September 10, 2018
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, September 16, 2019, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
Years ago, when ministry was only a figment of my imagination, I began my professional career as a Spanish and French teacher in the Akron Public Schools.
When I was in the classroom it was my habit to write a little poem on the chalkboard each Monday and have the students reflect on it for the week. A couple of those little poems have always stuck with me and I am reminded of these rhymes every time the reading from James rolls around in the lectionary.
Words, like eggs, are tender things
They should be handled with care
Because words, once spoken,
Like eggs, once broken,
Are difficult to repair.
The other one was:
Be careful of the words you say.
Keep them nice and sweet.
We never know from day to day
Which ones we'll have to eat.
Words matter. There is power in words. They have the power to build as well as to destroy.
Words are sacred. God created the world by the Word. Read the first chapter of Genesis and see how many times God said, "Let there be..." and there was.
The Gospel according to John begins with the phrase, "In the beginning was the Word...and the Word became flesh and lived among us."
It is also difficult for me to read the passage from James and not lament the current state of our political climate. There is hardly a person who would deny how severely polarized we've become as a society and how civil discourse is sorely lacking. I hasten to add that this is not limited to just one political party.
The elections are less than two months away and to hear the candidates or their surrogates vilify each other and call attention to the other's shortcomings has become a daily ritual, to put it mildly. To watch campaign ads on television is painful, to say the least. It almost defies description. I think the third chapter of James should be mandatory reading for every politician.
As Christians and as people of God, we also must be mindful of the careless, unsavory, slanderous, and hostile speech that all too frequently typifies political campaigns. If we are not vigilant, it also weasels its way into our conversations and congregations.
James is not just talking to teachers but to all of us, about what and how we communicate with each other. It is critical for those of us who claim Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives to look very carefully at his Lordship in our power of speech. What and how we communicate says a lot about who we are as Christians and on what we base our faith.
We are what we communicate. We exist in relationship to others and to our world. It is all about how we relate to people and our attitude towards others.
Read carefully the final verses of this passage from James and ask yourself the question: Do we bless God and curse people? The problem with cursing people is not only that they are made in the image of God, but that to curse people runs contrary to what the author of this letter believes is the attitude of God and the good news of Jesus. In short, it is hypocrisy.
If we bless the Creator God and then curse someone created in the image of God, we not only say something unfavorable about another human being, we also say something untrue about God -- namely that God makes junk. That flies in the face of what we read in the very first chapter of Genesis, that "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good."
One element of our speech gives the lie to the other, and in the end, we are not just lying, we are lying about God.
The warning James gives is especially for those who -- by virtue of praying, praising, preaching or just talking about God -- are teachers of divine things.
In the final analysis, we all are teachers. As parents, you model your faith to your children, just as your parents taught you. As assisting ministers, lectors, or Sunday school teachers, altar guild members, church council members or any position in the church, at work or in the community, you all live out your lives as models of discipleship.
James is saying that faith is a living, active, vibrant thing. It has to do largely with the words that come out of our mouths, how accepting we are of others, how much we welcome others openly, how we speak about others, how critical we are of those with whom we disagree, how much we are prepared to forgive, to pray for each other, to be peaceful, gentle and friendly, full of compassion, free from hypocrisy and prejudice.
Perhaps we can control that unruly tongue after all. But to do so will require constant attention to who we are and what God has made us to be.
The essence of what James is trying to teach us can be summarized and supplemented in the excellent practical instruction we are given in Martin Luther's explanation to the eighth commandment in his Small Catechism. Luther writes: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. What does this mean for us? We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend her/him, speak well of her/him, and explain her/his actions in the kindest way."
May the LORD grant us the grace, wisdom, courage and love to do just that!
This Wednesday at the Northeastern Ohio Lutheran Center I meet with rostered ministers who are in their first call. I am always inspired by these leaders and the fresh ideas they bring to ministry.
On Thursday, I begin my annual fall visits with the rostered ministers in the seven conferences of our synod. This week, I meet with the pastors and deacons of the Cleveland East Conference at Celebration Lutheran Church in Chardon.
Sunday at 4 p.m., I will be among the people of God at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Berea to install their new pastor, the Rev. Daniel Skillman. He succeeds Pastor Tom Henderson who is retiring. Rostered ministers are invited to vest and process. The color of the day is green.
This week and always, may you walk in the presence of the Lord.
+Bishop Abraham Allende