Last week after the service, following the sermon which I had preached, someone sent me a note in which it said: how long shall you hide behind words, when shall the words which you preach scorch your own lips ?
It is a justified accusation because every priest – and I perhaps more than many – preach from knowledge, preach from what I have learned from the Gospel and from men truly great, more than I am, and more than I do. And anyone of us who preaches God's word, proclaims God's Gospel must be aware of Christ's own warning: you shall be judged according to your words. But there is also another phrase which those who hear the word must always remember: beware how you hear, because it is not only the hearers of the word but the doers of the word that will enter into the Kingdom of God.
All of us, all are under the condemnation implicit in Christ’s saying: there are many who call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and who will not enter into the Kingdom ; and so both, he who speaks and he who listens, must listen and speak in a wary manner, aware that he will answer for the words spoken as he will answer for the words heard. And yet, and yet, as the Apostle says, faith comes from the word preached ; and it is a dread function which Christ puts upon a priest, upon a preacher, upon anyone indeed who speaks words of truth to his neighbour, because words of truth remain true whoever speaks them and who can say how deeply they wound the heart of him who speaks knowing that he speaks unto judgment and unto condemnation to himself; but the truth must be spoken, the Good News must be proclaimed, the wonderful Gospel must be preached even if in the end he who has spoken will stand condemned by the knowledge he has imparted and which he has not embodied in his life. But when we hear words of truth let us forget him who speaks, let us listen only to the words spoken because whatever truth there is in these words it is God's truth. If they reach our heart, they become our responsibility as words which the preacher speaks have reached his heart and have become his responsibility.
To-day the Gospel calls us to be merciful unto one another in our judgment, the Gospel calls us to be like our heavenly Father who shines His light both on those who are good and those who are evil, for those who will be grateful for the word spoken and those who will remain barren and unresponsive, to all does the Lord speak, to me in the words of the Gospel and in the very words which I speak to you and to you in the very words of the Gospel and in the words which I speak to you. And in each of us there are two persons profoundly different; St. Paul describes them to-day in his epistle ; there is in him one man tossed by the tension there is between good and evil, between darkness and light, between life and death, between God and His Adversary, and in this struggle, what he sees in himself is nothing but weakness, total irremediable weakness, and his only hope is the word of Christ that we need no strength, that God's power acts, is made manifest, triumphs even within our weakness, if this weakness is offered to Him, becomes supple in his hand, transparent to His light. And on the other hand, there is in each of us another person: Paul, speaking of himself says, he knows a man, was it him, was it not him, did it happen in the flesh, did it happen in the spirit, who was taken up into the presence of God, who heard words which cannot even be repeated, who has seen things which have even no foreshadowing in this world ; and it is him, it was him. And let us look at ourself and at each other with the same knowledge which expresses, knowing that each of us is frail, each of us is possessed of weakness, none of us awe can fulfill the law of love, the law of purity, the law of humility, become like Christ, by his own strength; but also that within each of us there is a living soul longing for fulflment, struggling against all darkness, against all evil, crying Godwards for help, hoping for mercy, mercy from God and mercy from a neighbour who will not condemn and who will, like our Father who is in heaven show mercy, forbearance, patience , and give support, listen to the word of truth, thank God for it and pray for him who has spoken in danger of his eternal life. Because it is true that we shall be judged by the words which we have spoken as it is true that we will be judged by the way in which we have heard. Amen.