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With Open Mouths
September 26, 1999

Psalm 78:1-4, Philippians 2:1-13

A man went to the funeral of a co-worker. Surprised, he said, "I worked with him for years. I never knew he was a Methodist. I never knew he went to church. I never knew he was a Christian!" How sad! Men, open your mouths!

We are an OPEN church. I'm developing this theme through sermons this fall. We began with Open Minds. We are a tolerant church, open to the opinions and beliefs of other people. With open minds, we continue to study, stretch, and grow. We are open to new ideas and new directions. We are not a judgmental church. With open arms, we welcome everyone into our fellowship, even those who are different. Today, our topic is With Open Mouths.

Rudyard Kipling said that words are the most powerful drug used by humankind. Words have power! When someone asked Clement Attlee how Winston Churchill won the war, he replied, "He talked about it." A strong case can be made that Britain would have been defeated by Hitler without Winston Churchill's mouth. His talks rallied the nation, instilled hope and confidence. He talked his people to eventual victory.

In the Scripture lesson read this morning, Paul told the Philippians, 2:11, "and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." In Romans 10:9, Paul wrote, "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Your very salvation is contingent on your mouth confessing Jesus is Lord. In other words, faith without words is insufficient. Faith acts in the heart, but it comes out the mouth. In fact, any inner activity that is not reflected or expressed through the lips is suspect.

Speaking reinforces your inner faith. You need to hear your own words. Public profession reinforces your inner commitments. If you never say an audible Yes, the inner decision has probably not been made. Until you actually say, "I do", you are not really married. Until you actually say, "Jesus is Lord," you are not really a Christian. When you joined the church, you professed publicly before the world that Jesus is your Savior and Lord. But, as in marriage, once is not enough! Confessing Jesus is Lord needs to be frequently repeated. You need to hear you. Opening your mouth and confessing Jesus is Lord reinforces your inner faith. Like your spouse needs to hear you say, "I love you", your inner faith needs reinforcement.

Confessing Jesus is Lord is also important because the world needs to hear you. There are people you are with daily who need to hear from your mouth that you are a Christian, that you do go to church. We Methodists like to cop out with the old saying, Actions speak louder than words. Tell me, husbands, are your wives content with you telling her you love her only by your actions?? After all, she is not a mind reader! Nor are your friends, family and workmates mind readers. Words without action are meaningless, but actions without words are groundless. How does anyone know what your action means if you don't tell them? A kind act can be grounded by you saying, "I help you because God has done so much for me."

If an acquaintance said to you this afternoon, "I understand you go to church. Are you a Christian? Why are you a Christian?" could you answer? What would you say? A woman told me she was in a gathering one day where no one went to any church. The whole tone of the conversation was of ridicule and how the church is unnecessary. With pounding heart and shaky voice, she swallowed the lump in her throat and proceeded to tell them simply and honestly why she goes to church, and what her faith means in her life. She confessed, "Jesus is Lord."

There is another group who desperately need to hear from your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and that is your family. In the Psalter this morning, from Psalm 78, we read together,

Things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us,

we will not hide them from our children; we will tell the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,

and the wonders that he has done.

Tell your children, tell your grandchildren, tell the neighbor children, tell the youth how God loves them. Tell them the stories.

One of the most amazing feats in history is the survival of the Jewish people. Without a land, they survived as a people. In 70 A.D. Titus led the Roman army to defeat Jerusalem and destroy the temple. For the second time the temple was destroyed, for the second time the Jews were dispersed, literally dispersed throughout the known world. I am currently reading a historical novel written by Margaret Freed's niece. Margaret is a long-time member of our church. Her niece, Francine Rivers, includes Margaret in the credits in her novel, A Voice in the Wind. I am very impressed with her research into what it was like in the days when Titus destroyed Jerusalem. Listen to what it might have been like:

Determined to avoid any future conflicts in the Roman province of Judea, Titus set about scattering the Jewish survivors throughout all the countries of the Roman Empire. Able-bodied slaves were always in demand, and vast numbers were purchased in lots, roped together, and marched to ships bound for every province in the Empire.

Some Jews were sent down into the bellies of a hundred ships, where they would spend the remainder of their lives manning the oars. Others were sent to Gaul to lumber trees and provide timber for expanding Roman cities. Large groups were shipped to Spain to work cattle or toil in the silver mines. Hundreds more were sent to Greece to cut and carry marble in the quarries. The most rebellious and proud were sold to their ancestral enemies, the Egyptians. They'd die shoveling and loading sand onto barges--sand destined for the arenas of the Empire where it would soak up Jewish blood shed as entertainment for the Roman mob.

The Jews were dispersed throughout the known world. They had no homeland until 1945 when the state of Israel was established, yet they survived. Through centuries of dispersion, persecution, pogroms, holocausts, they survived as a people. How did they do it? They told the stories. From the days of Moses, they told the stories. Deuteronomy 6:7-9,

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Tell your children, tell your grandchildren the stories, the stories of your family so your children and youth will know who they are, where they came from, and what it means to be a Norris or a Smith or a Jones. Tell them the stories of the faith so they know what it means to be a Christian, what it means to belong to Christ, what it means to confess Jesus as Lord. I've never done Children's Time in worship services before coming here, but I wanted to continue the worship service to which you were accustomed. I thought a long time about children's sermons, and finally decided to tell Bible stories. I decided that children can get object lessons, values training, and hear stories with morals in the public library, in school, and by watching Barney on TV; but the only places they will ever hear Bible stories are in church and at home. So, I'm telling the stories. Are you telling the stories at home?

I want to talk privately now with the men. Women, please shut your ears; or if you want to listen, promise you won't repeat what I'm going to say. Men don't relish being told what to do by their wives. Is that news to you? But, men might listen to what another man has to say.

Men, it is your primary responsibility, duty, privilege and joy to be the teacher of religion in your house. Yes, women also teach; but if religious instruction is left entirely to mother, it won't mean as much to the children. I've heard men abdicate their responsibility and say, "I leave religion up to the wife." Yes, and their children show it! Men, you need to do most of the oral praying in your house. It's good training to have the children say grace at meals, but not most of the time. Most of the time Dad or Step-Dad should pray grace. Men, when it is appropriate talk about God and Jesus, morals, values, right and wrong. Men, with open mouths, tell the stories. If you are divorced, when your children visit, take advantage of the opportunity to teach them. Men, let's all be sensitive to the mothers who are trying to do all the parenting by themselves. It's tough. Where there are children with no man in their life, some f us might volunteer to be surrogate uncles, big brothers, or grandpas, and tell them the stories.

When grandchildren come to visit, grandpa, tell the stories. Women, of course, can tell stories effectively, but there's no one who can tell stories like Grandpa! Both of my grandpas were terrific story tellers. I can still recall some of their stories about our family. Grandpa, tell them stories about the family. Tell them stories of their childhood. Tell them the stories of the Bible.

Men, take your responsibility seriously and joyously. Your children or grandchildren want you to talk to them. They want you to assume your role as a spiritual leader in your family.

Women, you can listen again. But, like I say, don't go home and tell your husband what he should be doing. I just told him, and he doesn't need to hear it again, and again, and again!

Brothers and sisters, we're an OPEN church. Let's open our mouths and confess that Jesus is Lord. Witness to your workmates and neighbors. Don't be obnoxious, but be honest, sincere, and loving. Let every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Open your mouths to the world and to your children.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris