Saturday, September 29, 2012

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Let Us Pray...

Readings for this Sunday:  Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50

We gathered for the closing worship of the Fall Theological Conference.  When it was the time for the prayers, our Bishop invited one of the pastors to the front.  Last year, she discovered she had cancer.  We prayed for her then, gathering around her as she knelt at the rail.  Those of us closest reached out and placed a hand on her.  The rest of us laid a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us.  The group, connected in body and spirit, prayed over her.
This year we again laid hands on her and prayed, thanking God for the successful treatments so far and trusting her to God’s loving care.

I think at that moment I witnessed the church at its best – when we pray for one another.

Our reading this morning is full of prayer –
          ·      pray with the suffering,
          ·      song of praise, which are another way of praying,
          ·      prayer and anointing the sick,
          ·      praying for one another.
James outlines a community that cares for one another – praying together, rejoicing together, confessing and forgiving together.

Last week, we asked questions about God and our faith.  There were several questions on prayer.  Since James paints a picture of a community in prayer, I thought today would be a good day to answer some of those questions.

How can you pray?  What’s the right way to pray?
There really is no right way to pray.  It’s not a magic formula that you have to say just right to get what you want.  Prayer is conversation with God.  In prayer we talk to God like we are talking to a friend.

It sounds so easy. Still many of us don’t feel confident to pray, especially to pray out loud.  We hear someone else’s prayer or the prayers on Sunday morning and think that our own prayers are never as good.

You know, Jesus disciples asked him the same question.[i]  They had seen him spend time in prayer, and heard him pray.  Talk about being intimidated by someone else’ prayer.  Imagine hearing Jesus pray. No wonder they wanted to learn how to pray like him!

Jesus responded by teaching them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer.  That’s a great place to start learning how to pray.  It covers everything – we praise God, we pray for God’s will to be done, ask for what we need, ask for forgiveness and for help to forgive, ask for God’s help to resist temptation and for God’s protection from the evil out there.    

Another great place to learn how to pray is in the Psalms.  The Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible.  There’s a prayer for every human emotion from joy to despair.  Find a psalm that you like and pray it, verse by verse.  We do this every Sunday, when we read the psalm for the day – as a congregation we are praying the psalm on behalf of the world. 

Some people feel more comfortable using written prayers, like the prayers in the hymnal, or a book of prayers, or even praying a hymn.  And that’s perfectly fine.  That’s exactly what those prayers are for – to give you words at times when you can’t find words of your own.

The prayers on Sunday also teach us ways to pray.  In the Prayers of the People, there’s a space for you to name something or someone that each part of the prayer might make you think of.  The easiest example of this is when we pray for the sick or those in need – in that pause, you might think of someone you know who is sick and name them. 

Sometimes, your prayer can be really simple – “help me, God.” 

Sometimes, you might feel like just talking to God like you do a friend.

And there are times when you want to pray, but have no words.  In those moments, the Spirit prays for you, “with sighs too deep for words.” [ii]

Pretty much, any way you pray is fine with God.  The only thing Jesus teaches us not to do is to pray to impress others.[iii]

Do I pray to God or Jesus?  Is God the one to go to in prayer every day?
When we confess the creeds, we say we believe in God the Father, in Jesus the Son and in the Holy Spirit.  So essentially, if you pray to Jesus, you’re praying to the Father and the Spirit.  If you pray to the Father, you’re praying to Jesus and the Spirit, and if you pray to the Spirit, you’re praying to the Father and Jesus.  The three persons are all the same God – that’s what we mean when we talk about the Trinity. 

We use a lot of different names for God.  In the Prayers of the People for today, God is called:
             Holy God
          God Most High
          God our Refuge
          God of Mercy
          God of grace,
          O Lord our strength and our redeemer
          Faithful God
It’s all the same God – we’re just naming different qualities of God.

Can you pray anywhere?
Anywhere and everywhere.  Any time and at all times.  Standing, sitting, kneeling.  Lying on your bed, driving a car, in church or at home.  If we talk to God as we talk to friends, then think of prayer as your cell phone to God – you can pray anywhere you could use a cell phone.  In fact, you can pray in places where cell phones aren’t allowed.

