Taming the tongue
Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 20 October 2019
Reading was James 3:5b-12
I want to start by showing you some of my home movies! My family and I visited Sea World last year, and a definite highlight was seeing the orca jump and splash the crowd.
Orca are animals that can be tamed. As can parrots, sniffer dogs, …and I’ve even heard of people who can get their cat to use a toilet!
But, what about taming the tongue?
We hear from scripture today:
…every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)
No one can tame the tongue.
If I asked how many words you estimate you say every day, what would you answer? I recently heard that we speak an average of 7,000 words every day. How many of these words are pure and life-giving?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
This is contradictory; if this were true this little ditty wouldn’t be need saying. The field of human psychology recognises very well how words can hurt and even cripple us. Once said, words cannot be retrieved.
This passage from James paints a picture of how dangerous our words can be. And what solution does it offer…? None! We recognise the risk and (perhaps like me) you can relate to it, but this passage does not go on to suggest how we tame the tongue.
no one can tame the tongue (v8)
It is a pessimistic description of the human tendency to say things hurtful and harmful.
Given this bleak assessment, can we say anything about taming the tongue? Well, we have to. So, (as we are accustomed to) we look to Jesus to guide us; to teach us about who God is; to reveal to us what God desires. We look at how Jesus’ death displays love given for us, and for proliferation in the world.
A youth pastor who was part way through telling what he thought was a funny story about a heavy woman, …when he just stopped and mumbled something about being unable to remember the story. I asked him later and he said he felt God telling him in that moment to stop. (And he refused to tell me the rest of the story!)
Although we look to Jesus to guide us, we can (and do) make bad choices at times. We are each a mixture of good and bad.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. (v10)
Jesus is our guide, and yet (I want to be crystal clear here) Christian faith does not suggest we try and simply emulate Jesus with our daily choices. Trying harder isn’t the answer; we can’t reform ourselves enough.
The good news is that Jesus gives us what we need. When we open ourselves in trust, we are conformed to Jesus. We do not emulate/imitate Jesus, but are conformed to him.
Jesus is inviting us to trust our whole being (existence) into his. By the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, the more we are open to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, the more Jesus is able to share the goodness of knowing God with us.
Do you see the difference between trying to emulate Jesus, and being conformed to Jesus?
The outcome of being conformed to Jesus is that our lives begin to be shaped more by God’s will and purposes for us and the world. With lives conformed by the life of Jesus (in relationship with God the Father), we find ourselves responding to this grace in ways that proclaim God’s ways.
All we are and have is conformed to God’s ways – our time, talent, taonga (treasure) – and our tongue.
So, let me end on a positive and hopefully encouraging point. Although we are told “no one can tame the tongue”, I suggest, as we trust Jesus, our lives are conformed to God’s wholeness and peace and our lives bless and bring life. This includes our tongues, which can proclaim God’s way and offer hope to all those around us.