Sermon delivered October 14, 2007.
R.G. LeTourneau, the owner of a large earth-moving equipment company tells the story. "We used to have a scraper known as the model 'G'. Somebody asked one of our salesmen one day what the 'G' stood for. The salesman, after thinking a few seconds, replied, "Well, I guess the 'G' stands for 'Gossip', because like gossip, this machine moves a lot of dirt and moves it fast."
In today's gospel reading, the 4th Sunday of Luke 8:5-15, Jesus explains the Parable of the Sower. He says that the seed is the Word of God. By inference we know that God is the sower. We confess in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed that God is the creator of all things. Fashioned in God's own image and likeness, we humans also have the ability to create. Thus, we are co-creators with God. We are also co-sowers with God. We too can spread the seed, the Word of God. By witnessing to what is right, good, holy and true, we help to plant Jesus Christ, in the hearts and minds of those around us.
However, we can also plant other types of seeds. If we are doing or saying things that are not right, good, holy and true, then we are planting bad seeds. In fact, one could say we are spreading herbicide that kills the true seed. In doing this, we are no longer being creative. Rather, we are being destructive. Good seeds are words/actions of love, encouragement, praise, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, peace, joy. Bad seeds/herbicide are words/actions of criticism, gossip, slander, envy, malice, hatred, jealousy. Good seeds produce more of the same good things and help people to work together to create more good. Bad seeds produce more bad things that sow dissension, division, doubt. Destruction is their end.
What is an example of a bad seed? Returning to our earth-moving scraper example, gossip and slander can be very destructive. Referring to gossip as 'dirt' reveals its true nature. Gossip is messy news that does not reflect well on its subject. If it's really bad, it's referred to as 'mud' and gossip or slander is called 'mud-slinging'. Gossip moves fast because of two reasons. One, we have the habit of sharing juicy tidbits about someone with other people as soon as we hear it. It's like a hot potato that must be passed along as quickly as possible. Even if it's only shared with two people, we have just doubled the gossip. If they do the same, it's an exponential increase. The second reason, gossip moves fast is because we want to hear what's wrong with other people. We actually ask for it. "So what's the dirt on George? Have you heard anything about Georgia? No, I haven't heard but tell me what you've heard that's going on at St. George."
As gossip moves fast, the destruction spreads. The spoken word is a powerful force. When we hear unflattering news about someone, it sticks in our mind. Once there, it colors and distorts our perception of that person. We tend to see them, their words and actions, as motivated by these negative characterizations. The saddest part is that what we have heard about them is often untrue. Many of us are familiar with the gossip game or experiment to show it's nature of distortion. A group of people are put in a line, the first person whispers something gossipy in the ear of the person next to them. That person passes it along in the same way to the next and so on down the line until the end. The last person then says out loud what they heard. More often than not, it's substantially different than what the first person said.
If gossip is so destructive, why do we allow it, why do welcome it, and why do we share it? Looking back at Jesus' teaching today, He says that the good seed, the Word of God, takes root and grows in a noble and good heart. Bad seed or gossip will enter and take root when our heart is lacking in goodness and nobility. In other words, it's the condition of our heart that causes us to participate in the sad and real game of gossip. We may have resentment and bitterness specifically towards the person we gossip about. These same negative feelings may cause us to speak out and hurt others with whom we have no specific issue. A sense of inadequacy or alienation can motivate us to get in the middle of gossip and become an important person, an insider who has news to share.
What's the antidote to gossip? In bible study last week we discussed the Parable of the Sower. We learned that we must guard the garden/field of our heart by getting off the busy wayside. Gossip travels when people are too busy to pay attention to the effect of their words and how it tramples people under their feet. We learned that we must actively pull out the weeds and thorns of earthly pleasures. When gossip arrives at our hear, we have a choice to spread it or kill it, to think about it or forget it. We learned that a good and noble heart is one that is regularly tilled and turned over with self-examination, repentance and confession. Without this, our heart turns hard and callous and becomes more vulnerable to the temptation of idle talk.
In conclusion, the Sacrament of Holy Confession is the supreme antidote to gossip and slander. Why? In confession, we do not talk about others, but we talk about ourselves and our own dirt. Through our words, the guidance of the priest and the forgiveness of God, all the anger, bitterness, hurt, and inadequacy are washed away and we become clean again. Through this katharsis or cleansing, all our bad, gossipy news leaves us and dead-ends, never to be heard or talked about again, in the confidentiality of our spiritual father on earth and God the Father in heaven. Amen!
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.