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«WORDS MATTER LENTEN DEVOTIONS Words Matter Lenten Devotions is a project of THE JUSTICE FOR WOMEN WORKING GROUP of the National Council of Churches, ...»

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Words Matter Lenten

Devotions is a project of



of the National Council

of Churches, U.S.A.

Edited by Meagan Manas, 2011

For more information, visit


or contact


Program Director for

NCC Women’s Ministries National Council of Churches, USA 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 800 New York, NY 10115 atiemeyer@ncccusa.org (212)870-3407 or MEAGAN MANAS Words Matter Project Staff mmanas@ncccusa.org (212)870-2738 The National Council of the Churches of Christ, U.S.A.

Introduction 1 Ash Wednesday 2 First Sunday in Lent 3 2nd Sunday in Lent 5 3rd Sunday in Lent 7 4th Sunday in Lent 9 5th Sunday in Lent 11 Palm Sunday 13 Holy Week 14 Easter Sunday 17 introduction We’ve all heard it before, and we’ve probably said it too, in an effort to cheer up a child reeling from the effects of name-calling or insults: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Perhaps we so often repeat this rhyme in the hopes that saying it will make it true.

Each of us knows that words have the power to wound deeper than sticks and stones, and no matter how firmly we assert that we are rubber and not glue, words have a way of sticking deep in our bones.

As followers of Christ, God’s Word made incarnate, we also know that words have the power to transform, to inspire and to bring life. Words of scripture and the traditional words of our communities can link us together and draw us into fellowship across space and time.

There are so many ways that words shape our world—we watch politicians and news anchors “spin” stories with slick word tricks. Advertisers tease us with promises of “new,” “improved,” and “all-natural” with no clear definitions of what those terms actually mean. Expressions like “blackmail,” “white lie,” and “black sheep” reveal just how deeply racial prejudices lie in our collective body. Clearly, our words do matter.

This Lent, the Words Matter project invites you to the spiritual discipline of paying attention to your words. Far from a desire to be politically correct, Words Matter focuses on deep thinking about what is really at stake in the words we use, acknowledging that words can be used to tear down — but hopeful that more of us will embrace the potential of words to build up.

Each of the following reflections have been written thoughtfully by individuals with their individual experiences and wisdom. As you read the reflections, try to understand what might be at stake for each author. If something you read upsets you, ask yourself why—what is at stake for you? Please consider these reflections as starting points for your own exploration of what is at stake in the words we use—and feel free to use this devotional booklet on your own or in a group.

This Lent we invite you to commit to a spiritual discipline of paying attention to words. We think you’ll find that Words Matter.

–  –  –

Most of us don’t fast anymore – not really. Not unless we are trying to lose weight, do a detox of our bodies, or decide that we won’t eat chocolate during Lent. Maybe some Catholics still refrain from eating meat on Fridays; maybe some Protestants do, too. But fasting? Not really.

We wonder how our Muslim sisters and brothers make it all day during their month of fasting, but few of us join in this practice with them.

The prophet in Second Isaiah didn’t like people who were all show when they fasted. “Look at me! I’m fasting! I’m righteous! I’m good! I’m humbling myself! Look at me while I fast!” No, that is not what is pleasing to God, says Isaiah. Instead, the prophet says, God looks to those

whose actions bring about a more just and righteous world as the kind of fast to emulate:

–  –  –

In this vein, let us fast or abstain from using words that cause harm to others during this Lenten season. They do matter, these words that fall out of our mouths. And I don’t mean just angry or hateful words, but words that characterize people in ways that diminish their humanity, or that come from a place of not really knowing who you are talking about. Let’s not talk about “Those people...” Let’s talk about “Us.” Use words and metaphors which lift up and uplift God’s people as beloved and holy reflections of the divine. Speak from the heart – a heart that seeks to dwell in the household of God, prayer-filled and mindful. Chose your words carefully – and see what this kind of fast can do for you and for those you encounter each day. Be the word of life to others – as you would have them be unto you.


This Lent, consider taking up the spiritual discipline of paying attention to what is at stake in the words you use. Imagine how your words might sound to someone of a different gender, race, or cultural background than you. Imagine what new words you would like to add to your daily speech.

Rev. Loey Powell is ordained in the United Church of Christ, where she serves as Executive for Administration and Women’s Justice in the department of Justice and Witness Ministries.

–  –  –

Romans 5:12-19 invokes the sweep of cosmological history from the Christ event back to the beginning of the creation of humans. How are we to read women into or out of this text?

The Greek indicates the more inclusive term “human” in place of “man.” So Adam and Jesus the Christ are meant to be representative humans, perhaps more than they are specifically male. And yet Paul wants to locate the story in these two figureheads, whose gender is by no means insignificant, even if too essential to be noteworthy by Paul and his readers.

In a story of salvation that comes through one person, it might make sense to think of sin as having entered the same way. But Paul seems to be willing to ignore Eve and the non-human serpent in the story of the fall, in an effort to find a singular representative of humanity. (We might want to ask why Eve and the serpent should take the blame in Genesis, then, if they don’t have to bear it here, when creation is held up next to the salvation story). In the second century, Irenaeus suggested Eve and the Virgin as figures to span the history of creation and redemption, representing disobedience and mortality on the one hand, and obedience and immortality on the other.

