The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.
Let’s join in a word of prayer: God our Loving Father, we are so blessed to fellowship together again, and celebrate our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We honour You, our creator and redeemer. We rely upon your Holy Spirit to help us know how to live your way, and encourage us in all the times of our lives. Break down all the barriers we experience so strongly in our isolation, and meet us with the power of Your precious Word. God our Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I was thinking about the sermon for today, I kept thinking of the words to a song from the BeeGees:
‘It’s only words, and words are all I have To take your heart away.
You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say – but words are all I have to take your heart away’.
Some of the things I most missed during our isolation, were the words of songs remembered during worship, words of Scripture heard during worship, words of prayers shared during worship, and the kind words and smiles we shared in our fellowship during worship. We are so blessed to be together again.
Today, we have words to bind our hearts and minds to our Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul once wrote in Romans, ‘faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’
But, during the lockdown, we also heard a lot of words, and we held out for our 11am ‘days of our lives’ briefing. Most of those words were not words we wanted to hear. Words that couldn’t encourage our faith like the message of Christ Jesus.
Words can be both good and bad to hear and to share.
There’s an old story that the Jewish rabbis tell. As the story goes, one day a rabbi asked his cook to go and buy some good food for him in the market. When the cook returned home, he presented the rabbi with beef tongue. The next day, the rabbi tried it a different way, and told the cook to go the market and buy some bad food. Again, the cook returned with beef tongue.
The rabbi then asked the cook why he returned with beef tongue on both occasions. The cook answered and said, “Good comes from it and bad comes from it. When the tongue is good there is nothing better, and when it is bad there is nothing worse.”
(From a sermon by T. Scott Womble, Careless Speech Sins, 7/27/2010)
If we were to ask each other, I am sure that we would agree wholehearted with the Rabbi’s Cook. In any Congregation that has been around as long as St Peter’s, there are always times when heated words bring hurts, and soothing words bring comfort. Coming out of isolation, we look forward to the soothing words that will overcome the stress and anxiety of our lockdown.
James speaks about controlling our words, ‘People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God.’
The best example I could come up with of this is the Gospel for this morning. Peter demonstrates the words of James perfectly. When asked by Jesus, “Who do you say I am?” It was Peter who spoke up, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus commended Peter for his words and said he was blessed by them.
Then, when Jesus explained what it meant to be the Messiah, once again it was Peter who spoke up, taking Jesus aside and telling him he shouldn’t say things like that.
I have been blessed to listen to the words of Christ Jesus in response to Peter as I received an intuition of the Gospel in those words. In the New Revised Standard Version, it reads: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” The intuition that I received was that Jesus was truly speaking to the devil when he said “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus was placing himself between Peter who was being tempted, and Satan who was trying to divert Christ Jesus from his journey to the cross.
Then Jesus turned to Peter and called him to task for holding onto a human definition of the death on a cross, rather than the divine plan of God to bring salvation by this gruesome task.
But Jesus wasn’t finished. Jesus spoke to all of his disciples and followers, and to us, passing on words saying that “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.” Within the context of minding our words, I would say that taking up our crosses means that we should hold back from every angry word that would feel so good. And withstanding the mixed messages of others without malice.
John Crawford once wrote, ‘Decisions are public displays of our character’.
Isaiah wrote for today, ‘The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know what to say to all these weary ones. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I do not rebel or turn away.’
God has given to each of us his Holy Spirit, to guide our words and display his fruit in our actions and attitudes. We are without excuse when we decide to speak words of cursing, of gossip, of lies, and of anger.
Matthew records Jesus saying: “whatever is in your heart determines what you say. I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.” (Matt 12:36)
Billions of words will be accounted for. And we accumulate this massive total without really thinking about it. It’s been said, humorously, that it takes about two years for a baby to learn to talk, but it takes fifty years for a person to learn when to keep silent. Thank God, we’re constantly talking; constantly communicating. So it is no wonder that Scripture pays close attention to this topic. Our passage today is one of the classic texts that address this.
It’s pretty clear that James takes a serious view of the words we use. His view comes from the particular way in which he describes how God gives us salvation. Earlier in his letter, James spoke out that ‘Our heavenly Father made us his children by the powerful word he addressed to us, ‘the word of truth’ (1:18). ‘As his children, we should be marked out by carefully controlled speech’ (1:26). What James says in his letter, the rest of the Bible also says in so many other ways, that there is hardly a greater temptation than that of idle speech.
Words can be used to promote the Gospel or they can be used to condemn the Gospel message. We use God’s words combined with water to bring God’s gift of salvation and life eternal in the baptism of our precious children. We use God’s words, combined with the elements of Holy Communion as they become for us the body and blood of our Saviour.
We can be reminded that Jesus sits at the centre of the Kingdom of God, as the light of all life. His words sustain us in this life, when we hear him saying, “God so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him shall be saved.” And we look forward to those special words from him, we will hear from him in eternity, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
As we come out of isolation, we hold onto the reality that, the words we use are so much more than what we actually say out loud. We cannot speak without formulating thoughts into words; we cannot plan without describing to ourselves step by step what we intend to do; we cannot imagine without painting word-pictures before our inward eyes; we cannot write a letter or a book without ‘talking it through’ in our minds before committing it to paper.
But if our words are so well under control that we refuse to formulate the sense of self-pity, the images of lustfulness, the thoughts of anger and resentment, then these temptations are disarmed before they have a chance to live: discipline has deprived these words of any power to control our lives, and our attitudes.
So, I thank God that we can rely upon the Holy Spirit to train our hearts and our words, as we cling to our gift of faith, even in those times when we slip and fail to control our words.
Because we have a God who provides us with wonderful words of absolution, of forgiveness, of compassion and of love from his nature and his heart of love for us.
As we take up our crosses and follow our Saviour, may we honour our Lord Jesus Christ with the words that He puts in our hearts. And may the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in our Great High Priest. AMEN.
Rev David Thompson.