What’s the ugliest part of my body?
Easy now … be kind.
What’s the most beautiful part of my body?
Come on now …
You got it … my tongue.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
We tell a child: Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt me.
A nice idea … but not accurate.
A broken leg … it heals.
A cut on our hand … it heals.
But words, negative words, go deep, really, really deep … a parent calls us stupid … a spouse embarrasses us in front of friends … a teacher ridicules our art work … a boss calls us out in front of co-workers.
We carry wounding words all of our life … pray as we do, the Spirit heals, but those ugly words never quite go away.
Thank God for beautiful words.
A teacher believes in us … a friend consoles us … a sermon opens up the heart, and God comes rushing in.
We remember those words, too - they carry us along; give us calm in the storm, peace in the night, courage to face whatever life throws at us.
All of this - from the tongue.
An amazing little critter.
James raises a tough question: Can we be consistent with our tongue?
Recently, someone sent me an email with lots of lovely photos - children, dogs, cats, whales, mountains and trees, and photos of our women and men in the armed services … beautiful pictures, portraying dedication, devotion, duty … and, then, in the middle of the pictures, as I’m scrolling down, a statement:
“ACLU has filed a suit to end prayer from the military completely. They're making great progress. The Navy Chaplains can no longer mention Jesus' name in prayer thanks to the ACLU and others.”
Just like that, a lie!
The American Civil Liberties Union has never filed suit to end prayer in the military … Navy Chaplains can pray in Jesus’ name any time they want, with anyone they want, anywhere they want.
In the midst of all those lovely pictures, an ugly lie …
A spring cannot send forth both fresh water and brackish water … but the human mind can do it all the time.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 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.
Sadly, the internet is a breeding ground for half-truths, falsehoods and lies …
“President Obama is a Muslim.” No he’s not. He’s a Christian.
“President Obama was born in Kenya.” No, that’s not true. He was born in Hawaii.
Conspiracy-mongers believe that 9/11 was an inside job “arranged by our government,” or “planned by Jewish extremists.” Those are lies.
A story told by motivational speakers and preachers: “In 1953 a Yale University survey found that only 3 percent of students had long-term goals, and 20 years later, when the same students were interviewed again, the 3 percent who had long-term goals were not only happier and more productive but also had a net worth as great as the other 97 percent combined.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Only one problem … it’s not true. It’s a lie. These studies never took place.
Some of the worst lies ever told begin with, “The Bible says …”
People who held slaves quoted the Bible all the time; preachers and missionaries defended slavery … some of our Presbyterian ancestors wrote long and eloquent essays promoting slavery; Presbyterian preachers stood in their pulpits before pious congregations and proclaimed the rightness of slavery - “Slavery is God-ordained; it’s in the Bible, and if it’s in the Bible, it’s good enough for me” … and then said to their congregations, “Let us now bow our heads and say our prayers to the God who made us free in Jesus Christ.”
For centuries, Christians told lies about Jews and quoted the Bible … Christians killed Jews and quoted the Bible … burned synagogues and forced Jews to convert at the point of a sword … and quoted the Bible.
Men who abuse their wives quote the Bible; parents who abuse their children quote the Bible … people who believe in a flat-earth quote the Bible … people who believe in little green men from Mars quote the Bible … murderers and thieves and dictators and preachers and politicians all quote the Bible.
I quote the Bible all the time.
But quoting the Bible means nothing if we fail to preach the whole counsel of God … If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Without love, there is no truth … without truth, there is no love.
Sometimes love requires silence.
Ecclesiastes says: There is time to keep silent, and a time to speak.
Sometimes silence is golden … look before we leap, and think before we speak … words said in haste are like toothpaste - easy to get out; impossible to put back in.
The writer of Proverbs says: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.
But most of the time, Jesus speaks out … so does Paul … so do the Prophets.
They speak out when others are getting hurt … widows, orphans, aliens … a voice for the voiceless … like the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, a defender, a shield for the vulnerable.
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Sometimes we get the “humble” part right … but too many of us forget how to “do justice” and what it means “to love kindness.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. said: History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Ellie Weisel, a concentration camp survivor, said: I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
God is a God of Words.
With words, God creates the heavens and the earth.
God speaks to Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and Saul on the Damascus Road.
The disciples proclaim the gospel in many languages on Pentecost Day.
With words, peace is won, forgiveness offered, wrongs righted, the righteous made strong.
We pray the LORD’s prayer, seek the LORD’s blessing … sing our hymns … say to a loved one, “I’m sorry” … to God, “forgive me” … to the world, “Remember God your creator” … to our children, “Carry on and bring the world closer to God, closer to peace, with justice for all” - all of this with words.
Paul the Apostle writes: How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in one of whom they have not heard? How are they hear without someone to proclaim him?
Whatever the day, whatever the time, may our tongues be useful in the service of Jesus Christ our LORD.
To God be the glory!
Amen and Amen!