As we think about the power of gendered language, we need to be alert that even today readers of Romans 5 sometimes read “man” to mean all of humanity (inheriting the legacy of sin) and sometimes read “man” as a particular maleness in Christ that (while perhaps saving women as well as men) renders women unqualified for ordination. The way that “women” are sometimes assumed under but sometimes specifically excluded from the term “man” intended to mean “humankind” has consequences for our theology, for how we imagine the imago dei, the way we think humans resemble God. As Mary Daly wrote in 1981, “if God is male, then the male is God” (Beyond God the Father, 19).

Ultimately, it might be most useful to read this passage in conjunction with the genealogies of Christ in Matthew :1-17 and Luke 3:23-38. Naming Eve and in the line of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathseba, and Mary could read back into Romans 5 a place for the complexity and richness of human sins and blessings into the story of redemption.


What do you think about Daly’s statement that “if God is male, then male is God?” Do you assume women are included in the word “men?” What if one day your pastor called your congregation “sons of God?” What if your pastor said, “daughters of God?” Who do you assume is included in each phrasing?

Listen for male or female images and pronouns in reference to God and people during a Sunday service. What do you notice?

Lydia York is a PhD candidate at Drew University Graduate Division of Religion, studying under constructive theologian Catherine Keller. A Minister in Discernment with the United Church of Christ, she is serving her third term on the board of directors of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.


“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” READ MATTHEW 4:1-11 Many of us have probably experienced conversations, arguments, and debates where two or more differing understandings of scripture have been used against each other. The words seem powerful on “our” side, but the “other” side does not hear them the same way. Words can be used in many different ways—we all know that the childhood adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is nothing more than that in the end, an overused saying.

The words we use matter! In this scripture passage, the devil chooses to use them to assert power, to manipulate, to distort actuality, and to tempt to self-absorption. God uses words, and The Word, to create and liberate in grace.

In far less grandiose but equally intense terms, this dialogue of words goes on in our minds and hearts daily. In this Lent, to be centered in the Word of God through Christ for the sake of adoring God and serving the other is a salient “call” to concentrate. There is an ancient rabbinical tale that rabbis as they begin to learn and study Torah literally “eat” the words. Words get under your skin and become “you.” God spoke creation into being. God said, and it was! This is serious stuff.

In this text, words drive us to God: “every word that comes from the mouth of God,” “Do not put...God to the test,” and “Worship the Lord your God and serve only God.” The words get eaten up in praise so that in the end, ONLY God speaks. Words matter. Words are matter; they make life. Words matter; they wound and heal. God give us the creative grace to speak words that shape matter and persons to fuller life in Christ - words that minister the love, mercy, promises and hope of God.


What do you think it means to live “not by bread alone” but “by every word that comes from the mouth of God?” Dr. H. Frederick Reisz, Jr. is President Emeritus of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. He holds a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Chicago, is an ordained Lutheran pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and is the author of many articles and essays.

–  –  –

Our language is full of assumptions. In fact by definition, I guess you could say our language is an assumption, a symbol for something that resides in the world of our experience, a “pointing” at that something. It’s a lot easier to point at things that are nearby and visible, rather than those that are intangible or far away. But even our most basic levels of communication often break down. In this passage from John, Jesus speaks to things of earth, from which our understanding of heavenly things must grow. Why is there a breakdown on this most basic level? Is it because Jesus isn’t pointing? Is it because the “somethings,” the earthly things he is pointing at, don’t exist? Or is it because Nicodemus just won’t look in the direction of Jesus’ pointing?

Anyone who has studied a foreign language or watched a child learn to talk knows language acquisition is tiring, in part because it requires this constant work of listening, looking, and making the connection. Jesus here calls us to learn a new language—or to re-learn what we know about the world so that we might learn about God, to re-look. In order to step into the holy we are called to know the mundane as God would have us know it, to spend that energy of re-seeing, re-looking, re-naming the world. What does the language of those around you, the simple everyday language of the earthly invite you to see with fresh eyes? Where is the world being re-revealed to you?

Blessed Word, give us new ears and eyes to hear and see the world around us as you have created it. Grant us patience and perseverance to re-discover the world through your eyes and your ears, sustaining us in the knowledge of your love, your grace, and your mercy. By the power of the one who opens our hearts, Amen.


Look up the origins of your family and friends’ names. What do these words you use to identify them day-in and day-out reveal about them?

Listen for the ways people you encounter from different geographic regions talk about family, home, and food. What do these differences reveal about cultural understandings of the everyday?

Jason Stewart Sierra serves as a staff officer for the Episcopal Church Office for Young Adult and Campus Ministries. He holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford University with interdisciplinary honors in Feminist Studies.

–  –  –

My God-daughter took the ACT college prep test this past weekend, and her prompt question for the essay was: “Should students have to follow school rules when they are not on school property?” When asked what she wrote she replied, “The first thing I thought of was Huck Finn. So I wrote how if Huck Finn had followed all of society’s rules he would have never helped Jim get free.

That sometimes we need to be freed from the constraints of the rules society places upon us, to see whether the rules are actually just. We need to be able to step outside the law to examine and determine if it should be upheld or challenged in the name of justice. So I wrote that I didn’t think students should have to follow school rules when not on school property, but we should have freedom.” I must admit I was proud of her literary knowledge and fine analysis.

In Romans we hear a similar discussion:

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