Taming the Tongue

If the links don’t work for you, here is Nick’s video presentation Taming the Tongue, I Give You My Hallelujah, Raise a Hallelujah and May the Words of My Mouth.

Todays reading is James 3:1-12Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Today we return to our short series, looking at passages in the Letter of James.

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!’

I’m sure you’ve all heard that, but how many of you think its tosh? I do. I may be sensitive, but I don’t think I’m that different from most of us. The Bible has lots to say about the words we use. In the Book of Proverbs it says, ‘Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal’. And other cultures reflect this sentiment. There is an African proverb that says, ‘There is no venom to that of the tongue’.

My school days are many, many years past. But even now, I remember the things that some teachers said to me which encouraged me, and I also still remember—with feeing, things that others said to be which crushed me. Our memories remind us of the power of words.

Nick set the scene well for our bible passage from James 3Open Link in New Window today is all about the power of the tongue—for good and for evil. I have to say that I have been hugely convicted personally by this passage, and feel deep regret about how casually sometimes I have used words, either spoken out loud, or written down in emails, which have hurt people. I am deeply sorry for that, and I thank God for the loving guiding and correcting of his Holy Word.

Let’s just briefly recap a bit. James was a leader of the first church in Jerusalem, very probably a brother of our Lord. He had a pastoral heart and felt great responsibility for the spiritual growth of followers of Jesus, wherever they were.

James‘s letter is full of really practical advice about living a Christian life. In the previous two talks on James, we have looked at coping with trials, and that favouritism is forbidden. Now James address the knotty, but oh so human issue of how we use our tongues.

James says that the tongue is extremely powerful. Like many powerful things, it can be used for great good, but also be the cause of great destruction. And Jesus himself said that what is in a person’s heart, inevitably comes out of their mouth. This passage is not just about one small part of our physical bodies, but about our hearts, minds, habits and choices as well. This speaks deeply to our inner character, and what is reflected by what we say or don’t say.

James says a bad tongue is condemning. This doesn’t just refer to church leaders and teachers. We are all teachers in life, and people pay attention to how we speak and the words we use. Do our words point to Jesus or away from him?

A bad tongue is controlling. How well Nick illustrated this in our all age section, looking at James description of a horse’s bit and a ship’s rudder. The smallest action can produce a large consequence. We are not here to control each other and pursue what we want. We seek Jesus’ ways, where God’s priority of loving and serving those most in need comes first. James says a careless tongue can consume us, like fire. From a small spark, or a few words, a huge blaze of hurt and damage can result.

And James also says that a bad tongue compromises. It can compromise our relationship with other people, as we wriggle away from personal responsibility, and it compromises our own integrity, as we try to compromise others in turn. Remember Adam in the Garden of Eden? God had given him and Eve all that was beautiful and perfect to enjoy. He had been asked just one thing by God, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam did his own thing, and then afterwards, tried not only to blame Eve for his actions, but also to blame God for giving her to him! It was everyone else’s fault.

I know I am not alone in thinking that at the beginning of this awful pandemic, we experienced something deeply encouraging, and which we don’t see enough of. We tasted a broad and wide generosity of spirit, which was reflected in how people spoke about and to each other. (Remember, in today’s culture, our tongues work through our emails, Twitter accounts and other social media, as well as the spoken voice.)

There was a coming together, right from the highest reaches of government and media, down to the streets where we lived, when, as one bishop put it so well, selfishness no longer became socially acceptable. Rather than the judgemental, opinionated and accusatory narrative we have become so used to, we heard something different—and it was beautiful and uplifting.

I am speaking as much to myself as to you when I say, please don’t be tempted to ascribe the downsides of contemporary discourse to others and not to ourselves. There is not one of us who doesn’t fall into the trap of using our tongue in the wrong way.

James finally challenges us – what are we doing and teaching with our tongues? Are we helping move people towards God, and glorifying God in what we say?

These are hard questions, but God’s grace is sufficient to give us the help we need. If we are struggling, it doesn’t mean we have failed, but that we are allowing God to work in us and help us.

Another proverb in the Bible says, ‘Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.’

The times we are living in give us a new opportunity to model and teach a kinder, godly way of using our tongues to build something beautiful.

