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The lips that speak the word

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sermon for the third Sunday after Epiphany

One big criticism that we get from other criticism is that all of our public prayers are read from a book. They will say that, if we were praying from the heart, we would not need books at all! These Christians will use St Paul's words that the letter kills but the spirit gives life.

Are we right to defend our worship against this sort of accusation?


Well, first, let’s remember that when St Paul talks about the letter killing but the spirit giving life, he is talking about the Law and how we apply it. It is the spirit of the Law that makes it worth following otherwise all kinds of injustice follows if we just apply the letter of the law without due consideration. This is why the Lord says that the Sabbath is made for Man not Man for the Sabbath. Indeed, this is the point, the Sabbath, the Law and the Liturgy are made for Man, not the other way around.

But the words of our liturgy are very, very important.

Through the prophet Hosea, God calls people back from the worship of idols,

“O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, ‘Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.’”

We are to approach God with words and render the sacrifice of the “calves of our lips”. We are to approach God with words from the heart. It is through words that our covenant with God is made. It is through words that, when the priest says, “this is my Body”, the Lord Jesus Christ utters them and makes the sacrament happen. The words we say today join with the words that Christians have always said and these words join us with Christ.

We use words because we can do nothing else. No sacrifice will do to absolve us from our sins except the one perfect sacrifice of Our Lord upon the Cross. The words of our liturgy bring us to that sacrifice and make us part of it.


We say the words in common with our fellow Christians who stand around us and we find solidarity with them. We pray together; we worship together; we glorify God together. At least, we appear to do so. What if we’re just saying the words but our mind is elsewhere?

This is very common and it takes a disciplined mind to focus on what we are saying all the time and to mean every word. We should strive for that. What fixed liturgical prayer does for us is to form a scaffold on which our spirituality can develop and grow provided that we put the effort in. Our mind may wander off but it has something to come back to.

We must remember that we are trying to talk with God which is very difficult when the physical world around us distracts us from His presence. He forgives our distraction readily, but we do need to try and focus on what we are saying so that it comes from the heart as well as the lips.


We know that words are very powerful and we must use them with care. With our words we can affirm God or deny Him. With words we can build up our neighbour or destroy him. With words we can enter into a covenant with the Great Creator Who will give us His very self for our food.

Look at what happens when God the Father utters a Word.

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