Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 16, 2018
“The Best; The Worst”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
So, what should we do with this thing? (Your tongue) Do you remember the words of Jesus spoken in Matthew 5? “If you right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30)
Maybe that is what we should do with our tongue. Just rip it out. That would solve a few of the problems we have made. Boy, do we ever create problems with this little thing that sits between our teeth. Someone sent me this: “There are times when my greatest accomplishment is just keeping my mouth shut.” There are some great writings on tombstones. This one is from a cemetery in England:
Beneath this stone, a lump of clay,
Lies Arabella Young,
Who on the twenty-fourth of May,
Began to hold her tongue.
For some it takes the grave to cause silence!!
I’m preaching through James in this sermon series. And James, has much to say about the power of the tongue. “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2) “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man came tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:7-10) In chapter 1 James gives this warning about the tongue, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
But the problem isn’t just the spoken word. How many of us by simply clicking the “send” button on our computer or phone have ended friendships and caused the whole world to be against us? How many have created a storm by giving a “thumbs up” or a “like” to some thing that we should have thought about a little more? E-mails, Twitters, Tweets, Snapchats, Facebook and the million other forms of communication in social media can be words that can hurt and destroy. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Last Sunday, Jenna Lawrenz gave the children’s message. She used the illustration of a tube of toothpaste to illustrate how words, good or bad, can’t be taken back. Once it leaves the tube you have a hard time getting it back in!! It is the same way with our words.
Our words are powerful. And we can’t take them back once they have been spoken by our mouth or sent by our finger. Do you remember what Jesus, the half-brother of James, said about words? “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37) Maybe that is why Psalm 141:3 says what it says, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep a watch over the door of my lips.”
I bet you already know these things. I bet everyone of us can tell accounts of words that we have spoken or sent that caused great damage to our relationships with others. I imagine words have been spoken to you or sent to you that have left a scar. You may have been the recipient of a “tongue-lashing” sometime in your life. There is no truth, whatsoever, to the ditty, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
But just as there is the worst with words, there is also the best with them. In Isaiah 6 the prophet sees God in His temple. His knees knock, his body shakes and his heart falls to his stomach. “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) Lips, mouth, tongue. Filthy words. That’s what he mentions. Isaiah couldn’t conceal how his tongue was a restless evil, full of deadly poison. But what does God do? He goes right for the mouth!! That’s the place of the ugly sin. “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ (Isaiah 6:6-7)
The lesson from the Old Testament and the Gospel reading for today are about the tongue. Isaiah 50 begins, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. (Isaiah 50:4) Jesus, in Mark 9, today’s Gospel, does a miracle for a boy who could not speak. The boy’s father came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit who has robbed him of speech.” (Mark 9:17) So Jesus does something about this boys tongue. He heals the tongue. “When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. ‘You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’” (Mark 9:25) A prophecy about what the Christ would do when He arrived is spoken with these words, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5-6a)
Jesus does the very best for this tongue. He heals it. In His forgiveness, in that coal taken from the very altar of God, it is purified, forgiven, cleansed, made whole. You have a cleansed tongue in Jesus. There is the worst that the tongue can do – we know that too well – but there is also the best that the tongue can be and then do. We must believe that and know that as well.
This last Tuesday was September 11, 9/11. If you have heard any of the recordings of that day when all hell was let loose in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, you heard the worst and the best. You heard pure hatred and evil from those who wanted to bring death and suffering to as many people as they could possibly hurt and murder. But then you heard the cell phones of those who knew that they were going to die and their final words to their family were words of love and appreciation for having them in their life. It was the words, “Let’s Roll”, when patriots, soon to be martyrs, made sure that the plane that was going to go down didn’t kill countless others as well. The words that we still get to hear today were the best words.
Words can cut and hurt and kill. But words can make people alive. Jesus, on the cross, gave words of life, as He was dying. “Father, forgive them.” “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” His words heal us. And words, our words, can change the lives of others. You can speak a word of grace and forgiveness to someone who doesn’t deserve such words but needs them. You can encourage, build up, make someone strong with words.
James talks about sanctified words in chapter 5. “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise…Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13,16)
The Best; the Worst – Words. They can kill, hurt, destroy. Though spoken just once, they can be remembered for a lifetime. But they are also the best. Jesus gives us words that bring us life and refreshment and hope and courage. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) He even allows our words to be words that bring joy and hope to others.
Words are powerful. Listen to His words of love and life closely. And use them well. Amen!!