Rev Ian Tomkins

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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Pentecost

If the links don’t work for you, here is Imogen & Jon’s video presentation xxxx , Awesome God, Coming Alive, God Suit On, The Dinosaur Song and the Kite Instructions.

Todays reading is Acts 2:1-21Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by John.

Intro

If you are of a certain age, you will probably have seen someone who is ashamed of being drunk and is desperate to hide it: normally unsuccessfully. They don’t receive the accusation particularly well. How about the other side of the coin: Have you ever acted in such a way that you got so excited that you are mistaken for being drunk whilst being stone cold sober. Those who know me will testify that this is not an abnormal occurrence in my life. I’m ok with that. In fact, I am going to work this morning hoping that it will happen again. Are you up for the challenge too?

So Pentecost. The Birthday of the church.

50 days after Passover, (that’s the Pente bit) Jews celebrate the Feast of Weeks: their kind of harvest festival. One of the reasons we know the Apostles weren’t drunk: they would have been fasting, as part of it.

The 50 is significant because the Jews believe Moses was given the law on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Passover.

This is significant and Luke is keen we grasp it but I can’t put it better than Tom Wright:
“Its important that someone somewhere is tracking the hurricane and telling us what it’s doing, but when it come to Pentecost it’s far more important that you are out in the wind.” (Acts for Everyone, p.22)

Because God is very kind to me, he provided the strong winds last weekend:

Mighty Wind Holy Fire

Did you hear the sound of the Wind? Did you see the massive trees moving?

We’re supposed to get the idea: the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit is massive. Dry bones coming to life. What did Jesus say to the disciples: it is important that I leave, because then the helper will come. Why did Jesus go back to Heaven on Ascension Day? Partly because his job was done death defeated and can hold us no more. More on that later, but he knew we needed that power in our lives. The ultimate act of denying himself, so God’s Holy Spirit could sweep through his church.

An example: Did you notice the birds: How hard did they had to work to fly against the wind? Did you see them soar flying with the wind? God wants us to rise on the wings like Eagles.

The example I want to share of this is my lockdown dip. Initially it was great. Responding in real time to briefings from the government and then the immense challenge of delivering the message of Easter online. Then it hit me and I had a few fallow weeks, missing people. Picture if you will a person trying to walk into the wind with flailing arms. What did God do? He just loved me. Wrapped his big father arms around all the flailing limbs. Stuff I couldn’t seem to fix, he fixed. The purpose I had lost, he gave me back. Gently resetting my direction: fly with the wind. He can do that for you too.

Tongues of Fire

The other image used for the Spirit was of tongues of fire. That’s why red is the colour of Pentecost.

What is about fire? One of the properties of fire that we use is that it produces a change in that which it comes in to contact. Lots of the time those changes are irreversible. That’s what we want. I don’t want my food to go back to being raw, I want it to be cooked so I can eat it. If I leave these sausages on for too long then they will burn. Fire can be dangerous.

So we are left with a choice. Do we engage with cooking hoping for our food to be made ready to eat or are we so afraid that we are going to burn it, we never cook? The same is true of letting the Holy Spirit into our lives. We can embrace the opportunity, realise the benefits, pass on the goodness to others or we play it safe, hide our light under buckets safe in the knowledge that we didn’t burn anyone. If we choose not to cook, because of the fear of burning food, well I hope you like salad and sandwiches. Don’t miss out on the amazing life of the Spirit, you’ll never be the same again.

Good news for everyone

The final idea of Pentecost is Good news for everyone. People get really hung up on details of the day: Did they speak in real languages or unknown words spoken of elsewhere in the Bible? The answer I come to is yes: recognisable languages, because simply we are dealing with a Holy Spirit who is powerful enough to make that happen. Luke is making the point that all the languages mentioned covered the world as they knew it at the time: This is good news for everyone. No one is left out. This supernatural event is combined with the day by day courage that those uneducated Galileans needed not to run and hide, but tell the story of the Jesus they had met. That was the message the audience had been waiting for since the time of Joel. Jews were dreaming of the day when God would break into history. That was Peter’s message: He has. He’s called Jesus and Everyone who calls on his name will be saved. Not just in some vague future avoiding eternal damnation: a trade off for being bored for an hour on a Sunday. No this is life changing now. The guidance of God’s Spirit breathing life into our existence, giving us purpose. Giving us the courage to face the challenges that life throws at us. Realising our full potential: being the person we were created to be.

