Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

Tongue Taming

September 16th:

Call:           Proverbs 6: 16-19
Text:           James 3: 1-12
Read:   Psalm 19        (750)


I had a delightful experience this past week.

One of our parishioners told me
That I had turned him on to "James"
        And that he had read that letter three times.
                in the ten days since we began September with that letter

I was delighted!                And I remain delighted.

I was and I am delighted
that he had responded so enthusiastically to that letter
I was and I am delighted
that he had found reading it such a joy.

And, as a person who also finds the letter inspiring
        I was and I am delighted that
I had been a part of his finding that joy.

I don't say that in an egotistical manner
        It's not "Look what I did.!"

I say it rather in the sense of someone who is both awed and pleased
to find  that something he had done
      had mattered to and helped to enrich the life & faith of someone else.

That is an awesome experience
        And one that I suspect several people in this congregation have had
                At various times in his or her life.

And although I knew that it was God's words through James that had had the impact
        I was pleased to be the one who introduced
the parishioner to the letter writer.
        Very much like the two female classmates
in my first lay speaking class had introduced
that same letter writer to me - two decades ago.

But this morning,       I feel guilty

For despite that delightful experience
And despite my own love and respect for James' letter
I am about to suggest to you
        That I wish James had consulted me
When he wrote the first 12 verses in chapter three of his letter.

It's not that I disagree with the point he was making.
        Certainly not!
It's not that I think that his point was unimportant
        Absolutely not!

I just would have liked
 a little more balance in his discussion of the tongue.
        A balance he could have obtained if he had asked me for advice.

For the way he wrote this part of his letter
Brings to my mind        a television ad for a medication
That fails to tell us   what good the medication can do.
And only tells us
of the medication's possible negative side effects.

It is as if the voice in an ad for a fictional medication
        Which I will call "Clarexium"
Told us only the following
        "Clarexium is not for everyone
        In a clinical trial at Clarkson University a small number of participants
        suffered serious headaches, loss of appetite, and an uncontrollable tendency to laugh at pastors' jokes.
        If you find that you experience significant hair loss or insomnia, you should
        stop using Clarexium immediately and call your doctor.
        Clarexium is not for women who are pregnant, nursing, or about to become pregnant or
        for persons of either gender who are under 31 1/2."

As we visualize this ad we can picture a woman
who looks ill, drained, and lethargic at the beginning of the commercial
but who is shown as being energetic, smiling, and cheerful
probably playing with her dog or her granddaughter
after taking Clarexium


BUT     unlike the medication ads we have all seen on television,
Our imagined ad for Clarexium does not tell us
what the good aspects of Clarexium are
        Or for what ailment or condition we should use it.

Our flawed fictional ad is how I see this part of James

I admit that the image that I have presented in the Clarexium ad
Is somewhat exaggerated.
But keep it in mind as you hear the text.               [James 3: 1-12]

What do we take from this?

The tongue is a fire set by hell
It stains the whole body
It can curse those made in the likeness of God
It can be like brackish water
Every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature can be tamed
        But no one can tame the tongue.

That's what James writes.

Now,    the tongue can indeed be a dangerous instrument
        Verbal lashings are at times more painful than physical lashings
        And we far more frequently say hurtful things to others
                Than we do acts that cause or create physical pain.

The other day in our Bible Study on the three kings of a unified Israel
        I commented that if I had been Saul
I would rather have had God put me to death
than make me live the remainder of my life
knowing that God had said,         "I regret that I made him king."

Imagine waking up each morning
with those words ringing in your head
with their reminder that you had let God down.

Words can hurt.
The tongue can convey
        Disappointment, anger, hate, or insult.

That is why we do need James' warnings.

And there is certainly no question that we do need to be careful about
what we say and how we say it.
As James puts it,       we do need to tame our tongues

But
- and here is where I do disagree
with the letter writer who shares my name -
I am convinced          that we can tame our tongues.

It takes work.          It takes commitment.            It takes faith.

But we can tame them
And we tame them by responding to situations and people
with the characteristics that God admires most
        The characteristics that Christ most clearly exemplified
                Love, forgiveness, unselfishness, humility, and compassion,

If we allow those characteristics to become an inherent part of us
        We can tame our tongues

You and I need James' warnings
some of us may need them more than others
        and hopefully those of us who do,       know who we are
but all of us need them

Those about to use our fictional drug Clarexium
        Need its warnings as well               They are essential.

But as Clarexium can be used to make a number of people healthier
the tongue can be used
to promote and proclaim God's presence
To celebrate God's love
To comfort God's people.

Our hymns teach us what our tongues are for
        They give us the message missing from James's letter

When we close this service
        We will do so by singing "O, For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"
                A hymn that has been the very first hymn
in all but one of the five full hymnals
        that our denomination has used since it published its first one - back in the 1870s.

That hymn has been first
        Not because Charles Wesley wrote it (although didn't hurt)
It has been first because of its message.
A message that clearly shows what the tongue is for:
        To sing our great redeemer's praise
        To tell of the glory of our God and king
        And to tell also        of the triumphs of his grace.

And in that hymn we pray
        That our master and God assist us to proclaim
        And spread through all the earth abroad
        The honors of his name.

Yes!            Yes!            Yes!

This morning's first hymn put it even more succinctly
        Christ for all the word we sing
(and by doing so)
        The world to Christ we bring

Isn't that our task as Christians?
        To be witnesses and to make disciples of and for Jesus the Christ?
                By telling the world about him
                And bringing the world to him.

In trying to do that,
We use the very tongues         about which     James warns us.

That brings us to the other disagreement I have with James
        He writes that the tongue is set on fire by hell.
It can be.


But for those of us who are awed at our having felt Christ's love
        And experienced Christ's presence
The tongue can also be set on fire by the Holy Spirit
        Whose very representation is a flame
And the tongue can thus be the spark
                To combat injustice and oppression
                To share Christ's message of love, mercy, and kindness
And     Thus set the entire world on fire for Christ.

But,
        If James had called me and asked for my advice and my help
        As he prepared a revised edition of his letter

And if I had suggested that he take this more balanced approach
        I suspect that he would have smiled and responded,
                "I thought about doing just that.
                For you are right about the tongue also being a positive gift."

                "But then I realized that if I had taken your approach
                        My presentation of the positive aspects
                        Would have made my warnings so easy to swallow

                That you and the congregation you serve
                        Might well have overlooked them
                And not be talking and thinking about them 2000 years later."

And then it would have been my turn to smile
        And say, "You are right."

And thereby acknowledge that that James knew better than this one.