The Church You’ve Always Longed For: Cusswords & Cross Words
Simon Peter is one of the great heroes in the Bible. But there were some moments in his life which were not so heroic. Take this one. We read in the Gospels: “Peter began to curse and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.'” I’ve always loved the way Peter Marshall used to say that last line: “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me thrice.”
Have you ever heard the sound of the rooster crowing in your life?
Not long ago, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood responded to a question about why there is so much violence and obscenity in today’s films. He answered with an expletive and then he said: “People’s morals are not our business. Our job is to make movies that entertain and make money. That’s just the way it is.” And when he said that, if you had been listening carefully, you would have heard the sound of a rooster crowing.
Just recently, one of our television executives was asked about the numerous and graphic depictions of violence on the 6:00 news. He answered with these words: “Look, here’s the rule: If it bleeds, it leads. Graphic violence increases viewers, thus elevating ratings. Higher ratings attract advertisers, thus elevating profits. That’s just the way it is.” When he said that, if you had been listening carefully, you would have heard the sound of a rooster crowing.
Do you remember when they asked Charles Barkley, the great basketball player about his responsibility as a role model for the kids who watch and admire and emulate him. He answered with a four-letter word, and then said: “I’m no role model. That’s the parent’s job. My job is to score points and win games. If that’s a problem for you, then that’s your problem, and not mine.” And when he said that, if you had been listening carefully, you would have heard the sound of a rooster crowing.
I remember with pain, standing in the midst of a group of people, and suddenly they began to discuss some ugly rumors surrounding a friend of mine. They were crucifying my friend with vicious words. I started to say something, wanted to say something, but I didn’t know those people all that well, and so I chose to remain silent. Later on, I kicked myself hard, ashamed to the core that I had not spoken on behalf of my friend, and in that moment, in the distance, I heard the sound of a rooster crowing.
Have you ever heard the sound of the rooster crowing in your life?
Remember with me, please, what happened. Jesus took His disciples to the Upper Room, where they would share the Last Supper, and there, Jesus told them that He would be betrayed by one of them—He would be arrested, and then all of the rest of them would desert Him. Peter, with typical bravado, cried out instantly: “Lord, I will never, ever leave you.” And Jesus said to him: “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me thrice.” And that’s precisely what happened. Later on Jesus was arrested. He was hauled off to the palace of Caiaphas, the High Priest. We are told that Peter followed at a distance, and then he began to mingle with the servants and the soldiers in the courtyard of the palace. When they tried to brand him as a disciple of Jesus, he immediately demurred and three separate times he denied even knowing the Lord. And then, in the distance, he heard the sound of the rooster crowing. And the Bible says, so poignantly, “Peter broke down and wept.”
There is something I want you to see here. I don’t know how many times in my life I have read and studied that particular passage of Scripture, but I didn’t see this until just this last time when I came to these words. And suddenly I saw something I’ve never seen before. I want you to see this. After Peter cursed, they did not ask him again if he were a disciple of Jesus Christ. I want you to see that. After he cursed, they never again asked him if he were a disciple of Jesus Christ. Note this down. Profanity and discipleship do not go together. Cusswords flowing out of your mouth cancel the validity of your Christian faith in the eyes of others. Let me quickly add that profanity is more than verbal expletives. Our words can be profane, but so can our attitudes and our actions. And when we act profanely, in word or in thought or in deed, we deny our Lord Jesus Christ. Let me spell that out for you as clearly as I know how.
We deny our Christ with profane language.
There are several reasons why people employ curse words in their language, and none of the reasons is particularly good. Reason #1: Some people curse in an effort to manufacture a sense of security. They want to appear tough, unafraid, with-it, together. They do not possess a sufficient sense of inner strength; a sufficient sense of inner security, and so they try to make up for that by coloring their language with profanity in order to give it the ring of authority. I have been in more than my share of locker rooms, and it has become my observation that a man who fouls the air with his language is a man who is revealing his own doubts about his manhood. You see, it is only when people feel insecure about themselves that they try to make up for that lack by using profane language. You notice the next time you hear a person using cusswords. You look at that person carefully and see if you do not agree. Reason #2: Some people curse in order to give the appearance of being mature. Cursing a blue streak, they think, makes them appear to be sophisticated. Our movie producers today tell us that they place profanity in profusion in their films. Why? So that the film will get an “R” rating, which means it is considered more sophisticated and mature. I have to tell you, my beloved, as honestly as I know how, I have never yet seen a man or a woman with obscenities spewing out of his or her mouth who looked and sounded sophisticated and mature. Actually, it simply reveals just how childish and immature they really are. Reason #3: Some people curse because they cannot find any other way to forcibly express themselves. They are so short in their own learning. They have mastered so inadequately this language of ours that in order to deliver power to their speech, they have to employ terms which are unclean and uncouth. Cursing is actually a sign of ignorance, and people who curse need a dictionary as much as they need a Bible. So please remember, my beloved, that people who use profane language are revealing some most unflattering truths about themselves.
