“What You Say to One Another is Eternal” Sept. 10, 2023
“What You Say to One Another is Eternal”
Once again, from Matthew 13 At verse 18 we read: “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there”– or, if we prefer the more traditional translation, verse 20 might read, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Surely we’ve heard this quoted many times during church gatherings or study groups. But it was verse 18 that sort of tripped my trigger this time around: “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.”
A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. “I mean this,” Jesus told his disciples. “I mean this,” he said, which leads us to the question I am almost too embarrassed to ask, which is, “yes and no on heaven and earth; what do you mean? What do you mean by that?” In the hopes of addressing this question, let me share with you one of those wacky weird things that are born out of a child’s imagination. Also, I’d like to believe that this goofball notion was perhaps inspired by the words of Christ in Matthew 18. So, here goes.
You know, every kid has their own assortment of fantasies and fascinations whilst growing up. Sometimes they are no more than a passing thing while other times they can develop into full blown obsessions. There are no rules and the sky is the limit, and this little quirk to me has to be one of the greatest things about being a kid.
Anyhow, it was our gospel message that brought up the memory of a particular fascination I had when I was six or 7 years old, I’m guessing. There is no telling how this goofy idea got into my head but I was fascinated by the notion that out in the universe there was a place where all the words were stored away. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but the idea that every word that had ever been spoken was somehow recorded and filed away just seemed like the greatest thing ever. I mean, imagine what we could do, the power we could wield, if we had access to this giant database of conversations. My 6 year old self was drunk with the power of it all; that is, until reality stepped in and I was forced to realize that only God has that kind of access.
But the idea stuck with me and when Jesus tells us, “A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal.” When Jesus speaks these words, I can’t help but think to myself, “Oh yeah, “our words are eternal?” I know all about that stuff.” But of course, this is not what Jesus talking about at all. He wasn’t referring to that giant tape recorder in the stratosphere. Instead, I’d like to think that if we believe every word we speak here on earth is echoed in heaven, It is bound to make a difference. It is bound to make us strive to choose our words with greater care, and that can make all the difference.
Let me explain.
Some years ago, I worked on a crew that built logging roads. Now, building a woods road is fairly complex. First, the foresters came in and mapped the roads by hanging a ribbon line at the right of way center. Next were the timber fallers who fell the trees and manufactured them into logs. Last, but not least, came a series of dozers and excavators and log loaders, and before you know it, presto, you have yourself a road. As you might expect, this sort of work tends to attract some fairly colorful characters and none was more colorful than a road boss I had at the time. Let’s call him Bill.
You see, Bill had taken the art of swearing to a level that I had no idea was possible. From out of his mouth came a constant potpourri of profanity. so much so that we all had a tough time getting used to it. The topic did come up however, one day while having some lunch. He told us that he had always swore this way since he was a little kid. I knew that Bill was married and maybe even had some kids at home, so I couldn’t help myself but to ask him, “ So tell me, Bill, do you ever talk this way at home?” He answered with a long string of expletives telling us that he wouldn’t dare use foul language in their house; that his wife would skin him alive. But when I asked him if he had ever slipped up while at home, he got real quiet. “Yeah, a couple of times,” he said. “It wasn’t good. It wasn’t good at all.”
Once again , from verse 18 we read: “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal.” So I have to wonder, if we curse God on earth, do we also curse him in heaven?
And when we compare another of God’s children to, let’s say, the South end of a northbound mule; when we speak all matters of abuse and profanity on earth, are we also saying it in heaven? The answer, of course, is yes. Yes, we are.
But here’s the thing: once we start to look at our everyday interactions from this point of view, it changes everything. The name calling doesn’t sound quite as clever anymore and all those speeches of revenge and ‘gotcha’ moments that we’ve rehearsed in our minds- they all fall flat. They’ve lost their power. A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. I have to think that Jesus is telling us here not to be like Bill, trying to live some sort of double life where our normal day-to-day continues to be a slog and a fight. We spit and snarl our way through the week, but when Sunday rolls around we put on our pious happy Jesus face and pray to God that we don’t slip up .
I’m exaggerating here, of course, but I think you get the idea. One of my favorite spirituals is titled “I Know the Lord’s laid His Hands on Me” and one of the verses comes to mind that says”
Some seek the Lord, don’t seek him right,
they fool all day and pray at night.
. A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. It seems like kind of a weird thing to say, don’t you think?
I’m reminded that Jesus had just instructed his disciples how to settle disputes with love; not by drawing straws, not by pistols drawn at first light, and not by a boxing match-the last man standing wins; but with love.
This is a love that can lead to reconciliation, to a resolution, and maybe even a healthy hope of forgiveness.
But here’s the kicker: as I was reading through this passage and thinking about it, there seemed to be a little small nagging voice asking the same question over and over again: “So what about you? Is there any chance that you have said or done something recently that was offensive to God? Any chance at all?” Which is somewhat of a dumb question because of course I have. It has been a rough week. My leg is killing me, I still can’t button a shirt, and all in all, life just isn’t so great right now. And that is when the little small voice speaks up and says, “Don’t worry, it’s all good. God is reaching out to walk you through this. He’s got your back. Are you willing to let him?”
My point is that we talk to God all the time. Every ‘yes’ and every ‘no’ on earth is a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ in heaven. Every voice of cursing on earth is a curse in heaven. Likewise, every sound of rejoicing on earth is a joy in heaven. One of the first steps of discipleship, I believe, is to get in on this conversation and to keep it going as best you can.
“What you say to one another is eternal,” Jesus tells us. Our words have longevity, they have power, they have clout. Thanks be to God that when our words are spoken out of meanness or contempt, we have a Redeemer who comes to us with love to make things right. Praise be to God.
There is one more thing, however: I still haven’t given up hope that somewhere in the universe there is a place where all the words ever spoken are filed away.
I would love to find this place because (1) it would confirm my childhood fantasy and (2) if we are looking to find Jesus, I think that’s where he would be. Imagine every voice from thousands of years speaking up to heaven: that’s where I would be, where our words are eternal.
Amen & Shalom