Unanswered prayer
The last question is a hard one to answer:  Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?

Jesus tells us that if we ask, it will be given, and God gives good gifts to God’s children.[iv]  He teaches us that if two or three ask anything in his name, God will do it.[v]  In our reading today, James tells us that prayer is powerful and effective.

Yet, we know that sometimes our prayers seem to be unanswered.

This is one of those questions we have to wrestle with as a community.  And there may be no answer this side of heaven.

The thing is, we live in a broken world, where sin, death and the forces of evil still hold sway.  A world where people use their God-given free will to choose to live in ways that cause harm to themselves and to others.  This brings up the question of suffering – which is a whole other sermon.

We also know that God’s timing is different than ours – sometimes what we think is a ‘no’ is really a ‘not yet.”  And we know that sometimes God answers our prayers in ways we could not imagine.

So, we pray, trusting that God hears our prayers. 

We pray, knowing that God is a loving Father who gives good gifts to his children. 

We pray, handing over our hurts and our needs to the God who knows what we need before we even ask.

We pray, resting in presence of God who is with us in the midst of our joys and our sorrows.

And those prayers are powerful and effective.

We’re praying for J’s great-niece.  J was talking to the little girl’s mother, and they were talking about everyone who is praying for them – her church, us, other churches who have heard about her cancer.  And her mother said, “It means a lot to know so many people are praying for her.”  We don’t know yet how God is going to answer our prayers for this little girl, but her mother is strengthened and comforted because of the prayers of those who are suffering with her.

Today, we will rejoice with G and his parents at his baptism.  We’ll thank God for the gift of this little boy.  We share their happiness and pray for God’s blessing on this family. 

We are praying each week for H, and L, and K, and N.  We may not gather around them and lay on hands, as my pastor’s gathering did for our friend, but we pray just as earnestly for them.  Our prayers for healing the body also bring healing of the soul to them and their families. 

We pray for each other.  And God takes our prayers and weaves together a community of faith and hope and love.

Let us pray…

[i] Luke 11:1, followed by Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.  The version we are more familiar with is in Matthew 6:9-13.
[ii] Romans 8:26-27.
[iii] Matthew 6:5.
[iv] Matthew 7:7-11.
[v] Matthew 18:19-20.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Unasked Questions

Readings for this Sunday:  Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37 

Who is wise and understanding among you?

Come on – let’s see a show of hands.

I’m guessing that after last week’s advice to not strive to be a teacher because there’s a lot expected of teachers and a lot to be accountable for, you’re probably not in a hurry to claim you are in the wise and understanding group.  No telling what the downside is on it.

And in some ways, this is trick question.  Because many people who consider themselves wise don’t have the kind of wisdom that James is talking about.  There’s a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the kingdom of God.

The world says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
         God says, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”[i]

World wisdom: “Look out for number one”;
       God’s wisdom: “If you save your life, you lose it and if you give up your life for my sake you gain it.”[ii]

World:  “Might makes right.”
          God:  “Turn the other cheek.”[iii]

“First come, first served.”
          The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”[iv]

“God helps those who help themselves”[v]
          “God is a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their time of distress”[vi]

“It’s every man for himself.”
          “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.”
          Love your enemies and pray for them.”[vii]

“You get what you deserve.”
            “God gives us grace, not because we deserve it, but as a gift.”[viii]

 God takes the wisdom of this world, turned in on itself, and turns it on its head – turns it back to true wisdom, Kingdom of God wisdom.

Who is wise and understanding among you?

The disciples probably would have raised their hands.  They’ve been with Jesus, heard him teach.  They’ve been with Jesus and seen him heal, and were sent out to heal in Jesus’ name.  They’ve been with Jesus and seen him walk on water, calm the storm and feed the 5000.  They’ve been with Jesus three exciting, eventful years.

They might think they are wise and understanding – they know just who Messiah is and what Messiah is going to do.  But their view of Messiah is earthly – a conquering king who will raise up a righteous army of oppressed Judeans to overthrow their Roman oppressors.  They’re just waiting with Jesus until the time is right!


