Scripture Passage: James 3:1-12
A preacher announcement, I have to have surgery. It’s a preacher injury. I have a polyp on one of my vocal cords that has to be biopsied and removed, and we’re waiting for LSU to say there is a piece of equipment they need to do the surgery. It will mean that for the first three to five days after the surgery, I can’t talk. Now how they’re going to keep me from doing that, I think involves duct tape. And after that, I won’t be able to use my outdoor preacher voice for a little bit.
I requested that after the surgery I sound like James Earl Jones. Luke, I am your father. They have said the only voice we have available is Peewee Herman. So, it’ll be alright. You’ll know it when it happens, and until then, until we can get it scheduled, The only thing you’re going to notice is shorter sermons. Oh, nobody applauds, yeah. There you go. Thank you. Thank you. Sure. I’m glad somebody was paying attention.
Our lesson, ironically, comes from James, the third chapter. First, 12 verses of that chapter.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know, that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us, make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes and speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. if we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us We guide their whole bodies. or look at ships, though they are so large, that takes a strong wind to drive them. Yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
So also, the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity. It stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird of reptile and sea creature can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species.
But no one can tame the tongue. A restless evil full of deadly poison. With it, we bless the Lord and father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. from the same mouth come blessing and cursing. my brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening, both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree My brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grape vine, figs?
No more than saltwater yield fresh. friends, this is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Bill Bright was the head of Campus Crusade for Christ for years. He is the one that developed that cute little pamphlet. Some of you are very familiar with the four spiritual laws. He spent his whole ministry, considering how you lead, particularly college students, to faith in Jesus Christ. And in his ministry, he also did workshops to try to teach us big people how to lead other folks to Jesus Christ.
He was a man of deep faith. He was a man who humbly walked with God. He was one of those Enoch characters that we meet through life. He walked with God. In 2003, Bill Bright was diagnosed with cancer. It was a cancer from which he would not recover. He went through a series of treatments and surgery, but they told him, Doctor Bright, you’re not going to live. We need to put you in hospice care the last weeks of your life so you can comfortably be escorted to the next life.
You’ve lived a good life. And this is what we want to do this for you. And Bill Bright said, yes, I’m comfortable with hospice. I know that I’m going to spend eternity with Jesus, but I have two requests before you put me in hospice. I said, OK, Dr. Bright, what are your requests? First request was I want no pain medication at all. None. And the second request is I don’t want any guests. You can limit family to just my wife, I don’t want anybody else there with me.
And for a man who had spent his whole life ministering on the college campus and talking to young people about Jesus and had preached great crusades, it was sort of a weird request not to have anybody around him when he died. And he said, let me explain. I have walked with God, and I have talked on behalf of God. I don’t want to arrive at the end of life and under the influence of pain medication, say something inappropriate. I don’t want to use language that might dishonor my God. And if by chance that happens, I don’t want anyone to hear words that aren’t God honoring. Can you imagine somebody who thought that much of their relationship with Jesus Christ and that much of trying to be a godly saint of God, that even in the end of life? He was worried about speaking some word That would dishonor his witness for Jesus Christ.
We live in a different world, don’t we? We used to confine it to the beauty shop or the barber shop or the bar stools. But now it’s everywhere. Come straight to your phone. It’s called social media. You can be assaulted and insulted with words. Words that you don’t know, the etymology thereof, you don’t know who’s speaking or writing or where these words have their frame of reference or their origin.
As a kid, I remember one afternoon my brother came home. My brother is 16 months younger than I am, and he came home from school and mom, ask him that question. Murray, what did you learn today in school? And Murray very cleverly shared with my mother some words he had learned on the playground, colorful language. And the neat thing was there were all four-letter words. And Murray put them together almost rhythmically, boom, boom, boom.
My mother said, where did you hear that? Murray said, at school, on the monkey bars. And mom said, I don’t want you to ever say those words again. Those are bad words. and to drive the lesson home, my mother decided she would invoke the parenting skills of the 1960s. She would wash his mouth out with soap.
Murray, meet me in the bathroom. We knew what meeting her in the bedroom was all about; it meant three licks with the paddle. This was a new one. My sister and I gather in the hallway to look in as my mother inflicted the punishment on my brother washing his mouth out with soap. There was just one problem with it. He liked the taste of the soap. She used Ivory on him, and he thought that was pretty good and want to know, can I have some more? Trying to keep our kids from learning ventilation language here.
James is talking and writing to the early church, a church is not 20 years old yet, and he is talking about a problem that has arisen in the church of people using their tongues, using their words to start fires, to ruin reputation, to damage the church.
Not us, right? We would never do that. No, we just speak the truth. The problem with our current reality of speaking the truth is we wrap the truth up with a guess or a lie. We got the truth, we got the kernel of truth right here, but we’re going to polish it up a little bit. We’re going to put something else around it.
One day Alison came home from high school, and she was in a crying bad mood. Being the dad, I didn’t understand all of it, but she alternated between being very angry and being very tearful, being very angry and being very tearful. What’s wrong, Alison? Wait until mom gets home. Oh, I’m in trouble. What’d I do? No. Wait and mom gets home. Tamara got home and we inquired of Allison, what’s wrong? And she looked at me and she said; Doug, you know what they said about you in school today? No. what? They said you’re the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I am? yes. Grand Wizard, Grand Dragon, Graham whatever, Grand Poohbah, whatever they had, I was it. According to the kids in Alison’s high school. Why did they say that? Because you wear a white robe on Sunday morning. And, indeed, for a while, I had a white pulpit robe. This body does not need to be in a white pulpit robe. I didn’t like that pulpit robe, but I had to buy it back in the 80s when W.O. Lynch came to Aurora, he wanted us both in white pulpit robes. So, I had a white pulpit robe and I wore a white pulpit robe. And the grain of truth was I wore a white robe in church on Sunday morning. That was the grain of truth around it. Oh, it was polished up with the preacher wears a white robe, therefore he must be Klan.
