Just Shut Up!

Ecclesiastes 6:10-12

It’s Saturday, which means that tomorrow is Sunday. And Sunday means that I’ll find myself sitting from 9:30 to about 11:00 in a church service. And sitting in a church service means that there will be a sermon. Allow me to summarize the sermon I’m likely to hear tomorrow morning.

Blab, blab, blab.

Whatever else Solomon knew in this book, in today’s passage, roughly halfway through the text, he finally comes up with something that I can really latch onto.

Whatever exists was given its name long ago, and it is known what mankind is. But he is not able to contend with the one stronger than he. For when there are many words, they increase futility. What is the advantage for mankind? For who knows what is good for anyone in life, in the few days of his futile life that he spends like a shadow? Who can tell anyone what will happen after him under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 6:10-12

Bird is the Word

“Many words increase futility.” It’s all just talk. Or, as I suggested above, “Blab, blab, blab.” Tomorrow’s sermon will have it’s share of blab. “Turn in your Bibles to the book of blab. Remember that God wants you to blab. Jesus blab, blab, blab. The church blab, blab, blab.” Sometimes it seems that a sermon is about as coherent as the song “Surfin’ Bird” and not nearly as memorable.

Why would our writer, someone who deals in words, offer this critique of the value of words? In 30-plus years of teaching writing, I have had only a few students notice that when I trumpet the value of writing, I’m plugging my own livelihood. But I assure you that they’d notice right away if I stood up in class and said, “This is completely useless stuff, but we’re going to do it anyway.” There’s irony to the idea of somebody saying “Many words increase futility, and, by the way, I have six more chapters of words to share with you.”

All words, however, are not created equal. We’re reminded in Genesis 1 that God spoke creation into existence. John’s gospel leads off with the proclamation that “In the beginning was the Word,” who we learn is Jesus. That Word is powerful. That Word is essential, but human words are plentiful and generally a path to confusion or division.

Getting in Tune

So what’s a person with a tongue to do? Do we spew out words like a firehose, hoping that some of the drops will help to put out the fire, or do we keep silence while the inferno rages around us?

Just a couple of weeks ago, we read Ecclesiastes 5:2:

Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few

Psalm 46:10 warns us to “Be still and know that I am God.” I’d read that as saying that to hear what God says, we need to shut our own mouths and listen.

Tomorrow’s sermon will have its share of blab, but hopefully, if the preacher was well chosen and well prepared, it will contain some nuggets of God’s message.

I can’t hope to hear those if I’m too busy, either with my mouth or in my mind, blabbing myself.

Spread the Word–Mark 1:28

News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

News travels fast. Today, a rumor about a sports team or a politician can fly around the world through Twitter and Facebook in just seconds. When Usain Bolt won the 200m gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, the news flew at 80,000 Tweets per minute.

On the other hand, not all news travels fast. When I Tweet something, it pretty much just sits there. My handful of followers rarely if ever retweet or comment on my items. My favorite hashtag should probably be measured in Tweets per month.

The same goes in less tech-dependent communication. The really hot news, say in your church, will fly around the place. When my church’s youth pastor announced his resignation a couple of months back, it had gotten around the church thoroughly by the next day. When the church announced an upcoming budget meeting, the buzz didn’t quite move as quickly.

Whether it is bad new or good, we tend to spread the remarkable stuff. We want the people in our circle to know how miserable or how fortunate we are. Knowing how my circle might overlap your circle, it just makes sense that the really juicy news will get around in short order.

When we look at the verse today, the response to Jesus casting a demon out of the man in the synagogue, we shouldn’t be surprised that, even without Twitter and iPhones, the people of Galilee managed to get the word around quickly and thoroughly. They had seen something remarkable, something amazing; thus, they simply had to spread the word. My guess is that they did not spread news of the synagogue’s upcoming silent auction with quite so much enthusiasm.

As usual, my interest here is not so much with what some 1st-century Galileans did but with what you and I do. If we don’t spread the “news of him” with the same vigor that those people in Capernaum showed, might that not mean that we don’t really consider the news quite as good as we say? If we’re more eager to spread a movie review, outrage at the government, or the cute thing a child said than we are to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, then perhaps we should look back to that Good News and understand just how remarkable it is.

The Outside Voice (Hebrews 1:1)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways. (Hebrews 1:1)

We live in a communication-rich world. Just this morning, I’ve managed to communicate with my two oldest daughters without setting eyes on either one of them. Between the ubiquitous cell phone, the text message, Twitter, Facebook, and good, old-fashioned hollering, we can communicate through many channels and with the greatest of ease. Emily, on a train to Chicago, managed to take a photo of the grandkids with her phone and, using Amtrak’s wifi, post it to Facebook. That so beats the squalling I heard when they rose at 5:00 this morning.

I appreciate the ease of communication that we enjoy, but that ease does not equal profundity. Even that most prolific of the prophets, Isaiah, wrote relatively little by the standards of the world. Compare Isaiah’s sixty-six chapters to the 1,056 lines that comprise Milton’s Paradise Lost. Or the 100 cantos of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Yes, both of those works are quite profound, but many even longer works–think of perhaps one of James Michener’s vast novels–make up for their lack of importance with a hefty page count.

God spoke to our (Hebrew) ancestors at many times and in various ways, but he did not blather on endlessly. Read the life of Abraham to see how a series of powerful experiences were interrupted by long years of normality. If Isaiah wrote at a steady pace, which he probably did not, he would have churned out just the equivalent of a chapter each year throughout his career.

A young Christian expects God to speak clearly, powerfully, and pretty much nonstop. As we move through our lives, we recognize that most of the time even the still, small voice is a great deal more definite than what we hear from God. We need to learn a lesson from those Old Testament prophets, listening carefully in order to be ready for those rare eruptions of God’s “outside” voice.