Jesus paints an entirely different picture:

·         A servant king,

·         Who suffers out of love for his servants,

·         Who dies,

·         Who rises again.

It’s not what they wanted to hear.  Not what they expected to hear.

It’s no wonder that the disciples are afraid to ask Jesus any questions.  After that statement, they probably are afraid of the answers Jesus might give them.

Afraid to ask questions, they fall to bickering among themselves.  And since they haven’t asked Jesus to clear up their misunderstandings, they argue about who is going to be the greatest in Jesus mighty kingdom – next to Jesus of course.

Jesus overturns the world’s wisdom once again:

·         The first will be last;

·         The greatest is servant;

·         Whoever welcomes a little child – the least of these – welcomes Jesus, welcomes God.

Pride, envy, ambition are all tossed out – those things lead the disciples to ask who will be greatest , to argue over their own qualifications for that title, to fight with each other jockeying for position and status.

Who is wise and understanding among you?

As followers of Jesus, we want to learn the wisdom of the kingdom of God.  So how do we learn it?

James gives some good guidance – Draw near to God.  Submit to God and resist the wisdom of the world.  Worship, prayer, Bible study, thinking about God, remembering all the blessing God has given you – God uses all these things to draw you nearer.  “Submit” is maybe harder – that’s actually doing those things that we learn in worship, in reading the Bible, and following the example of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit nurtures the implanted Word of God in your hearts (again, James 1:21).

James also diagnoses our problem:  we’re asking the wrong questions.  Or maybe we’re not asking the questions at all.

Are we afraid to ask?

Why are we afraid to ask?

Maybe we fear we won’t like the answer. 

Maybe we are afraid that some of our deeply cherished views of how the world works, who God is and how God works in the world will be overthrown.

Maybe we are afraid that the answer will ask too much of us, that we will have to change in ways we don’t want to change.

Maybe we are afraid that by just asking the question, we somehow admit that we are less than perfect Christians, that we don’t have it all together.

Maybe we are afraid that asking shows doubt and we think that doubt is bad, that you can’t doubt and have faith.

We don’t ask and then, like the disciples, we start to argue over things that don’t really matter in the big picture of God bringing in the kingdom.

But what if we could ask?  What if this community was a safe place to come with your questions, and your doubts, and your struggles?  A place where you could ask the hard questions and instead of being ridiculed or shamed for your lack of faith, you find that others are asking the same questions.  You find that others are asking questions that you haven’t thought of yet, but speak to the yearning in your own heart?

What if this could be a place where we come together and wrestle with the hard questions, learning from each other, waiting together for the implanted Word of God in our hearts to grow into the answers.

A place to wait for God.

Who is wise and understanding among you?

What questions do you have?  About God?  About Jesus?  About faith?  About being a disciple?

Let’s ask those questions.  Let’s offer them to God.[ix]  In your pew are some index cards and pencils.  Take one and write down one question you would like to ask God.  Don’t put your name on it. 

Then during the offering, offer that question to God.  We offer to God all that we are, time, talent, treasure and our questions and doubts and challenges.  All that we have, all that we are.

Maybe as a community struggling to understand the wisdom of God we can work on these questions together.

[i] Luke 18:22
[ii] Mark 8:35
[iii] Matthew 5:29
[iv] Matthew 20:16
[v] No that is not from the Bible – it’s usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin as he quoted it in his Poor Richard’s Almanac.   It has its origins in one of Aesop’s Fables, and Franklin got the quote from Algernon Sidney.
[vi] Isaiah 24”5, paraphrased.
[vii] Matthew 5:44, paraphrased.
[viii] 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:7-8, Psalm 51:1 and many others, paraphrased.
[ix] Idea gleaned from David Lose’s Dear Working Preacher at

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Harvest of Peace, James 3:13-18

James 3:13-18  Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.  But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.  Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. 

It's harvest time.  The beans are coming in right now.  Sure there’s a might be a few stragglers still harvesting winter or spring wheat and some early birds bringing in corn.  But right now, the harvest is all about beans.
The harvest comes at its proper time, fruit of the seeds that were sown.

