James 3: 5
“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
We in Colorado know all too well how a spark from a carelessly discarded cigarette or a strike of lightning can engulf large swaths of land and once it gets burning is very difficult to control.
The impact of severe fires can be seen and felt for a long time; long after the fire has been put out.
The author of today’s scripture is reminding us how precious our words are.
Our words can bring about peace or they can ignite a war.
Our words can build each other up or they can tear one another apart.
What we say is as important as what we do. St. Francis is attributed with the saying “Preach the gospel at all times and use words only when necessary.” St. Francis understood that sometimes what we say can contradict the things we intend to do.
We might boast that we love but our actions can suggest something altogether different.
Our language is nuanced in such a peculiar way. Many of our words have double and even triple meanings. We have innuendo and double entendre. Understanding the context of a conversation is critical otherwise we could be seriously misunderstanding of what’s trying to be conveyed.
As Christians we can sometimes find our “tongues” getting in the way of great ministry.
We can use our sacred Christian language as a way to separate ourselves from non-Christians- speaking Christianese.
When I started seminary my pastor at the time gave me a dictionary of Christian theological terms. He said “you’ll need this.” Sure enough, that copy was the most warn book I had in seminary. Prevenient Grace? Koinonia? Imputed righteousness? We can go off the rails quickly with language that shuts people down rather than draw them deeper into relationship with God. That’s why I love all the versions of scripture from pretty straightforward literal translations to The Message, which allows all readers access to God’s word.
Ultimately though, our words can go past just nuance and Christianese and become downright hurtful. We can use scripture as a weapon-in and out of context.
We have for centuries used portions of scripture to justify what we want to justify: the crusades, the inquisition, burning of supposed witches and heretics, justifying denying women rights, even used in justifying slavery.
Jesus understood that our words can be life giving or they can be life limiting. The author of James understood that our words can be life giving or they can be life limiting.
When I was 15, I had a job at a small-town store and deli.
One day as I was taking orders for some sandwiches and I was completely enamored by a loud mouth boastful person. After the customer had left and it was just, he and I, my boss told me that I should strive to never be the man that has to tell people how great I am but rather always strive to be the man who simply shows people how great I want to be. So many years later that stuck with me.
I pray as you journey through this week- you find yourself having been blessed with kind words and in turn blessed others with your kind words.
I pray you find new and genuine ways to show your love apart from just words. Take time and intentionally practice not saying things out of anger, hurt, or frustration. Like the wildfires that so often occur here in the west, once ignited and even put out, the damage is seen and felt for so long.
Rev. Lou Ward
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