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This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.
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It is said that the great reformer Martin Luther wanted to remove one book from the Bible. The book of James. He questioned whether it should even be included in the Scriptures. He heard James tell his fellow Christians, “faith without works is dead”… James’s version of “You better walk the talk”… “you’ve got to practice what you preach.”
Luther must have wondered, “What about ‘we are justified through faith’?” Grace alone will save us. You’ll never work long enough or hard enough to earn a seat at the heavenly table… it is grace, all grace. That’s what Luther taught… and if you start teaching people that “faith without works is dead”… well, aren’t you on a slippery slope? “I’m just sayin'”
Well, with all do respect to Luther, as I’ve read the book for preaching, I’ve grown to like the book of James. It is an immensely practical book filled with practical wisdom for Christians.
Today’s text is a great example. He is talking about words… speech… the tongue. The power of the tongue… and with all due respect to Paul and his illustration about the members of the body, all being important… I think James might say that the tongue is the most important part of the human body… because the tongue, you see, has tremendous power… to curse or to bless….to build or destroy… to heal or divide… to start a war or to offer peace… “I’m just sayin'”
I’m just sayin’. Oh, how I’ve found myself saying those words in the last year or so. A couple of Sunday’s ago, Nancy was announcing the first youth meeting and reminding people that it was not a dinner… but an ice cream event… And I piped in, “well, to some of us ice cream is a dinner… “I’m just sayin'”
“I’m just sayin'” Oh, how I’ve heard others and caught myself saying argumentative things or potentially hurtful things and trying to cover it with those little words, “I’m just sayin'” – “You know, you could wear more make up-I’m just sayin”… “You know, that food you prepared was a little over cooked… I’m just sayin'”
I’m just sayin’… as if what we just said doesn’t have power. But it does and you know it as well as I do. So does James…I wonder what was going on in his church. Was there gossiping about fellow members (can you imagine anyone doing that?-talking about someone else behind their back in church?) I’m just sayin.’
Were there members who were calling each other names or even spreading rumors about those new gentile members – with their strange accents and new customs? People talk about whether they really belonged in the church? Who would do such a thing? I’m just sayin’.
Something was happening in James’ church… people were talking… and saying bad things…hurtful things. I’m so glad they didn’t have email or facebook in his church-it would have torn the church apart… “I’m just sayin'”
Which is why James has something to say to them and he’s pretty direct. Teachers, be very careful…what you say matters. Everyone, remember, tongues are like bits in the mouth of a horse… or rudders on a ship… they may look small, but they control everything. One misspoken word can set a forest on fire and you can’t take it back… you cannot unlight a forest fire.
James sounds like my Momma- saying things like… when you are frustrated or angry… you better hold your tongue… because you can’t take it back. So, it is better to pause before you speak sometimes. I’ve found my Momma was right about many of those things. Maybe one important part of the Christian life is very simple-learn to hold your tongue. Not everything has to be said.
Because the tongue can do great damage if you are not careful. Henri Nouwen, a very wise Christian said: “Words are very important. When we say to someone: “You are an ugly, useless, despicable person,” we might have ruined the possibility for a relationship with that person for life. Words can continue to do harm for many years. It is so important to choose our words wisely. When we are boiling with anger and eager to throw bitter words at our opponents, it is better to remain silent.”
I think of the story of a woman in a previous congregation, let’s call her Jane. She was very active in the church… very helpful… kind and gracious. So caring for others who were hurting. Jane became a friend to me. But I discovered over time that Jane was bearing a very heavy load in her life-hidden from everyone else in the pews. She struggled with depression… an awful self image… feeling like God even hated her and wondered if God could ever love her. I was surprised when I discovered this dark side to my friend, carrying such a burden. As we unpacked where it came from, what hit me is that it kept coming back to words. Words. Words her alcoholic father and her depressed Mother had shared with her since a child. They told her, “Jane, you are nothing but crap” (and I’m cleaning it up for you). They went to church every Sunday, but the message in the home to Jane was, “you are nothing about crap.”
Do you know how many sermons on grace and love you have to preach to overcome those five words spoken from a parent? I’m not sure… because I preached a lot of them, and Jane had a hard time hearing them. So don’t go telling me that words don’t matter… don’t go saying, “I’m just sayin'” as if that can always cover up your insensitivity. Words matter… they shape us for good, or for ill.
I worry about the words I hear people use in our society sometimes. The level of discourse can sound so shrill and sophomoric (I’m just sayin’)
People are lying about healthcare reforms proposals… there is name calling on both sides… one side calls the other fascist… or Obama a socialist or a liar… another side is called the fringe or crazy for their views. Words, I know, just words. Words that demonize… damage… Words, used not to bless but as weapons of verbal warfare- a premeditated and pre-emptive attack- to score political points or increase the ratings for TV and radio. To me it all sounds like static getting in the way of what should be a very healthy debate.
And I wonder as I listen to the words… “How many of those people went to church? How many claim to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ? How many of them have worn the bracelets, WWJD? Maybe we should give them a bracelet that says, “WWJS” What would Jesus say?
I think James experienced some of this in his own church. He said,
“”With (the tongue) we bless the Lord and Father (we go to church and sing our hymns) and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”
Amen James. Amen. (I’m just saying)
The tongue that blesses can curse. But can we also say that the tongue, properly tamed
and controlled and used can be a beautiful blessing. Our goal should be to use our tongues in a way that blesses not only God, but others. Letting our words be a means by which God’s grace flows.
Words like, “I love you. Or “You are special”… or “I am sorry”… or three words that seem to be hardest for us to get out of our mouths, “I forgive you”-they carry great power. And we know it.
Again, Nouwen speaks wisdom to me. He says, “Often we remain silent when we need to speak. Without words, it is hard to love well. When we say to our parents, lovers or friends, “I love you very much” or “I care for you” or “I think of you often” or “you are my greatest gift”, we choose to give life. It is not always easy to express our love directly in words. But whenever we do, we discover we have offered a blessing that will be long remembered. When a son can say to his father, “Dad, I love you,” and when a mother can say to her daughter, “child, I love you,” a whole new blessed place can be opened up, a space where it is good to dwell. Indeed, words have the power to create life.”
I know some people say, “Actions speak louder than words” but you know that is not always true. Sometimes words are pretty powerful… words create action.
Tom Long, who teaches preaching in Atlanta, tells a story about a couple in a church near Carrolton, GA who has stopped talking. (I wonder what words were said that led to the silence) He has moved out and she is alone and the kids are all grown up and far away. He has stopped coming to church and she comes to church, sits on the pew where they sat and cries while she sings hymns. Everyone in the church knows what is going on but nobody knows what to say.
One Sunday he shows up, and he walks next to her, asking if he can sit down. She, shocked and afraid, moves all the way to the far end of the pew. The time for the passing of the peace comes in the service and he walks down awkwardly to her at the far end. The whole church, though passing the peace, is really watching them, to see what will happen. And the man offers his hands and says, “I’m sorry, the peace of Christ be with you.” And she, drying away tears from the hymn they just finished singing, offers her hands and says, “And also with you.” And they leave together and begin the long road of working it out.
Just words… “I’m sorry… ” Just words, “the peace of Christ be with you”… Just words, “And also with you”… but those are the words from our faith that is leading this couple to a better place of healing and blessing. In your mouth and mine is one of the most powerful gifts God has given us-the tongue. Use it well and you will be a blessing to more people than you will ever know. Use it poorly, well… you may do more damage than you ever know. I’m just sayin’.
So may God, who spoke a word of grace and peace to us in Christ, fill our mouths with grace and peace as we live with one another and as we seek to share God’s blessings with the world. Amen.