A Sermon for 16 September 2018
A reading of Mark 8:27-30. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
And one more reading. This one is a reading of James 3:1-12. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Today’s sermon is a True-False pop quiz! So, buckle up and get ready – now!
There once was a mother whose young adult son was taken in the middle of the night from their small home. Such brutal police raids had become common around there at that time. Their land was being ripped apart by the color of people’s skin. Years later, in open court, the police officer involved stood before the young man’s family. He told of the way the son’s body was beaten, bloodied, and buried by the police. In great shame he said: “I am sorry. Now I see how wrong it all was. I am so sorry about what I did to your son – to you. To us all.” It was hard to hear. But at last this momma knew what had happened. Tears streaming down her cheeks, with great courage she said: “Thank you for facing me to tell me the truth. I forgive you.”
True or false: the tongue has great power.
There once was a twelve-year-old girl living in the rural South of the United States. She was happy with her single momma and sister, living in their little trailer outside of town. Everyone knew the pre-teen as being rather sweet. A well-mannered child, who sang in the church choir and went weekly to prayer circle with her mother and sister. But she also was a little different – some sort of problem at birth which left her a bit behind other kids. The school bus picked her up daily to take her off to school. Every day she was poked and teased and had her pigtails pulled on the bus. The driver never said a word. One morning, she just couldn’t take the name-calling any longer. She pulled a handgun from her backpack, and it was as if this sweet, innocent, bullied child snapped. Reports said no one was “injured.” No shots ever fired. She would spend the next two years of her teenage life in jail.
True or false: the tongue has great power.
There once was a vivacious little girl. She was creative and imaginative and so much fun! ABCs didn’t come easy for her. Neither did her 123s. The further along she went in school, the more she couldn’t learn in the way the teachers taught. Every day became a nightmare. And homework time: a knock-down drag out – leaving her often to go hide under her bed. Frequently she was heard telling her family she was dumb. Stupid. She just couldn’t learn. One year she got a teacher who said: “I know how I can help.” Though differently than all the other children, the little girl began to learn!
True or false: the tongue has great power.
You may not know it, but it only took a speech or two. Explanations of how the country’s economic demise was their fault. Newspaper ads portraying them dirty, sub-human. That’s de-humanization. The process that has to happen in order to go against our own biology which is wired NOT to kill our own species. One man was able to whip a crowd into an amazing, fear-incited frenzy through name calling and tribal sorting and de-humanizing some in order for some others to go against our natural, instinctual drive to connect. A plan was born of how to return this presumably superior race to greatness. The rhetoric was: be wary of certain neighbors. They’re not like us – not human. Do not trust them. It’s all their fault. The year was 1924, Germany. A holocaust of eleven million people began – six million who were Jews. According to one source, the other five million were “gay people, priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters” (https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6555604). By the time it was all over, somewhere between 50 and 80 million people lost their lives in World War II (https://www.historyonthenet.com/how-many-people-died-in-world-war-2/).
True or false: the tongue has IMMENSE power.
Do you know the words by the former slave, great abolitionist, and woman’s suffragist, Sojourner Truth? Words she spoke at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851, pre-Civil War, when gathered Christians – mostly white women and men – were arguing over whether women should be allowed equal rights in a burgeoning democracy. It helps to know a little about the stature of this 6-foot-tall, chiseled, old grandma, who was born into slavery in New York but earned her freedom in 1827. Her mere entry into the church assembly stirred the northern crowd that wasn’t too sure they wanted to mix their plea for women’s rights with that of the slaves of the South. Sojourner listened long to the arguments, then finally rose to speak. She’s quoted as saying: “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!” she said bearing her muscular shoulder. “I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [and a member of audience whispers, “intellect”]”. Sojourner continues: “That’s it, honey. What’s (supposed superior intellect) got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?” Pointing to a pastor, she continues: “Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from?” Sojourner, the uneducated slave woman eloquently argued, and I quote her: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made (mother Eve) was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone” (as throughout time has been an argument against mutuality for women). Then, Sojourner said: then, “these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right-side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp). Woo! The eye-witness response was recorded as being “roars of applause (while Sojourner) returned to her corner leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude.” The witness wrote: “She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty turning the whole tide in our favor.” The reporter quoted: “I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of ‘testifyin’ (again) agin concerning the wickedness of this (here) ‘ere people’” end quote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ain%27t_I_a_Woman%3F).
True or false: even if some still are threatened by this one, isn’t it true that the tongue has great power? Enormous, beautiful, miraculous, world-changing power!
We could go on. An innocent insinuation on Facebook. A text that quickly gets around. One-liners that ring throughout history. Words that change the trajectory of lives. Words like: I love you. I am proud of you. You matter to me. You are precious in my sight. . . . We even heard it today from the lips of that great disciple: “You are the Messiah!” (Mark 8:29). Two thousand plus years later, thirsty souls still profess the name: Jesus the Christ, God’s anointed one. Savior. Lord of all! . . . Indeed, the tongue has amazing, life-altering power!
The book of James is the New Testament’s only work classified as Wisdom Literature (Mark Douglas, Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 4, p. 62). It seeks to teach the faithful the importance of living the faith. Though many of the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century rejected James all together. In particular Martin Luther himself, who spoke of the book of James as “the epistle of straw” (Ibid.); the grand offense being wisdom’s claim that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). And I guess due to their context in which notions of the grace of God had become something one had to do a work to earn, we can understand the concern. Nonetheless, the wisdom the book of James seeks to teach is that true religion consists of three marks: “care for orphans and widows in their distress, (keeping) oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27), and speaking rightly. For the tongue, like the smallest flicker of a flame, is able to set ablaze an entire forest (James 3:5). Mature faith is evidenced by these three marks.
Even if you got a few of the true-false questions wrong today, our charge is to go into the world to live the life-giving truth. May the blaze our words be the start of love’s revolution!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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