Sunday, March 1, 2015

Public Health Warning: Guard Against Deadly Glossa Attacks (James 3:1-12).... Shedding Light on the Epistle of Straw: finding a faith that works in the Book of James (Part 7).

If you are planning a trip over to Australia in the near future you might not want to hear or see this promotion being suggested to the Australian tourist board…

Who knows if your an adrenaline junkie Australian flora and fauna might just be for you... But the song is satire, about all the dangerous animals over the ditch…just waiting to kill you. But this morning I want to be serious and issue a Public Health Warning about a very dangerous animal … because while we see all these vicious and deadly animals we seem to be unaware of what is possibly the most dangerous animal in the world. In actual fact more harm and damage is done by this animal that shark bite, snake bite, spider bite, and even hippo attack all put together. It’s so dangerous that a single bite can actually affect a whole community of people. We do tend to think that we are safe from most dangerous animals here in New Zealand, and our bio security people are vigilant to keep pests out,  but you may be surprised that we actually have a lot of these animals in this country, and they do a lot of damage. The animals name is the Glossa… and at great personal risk I have gone out and got a close up photo of a Glossa in its natural habitat.

Ok by now you may have worked out that the Glossa is the tongue. In fact Glossa is the Greek word for tongue. Perhaps we needed to start with a bit of humour because what James has to say about the tongue and how we use words is quite serious and challenging. James applies a whole array of amazingly vivid metaphors to prove his point that while the tongue is capable of great fetes it is also if left unguarded the source of a whole lot of evil.  While we have managed to tame all kinds of wild animals says James we have not been able to tame the tongue.

ames starts by focusing on the root problem that had manifest itself in showing favouritism in the church and a faith that had more to do with simply holding to a belief rather than living out a faith, false teaching. James warns that not many of us should be teachers because a higher standard is expected of teachers than other believers.  He goes on to use the illustrations of a horse being lead about by a bit in its mouth, a boat being steered  by a small rudder and a forest fire being started by a small spark as illustrations of what he means. They all show how a small thing like a teacher in a church can influence where a larger entity, like a ship or a horse or in this case a church, goes. That is a good thing if it is under control. A rudder can direct a boat through the storm, A bit or bridle can harness the horses great strength to a beneficial task,  a spark can start a fire that warms and sheds light in the dark… But if out of control of the Spirit of God it can well run amok, burn it all down, run aground.   Controlling the tongue says James is a sign of maturity in Christ. And Praise God James is very honest as he says that we all suffer from foot in mouth disease at times.

But on a wider scale this is not just about teaching it is a challenge to all of us about the dangers of tongue and our words. They can be both loving and uplifting and life bringing  but also devastating and destructive.

Like with favouritism and faith without works, James uses a concrete example from within the church to bring it home. How can we worship God with our mouth and then curse Human beings, who are made in his image. To put down someone is to put down the one who made them. At the heart of holding all human life as valuable and sacred is the fact that we were made in God’s image and designed for a relationship with him. Disrespect for humanity is disrespect for God. It is hard to praise God when we mistreat or write off what he has made as junk… God does not make junk.  Again we head back to the words of Jesus and the royal law that we are to love the lord our God with all our mind and soul and strength and love our neighbour as ourselves… and words are works, our faith is shown in our faith words as well as our faith deeds.  In fact says James combining both praise to God and cursing people, ripping them down verbally, is as incongruous and irrational as salt and clear water coming out of the same spring, Or a fig tree bearing olives or a grape vine producing figs. Go figure.

How does this passage apply to us today?

Firstly, if James is focusing specifically on teachers in the Church, It says we need to be careful who we let teach us and have influence. It may be that as James was writing to a church that had been scattered amidst the diaspora because of persecution that they hadn’t been able to develop a proven and tested leadership, so error had been able to creep in. teachers were easily mislead to think in the same way about status and how the church should be as the society around them. They used words to maintain and build their own power to the detriment of the church itself.

I’m very aware that I am standing before you today as a teacher preacher and can I say I often maintain “the fact that I am a Presbyterian Minister is a sure sign that our denomination is in trouble”.  But James words are a constant challenge to have integrity between what you say and how you live. It is a constant wrestle to be faithful to God’s words in what is said and in life, and as Paul calls us all to do speak the truth in love.

