Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
~ Proverbs 16:24 (NRSV)
Over and over again in the Bible, we hear of people telling stories and teaching those around them by sharing what they have seen and experienced. Jesus did much of his teaching and preaching by telling stories or parables to help people imagine another way and to show them how faith and everyday life go hand-in-hand. Earlier in Jesus’ life, he was taught in the Temple, reading the Torah and hearing stories told by the elders.
The Bible, as many of you know, is a collection of sixty-six books composed and compiled over two thousand years by more than forty authors on three different continents. It contains stories of history, poetry, prophecy, and personal accounts. But before the stories were written down, compiled, and published, they were told through the oral tradition, by word of mouth. People told stories on the road and while sitting around campfires. They shared stories with their families and their friends and with visitors from other towns. And before the Bible was written, compiled and published, that’s how people shared the stories that they had been taught. In Hebrew, the word “Proverbs” means “child” or “children,” because many of the phrases in the Book of Proverbs were used by parents to teach their children.
It’s this same handing down of faith, tradition, and moral character that we are trying to foster with Household Huddle. Here in Oldtown, rather than sending our children down to classrooms in the basement, separated by age and taught by individual teachers, we are working together as a community to hand down our faith. Though we may think that Household Huddle is something new, it’s not. It’s following an ancient practice, giving our parents and people in our faith community the opportunity to teach our children together through the sharing of stories, talking about ways to live, listening to one another, praying together, celebrating milestones, and modeling good behavior. What we quickly learned last year is that not only do our children learn from our entire community, but our community learns from our children as well.
I think I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a brief plug for Household Huddle which will be starting up again on September 8th. This year, we are adding a new component to hopefully encourage others to get involved in leading our Household Huddles. We will be holding “planning and preparation” parties for leaders on Thursday nights to help us get ready for Sunday mornings.
Okay, now that we have totally gotten off track, let’s look back to the to the book of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon, who was known as one of the wisest men that ever lived. King Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs to share his wisdom on things like money, marriage, family life, discipline, friends, relationships, temptation, and leadership. He wanted to teach his people wisdom and discipline, and he found that it was easy to overwhelm people when he tried to say too much. So the book of Proverbs is a collection of short statements or phrases, simple lines that people could remember and share with others, like, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) or “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) They were kind of like tweets in today’s society.
So, let’s take a look at today’s Proverb. “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Now for one short sentence, today’s proverb packs quite a punch. It talks about kindness, language, nature, sweetness, spiritual wholeness, and physical wellbeing. But the basic premise of the proverb is that your words matter. Did you hear that? Your words matter. Yours! Your words! So I wonder, what do your words, and the way that you speak to others, say about you? Do your words promote health? Do you heal others with kind encouragement, wise counsel and gentle comfort? Or are your words more like a piercing sword, criticizing, critiquing, and condemning others?
Friends, it’s amazing the way that our simple words can affect our own way of living and the lives around us. When we encourage others rather than complaining, when we lift up them up rather than talking down to them, when we focus on the positive instead of dragging out all of the negatives, when we do that, we bring light to a place of darkness and healing to a place of hurt. Just like our hymn spoke of just a few minutes ago, “Your words to me are life and health.” Friends, if we have the chance to share life and love and light with the world, I hope we chose that over darkness, despair, and deceit. But as always, the choice is ours.
The town that I live in has a lot of farming and agriculture, and this past year I signed up to be part of a CSA or a Community Supported Agriculture. What happens with a CSA is that, around Christmastime, you pay money to a farmer to buy a share of his farm. You don’t actually own the farm, but you give him money to buy seeds and to do the work that he needs to prepare the fields. In return, each week throughout the growing season, you get a share of whatever is harvested. At the CSA that I am a part of, each Monday I go to the farm and get seven items that have come from the farm. Not only have I enjoyed the fresh vegetables, but I have really enjoyed talking with the farmer and his family. You see, it’s a family-run farm, and the farmer and his wife have two children, ages twelve and sixteen, and a baby on the way! The family works together on the farm, and it’s obvious that mom and dad are constantly handing down stories, traditions, practices, and moral character as they all work together.
This week, along with getting potatoes, eggplant, green beans, tomatoes, onions, and garlic, we got a small jar of honey. The farmer told me that the honey, which they had just harvested, was even sweeter this year than last. Knowing nothing about harvesting honey, I asked him why? Was it because of the weather, or the kind of bees, or the age of the hive? And he said, “No, it’s because none of us got stung this year!” And he laughed! He said he was just talking to his wife and kids the other day about the honeybees and the fact that these little creatures can produce something so sweet and nutritious that it brings joy and healing to people, or they can sting and bring incredible pain.
I took a minute to think about what he just had said, and then I thanked him, not only for the delicious vegetables and the honey but also for today’s sermon illustration. I told him about this week’s scripture and how the proverb tells us that we have a choice through our words, just like the bees do though their actions, to share sweetness, positivity, and health or pain, negativity, and hurt. He took out his cell phone and asked again what the scripture was, because it sounded like
something he would like to share with others.
He then went on to say, “We may not have a steeple here at the farm, and we may be surrounded by a lot of dirt and bugs, but Pastor Kelly, God works hand-in-hand with us here every day.” I told him that I knew that, and that was one of the reasons that I looked forward to our Monday visits. He said, “You’re not the first minister to come be a part of our farm. And to be honest,” he said, “I was a little nervous when you signed up because I could tell from your email that you were a pastor. The proverb talks about words being like honey, right? Well, that’s how your words are, Pastor Kelly. My kids have actually said it themselves. Most ministers come and talk down to us because we’re just farmers. They think they are helping us with their financial support. But you’re different. You really care about what we’re doing. So, when you talk to your church this Sunday, tell them about the bees and the honey, but also tell them that words can be sweet but empty, so make sure yours aren’t.” “Can I quote you on that one,” I asked? “Sure,” he said with a smile!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, pay attention to your words and the way that you treat the people around you. Don’t build yourself up by knocking others down. Instead, be kind, considerate, and honest. Even though we have technology that supposedly makes our lives easier, remember that the oral tradition is still alive and well. Whether it be in Household Huddle, in worship, at the grocery store, in line at the bank, or at a local farm, remember that in everything you say and do, you are teaching people around you to do the same. Folks, it’s my hope and prayer that the examples we set will be like a honeycomb, “sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!