How we speak is important. The idea that speech creates is at the core of our faith.
God speaks and there is life. Jesus spoke and created a community that has endured 2000 years. We speak and communities are created or destroyed. I am worried about the kind of communities Christian speech is creating today.
Sometimes, Christian speech makes it difficult for my North Carolina kids to find community. I have encouraged them to watch Walter Brueggeman videos. He represents alternative southern Christian talk. He is good. He connects the Old Testament to contemporary life.
The Exodus is the story of God leading and empowering Moses to organize against Pharaoh. Pharaoh is everyone’s life destroying oligarch. Oligarchy is a distortion of God’s design… Covenant life is about giving not greed… about sharing earth’s abundance not accumulating it.
In time, Moses and the people of Israel escape Pharaoh’s greed. The Israelites are so excited about this organizing victory… they agree to obey all of God’s commands, before they hear them! Brueggemann says any command would have been better than Pharaoh’s: “Make more bricks… I am cutting your straw allotment… make more bricks.”
At the dawn of Israel’s freedom, God gave Moses the ten commandments. These words were to create new life in the wilderness. Brueggeman says the commandments are the outline of the common good.
The contemporary church likes to speak of love more than law… but in this time, love needs to be described with the concrete commands love fulfills.
The neighbor’s house, spouse, means of making a living, and stuff are off limits… If you obey God and love your neighbor the truth will be spoken. No demeaning speech or alternative truth allowed.
Words matter; they describe behavior that builds the common good. That is a matter of national security. The Commandments outline the behavior necessary to establish the economic responsibility for the beloved community.
When the commands of God are broken: murder, stealing, broken relationships, dysfunctional homes, never resting and stopping for perspective, asking people to trust idols to deliver what only God can give, lying speech instead prayerful community renewing speech, the possibility of economic well-being for all is destroyed.
American Speech has been becoming toxic for a long time.
In the last years of my public ministry we were trying to become better at moral deliberation…. Some people left our church. They did not want to hear speech that suggested alternatives to their understanding of life. They knew what was acceptable to God. They were interested in nothing else. They came from both ends of the political spectrum. That hurt because it was a refusal to participate in community building conversation.
We have had eight years where one party refused to work with the other. The common good was not enhanced in any significant way.
What will happen in the next eight years? Will the toxic dysfunctional speech continue? If not, where can we start the conversation? With the eighth commandment?
The Eighth Commandment
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Lutherans learned from Martin Luther to understand this commandment in this way:
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Do we address our neighbors saying, “Do you think the way we are speaking about one another builds the common good?”
What will we be trying to create with our words? What will happen because we are speaking? Will we find common ground for the common good?
Spirit of God… give us words that create the common good and the courage to speak them. In the name of Christ. Amen.