 It is easy to equate success with God’s blessings and just recently a Mega church that I had some admiration for has been blown apart because of the behaviour of its minister. It’s a good example of what James is talking about here… The pastor was known as a fiery prophetic teacher, and you know he could preach he really could… But that word fiery is a two edged sword…  It started to come out that he had said many angry and hurtful things that displayed what many saw as a character flaw. Words such as bigot and misogynist were bandied about, about him. The way staff and leaders were spoken to and treated began to surface on the internet and media. Because of this even when he talked about repentance and changing his ways started to be doubted.  Other issues started to come to light about the use of money and misuse of power. The pastor resigned and the church that was over 10 000 strong and impacting millions round the world closed its doors at the end of last year.  This passage is a constant challenge and a timely reminder for all in church leadership about our words and our heart attitudes.

Secondly, for all of us, we need to acknowledge that scripture says words have power: The power to heal and make whole and the power to hurt and even to maim and kill. We are used to the saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me… we tell it to our kids like we would give them a rain coat. To keep off the harmful things that people might say to them, like a rain coat can keep them dry.  But we know at a heart level that that is a lie. James has a more realistic view of words; they can do a whole heap of damage. They can impact and affect the human heart and they can impact and infect and implode a whole community of faith.

While James does not go into how to tame the tongue the bible has some very good tips for training the tongue. Here are three real quick tips…

The first is that it needs to be housed properly… That is its best keep in a dark moist cave with a guard outside. Proverbs 21:23 says …Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. Now this is not a passage suggesting we all need to hire a minder when we go out although sometimes my kids will tell you they think it would be a good idea for me and shopping trips with me have now become known as elder care. But the verse in proverbs asks us to consider our words and weight them before we speak. When I was young my father would always quote the Disney film Bambi to me. He say what did Thumber’s father tell him… “if you can’t say nothing nice don’t say anything at all.”

Here are two tips about what to do with our tongue the first is we should kiss… yes I’m saying Kissing is good exercise for the tongue.   And no it’s not what you are thinking, although that is very nice, rather Proverbs 24:26 says an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips. The kind of words that benefit us and a community are words of truth. The ultimate example of that is God’s word of truth, but also for us to speak honestly but just like someone would resist a sudden lunge and lip lock, it needs to be speaking the truth in love.

I also have found that the way I hold my tongue, really helps when it comes to using a hammer to hit in a nail. Towards the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul encourages his hearers to build one another up and this is a great way to look at how we use our words in a Christian community. To ask the question am I doing this to encourage the other person, am I saying these things to honour God. It is the exact opposite of what James says in this passage about using words to curse another person, or to bring them down.  I like the way the New Zealand Cricket team handles press interviews at the moment. They are reluctant to talk about their own great achievements but will acknowledge the good  performances of team mates. Bowlers will acknowledge that while they have got the wickets  the pressure that lead to that was because of the pressure asserted on the opposition by the batters getting a high score or the other bowlers drying up the run rate.  Batsmen will acknowledge their partners and others who have contributed to the score. This culture is lead by the captain Brendan McCullum, and helps to build up the team as a whole, in a sport where it has been said its about individuals who just happen to be in a team.

I went to the film Selma with James (my Son not the writer of the letter of James) for my birthday treat a couple of weeks ago. It tells the story of the civil rights marches in Selma Alabama, to insure that African Americans had equal access to the right to vote. It’s an amazing movie. I think David Oyelowo deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr, or at least a nomination. The film contains several of Kings Speeches ad sermons as well as a profound and liberating speech by President Lydon Johnson. They are speeches that not only stir the soul but lift the human spirit because of the justice and truth they expound. King applies the gospel to the plight of his people, oppressed by a wrong system with power and dignity. They acted like a rudder for a whole nation.

James says that our words and gospel teaching can do great things… great good things… they can encourage the depressed, bring out the deepest of human emotions, give voice to the powerless, rouse the careless, stir men and women to noble action, welcome the wayward, give hope in the darkest of night, give solace, point to the saving power of Jesus Christ. And sadly great harm…It is why here James warns us to be careful with our words.  Like a horse to place our reigns in the hands of the one who can be trusted to lead and guide, like a boast to know that the one who is at the helm is to be trusted, that our words and our lives are in the hands and responding to the leading and guiding of the spirit of God.

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