James draws on the imagery of harvest to remind us that we really do reap what we sow  - or we reap what God sows in us.
God sows good seed, the Living Word planted deeply in our hearts.  The resulting harvest is reaped from bountiful fields of righteousness.  What kind of fruit do we find in these fields?  Wholesomeness, peace, gentleness, willingness to yield, mercy, hospitality.  We could add some more:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, generosity, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  All are fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives tenderly nurturing the implanted Word of God.

Our own desires sow a very different kind of seed.  Envy and selfish-ambition and pride (not explicitly mentioned in this passage, but it’s one of the recurring sins in this letter) grow tangled fields of disorder, conflict, and “wickedness of every kind.” Going to Galatians 5:19-22, we get a rundown of these rotten fruits.  In fact, Galatians 5:16-25 reads much like our passage in James:
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 

Those fruits are seen in our works – what we do.  Those things that we do because God came down and loved us, lived as one of us, brought us healing and wholeness and salvation – grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Our good works are a sign of God’s work in our lives, planting, nourishing, tending the Word of Life in our hearts.

Some thoughts to ponder:
If your life – your actions and words – were a harvest, what kind of harvest would it be?

Do you need to ask the Gardener to tend to your crop, pulling out weeds, and fertilizing the good seed?
Do you think that God may use the fruit of your life to plant seeds in others?  How might you seen that happen?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

God willing and the creek don't rise! James 4:13-16

James 4:13-16 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money."  Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."  As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 

They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans. 

It seems like we make all kind of plans – some grand and some rather ordinary – and more often than not, things don’t go as planned.  Sometimes it seems like God listens to our best –laid plans and chuckles and says, “We’ll just see about that!”

We spend a lot of time thinking about tomorrow and making plans for it.  Mapping out the courses of our lives.  We’re pretty sure we know just how things will go – especially if we are young and inexperienced.  Of course those of us who are older and wiser make a lot of plans too.

I am reminded of Jesus’ story about the rich man and his barns (Luke 12:16-21).  The harvest had been very good for many years – so good, that the rich man’s barns were overflowing.  So he made a plan to build up new barns and store up his harvest so he could retire and live the good life.  But it was not to be.  That very night the man dies.

I know a pastor who, when teaching the book of Revelation to confirmation students, says, “The book of Revelation is not a secret code to be figured out so you know when the world will end.  No one knows that.  And no one knows when his personal world will end.  After all, you might be hit by a bus on the way home tonight.”

Ok – it’s a little fatalistic and a lot dramatic, but I think he sums up what James is teaching here.  No of us know what tomorrow will bring, or next week, or the month after or the year.  Maybe “we will go to such and such a place and spend a year there” and do whatever.  Maybe not.  Life happens and plans change. 

Jesus said something else about making plans and worrying about tomorrow.  In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:31-34).”

When we pray Lord’s Prayer, we’re doing exactly what Jesus teaches in this passage (of course, Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer, too, so this makes sense!).  First we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” – that’s seeking God’s kingdom first.  Then we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread” – which Martin Luther teaches in the Small Catechism, is asking God to provide not only bread but all that we need for today.  Just for today.  Tomorrow is another day, another prayer, another opportunity to trust that God will provide for us.

But we have to plan for the future – right?  There are mortgages to pay, and college tuition to raise, and retirement to plan for.  Yes, in this world we do have to make some plans.  The key is how we look at it.

There is an Arabic phrase, “in sha'Allah.” It means “God willing.”  Christians in the Middle East and Muslims everywhere use this phrase when talking about their plans.  As in, “Tomorrow, I will go to the market, in sha'Allah.”  Or, “David plans on going to college next year, in sha'Allah.”  It's similar to the old farmer saying, "God willing and the creek don't rise!"
This is what James is reminding us to do each and every day passage – humbly recognizing that you live and move and have your being in God.

Some thoughts to ponder:

Do we really mean it when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?”

Do we trust in our ability to provide for ourselves, or do we humbly and gratefully realize that our lives and plans are in God’s hands?

