First Lesson: Proverbs 1: 20-33
Responsive Reading: Psalm 19
Second Lesson: James 3: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 27-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I have one lesson during confirmation class that gets kids to listen to like no other lesson. All our confirmation kids can probably explain the summary of this lesson quite well. The lesson is on the second commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The lesson deals with the differences between cussing, swearing and cursing? Now many people hear the words cussing, swearing, and cursing to assume that they only have to do with naughty words. The comedian George Carlin in 1972 did a monolog on the seven dirty words that you can’t say on television. So many Christians assume that the seven words that Carlin named are the only words that we shouldn’t say.
What we must always remember is that the scriptural warnings regarding our tongues go beyond these words. So what is the difference between cussing, swearing, and cursing? Cusses are bad words that I dare not say in a sermon and most parents dare not say in front of their impressionable young children. Cusses aren’t the worst mistakes with a person’s tongue. Swears are a failure to maintain a promise; swearing builds all sorts of distrust and brokenness within the body of Christ. Cursing though is worse then even swearing or cussing. Cursing involves calling down the name of the Lord to bring harm to others. Cursing is taking the Lord’s name in vain by assigning death, destruction, and mayhem to God’s wishes. Cursing is a direct violation of the second commandment.
As I think of this famous confirmation lesson, the reason that it is so effective is that kids know first hand that the tongue is the most powerful part of the human body. You ask people about the most painful moments of their childhood they will remember the words that made them feel miserable about themselves, words that made them feel weak and ultimately powerless. I can remember first hand these things growing up with a speech impediment being on the receiving end of taunts. For other children, it might be their weight, their glasses, lack of style, beauty or talent. Words do hurt!
The power of the tongue is one of the first lessons that a child learns in life. When 7th graders sit in the school cafeteria and try to sneak in as many bad words into the conversation as they can without getting caught. They do this because they instinctively know that the tongue has power.
Tales from the school cafeteria leads us to our lesson for today from James 3 regarding the power of the human tongue. What you maybe haven’t considered before this morning is what kind of emphasis that the scriptures place on the tongue.
Two of the Ten Commandments have to do with the human tongue. The second commandment, that I mentioned earlier, along with the eight commandment regarding bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.
John Jewell tells the following story. There once was a man in Scotland. This man didn’t care for his neighbor. One day he hears a rumor about his neighbor. The Man tells his friends this rumor. The man’s friends tell their friends. Pretty soon nearly everyone in this small village had heard the rumor about the Neighbor; the rumor destroyed this man’s relationship and reputation with the community. The Neighbor had to leave town as an emotional and physical wreck because of the rumor’s toll.
The Man soon finds out something disturbing about the rumor. The rumor was false! One man’s careless tongue had destroyed another man’s life. The Man’s guilt begins to consume him to the point that he goes to visit the local priest. The Man asks, “If I can be forgiven for my sin?”
The Priest looks at him and tells him that one can not easily fix such sins. The Priest had a potential solution, though. He instructed the man to go round up a bag of feathers and place one in every yard in the village. The Man thought this request to be strange, but he followed the Priest’s request. The Man finally goes back to the Priest asking if he could now be granted forgiveness.
The Priest replied “not until you pick up every feather that you have placed in people’s yards.” Hours had passed as the Scottish winds blew through the countryside. The Man quickly realized the Priest’s point that you can never take back what you say. Feathers will always blow away before you have a chance to retrieve them.
This story helps illustrate the power of the human tongue that our lesson reflects on.
James 3:5 “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
What was the point of this lesson that James was seeking to give the earliest Christians. James was attempting to acknowledge a reality that Christian people will have conflict. What Christians need to know is “The first instinct that we have is often the worst instinct”. Someone will say something that we don’t like, so feeling the need to win the argument; we try to say something harsher and more relentless back in return. Pretty soon the tongue leaves nothing but destruction in its wake.
James realizes this! When James wrote his letter, he wanted Christians to think differently about how to use the tongue. James realizes that how one used their tongue is often the difference between peace and discord.
I was talking to a guy from the community a while back at an event at the school. This guy starts giving me a laundry list of everything that was wrong with his wife. She tended to be overly emotional blah, blah. As I’m hearing this guy talk, my concern wasn’t with whether what he was saying was true. This guy’s criticisms probably were true on some level. My concern was rather two-fold: 1. Why do I need to know all this? The guy couldn’t have possibly expected me to change his wife’s natural personality after years of marriage. 2. If this is how you talk about your wife in my presence, how do you build her up when you are in her presence?
James 3:8 “But no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.
If people doubt that the tongue is mighty, think of family members that you might have that have used one sentence to isolate forever themselves from someone they previously claim to hold dear.
