St. Mary Nanoose Bay

August 16, 2020

Matthew 15:10-28              

Just yesterday, Jim and I were at our cabin on a remote gulf island. By remote I mean, there’s no ferry service, no roads, no stores, no electricity. We travel there in our well-used and trustworthy 16 foot aluminium boat.            

Twenty-three years ago, we had a cabin built on the property and, at the same time, our outhouse. Well, after 20 years, not to get too graphic, our outhouse was full and needed emptying. Jim and I shared the job. He did the heavy lifting; I had to get down in the hole and scoop out the bottom part because I could squeeze in and reach. I remember thinking, I can’t believe I’m doing this! I could never tell anyone!

But after reading the scripture for today, I realize there are far more difficult things to deal with than shovelling poop. It was easy. Well, relatively easy. My neck and shoulders hurt the next day, but there was nothing emotional to deal with. All I felt was amazement because what I shovelled out had turned into dirt. Just dirt. No smell. Nothing unsightly. It truly was a miracle!            

No, the things in my life that have been really difficult to deal with have had nothing to do with dirty diapers, dusty surfaces, unmatched pillow cases. The difficult things in my life have occurred within my relationships. And specifically, what has been said within those relationships. The hurtful, thoughtless, shaming things I’ve said, or the painful things that have been said to me.             

Remember the chant we used to say as kids? “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It was a way of blowing off mean words. But it didn’t work. Did it? Those mean words hurt! Those cruel words are hard to forget! And they can never be taken back.

And this is just what Jesus is speaking to in our gospel message today. He challenges us to look at what’s really important in life. What we do that really matters….            

Jesus is challenging the religious people who fixate on fulfilling the letter of the law; completely missing the spirit of the law. For example in the reading today, Jesus is challenging their obsession around what can or cannot be eaten, when it can or cannot be eaten and how it should be eaten. He tells them,” You’re focusing on the wrong thing!” Everything falls under the great commandment through which all laws should be considered. “Love your God and love your neighbour as yourself.” The law is meant to serve that spirit of love; not create barriers, hardship or discrimination.            

Food is a gift from God. It gives life. Receive it as such. What goes your mouth is from God; that is the love part. Yes, washing your hands before eating is healthy practice and shows respect to the One who provides. But there will be times when it is impossible or difficult to wash your hands. Don’t worry about it. What is important is to express gratitude for what is provided, to share it generously, to speak words that are gentle and aid digestion.            

I think of our good friends Diane and Denis who we met in Prenatal class in Oakland and who are still our friends today. We shared many meals with them when our firstborns were little. When Jim and I cooked, we usually served meat. Then one night we included another couple. When I served up my chicken dish, the wife of the new couple blurted out, “But Diane and Denis, you don’t eat meat!” and I was stunned. “I didn’t know you were vegetarians,” I lamented. And they answered, “We are flexible eaters and our highest value is graciousness, so we have appreciated and enjoyed every meal you’ve served us.” I have never forgotten that moment. What incredible words; what wisdom.

Jesus tells us that it is that what comes out of our mouth that needs attention. It is the words we speak that should be where we focus, for what we say is within our control. Does what comes out of your mouth burden or hurt others? Or do your words build up and encourage others?            

The Nobel prize winning poet and Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn suggest the following: Before you speak, put your message to this test: Is what you are going to say “True, Necessary, Kind”? “TNK” (I think of ‘tink before you speak’).            

I think that during this time of Covid, this is especially important. People are stressed, worried, fearful. People are tired. It’s important to smile at each other over our masks. To be patient and kind. And to be gentle with our words.

Our son had the following experience just last week. He was sitting on a bench outside the grocery store. An elderly woman came up and asked if she could sit with him so he scooted over to make room. They began to chat and she was full of woes. The pandemic has been hard on her. He listened sympathetically. After a good half hour, he said, “I need to get going. Good to chat with you,” and he was pleased that he’d had some face to face interaction when mostly he’s at home, keeping safe and interacting through social media. The woman said goodbye. But when he was a couple of metres away, she yelled out, “I hate your tattoos!” and he felt the words hit him. “Normally,” he said, “I would let the words roll off my back, but they stung for hours.”

I can’t imagine what prompted her to act like that.

Are your words “True, Necessary, Kind?”

I like to know when I have my shirt on inside out; I do not need to know if you like it or not! You might not like tattoos and others might not like your hairstyle. Is it important to comment?            

When I travel, my preferences get challenged all the time. I’m not going to tell a host I don’t like white bread, or sugar in my tea. My intention is always to taste the hospitality, the love, the gift behind what is offered to me. Of course, I do have my limits, like when we were treated to a barbequed tuna head and Jim and I were offered an eye each. Jim courageously accepted but I couldn’t and I just owned my fear and asked the host to please indulge! By the way, Jim said it was delicious!            

Another wise person and author, Don Miguel Ruiz, talks about the way we use language this way.  He says, “The word is the most powerful tool we have. And like a two-edged sword, it can be used to destroy or it can be used to create the most beautiful things.”            

Yes, words are powerful. Yet we don’t learn how to communicate very effectively in this culture. We bandy words around without much awareness. We are afraid of silence. We don’t take time to think before we speak. And the media uses words to promote the most obsessive consumerism the world has ever seen. This is not the use of words to support God’s presence in the world!            

Words can build up, and words can tear down. Jesus used words in a powerful way to turn the people back towards relationship with God. But ultimately it is actions that speak the louder than words. Do we walk our talk? Jesus did. Right to the end. All is forgiven. God loves you. Heaven is near.            

How do we communicate this incredible message?            

By what we say and the way we live our lives.            

By the way we nourish our souls so that what comes out from within us is grounded in the love we were born to live and share.

Thanks be to God!