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Matthew 15:10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

There is great power in the spoken word. In the beginning, God spoke the word of Creation. God spoke light and life. When God’s people cried out, God sent Moses to speak the word of freedom: “Let my people go!” And in the fulness of time, the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Europeans came to this land bearing the Bible. They said it was the word of God. And when their behavior matched the message, the Gospel was widely embraced. You see, Indian people have always judged truth by action. Europeans have fought wars and tortured each other in the name of religion.

There has never been a Native American war over religion. Indians have never tried to force anybody to change their theology. If you want to believe your Creator is a Great Blue Duck, that’s fine. We’ll just wait to see how that duck makes you walk and talk.

In fact, some Indian peoples decided it was better to adopt European ways as soon as possible. The Europeans called these nations the civilized tribes: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. These were the first to learn to read, write, and speak English words. They wore European clothes. They developed European habits. The Cherokee were the first to print newspapers and Bibles in their own tongue. They thought the they would be able to keep their traditional homelands if they just blended in with the immigrants—but that did not last long.

As one tribe after another was pushed west, Native nations developed a deep distrust of printed words. Many Native leaders said relying on the printed word was the first step toward losing sacred memories. They have a point there. Now that my smart phone knows everything I find I remember less and less. I do not know the phone numbers of my own family members. I don’t have to remember them: the phone keeps my memories for me.

To this day many Native elders are reluctant to entrust sacred memories to printed pages—or to Google. We encourage young people to learn the old stories word for word. Some Nations say our words lose power when we commit them to the page. Memories are not sacred until we lift them off the page and into the heart.

The same is true for Christians.

Knowing where to read a story is not the same as knowing the story. The Word of God does not live on the printed page. If it did, then libraries and bookshelves would be saved. The Word of God is not written on paper. It is written on the human heart. The Word of God does not become flesh until someone speaks the story.

These days there is a resurgent interest in sacred story telling. This is a good thing. We should all be able to speak our own stories. As we tell them the Creator imprints our hearts with the truth. Our sacred Bible stories are full of truth but you cannot live by them until you know them. Learn to tell your salvation story. Learn to tell your own faith journey. Learn to speak about these things from your heart.

The Civilized Tribes can tell you that printed words will never save you. Only the living Word of God can do that. The living word is what dwells in your heart and comes out of your mouth. That word has great power to destroy or to save.

Can you tell your story of salvation. Get it off the page, into your heart, and out of your mouth. “For If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

O Lord, we forget how much power our words carry. Fill us with the sacred stories of faith, and hope, and love. Fill us until we act like we believe your stories of life.