Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity – September 12th 2021

Welcome

Opening Prayer

Affirmation of Faith

Do you believe and trust in God the Father,
source of all being and life,
the one for whom we exist?
We believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in God the Son,
who took our human nature,
died for us and rose again?
We believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in God the Holy Spirit,
who gives life to the people of God
and makes Christ known in the world?
We believe and trust in him.

This is the faith of the Church.

This is our faith.
We believe and trust in one God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Worship

Word

Taming the Tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 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. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

James
3:1-12

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Predicts His Death

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

James
3:1-12

We are surrounded by words every day – millions of words. Spoken, written, typed, printed, texted.  All with the power to hurt, harm and belittle or the power to encourage, teach, inform and build up.

 

I would be astonished if there was a single person sat here today who at some point in their lives has not been hurt by what someone has said.  It could have been something deliberate – where somebody has thought about what they could say to cause the most hurt.  It could be something said in jest but which has hit a nerve.  Or something that was said in anger, without thinking, but which has left damage in its wake.  Hopefully, as time passes, most of these hurts, these barbs, can lose their power but there are times when they stay with you for the rest of your life.  It was whilst writing this talk that an incident when I was 16 years old came to mind – something I had not thought about in years.  I won’t go into details but a close family member said something, whilst drunk, that was devastating – and even today it hurts.

 

But conversely.  How many times have we been the cause of the hurt.  The source of the words that have left wounds.  How many times have we thought “I really wish I had not said that” or been ashamed of the pain and upset that our words have caused.  It doesn’t always have to be ‘big’ things either.  There were many occasions when my boys were growing up that they pushed too much and I said something that I wish I hadn’t. 

 

Our reading today is all about the power of words – and the instrument we use to say those words.  As Neil pointed out two weeks ago – James’ letter is a very practical letter to a young Jewish Christian church (the letter was written no more than 15-20 years after the death of Jesus)  and focuses on the need for believers to act in accordance with the faith they profess.  Unlike a lot of Paul’s writings for example – what James’ says is clear, unambiguous and challenging.

 

First – let’s look at accountability
In verses 1-2 of Chapter 3 he writes “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”

Now, as I prepared this talk, to hopefully make some useful contributions to the understandings of this passage, I could not but feel more than a little uncomfortable.  Teaching of any kind is a great responsibility, and whether it is expounding on the word of God, or standing in front of classroom of children and educating and moulding young minds, what you say, and how you say it, can have a huge impact.  How many people here can recall their school days and think of a teacher who you either loathed or loved because of what they said and did.

 

Teachers in the Jewish culture were held in high esteem.  Jesus himself was called Teacher.  And it seems that the church to which James wrote had a number of self-appointed teachers – presumably because they claimed to know more than others and therefore should be looked up to.  James points out that they will be judged by God by what they say.  In particular anyone who preaches the word of God will be judged more strictly.  Ouch!  But James is echoing what Jesus himself taught in Matthew 12 when he spoke about grieving the Holy Spirit.

 

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of………….  I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 

But to take this further, to a certain extent we are all teachers.  For those of us who have been privileged to have children, how we raise them and how we use our language can be easily copied by them. 

I know that when my children were small I was occasionally taken aback when they used a phrase that they had obviously heard me or their dad say.  Even now, I can be stopped short by the thought that I sound like my mother!  We may want our children to grow up respecting others, to speak kindly and think before they speak – but they will follow the example of their parents and the adults in their lives.

 

Secondly, recognise the power of the tongue
James likens the tongue, a small part of the body, with that of a rudder or a  bridle that is used to steer a sheep or horse.  Now the tongue does not actually steer the body in the same way that a small rudder can steer a huge ship or a bit control a thoroughbred– but the way we use it can take us down certain paths and leave untold damage in its wake. 

 

And James uses another analogy – that of fire.  Now fire can be really useful, allowing us to heat our homes, cook our food and keep industry running.  But an out of control fire is a horrible destructive beast.  Twenty years ago my in-laws had a house fire – which started small in the front bedroom and then destroyed three quarters of the house and most of the belongings they had gathered in their married life.  I’m sure that most of us will have seen the images this summer of the uncontrollable fires in Greece, California, Canada, Spain, Italy and even North Africa.  At times it seemed the whole world was on fire.  The scenes of utter devastation were heartbreaking – and of course many people not only lost everything they had but lost their lives.  James likens the damage the tongue can do to the power of a fire – and that is really sobering.

 

James is warning not to underestimate the power of the tongue because you may not be able to control it and it will lead into great trouble.  But it is not just James who has something to say about this – warnings about the tongue appear throughout the Bible.  For example, Proverbs has quite a lot to say about the tongue –

12:18         The words of the reckless pierce like swords,    but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

16:24         Gracious words are a honeycomb,     sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

21:23         Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity

……there are more – with warnings about the use of the tongue peppered throughout the new testament.

 

Finally,we must recognise that the tongue is humanly untameable
The tongue may only be small, but it appears to be one of the most difficult parts of the human body to control.  James points out the hypocrisy and double standards in verse  9.  “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness”.  And I think we all know that James’ observations is true.   And why is this? 

 

James uses the picture of a fresh spring producing salt water.  In other words – if the source is contaminated what comes out of it will be too.  Again, the words of Jesus come to mind.  “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”  We  use the tongue for negative purposes because of the nature of sin.  But if, as James says, no human being can tame the tongue, what are we to do?  It all seems rather depressing.

