Midweek Lent 4: Empty Words

Lessons: Psalm 41, Psalm 52, James 3:1-10, Matthew 26:57-62
Hymns: LSB 430, 438, 431

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Jesus said in Psalm 41:6, “And when one comes to see Me, he utters empty words, while his heart gathers iniquity; when he goes out, he tells it abroad.”

      Surely this took place in our Lord’s Passion. The hearts of men were gathering iniquity as hatred was swelling up. Because Jesus spoke the truth, they would have none of it. They would say small lies to Jesus but went out into the streets, telling everyone what they were really thinking.

      They wouldn’t really engage Jesus, but when they had Him on trial, they spoke loudly, “He’s perverting the nation, and forbidding us to pay taxes to Caesar. He’s claiming to be the Messiah. Therefore, crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar! His Blood be on us and our children!”

      Such injustice Jesus faced! Yet, He willingly suffered the empty words of the kangaroo court, the hatred, the beatings, and the crucifixion. All this He gladly suffered as He redeemed the world from sin, death, and the power of the Devil. He even declared, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

      Contrast His way with what we are tempted to do. When the slightest sneer is made, the most minute grimace, an unkind tone is made, we are tempted to respond with hatred, an ongoing grudge, and a refusal to look at that person in the eye. We are so ready to let anything stand between us and our neighbors, not recognizing that they are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ whom Jesus has redeemed on the cross.

      As Jesus said, “he utters empty words, while his heart gathers iniquity; when he goes out, he tells it abroad.” Our hearts sure are quick to gather iniquity, to be filled with hatred and rage. We may say sweet little nothings to our enemies, pretending with them that all is fine. Then we go out and tell everyone how evil we think that person is. We lie to the faces of those who have crossed us with empty words. And when they are out of our presence, we destroy their reputation with all sorts of accusations, embellishments, and hatred. We are afraid of hurting their feelings, so we say nothing to them and, behind their backs, complain about them to anyone who will listen to us.

      It reminds me when I was growing up and was with extended family. They would complain at length about what they didn’t like at church, but they rarely talked to the pastor or church leaders about their complaints.

      Empty words are destructive. So are avoiding the real issues, telling some people what you don’t like about others, and refusing to reconcile.

      There’s already so much emptiness in the world that it does not need our empty words. Recall the words of Scripture, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). Think about everyday conversations. We say, “How are you?” without really wanting to know. We respond, “I’m fine” without really wanting to tell the truth. We say, “I hope you have a good day” without really wishing that. Or we say, “I’ll pray for you” without really intending to offer up a prayer or quickly forgetting what we promised we will do. We long for and need in-person human interaction, and then we reduce our times together with empty words and little compassion.

      St. James reminds us that man can tame all sorts of animals, but no one can tame the human tongue. Though it is small, it can cause great damage, like a small fire that can turn into a forest fire. The tongue “is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:5-9).

      For this reason, the Word made flesh—the eternal Logos—would pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Because we cannot atone for our sins or fix for God what we have done wrong, Jesus went to the cross. Because we have soiled ourselves with sin, Jesus shed His Blood to redeem us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

      Jesus never spoke empty words. He never turned His back on us or hollered at the rooftops all that is unlikable about us. Instead, He bore all our sins in His Body and shed His innocent Blood as a ransom payment for our sin. Christ the Crucified One reconciles us to our Father in Heaven. He presents us before God our heavenly Father as pure and holy, without any imperfections in us.

      And know this, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what I say about Jesus are not empty words. Divine truth is being told to you. God’s Word is performative; that is, the Word of God does what it says. It is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).

      No empty words are spoken when sinners are baptized into Christ. No empty words are found in the three Ecumenical Creeds of the Church. No empty words are found in the Church’s liturgy or prayers. No empty words are spoken in the Words of Institution. No empty words spoken at the Invocation or Benediction. No empty words are found in the Scriptures.

      Sadly, Christians have been guilty of speaking empty words. Some songs are but empty words. Empty words can be found in Christian hymns—even among some stanzas in our own hymnal. Some sermons contain empty words.

      We like to think that all beliefs held by Christians and all Christian denominations are pretty much the same. But that is not further from the truth. Some proclaim empty words, lies, or half-truths. Empty words are spoken whenever God’s Word is contradicted.

      That’s why it is so important for us to know our Bibles and to teach what the Bible says. That way we can stand up for the truth, defend it, and hold it sacred. And that way the words found in our Church are the words of eternal life as Christ crucified and risen is proclaimed. Amen.            

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen