Imagine having your voice cut off forever. You cannot speak. You cannot scream. You cannot beg, cry out, plead, or even whimper. You cannot use a phone. You cannot have a conversation with your friends or your spouse. You cannot tell your children that you love them. Your ability to speak has been taken away from you. Your voice has been silenced.
For over ten years, Brenda Charett Jensen was forced to experience this very thing. She had been hospitalized, and had repeatedly pulled out her breathing tube while still under sedation. Her vocal chords were badly damaged, and for over a decade, she was unable to utter a word.
Then in October 2010, Brenda became the second person in history to receive a successful larynx transplant. The surgical team had spent over two years practicing for the operation. Brenda received her new vocal chords from a donor
who had died in an accident.
Two weeks after the transplant, Brenda spoke her first words in over a decade. She said “Good morning” and “I wanna go home”. When she saw the doctors who had performed her surgery, she said, “You guys are amazing”.
Can you imagine what it would be like to have your voice taken away from you? How would you communicate with people? How frustrating would it be, if you had to carry a pen and paper everywhere you go, just to communicate? For nine months, this is just the sort of existence endured by the prophet Zacharias. He had used his voice to express doubt, so God had rendered him mute.
What if God dealt with us the same way He dealt with Zacharias? If faithless speaking always led to the removal of one’s voice, how many of us would be rendered speechless?
If we became unable to speak, how many people would rejoice over our silence?
A person’s character is revealed by how such questions are answered. Holy Scripture reminds us that the human tongue is a very powerful force:
- Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.
- We will be judged for every idle word that we speak.
- The tongue is a rudder which guides the entire course of our lives.
When in public, many people are mindful of the tongue’s destructive power. They speak that which is socially acceptable, and they keep negative thoughts to themselves.
But in the privacy of their own homes, many of these same people throw off all restraint. In the presence of spouse and children, they give voice to every dark inclination of their hearts, spewing forth all manner of sarcasm, criticism, nagging, negativity, rudeness, and bile.
When facing the world, they have perfect manners.
When facing their families, their tongues are set on fire by hell itself.
People often talk as if this is their “right“. Within the privacy of their own homes, they believe they have the right to say whatever they want. They think, “I work hard to control my tongue during most of the day. Don’t I have a right to relax when I am at home, so I can just be myself?”
But this is tantamount to saying:
“I am content to speak life to strangers, and to speak death to my family.”
Indeed, it would be more sensible to switch it around. It would be better for a person to speak with kindness at home, and to be nasty in public.
It would be even better to speak with love and kindness at all times, without exception. Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.
Thankfully, the silence of Zacharias was not the last word in the story. Nine months later, when little John the Baptist was born, God loosed the tongue of the prophet Zacharias.
In response, he spoke, praising God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he uttered the Benedictus . . . a prayer which made such a lasting impact that the Church still continues chanting it to this day, in our daily Matins services, according to both the Eastern-Rite and the Western-Rite liturgies. The overflow of one man’s praise
has become a daily prayer for the entire Body of Christ.
The Benedictus is jam-packed with joy, praise, and thanksgiving . . . just the opposite of the doubt which Zacharias had uttered nine months earlier. This prayer is a perfect example of the life-giving words which proceed from the mouth of a Christian who is filled with the Holy Spirit:
BLESSED be the Lord God of Israel;
for He hath visited and redeemed His people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us,
in the house of His servant David;
As He spake by the mouth of His holy Prophets,
which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all that hate us.
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers,
and to remember His holy covenant;
To perform the oath which He sware to our
forefather Abraham, that He would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies,
might serve Him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before Him,
all the days of our life.
And thou child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest:
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord
to prepare His ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto His people
for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God;
whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
If it is true that “the eyes are the window to the soul”, then it is also true that “the tongue is the window to the heart”, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
If negativity pours forth from our mouths, it is because we have faithless hearts. If praise and thanksgiving pour forth from our mouths, it is because we have faithful hearts. If we ask God to help us change our speech, then we must also ask Him to help us change the thoughts of our hearts.
Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.
This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, December 11, 2011, at Christ the King Orthodox Church, in Omaha, Illinois, by Joseph M. Gleason.