Beyond the Pulpit

August 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, greetings to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have been reflecting on the sad state of public discourse in our culture.  Not just among the politicians who, I admit, get the most opportunity and whose voices are loudest thanks to media coverage, but among the whole of the culture.  It’s not just on social media, it’s in person as well, that people interact with each other cursing and condemning one another in the crudest, cruelest, conceited, combative, and confrontational manner.  From childish name-calling to accusations of the worst evil and criminal offences, we sling mud (a substance most easily found on a farm would

probably be more accurate) at each other. Next to the politicians, among the worst offenders are my colleagues in ministry.  Members of the clergy and officers of the churches, all who should know better.  Well to be honest, every person who professes themselves to be Christian knows better, but sadly, they (perhaps “we”?) choose to ignore Jesus’ command to love one another.

We may not be able to fix all of the public discourse within our culture, but we can choose to be responsible for the discourse within the Body of Christ.

James 3: 5a-10 reads, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (ESV)

The writer of James is fully aware of the dangers posed by the tongue.  The tongue, of course, a great tool for good and yet is capable of such evil.  The impulsive use of the tongue in our lives can steer, not only the individual, but also the community into actions which are righteous or blasphemous.

We need to look no further than the story of the Tower of Babel for the truth about the power of the tongue.   Genesis tells us in the story that as all the people were gathered in one place and shared a common language, they soon began to think there was nothing they could not do.  To prove their power, they decided to build a tower that could reach to the heavens and thereby challenge the sovereignty of God.

But God did not meet this challenge with a storm or earthquake or tornado or anything of the like.  All he did was mix up their language.  The power of the common tongue had given them the power to build the tower.  And it was the power of disjointed language that brought it down.

James is calling on us to see the tongue as the instrument of either unity or disunity, one that can either build up or destroy Church, the Christian Community.  But it cannot be both.  We must choose one or the other, blessing or curse, fresh water or saltwater, choose your words, for they cannot truly exist together.

He alludes to the image of how a small fire can grow to engulf and destroy an entire forest.  Certainly, we have also seen in this age of instant and non-stop news and the universality of the internet, where lies and exaggerations and fear can burn down whole neighborhoods or drive people to murder innocent victims.

And I have seen wagging tongues destroy relationships, and ministries and whole congregations.  And now they are amplified by technology.  Text messages, emails, blogs, vlogs, twitter posts and reposts, Facebook rants, You-tube speeches and mockumentaries, have become the social and Spiritual equivalents to tossing a firebomb over your shoulder into a room as you walk out the door.

James warns us, and Jesus commands us, we must not let that happen in the church, but still it does.

We are left with no doubt about the dangers of the tongue to the unity and vitality of the Church.  And so again we must all endeavor to restrain our tongues.  And yet in James’ own words, “no one can tame the tongue,” so what hope does that give us? Are we doomed?

I do not think so.  Yes, he has warned us of the dangers of the un-tamable tongue, in part to encourage us to work hard to control our tongues within the Christian community.  But in verse 2, he reminds us that “we all stumble in many ways,” people make mistakes.  Yes, all of us.  We should not be surprised when someone speaks some manner of evil, indeed James would have us be prepared and ready to react appropriately.

Just as James would have us speak with gracious tongues to one-another, I believe he wants us to listen with gracious ears as well.

How many of those fires ignited by the tongue have been fanned by our outrage and over-reaction?   Can words or actions born out of shock, revenge, and anger, truly be considered Christian responses?

The tongues we use to curse can also be used to ask for forgiveness.  The tongues we use to punish in our self-righteous indignation can also be used to grant forgiveness.

The cure for the poisons of the tongue and reclamation of the springs fouled by the pollution of the tongue can only be found in dedicating ourselves to filling our mouths with the language of God’s love and striving to speak, listen, act and love following the example of Jesus.

And what does that love of God in Jesus look like?  Ask the Corinthians, (13:4-7) “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Speaking and listening with this love, we can build up the Body of Christ.  And without it, we will burn it to the ground.

May the blessings of God, the peace of Jesus Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Mitch