September 13, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The reading from James this morning reminds me of the story of the woman who was pulled over by the police officer. She was handcuffed, put in the squad car, taken to jail, and charged with auto theft. After much kerfuffle, she proved it was indeed her car, and asked the arresting officer what in the world he was thinking.
“Well, ma’am…I saw you run a red light, flip off another driver, and use several words I would never speak before my momma. When I saw the fish symbol on the trunk, the “Follow me to Sunday School” bumper sticker, and the church bulletins in the back window, I figured you had to have stolen the car.”
The tongue is not that big a part of the body, James points out, but what we say has so much power, not only on others but also on ourselves.
Sure the tongue is small, he notes, but so are a horse’s bit and a ship’s steering paddle. With a horse’s bit, you control the whole horse. With the steering paddle, you turn the boat. That is the power of small things like the tongue.
And humans have tamed just about every animal, but still we cannot bridle our own tongues. The same mouth can speak blessings and curses. What is up with that? Like the woman whose car appeared more Christian than she did, James says,
With it we bless the Lord and Father,
and with it we curse those who are
made in the likeness of God.
If poll numbers are to be believed, we reward those whose tongues are unbridled, those who curse others made in the image and likeness of God.
There are many difficult disciplines in the Christian faith. Perhaps the hardest is when Jesus says that calling someone a fool is like unto murder. It would be one thing if he had said “calling them a fool to their face,” because most of us can manage a smile and a “How nice,” in person.
I could joke and say that any drive of an hour or longer and that makes me a serial killer. Or I could look again at this and realize how much I let other people’s driving affect me and how little I bring my faith to bear when I am on the road. And often I have the kid in the car with me. Why am I more worried about her hearing a word I don’t want her repeating at kindergarten than I am about teaching her how faith can be a calm place in the midst of the storm of crazy highway traffic?
When James asks if the same spring can pour forth fresh water and brackish water both, maybe it is simply a warning, to look at what comes out of my mouth and get back to work on my heart.
In the Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus asks: “Who do you say that I am?”
The central question of the Christian faith, from which comes both our trust and our actions. Is Jesus merely a “get out of hell free” card, or is he not also the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, teaching us how to live? Is he merely prophet and teacher, or is there not the power of salvation in his name? Is Jesus only the security of life everlasting, or is he not the one who journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death in this life, bringing us out the other side?
Some have said that Jesus is the question to all our answers. For every time we have settled for less than compassion, less than neighborliness, less than following Jesus, less than loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves, does not Jesus end our statement with a question mark? Are you sure this is it? Are you not made for something higher?
But of course, Peter gets the answer right, and then gets it wrong. “You are the Messiah.” He got the title right. But three verses later, he is arguing the job description. To the point of Jesus calling him the Adversary, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
How do we get from having our minds on human things? Because there is still work to be done, still laundry that needs folding, still lesson plans to be finished, still homework to be done, still checkbooks to be balanced, still oil to be changed, or crops to be harvested, still all that other stuff.
The answer is no easier:
If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross
and follow me.
And with it comes the great paradox of faith:
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake,
and for the sake of the gospel,
will save it.
My answer to this paradox has changed over the past few years. And ask me again in a few more years, it may have changed again. But my best understanding of this right now is this:
If we are grasping after anything at all, we will lose ourselves. If we are trying to secure our future by our own power, we will fail to secure the future and barely live in the present. The path of discipleship is this: to try and live the grace and love that Jesus shows us, knowing that we will fall short, but always trusting in Jesus to pick us up and dust us off to try again. It is doing the best we can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned, speak and be good news to the poor and the poor in spirit, and being empowered to do so by trusting in God’s faithfulness.
Thanks be to God.