I'm a little late posting this. This sermon was delivered at Christ Church Anglican in South Riding Virginia back on September 13th.
Looking across the texts of this morning’s readings, the idea of our words come streaming through both testament along with the Gospel reading. Considering this, I’d like to take a few moments to think about what comes out of our mouths and ask, “Are our tongues trowels or sledgehammers?”
Tongues make up less than four ounces of our total body weight and we don’t think about them unless we’re brushing or we unexpectedly bite our tongues. Without them we would be incapable of intelligible speech. Think of the great orators of the ages. Men like Winston Churchill, Dr. King, and Ronald Reagan could never have inspired the millions without the power of the spoken word. Saint James alludes to this power of the tongue when he compares them to a ship’s rudder or a horse’s bit. A full grown horse approaches one half ton and is fully capable of stomping a man into the dirt. Yet a horse that’s been trained with bridle and bit can be mastered by a child. That ship’s rudder, from a design and size standpoint is relatively small in comparison, yet it can move even a super carrier on a steady course through the water. Yet this tiny organ seems to be the hardest to sanctify and the source of much of our troubles.
James seems to make a rhetorical statement is alluding to the perfect man in verse 2 (READ JAMES 3:2).
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
There are no perfect men or women, Christians notwithstanding. While we’re being perfected and conformed to the image of Christ Jesus, we still stumble over our own flesh. I think it was Chuck Swindoll who said something to the effect of though we’ve been crucified with Christ, the old man still tries to pull himself off the cross. Stumbling in our words comes pretty naturally for all of us.
Our words hold power. Now, I’m not inferring this in the sense of the false doctrines of the “Word of Faith” or Prosperity Gospel movements. You know, name it claim it or blab it, grab it guys? Rather, let’s think of our words as having the power to uplift or tear down. A well timed, thoughtful word can serve to dry the tears and embrace those in sorrow. A careless or rash word can damage relationships, often to being beyond to point of reconciliation. Think too, how many punches in the nose stemmed from the slip of a tongue? This is a reason that James, earlier in this letter reminded the First Century believers to be “slow to speak”, considering their words.
Our words will ultimately prove who or what we are. Jesus in engaging the Pharisees over the issue of ceremonial cleanliness dropped a truth bomb on their accusations in declaring that it is what proceeds from an individual as to what makes them clean or unclean. (READ MARK 7:15)
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
The link between mind, soul, and mouth is unbreakable as what’s stored up within the heart of an individual will ultimately spill out of the tonsils for the whole world to hear. Yes we’re going to stumble. We’re going to yell at Alan Combs as he spouts off with some preposterous statement. We’re going to be barking at the driver on the beltway who’s forgotten what merge lanes or minimum speeds are. This is stumbling, it should also be that moment we’re we feel the Spirit whispering “Seriously?” into our hearts.
James gives a call to examine our words in vv. 9-11 (READ JAMES 3:9-11).
“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?”
Is the mouth that lifts up thanksgivings in the sanctuary or within our prayer places the same mouth that cuts people to shreds through vicious gossip, lies or just plain ugliness? James tells us that this incongruous and shouldn’t be found among the saint’s. In comparing blessing to cursing, he uses the thought of springs. Since it would be a few thousand years before Wawa, 7-Eleven or Sheetz would hit the scene, those out in the open would have to rely on naturally occurring springs for life sustaining water. Fresh water was a blessing but a salt spring was poisonous and of use to no one. One type of water or another flows through the opening. The co-mingling of the two spoiled the water.
For me, a mind-jarring examination of my words seemed to have occurred by coincidence. But we all know the definition of coincidence, that’s the Almighty standing in the wings and not taking credit. I was a very immature believer at the time when after arriving a work, I grabbed my Fleetwood Mac cassette (Rumors) to play in the office. After settling in, I dropped the cassette in the player and hit play. The wheels were spinning but no sound was coming out of the speakers. Nonplussed, I said exactly what was on my mind about the situation. At the end of the day, I grabbed the tape and plunked it into the car stereo. Immediately, I learned that the player at the office had malfunctioned, causing the unit to record over a minute of Stevie Nicks and I had the experience of me listening to myself doing George Carlin’s “Seven Word’s” routine. I’ve got to say, I’ve never felt the Spirit’s conviction the way I did that afternoon in Germany. I believe that actually listening to what spills from our mouths could be one of the more powerful and transformational things we could experience.
Jesus, in our Gospel reading speaks to us about the consequences of our words. After taking Saint Peter to task over his rebuke of his master, Jesus gives an admonition and a warning concerning his words in v 38 (READ MARK 8:38)
“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Think back to what the Master said to the Pharisees concerning what flows out of the mouth and uncleanliness. Our deepest thoughts concerning Christ and his words will ultimately appear within our own words. This is where it can get hard and where our faith in Jesus gets placed on the line.
Jesus is speaking to hearers who are living within an adulterous and sinful generation. Given the fact that man is thoroughly depraved and that as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun, Christ’s disciples had to wallow in the same morass that we find ourselves in on any given day. And while Jesus was speaking these words of truth to the contemporary culture, the religious establishment was already conspiring to kill Jesus and his band. You see laying down one’s life and picking up a cross wasn’t a flowery metaphor, its meaning was clear. Yet, speaking words of renunciation may have saved one’s neck for a season, it meant only kicking the can down the road to a point where one would experience Divine shame on that great and terrible day of the LORD.
As I consider Jesus’ description of that generation, I think of our own. Political correctness is being wielded like a hammer and those who even dare to think counter culturally, receive quick retribution. God’s word isn’t ambivalent over much of what our culture has descended into. Sadly, many have embraced this cultural rot as inevitable. One who once repudiated such things now happily support them. Their words are reflecting shame for timeless truth.
So what’s our takeaway ask we consider this morning’s readings? I believe the answer is twofold. Are we striving to convey words and speech that is God-honoring? Are we striving to speak words that edify or friends, family and our fellow saint’s? As well, is God’s Kingdom being advanced or waylaid by our words?
To end with my original question, are our tongues trowels our sledgehammers?