A Sermon by The Rev’d Adrian Stephens
“They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Mark 9:30-31
Have you ever considered the manner in which we might use our tongue? We use it to lick ice cream. We roll a good wine around on the tongue, savouring the taste. We poke it out at people who upset us. We moisten our lips with our tongue when they are dry. And, of course we use our tongue to speak, to sing, to yell, and to cry out. Our tongue is both powerful and gentle. We use it to bless and to curse.
Jesus uses his tongue to teach the disciples. He guides them, chastises them, and encourages them. The words that Jesus speaks reflect the beauty of his heart, and his honesty regarding his earthly life.
When Jesus challenged the disciples regarding their argument of who was the greatest among them, he chastised them for their lack of understanding. Their tongues were used to demand greater recognition for their role as loyal followers.
We recently read in the gospel where Jesus asked who people, the community, thought he was. They spoke of Moses, Elijah, one of the prophets. When asked who they thought he was, Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of God. When Jesus spoke of his coming death and resurrection Peter chastised him for his negative talk. After all, who would follow a loser? Jesus immediately calls Peter Satan. Get behind me Satan for you are not thinking like God, but like a human. Peter’s tongue often took him into an environment which was strange and very different to the place he imagined. In short, his tongue got him into trouble.
Peter is not alone in this regard. We all have a tongue, and we will use it as circumstances dictate. Sometimes for good, and sometimes for evil.
James has quite intentionally raised the issue of our tongue and he insists that the tongue, unbridled, is more aligned with evil than with good. This is a confronting insight and a frightening teaching. He describes the control of a horse with a very small bridle and the control of a ship with a small rudder. These two very small objects, small in relation to horse or ship, have great power. It is the same with our tongue. Our tongue is very small when compared to the size of the body, and it will reveal more about us than anything else. The tongue can be used to control our lives.
James did not leave it there. He increases the power of the tongue then describes it as fire. How easy it is to use our tongue to create an environment of heat and hurt. The tongue can inflame a situation and make it increasingly destructive. A tongue out of control can be abusive, manipulating, and violent. Words are never just words. They can be spears that pierce another person’s heart. With words we can start wars between nations, and violence and hate between people. We can use our tongues to gossip, to spread untruth, and to destroy another person’s reputation. Words from our tongue can create chaos. I mentioned gossip. Gossip can be like a fire in its ferocity and the way in which it spreads. Words can destroy.
James continues, and while he acknowledges that a bridle can control a horse, and a rudder can control a ship, nothing can control the tongue. The bridle and the rudder are passive. They are controlled by the person in charge. They are innocent instruments. The tongue on the other hand is not a passive thing for what comes from it is the product and the thoughts behind it.
The reason that the tongue cannot be controlled is because the person behind the tongue cannot be fully controlled either.
This is why we are to choose our words very carefully when we speak. As I mentioned right at the beginning, we can use our tongue to both bless and to curse. We can use kind and encouraging words to build people up. And we can spit vitriol and poison and cut people down and denigrate them.
As we think about how we use words in our everyday life we might like to consider the example of our Lord. Yes, he became angry and threw the money lenders out of the temple. He called them names and accused them of being thieves. A den of robbers.
On the other hand, he spoke with his disciples and encouraged them to be as innocent as children. Life is not about who might be the greatest and the most powerful. It is not about pushing and shoving to get our own way. It is not about yelling obscenities at people who upset us. No! we are to be as Christ and we are to be servants. We are to be servants of God and servants for each other. We are to speak truth and offer compassion. We are to speak as disciples of Christ.
Each and every one of us is a child of God. Jesus speaks of welcoming children in his name, and in doing so we welcome Jesus and furthermore we welcome God the Father. It is not for us to suggest that another person is unworthy of the love of God, or that they are unworthy of our love and welcoming.
Jesus took that child in his arms and insisted that we are to welcome him in innocence as a child does. Children at the time had very little worth in society. That is hard for us to believe in our lifetime, but it was true back then. To be told, taught, that we are to be as children becomes more confronting.
We speak of the power of words and then return to the beginning of the sermon. Jesus words were confronting for the disciples, and they could not understand what Jesus was saying. Several times he has told the disciples that he is to be put to death and then would rise from the dead. This did not fit with their desire and anticipation, so they could not even begin to understand the words of our Lord.
We know that the time came when understanding became the driver of their life. It was then that they began to use words, their tongue, to bring others to the faith. Were they perfect? No. Were they determined to spread the word of God? Indeed yes.
For our part we will continue to strive to control our tongues and hopefully bring peace and hope to all we meet. Like Christ we are to embrace all people as his children, as our siblings, and we are to use our tongues for the good of all.