A Sermon for Covenant
Spittle for Speech
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
February 16, 201
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Richard Rohr says that “the need to say someone else is wrong is not enlightenment.” I’ll say that again: “The need to say someone else is wrong is not enlightenment.” I wish I could tattoo that on my brain somewhere, mark my intellectual journey with signage that reminds me periodically, “The need to say someone else is wrong is not enlightenment.” Maybe those words will keep my ideas from getting too big for their britches.
The Apostle Paul says a similar thing. As long as you’re using your energy to quarrel, you aren’t ready for the good stuff, for the meat. If you’re stuck arguing, you cannot receive the real spiritual food. Your system can only handle milk, because God forbid you be given the meat, the treasure, the pearl of great price, the kingdom of heaven, only to turn it into a weapon of war.
The need to say someone else is wrong is not righteous. It is to idolize rightness; it is a sort of self-worship that places my positions on a pedestal, and the thing about pedestals is they require an excessive amount of energy to maintain. Pedestals make my ideas more important than your wellbeing. Pedestals mean I’ve got a soapbox for my speech but I haven’t necessarily got a sanctuary for my soul. Pedestals mean everybody is talking and nobody is listening.
Have you ever felt there is a little too much talking going on in our world? A little too much fighting? A little too much polarization? Too much jabber, too much opinion, too much noise, too much say-so, too much gossip?
That is why we come here and get uncomfortably quiet and let the noise fade away. Because if the noise of the church matches the noise of the world, something is wrong. If the church is a place to say, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or any designation other than “We, plural, belong to Christ,” then it would seem we have missed the point. According to Paul, bickering with one another means we are still infants, not yet mature, not yet capable of swallowing the real meat of the Gospel.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we politely skirt around controversy and avoid talking the tough stuff and that we check our intellect and convictions at the door. But it does mean we hope to check our egos at the door. It does mean the church is the place we come, not to prove to ourselves that we are right, but it is where we come in hopes that we will be transformed. An enlightened person has surrendered the need to prove others wrong. An enlightened person is one of the few people capable of admitting when they are wrong, and an enlightened person is one of the few people who can confidently hold their conviction while not domineering others into submission.
I can’t resist pointing out that such enlightenment is particularly challenging for preachers to attain, because, by nature, our jobs require coming to church and opening our mouths and saying out loud, “Well now, this is what I think about that,” and we simply cannot help but wish that you will all agree with us. There is a delicate balance between speaking with passion while remaining humbly open to change.
What is the opposite of a quarreling community, anyway? Is it to never stand your ground? Never open your mouth? Never speak up? Never express what is in your heart? Never preach? Never say, “This is what I think, and I think this issue matters?” Is the opposite of bickering avoidance? The opposite of immaturity forced politeness?
Or could it be that the opposite of a quarreling community is a listening community? The alternative to clamor isn’t strictly silence, but speech that is punctuated by silences. We strive to be a people who know listening well is a prerequisite to speaking well.
Milk is easy to swallow and spit back up, which, consequently, is just what infants do. Drink. Spit Up. Drink. Spit Up. Bless their hearts; they can’t help it. And they are so cute; it is quite forgivable.
But seeing as how we are adults (and no longer quite so cute), Paul says he would like to see the church stop making messes all over people. It shouldn’t be a requirement that you need to carry a burp rag into the building to survive church. Eating meat requires chewing. Sitting. Lingering. Savoring. Imagine working your way through a steak, and this is what listening for wisdom is like. You don’t spew your opinions out onto other people because you are still digesting. When you are tasting God’s goodness, the needy greed to be right fades away. When your preoccupation is experiencing grace, you’d rather not waste time getting riled up about who is wrong and who you need to correct.
But when you are around spewers and spitters, it is exhausting. It feels like you are constantly having to wipe yourself off. It feels like we haven’t even got the time to sit down and enjoy a meal together.
I’ve read some of the Internet trolls leaving their opinions strewn all over the comments section in news reports about Leanne, and this is a perfectly dismal example of the spewing I am referring to. I don’t recommend reading them; you will need a shower after. Fortunately nearly everyone in our city has been generous and caring, but what I hope we learn from watching a beloved family in our midst suffer tremendously, and then have people remark on their suffering for sport, is that it just doesn’t make good sense to comment on stuff when you’re not really the expert. Do not expel your anxious energy at someone else’s expense, as if your competitive chatter changes anything. The immature react to tragedy while the mature respond to tragedy. One looks like meddling. The other looks like kindness. I’m so grateful for all the kindness.
Now I think the impetus to spit up comes from the desire to do something about all the darkness we see in the world. We want to make a difference, and we’re not sure how, and we get so fed up after all, so we rush around shouting things, in hopes that will change matters.
Speech, after all, is quite powerful. Words were all God needed to bring the world into existence. God spoke, and realities were created. Words were all Evil needed to incite violence and let hatred loose. Evil whispered meddling rumors and bitterness, and murder was born. Speech is powerful, which is why it is crucial to pause long enough to know whether what you are about to say is spittle or speech. Bile words destroy. Nourishment words create. There are God-words and there are ungodly words, and you can’t always tell the difference right away. So wait awhile in the quiet before you open your mouth.
There are so many noisy voices clamoring for our attention; it gets confusing to know where to put our time and energy. But then, there is nothing quite like facing a tragedy to remind us of what matters most in life, is there? That what matters is life, love, family, and friendship. That the Grace that binds us together is more important than any petty matter that could separate us. That supporting one another in the midst of trial is our honor and our privilege. That caring for our members always, always, always makes it to top priority. That we are here for one another, and that we hold onto faith for one another, and that we embody Christ to one another.
We don’t always get it right. We don’t know what to say or do in difficult times. But we know to show up. We know to show love. We know to show mercy. We know to hold hands with the suffering. We know that we belong together. We know that God is among us.
May this place always and forever be a place you can come for holy words. May this place always and forever be a place you can come for a silent respite from a noisy world. May this place always and forever be a place where one can speak passionately from the heart, when the time is ripe, knowing they will be heard and respected. May this place be a place that serves meat, not milk, a place that digests the meat slowly. (We do accept vegetarians here; I mean “meat” strictly in the spiritual sense.) May we protect and preserve this place as a church where the Gospel grows, where we need not bicker because we are too busy figuring out mercy to mess with much else. Amen.
 Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, 74.