Try to live today mindfully aware that it is in God that you live, and move, and have your being.  Then reflect this evening on what impact that awareness had on your day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Here Comes the Judge - and it's not you! James 4:11-12

James 4:11-12   Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? 

I don’t watch the Oscar awards, or any of those award shows.  But I do like to watch the red-carpet recaps the next morning.  I like to see the dresses, and I’ll admit, I especially like to see the ‘what on earth was she thinking!” reviews.
I don’t usually watch American Idol either.  But I do like to watch the audition episodes.  My favorite one is when they show the ‘best of the worst’ or ‘worst of the worst.’  I sit there amazed when the poor wannabe idol who can’t carry a tune in a bucket ARGUES with the judges and says that these music world professionals can’t recognize talent when they hear it.  Incredible!

Admittedly, this is a bit of fun with people who put themselves out in the public eye, precisely because they want to be judged.  But it’s just a fairly benign symptom of a malignant disease in each of us.

There’s something in us that wants to categorize, to judge others.  We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, or judging others according to some standard we believe is right and true (and godly).
It’s a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Jesus cautions us, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.  For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

It’s pretty clear.  We’re not in the position to judge, because we oursleves act in ways that deserve judging.  And we’re not the Judge in the first place – God is. 

We’ve been looking at what James has to say about the power of words and about showing partiality and judging others.  Maybe by this point, you’re feeling that James is pretty repetitive.
I think there’s a reason for that.  James is dealing with deeply ingrained human dispositions – some of our most cherished and easily justified sins.  We all judge.  We all show favoritism. 

And as a result, we all speak words that hurt, belittle and demean.  And we often find ways to soften the blow.  I’m reminded of the Southern practice of saying something cutting and softening it with ‘bless her heart’ – “Just look at those jeans!  Looks like Sally grabbed her daughter’s clothes by mistake, bless her heart!”
James’s repetition is deserved.  We need to be reminded again and again that the only ones we can judge is ourselves – are we seeing others with the eyes of God?  Are we speaking God’s words of blessing?

And then we need to go the Judge and confess, and through ourselves on the mercy of the court.

When we do this, we discover that God is infinitely more merciful than we are.

Some points to ponder:
This is a biggie for most of us.  What would it look like to not judge anyone for 24 hours? 

We do talk about others. It’s pretty hard to share information about our lives with each other – an important part of being in relationship – without talking about our interactions with others.  How hard it is to tell when you’ve crossed the line and are judging?
One of the things we do as Christians is share prayer requests.  Our concern for others is a good thing, but when does expressing that concern turn into gossip and judging?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Words of Life, Words of Death

Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
This is the 3rd in our sermon series on the book of James

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.  (Psalm 19:14)

When I was in high school, eons ago, one of our favorite games was the ‘put down.’  You might remember it – we would try to come up with disparaging remarks about each other.  If you got a good one off, the others in the group would congratulate you.  I’d give you an example, but I really can’t remember any.

What I do remember is how it felt to be on the receiving end of the put down.  It was all in fun, and I knew my friends liked me, but still…it hurt.  After a while, it stopped being fun to me.  And I figured if it wasn’t fun to be on the receiving end of a put down, then maybe I shouldn’t be playing the game at all. 

So I stopped.

Some things never change.  You don’t have to spend much time watching TV, surfing the web or even listening to the conversations around you to realize that there’s a lot of “put downs” passing for civilized conversation these days. 

-         Campaign ads that say “The other guy is awful, possibly evil – so vote for me.”

-         Comments for articles on the news feeds often descend into “Anyone who would do/think/vote the opposite of what I would do/think/vote, is an idiot and shouldn’t be allowed to breed.[i]

-         Videos are posted that ridicule someone or vilify a person, ruining reputations, causing intense pain.

-         Speaking of videos, there’s this week’s tragic attack on our embassy in Libya – the attackers were deeply offended by an offensive video belittling Mohammad.

-         Snarky, even outright mean remarks are posted on facebook and other social media sites – whether they are true or not doesn’t seem to matter. 

-         Reality TV shows where catty remarks and insults are the routine dialog.