Ed Markquart says it best “People will remember three harsh words, more than a thousand words of praise .”
Think of the worst tongue lashing that you ever received in your life and how warm you feel about it. The person could have been a school-teacher, I’ve told the story about my 8th grade English teacher Mr.Chrun and Me before. Your worst tongue lashing could be an old or current boss. Your worst tongue lashing could even be as a result of a brother or sister. Now think how you feel towards the person that harshly used their tongue at you even till this day.
If anyone of you here doubts that the human tongue has unlimited power, consider that the serpent deceived Adam and Eve merely with his tongue.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin travels around the country speaking to audiences about the power of the human tongue. Telushkin asks audiences the following question “if they can go for twenty-four hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody.” The audience will inevitably have a few hands go up, many others laugh, whereas the majority shouts out “no.”
But abusing the tongue is no laughing matter. If someone can’t survive twenty-four without nicotine then they have a smoking problem, if someone can’t make it twenty-four hours without drinking then they have an alcohol problem, whereas if someone can’t tame their tongue think of how much more damage the tongue can cause then just an individual beer or cigarette.
The whole of James’ passage today centers around our understanding of the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” People can easily dismiss the tongue, by claiming it’s not a matter of salvation. What we must remember is that the tongue has everything to do with salvation.
Now some of you are probably out there thinking that this all sounds pretty good so far. But the Old Adam within all of us really wants to cling to exceptions. You might say what about my neighbor Bill who is the biggest jerk. What about the lady whose religion or politics that I can’t stand. These are precisely the types of people around whom we need to be mindful of our tongue. How we live out grace is how we treat those who have nothing to give us back in return. Some of the wisest words that I ever heard in Seminary were “Forgiveness needs to come before you can except anyone to change.” Jesus did not go to go forth to the cross, once he believed that the people of Judea were truly sorry for what they had done. Jesus knew that a sinful people needed grace and mercy anyways!
I want to close this morning with a couple different stories about the power of the human tongue. The first story is about a guy named Swanny. Swanny was a life-long bachelor who lived next to the Tom Thumb in Lindstrom. Swanny every day would go up to the Lindstrom Post Office. One day, Swanny is at the post office talking like Swanny would speak and none of the words were church appropriate. Into the room walks Reverend Blackford, who was the Methodist preacher in town. What My Grandma would always say about Reverend Blackford is that he got really mad when a bowling alley came to the Lindstrom because they served booze. Reverend Blackford met the definition of uptight minister, whereas Swanny met the definition of crass, slovenly bachelor. Reverend Blackford and Swanny would seem to be as opposite as people could be. So Reverend Blackford hears Swanny’s careless tongue and decides to confront him. Reverend Blackford said, “Sir, your language offends me.” Swanny stops dead in his tracks, even Swanny knew the power of the human tongue. Swanny begins to apologize profusely to Reverend Blackford for his language. Interestingly enough, Swanny did not avoid Reverend Blackford after this. Swanny and Reverend Blackford became good friends because Reverend Blackford was able to proclaim grace to Swanny when he needed to hear it the most. Reverend Blackford ended up preaching at Swanny’s funeral.
Final story from Luke 7, Jesus encounters a woman who the text describes as a “sinful woman”. Each and everyone here could probably guess her exact sin. The Pharisees are shocked that this woman would stand in Jesus’ presence. Jesus could have given one of two words to this woman. Jesus could have condemned this woman to hell. Plenty of people had probably used her tongue to do the same thing. Jesus instead chooses to give this sinful woman a different type of word by declaring “Your sins are forgiven”. The crowd that gathered around Jesus was shocked that he would use his tongue in such a bold and counter-cultural fashion. As Jesus words’ reminds us the human tongue has unlimited power for both good and evil.
So the point that James seeks to address about our words is the following: “Do our words forgive or condemn?” “Do our words bring hope or despair?” “Do our words tear down or build up?” Do we in the words of Galatians 6 actually “Bear each other’s burdens?” when we choose to exercise our tongue. Do we use our tongues in the words of Romans 10 “To preach to those who do not believe”? Consider the meaning of the human tongue this morning as it truly is the most powerful part of the human body. Amen
 Jewell, John. “The Power of Words”. Lectionarysermons.com. 17.Sept.2000. Web. Sept.9.2015.
 Jewell, John. “The Power of Words.”
 Markquart, Ed. “James the Tongue: Series B Pentecost 15:James 3:1-12”. Sermons from Seattle.com. Web. Sept.9.2015.
 Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well”. Imprimis Hillsdale College. Volume 25. No 1. Jan.1996. Web. Sept.9.2015
 Teleushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well.”
 Matthew 7:12
 Luke 7:36-50
 Galatians 6:2
 Romans 10:14