The world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world. Surrender means the decision to stop fighting the world, and to start loving it instead.” (From A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson)
“God, as love, is constantly expanding, flourishing and creating new patterns for the expression and attainment of joy. When our minds, through focus on love, are allowed to be open vessels through which God expresses, our lives become the canvases for the expression of that joy. That’s the meaning of our lives. We are here as physical expressions of a divine principle. To say that we’re on the earth to serve God, means that we’re on the earth to love.
We weren’t just randomly thrown onto a sea of rocks. We have a mission – to save the world through the power of love. The world needs healing desperately, like a bird with a broken wing. People know this, and millions have prayed.
God heard us. He sent help. He sent you.” (From A Return To Love by Marianne Williamson)
In a few days we will come to the church to accept the sign of the cross, the symbol of love, on our foreheads. May that symbol dig deeply into our hearts. This Lent, may we begin to love again. May we come back to life.