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John Houseman was a producer for CBS Radio. He made the following comments regarding a program that played live in 1938: “The following hours were a nightmare. The building was suddenly full of people and dark-blue uniforms. Hustled out of the studio, we were locked into a small back office on another floor. Here we sat incommunicado while network employees were busily collecting, destroying, or locking up all scripts and records of the broadcast. Finally, the Press was let loose upon us, ravening for horror. How many deaths had we heard of? (Implying they knew of thousands.) What did we know of the fatal stampede in a Jersey hall? (Implying it was one of many.) What traffic deaths? (The ditches must be choked with corpses.) The suicides? (Haven’t you heard about the one on Riverside Drive?) It is all quite vague in my memory and quite terrible.” What was the program? Orson Welles’ version of H.G. Wells’, War of the Worlds.
Perhaps the world’s first major case of “fake news,” but nonetheless, words that had the masses running scared.
If you have the right words, lined up in the proper order, spoken with the right amount of inflection here, a little pause there, and an increase or decrease in volume at the correct moment, then you can convince many to do both great and terrible things. Words can also inspire and teach, and this is where our saint for today, George Herbert, a 16th century Anglican priest, excelled, particularly in writing poetry. He described his poems as “a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul, before I could submit mine to the will of Jesus my Master; in whose service I have found perfect freedom.”
If you enjoy poetry, then I can recommend to you the collection of his poems titled, The Temple, which was published posthumously. It is a lyrical walk through the church, the church year, and Herbert’s joys and challenges.
One of my favorite Herbert poems is “The Call.” It is also number 487 in our hymnal.
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.
As meaningful as those words are, there are others that were spoken 1,500 years prior. Words, that to this day, continue to inspire, challenge, and move individuals to great faith and works:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed. Those words of our Savior upended everything we thought we knew about God and literally changed the world forever.
Today, instead of making a theological point about the words of Jesus or Herbert, I invite you to consider your own words. The words we speak have the ability to tear down, enrage, discourage, to end the good; or our words can create unity and relationships, give hope, extend peace, express love…
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” And after you have thought about these things, then allow them to form the words you speak to others, because our words have the ability to say to a hurting world, blessed are you, you are God’s own people. This is something that George Herbert understood and practiced. I pray that we will also practice this gift, this grace from God.