There was a lady in her church, her name was Jolene, Jolene was one of those people in the church, she stayed informed about the going and comings of everyone. She knew what everyone in the church was doing, and she would report it in the church, what they were doing at prayer request time. If you are doing it, Jolene would turn you in during prayer request. Well, a new guy came to church. His name was Frank, and Frank was very quiet. Frank was by himself, didn’t have a spouse or anything. Frank, did HVAC repair, had one of those old white pick ‘em up trucks with the basically the toolshed in the side of the truck with all the drawers, old telephone, telephone company, truck. And one day Frank went to this bar to work on their air conditioning.
He got there about three o’clock in the afternoon, and Joline happened to drive by, saw Frank’s truck. And to make sure she had her facts correct, she drove back by about six o’clock that same afternoon and there was Frank’s truck. The next time they gathered in church, Joline confronted Frank about being an alcoholic. We know you’re an alcoholic. I saw you at the bar. Your truck was there for three hours. I know you’re a no-good drunk. We need to pray for your salvation. Frank didn’t say a word. Stayed in the church service. That afternoon, ’bout the time sun set, he drove his truck to Jolene’s house. And he left it parked there all night.
A grain of truth, a grain of truth around which we wrap a lie.
We forget one of the commandments is thou shalt not bear false witness. Jesus told his disciples. He said, Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth, enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart. That’s what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander. These are what defile a person. Your mouth don’t lie.
The writer of Proverbs who Jesus echoes and who James is echoing says this.
For lack of wood, a fire goes out. And where there is no whisperer, Quarreling ceases. where there is no whisper Quarreling ceases. the words of the whisperer are like delicious morsels. They go down into the inner parts of the body. Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are the smooth lips with an evil heart.
Truth. A true kernel. Around which we wrap a lie or an exaggeration. Or a guess or speculation. We live in a different kind of world now with social media everywhere. And your opinions stay there forever.
If somebody fires something off that you don’t like and you fire back, it’s there for eternity. Be careful. With your words. James talked about the tongue because that was the only method of communication. We need to be slow to tweet. Slow to tweet. Slow to respond. Because the theology here is that words create worlds. Your words create worlds, they create your own reality. That’s why James is so careful, wants us to be so careful with them. If you tell yourself, you’re honorable.
If you tell yourself, you’re accomplished. If you tell yourself, you can do it. You become honorable and accomplished and you can do it. Likewise, if you tell yourself, you can’t. If you use negative messages all the time in your self-talk, you become that what you say to yourself.
Words create worlds as you talk about other people, and you talk about relationships with other people. Words create worlds. Even your digital world. If you don’t like your digital world, there’s only one person to blame. You. Facebook. Instagram.
TikTok. By the way, Haley and I are about to do a TikTok. The preacher flosses and the youth minister flosses. Can’t wait to see that one produced. But your algorithms. Are created by yourself and social media.
So, you are seeing what you’ve looked at or you’re seeing what you’ve responded to or you’re seeing what you dared to say in front of your iPhone or your other technology because it is listening. Do you know how I know it’s listening; Tamara and I were talking yesterday with my phone in my pocket. We were talking about: I’m working on creating a green house. So next year I won’t have to buy all these plants. They’re going to make it through the winter because I’ve created a green house. And I dared to say that with my phone in my pocket. take my phone out of my pocket, go to Facebook. And instantly I’ve got commercials for green houses all on the side of my Facebook feed. Everything you say is heard, everything you say is being processed. Everything you say is thrown in an algorithm to get you to buy stuff and to do stuff.
Words matter. Words can’t be retracted. Words can’t be taken back. So, James says be careful. The tongue is a fire. The tongue is dangerous. But what is dangerous and what is a fire can also be used to bless.
I did this sermon, I did the outline and the work for the sermon, I don’t know, it was six or eight weeks ago. if you want to see what I’m preaching between now and the end of twenty twenty-two, you can. I’ve got it all done. It’s sitting on my desk. And I’ve kind of been looking at this for the last two weeks going, isn’t this ironic? Given the fact they soon may shut the preacher up momentarily for medical reasons. So, I’ve decided to adopt the words of the Apostle Paul in the tail end of the book of Philippians.
Paul said finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable. If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, Paul said, think about these things.
I want to make this my new mantra. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable. If there is any excellence if there is anything worthy of praise. Talk, speak. Use words about these things. If our words create worlds, we can use positive words to create a positive, loving, Christ centered God glorifying world. It’s a different way of thinking and acting. And behaving. In a social media world that has gone absolutely mad. Would you join me? In a revolution. Would you stand and pray with me? Before anything existed, Lord, you spoke, and it was. Your word is powerful and life giving. Your word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Your word hung on a cross for our sins. And your word. Was resurrected and lives and reigns with you, and we pray that powerful word of Jesus would inhabit our souls so that our words would become Life-Giving and Christ honoring.
Use our words to tell the world of him, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.