As a kid my Mom and other well meaning adults said to me that phrase that many of you may remember, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." They thought this would help me to deal with the bullies of my childhood. Yeah, words hurt then and still do now. The trouble with that phrase today is that "bullies" have become much more sophisticated with the addition of social media — websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. They have also found other means to elicit fear and power upon those they bully by using words of hate, violence, dehumanization, and racist language to produce fear and power over them. Words of hate and labeling still hurt. However, the bullies of sticks and stones now have the power via assault weapons.
This past Sunday during our prayer time I lifted up the results of this type of hatred and violence. I said that words really do matter, whether they are angry, violent, racist words, or whether they are the phrase, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims." Words matter. Unfortunately, far too often words can lead to deadly consequences.
The week that we have just completed has left many of us, including myself, wondering and mourning the state of our culture, and grieving the loss of innocent lives. I left church on Sunday, July 28 and heard of the mass shooting at a festival in California. I went to bed on Saturday after the mass shooting in El Paso. I awoke this past Sunday morning to hear about yet another mass shooting in Dayton. Later in the day on a Chicago new station I heard that 3 people died and 33 injured in 20 shootings over the weekend! When I heard the gunman in Dayton shot and killed 9 people and injured 20 in less than 30 seconds, I yearned for the days of "sticks and stones."
Words matter. Words of hate and evil can very well lead to hate and evil being acted out. Words of compassion and peace most likely will cause others to act out with compassion and peace. In my invitation to our prayer time, I mentioned that "thoughts and prayers" are good and we, as people of faith, need to do that as communities of compassion and peace. We have already seen people in both El Paso and Dayton coming together to support the victims and their families through their compassion. Communities of faith have been gathering with these victims to support them with love that stands against hate.
Words matter. Actions matter. What is next for you as a person of faith in how you will act? What is next for this community of faith in acting out our compassion and peace? As our text on Sunday reminds us, we have put on "new clothes" because of our new life in Christ, "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience" (Colossians 3:12). A new life in Christ reminds each of us that in the midst of angry words, hate-filled words, racist words being acted out, we need to call out the evil of these words and actions, but we also need to be actively living out a life that and making a difference in our country through the power of God's love made known through Jesus.
Prayers matter. Words matter. Words still hurt. Actions have consequences — both bad and good. Let each of us choose the good things of God.