Ah, but you and I—you and I have the royal blood of heaven flowing in our veins. We are the children of God. God made us and we have the power of knowing that we are His. I remember hearing the story about a young French prince, who in the process of his education, was being taught by some older men how to curse. He answered: “I will not do it. I am the son of the king. I will not do it.” Oh, my blessed ones, when you are tempted to use bad language, remember, you are the child of the king, and you will not do it. And therefore, if we are going to be the church that we have always longed for and hoped for and prayed for, then I suggest that we must be a church where people are empowered through Christ to speak cleanly.
And we deny our Christ with profane attitudes.
You see, it is quite possible to be pious in language, proper in words, but profane in thought. What do I mean? Simply this. Prejudice is profanity. Hatred is profanity. Arrogance is profanity. Disrespect is profanity. So are pettiness and jealousy and bitterness and resentment and ingratitude. Profane attitudes are those attitudes which lead us to treat holy things or human beings or sacred relationships with contempt or disregard or disrespect. Profane attitudes are those which lead us to consider other people or groups of people with contempt or condescension. Profane attitudes are those which move us to use, or abuse, or misuse other people. We can be profane in our words but also profane in our thoughts.
Just recently, I don’t know if you saw it or not, the USA TODAY reported the results of a survey taken among 1,700 young people in Providence, Rhode Island. The young people were between the ages of 6th grade and 9th grade. It was an astonishing survey. A staggering number of those young people indicated in the survey that they thought it was perfectly all right for a man to force himself on a woman if he had spent money on her or if they had been dating for six months. Dear God! That kind of attitude is profane because it moves us to abuse another human being.
Do you remember what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 8? “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, O God, mortals that you care for them? Yet you made them a little lower than”—what? Than angels? No, no, no. That’s a mistaken translation. “You made them a little lower than God, and you have crowned them with glory and honor.” That’s the right translation. You and I are made just a little lower than God, and that is why we are to revere every other human being. We are never in any way to think thoughts which may defame or devalue or dehumanize another person. And therefore, my beloved, if we are going to be the church we’ve always hoped for and longed for and prayed for, then I would suggest to you that we must be a church where people are empowered through Christ to speak cleanly and to think purely.
And then we deny our Christ with profane actions.
In order to make the point, I want to share with you a true story. It’s a bit stronger than I would normally use from this pulpit, but I need a strong story to make a strong point. Do you remember a couple of years ago when Ft. Lauderdale was the most popular place for college students to gather on spring break? Well, there was a campus minister there named Larry. He was there to conduct some worship services on the beach, to help out with some counseling, to be a peace-maker when needed, to be an influence for good in the midst of circumstances which were not always good, to exercise a quiet witness for Christ amongst those rowdy college students. One day Larry was walking along the beach. He saw a young man wearing a T-shirt. And on the T-shirt were printed these words: “Help stamp out virginity.” Larry walked up to the young man and engaged him in conversation and they talked a bit and talked more as they walked along the beach, enjoying the sights and the sounds of the surf. And then Larry said to the young man: “I like your T-shirt.” The young man smiled and said: “Thanks.” Larry said: “In fact, I like it so much that I want to make a suggestion to you. When you get home, I want you to take that T-shirt and fold it up neatly and wrap it in a box and put it in a safe place and then years from now, after you are married, when some young man comes to take your daughter out on her very first date, I want you to give him that T-shirt.” The young man wheeled around on Larry and said: “Why don’t you go to hell?” And he turned and stormed off down the beach. Larry was afraid that maybe he had gone too far. But you know, later on that same day, he saw that same young man. He was wearing a different T-shirt. It had “Michigan State” written on it. And then the young man caught sight of Larry and he walked over to him and he said: “Mister, I don’t know who you are, and I’m sorry for what I said to you earlier, but I want you to know I took that T-shirt off and I burned it. I guess I really hadn’t thought that thing through.”
My beloved, if we are going to be the church we’ve always longed for and hoped for and prayed for, then I suggest to you that we must be a church where people are empowered through Christ to speak cleanly, to think purely, and to act rightly.
So I guess this sermon can be boiled down to two things that I want you to take home with you. The first thing I want you to take home is this: Remember that after Peter cursed, they never again asked him if he were a disciple of Jesus. Profanity, when we use it in word, in thought or in deed, is a denial of our Christ. But there’s something else I want you to take home with you. You see, when you read on in the Scripture, you discover that after the cusswords came the cross words. Jesus, on the cross said: “Father, forgive them.” Peter was included in the “them”. You and I are included in the “them”. Jesus might just as well have said: “Father, forgive Peter. Father, forgive Howard.” Father forgive…(put your own name in the blank.)
You must catch this. Peter denied Jesus, but Jesus would not deny Peter. In fact, Jesus came back to Peter, precisely for the purpose of forgiving him and changing him and empowering him to become what God wanted him to be. Here’s what I want you to take home: Jesus Christ accepts us just as we are, so that, in Christ, we shall not remain just as we are. Jesus comes to us to forgive us, to change us, to transform us, to enable us to speak cleanly and to think purely and to act rightly…to empower us to become everything God wants us to be.
Yes, Jesus accepts us just as we are so that we will not stay just as we are.