 

But … there is good news.  God has given us the gift of his Holy Spirit to help live our lives in his power and to follow his example – and with God all things are possible.  One only has to look at Peter – not only did he keep getting things wrong whilst he was with Jesus, after Jesus was arrested he denied him three times.  And yet this same man, on the day of Pentecost, gave the most dramatic, challenging and world changing speech.  The difference was the power of the Spirit in him.

 

We have this same Spirit.  We all know the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.  And it is not just the self-control that will help moderate our speech – but all the other gifts come into play as well.  It will not happen overnight – God’s work in changing us is lifelong, but the way we treat others, and the way we speak to others, should be something that we should actively seek the Spirit’s help with.

 

But just a warning, walking in the Spirit does not automatically control the tongue, as if you have no part at all to play in controlling it. Without relying on the Spirit’s power you can’t have any victory at all over the unruly tongue, but without doing your part you can’t keep having victory over it.  We must all be vigilant about what we say, how we say it and why we say it.  And sometimes realise that the best course of action is not to say it.  In the words of that wise oracle. Thumper’s mother in Bambi, “if you can’t say nothing nice don’t say nothing at all”.

 

In the 1970s Leroy Koopman wrote a small book entitled “Beauty care for the tongue’.  It is now out or print but occasionally a second hand copy can be found.  In his introduction he wrote the following:

How beautiful is your tongue?
Or haven’t you ever really considered your tongue in terms of its attractiveness?
You don’t look at it very often in the mirror.
You don’t go on shopping trips for it.
You don’t have a weekly appointment at the tongue beautician.
Avon and Revlon don’t sell cosmetics for it.
You don’t have to diet to get it back in shape.
Men don’t ogle it or whistle at it or write poems about it.
It doesn’t appear on the centerfold of 
Playboy.
Yet it is your tongue, more than the form of your face, or the dimensions of your figure, or the lavishness of your wardrobe, or the size of your income, which determines whether or not you are a beautiful person.

He goes on to say

“Your reputation will, in large part, be established by how you use your tongue.  Your tongue leaves a lasting impression.  It labels your character.  You are known more by what you say than how you look”

 

The question we all need to ask ourselves is how does my use of the tongue affect how people see the reality of my faith and the truth of the gospel.  Sometimes with very good reason the church is accused of being hypocritical.  Do people look at me, at us, and because of the way we speak – backbiting, bitter words, gossip, negativity, sarcasm etc decide they will not listen when we try and talk about Jesus.  We often talk about witnessing on our frontlines – the places where God has put us in our everyday lives.  But in our everyday lives, what is the picture that people see when they hear us speak.  I think it is something we all need to ask ourselves.

 

So – a challenge for each of this week which comes from an American rabbi – Rabbi Telushkin who during his speaking tour following publication of his book “Words that hurt words that heal” would challenge people to see if they can go 24 hours without saying anything unkind or negative.  Most would shout out no.  To which he would reply “If you cannot go 24 hours without drinking liquor you are addicted to alcohol.  If you cannot go 24 hours without smoking you are addicted to nicotine.  If you cannot go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, you have lost control of your tongue”  He then went on to ask them to write down over the following two days every time they said something that was negative, angry etc. and to also note when they heard other people say such things.  The results were not encouraging.

 

So as we leave this place today and go out into our frontlines, may I suggest we think about what Nicky Gumbel, who developed the Alpha course said, “The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers. Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary”.  Let us think before we speak.

 

Let’s pray

 

Lord, we know our tongues can often gets ahead of our minds and hearts.

We can be quick to speak, and often need to repent of the many thoughtless things we have spoken

We are sorry for the words spoken in anger, in gossip, in malice

Please help us to see when we are about to speak without thinking and to check our hearts

Help us Lord to be people of loving words, full of your Spirit, overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

Amen

Witness

Confession

God our Father,
we come to you in sorrow for our sins.

For turning away from you,
and ignoring your will for our lives;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For behaving just as we wish,
without thinking of you;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.
For failing you by what we do,
and think and say;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For letting ourselves be drawn away from you
by temptations in the world about us;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For living as if we were ashamed
to belong to your Son;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

Absolution

May the God of love and power
forgive us and free us from our sins,
heal and strengthen us by his Spirit,
and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Response

In faith we pray: we pray to you our God.

For the unity of the Church in witness and proclamation of the Gospel;

<silence to offer individual prayers>

In faith we pray: we pray to you our God.

For the peace and stability of all peoples
and for the leaders of the nations …;

<silence to offer individual prayers>

In faith we pray: we pray to you our God.
 
For our places of work, education and leisure; 

<silence to offer individual prayers>

 

In faith we pray: we pray to you our God.

For a blessing on our homes;
for our relations and friends and all whom we love;

<silence to offer individual prayers>

In faith we pray: we pray to you our God.

For the sick and suffering and all who minister to their needs …;

<silence to offer individual prayers>

In faith we pray: we pray to you our God.
Let us commend ourselves, and all for whom we pray, to the mercy and protection of God.

 

The Lords Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

       Amen.

Blessing and dismissal

Grace

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and evermore. Amen.

Community

The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.

The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.

“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”

The Wardens of All Saints Totley have been producing regular newsletters with helpful links, thoughts and resources. The latest of these is here.

We have also started to add resources for the younger members of our church, to add to this virtual service. They can be found here, and here.

Reminder

If you have any feedback on this service or any other ideas, suggestions or contributions, for future services please do send these to comments@allsaintstotley.church