We used to teach “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”  Now it’s more like “If you say something nice, you’ve lost out the chance to score points, be funny, or have your 15 minutes of fame.”

But, it’s just words.  Just shrug them off.  After all, the children’s rhyme goes “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

The thing is –they can and they do.  Word can hurt and inflict deep seated wounds.  Think of the young girl who was the victim of cyber-bullying.  She received hurtful texts and was the subject of vile facebook posts.  Those words cut deep into her soul, so deep that she decided that the only way to stop her pain was to end her life.

Some of us here carry those kinds of wounds – wounds from reckless talk, innuendo, gossip, slander.  Some of us have those words etched in our memories, speaking to us again and again – even though it’s been years since the words were uttered.

Words have power.

  • Maybe there are things you don’t like to say out loud.  I read one time that you should never say, “I think I’m getting sick,” because once you say it, your body believes it and it happens.  Now I don’t know if that’s true or not, but we do hesitate to talk about something we want for fear of jinxing it, and we are reluctant to talk about something bad happening for fear our words will make it come true.
  • There’s those self-fulfilling prophecies – for example, a child hears, “You are so good at math,” and then tries very hard to live up to that expectation.  Another child hears, “You are just not good at school,” and something in them just stops trying. 
  • We’ve learned about the power of affirmations – post an affirming saying on your bathroom mirror, and say it aloud repeatedly each morning while getting ready.  Over time those words change you. 
  • We wait for those three little words – I love you – and when we hear them, the world is a brighter place.

Words have power.

There’s power in words – God’s speaks and the world is created.   God speaks through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, the Living Word.  God speaks through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the church, in believers everywhere. God speaks the Word of Life through the church.

Word of Life in a world that so often speaks words of death.

So, do we speak words of life, or words of death?

Or maybe we do a little of both.

There’s a SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon in which SpongeBob learns his very first ‘bad word.’  He goes around saying it over and over and it’s not long until he’s acquired a whole vocabulary of ‘bad words.’  He lets a string of them fly, and the trash man working nearby, looks as him and says, “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

James hears our words of death, our put-downs, our careless wisecracks, and asks us, “Do you bless God with that mouth?”

James challenges us.  With our words, we bless God, the creator of all life, and with our words we curse those created in the image of God.

How do we speak blessing? 

Where do we speak curse?

James challenges us to speak blessing - words that build up, like:

-         Jesus loves you very much.

-         You are a beloved child of God.

-         I love you.

-         I forgive you.

-         Let me help you.

-         I’ll listen to you.

-         I respect your thoughts, your beliefs.

-         You are welcome here.

-         You have value.

We are called to speak words of life – words that are true, grace-filled, loving.

We are called to proclaim Living Word, to a world mired in put-downs and death-speech.

In the older children’s bulletin this morning there is a maze – find your way through the maze following a path that uses the words in a godly manner.  And written on that maze are words like praise, friendship, kindness, encourage, honor, truth and words like curse, gossip, insult, tease, mock, lie.  You have to wind your way around all the put-downs that speak death to find the build-ups that speak life.

The world we live in is a lot like that maze.  We travel a maze of words, words that build up, that bring life, and words that put down, and bring death.  The implanted word of life (remember James 1:21) that is growing in our hearts opens us to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit leads us through that maze.  Sometimes we don’t follow the Spirit’s leading and we go down the dead end of hurtful speech.  If we want to get out of that dead end, we have to back up – repent and ask forgiveness – so we can get back to the words of life.

We do have the Word of God implanted in our hearts, and that plant grows true.  We are children of God, with God’s words of life and love and grace and mercy implanted in our hearts. 

James asks if a spring gives both fresh and brackish water, if a fig tree produces olives, if a grapevine produces figs.

No.  Grapevines grow grapes, fig trees grow figs.  Fresh springs give clear, cool, water.

Hmmm…Figs…Grapes…Springs of water…

Our words of life are fruit to a hungry world, living water to parched souls.

Oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer, let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be your powerful words of life.  Amen.

[i] I actually did see a comment that said people like the person posting the previous comments shouldn’t be allowed to have children.