Sunday’s Lectionary Reading: Philippians 1:3-11 (NRSV)
Growing up, I was taught to watch my mouth. Cussing was especially prohibited. There were lots and lots of words that I was not allowed to say. One time, I ventured into some verbal country that was restricted. In response, my mom washed my mouth out with soap. For our younger readers, this meant my mom put a bar of soap into my mouth and made me rub it around until it started to create suds.
Of course, this tastes awful! Even after rinsing your mouth out with water afterward, you can still taste the soap for a while. It is considered harmful today and I am not advocating this as a disciplinary method (just to be clear).
Of course, I professed my innocence! I was being subjected to an injustice! I didn’t even know that word was bad – I was just trying it out!
Except that this was not true. While I wasn’t 100% sure the word in question was on the naughty list, I was probably 90% sure. I was pushing my luck.
Later when I was in college, I went through a profanity phase. It was my little rebellion as I was trying to figure out who I was as an adult. I can remember offending other students in my classes. They must have been too sensitive! I was just toughening them up! My intrusion on their ears was actually good for them, you see.
Essentially, I was putting my own desires (I can talk any way that pleases me) above the common good. There was no personal responsibility to check myself or to make sure I was not harming someone else.
At the time, I wouldn’t have considered myself guilty of anything wrong.
Except that I never spoke that way to my parents or grandparents.
So there was some semblance of knowledge of right and wrong or I would have trod over their feelings as well. Eventually, I matured and realized that words hold power and some words have the power to offend or hurt. I (mostly) try to use my language to help and heal now which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
As Paul writes to the church at Philippi in Sunday’s epistle, he wishes for them that their love would overflow with knowledge and insight that would lead to discernment toward the correct action. In this way, they will be blameless.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be blameless?
To have a “Get out of jail free” card?
In today’s society, it sometimes feels like we are moving away from personal responsibility and replacing it with the outright denial of guilt. If you are wrong, just don’t ever admit it.
Except somewhere inside you know.
This Sunday, we will look at Paul’s encounters with the church at Philippi. These certainly influenced his letter and how they read it. As we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas, “doing no harm” would certainly keep us from blame better than outright denial. I hope you’ll join us for worship as we figure out what to get Jesus for his birthday this year!
Check out more of Sam’s blog articles at precedinggrace.blogspot.com.