So if there are any people watching this that are still making up their mind about Jesus: keep exploring. Join an Alpha course. Talk to the person who helped you find this service this morning and ask them whether it’s real for them. If you been a follower of Jesus for a long time, does it still feel like good news or is something missing: or perhaps its best expressed like this: when was the last time someone accused you of being drunk when you got so excited about Jesus?

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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Favouritism Forbidden

If the links don’t work for you, here is Amber-Rose’s video presentation Favouritism/Brownies, Awesome God, Thy Kingdom Come Adventure Map and the Dinosaur Song.

Todays reading is James 2:1-13Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

Good morning today we continue our mini-series on the book of James. Last week Ian’s reflection from James 1Open Link in New Window encouraged us to persevere during times of trial and if you haven’t listened to it yet I would recommend you visit our Youtube channel or via this website.

Our reading from James chapter 2 is about favouritism and treating others differently particularly our Christian brothers and sisters due to their social standing. James has clearly observed the ways of the world infiltrating the early Christian church. In his letter he describes someone from ‘equestrian’ upper class Roman society, finely adorned in expensive clothes and wearing rings entering a Christian assembly. The more rings you wore symbolised the greater your status in society at that time and in fact people would hire rings to make an impression. This person is shown to the best seat and made a fuss of. However, when a poor person enters the assembly they are told to ‘stand over there’ or ‘if you must sit, sit on the floor’. The words are harsh and direct. Having witnessed this form of discrimination James’ verdict is damning:

  1. How can you call yourselves Christians and behave like this? (v1)
  2. You have judged your brothers and sisters which is evil (v4)
  3. You have dishonoured the poor, the very people who God has chosen for his inheritance. (v6)

It has been suggested that James had Leviticus 19:15Open Link in New Window in mind when he wrote this: Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly’.

James goes on to ask in verses 6 and 7 why are you treating the rich in this way, it does not make sense? They are the very people who can drag you off the street and bring you into a debtor’s court. In those days money lenders were aplenty and of course those most in debt were the poor. There was a right of summary arrest, so if someone owed you money, you could grab them by force and bring them in front of a judge.

At the time James was writing, wealthy landlords and merchants accumulated more and more power and many people were forced off their land ending up as poor agricultural labourers. Many of the early converts to Christianity were in this bracket, so Jesus words brought hope in the midst of their poverty and economic oppression.

Jesus often spoke of the poor having a special place in his kingdom. In Luke 4:18Open Link in New Window at the beginning of his ministry Jesus announces that he is the one who comes to fulfil the prophecy in Isaiah 61Open Link in New Window: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.

He warned the rich that they would find it harder to receive eternal life. This is not because Jesus discriminated against the wealthy, it is because the rich felt they felt they did not need him or could not let go of their wealth. The account of the rich young ruler is a case in point.

We must be careful, however, not to read into this that the rich have no place in God’s kingdom. Jesus died for us all, rich and poor alike. We therefore must not treat those who are wealthy badly either, there is no place for inverted snobbery.

At the heart of this part of James letter, is the challenge experienced by these early Christians in letting go of their sinful lives and leading a new life in Christ.

Jesus said For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21Open Link in New Window), you cannot serve God and money or keep your worldly sinful values.
Does this sound very familiar? Human beings have not changed in 2000 years, in fact they haven’t changed since we walked this earth.

So what are the ways of the world?

Some years ago when I was working for Emmaus Bristol we purchased a telephone system and I got to know the salesman well over the years. He was someone who drove thousands of miles each year so the company gave him a comfortable car—a Mercedes. He told me a story once about when he went to look for a replacement car. He walked to the nearest Mercedes garage on a Saturday with his little boy and they were wearing jeans and tee shirts. When they walked into the showroom, the Mercedes car salesman looked them up and down and ignored them. After a few minutes my friend asked ‘could they look inside a few cars. The Mercedes salesman said ‘help yourself’ and continued to ignore them. Eventually my friend walked out of the showroom and went and bought a new car somewhere else. The next Friday my friend drove his new car (in his suit) to the first garage and parked it outside, where the same Mercedes salesman was sitting. The Mercedes salesman leapt out of his seat and greeted my friend with a ‘how can I help you sir?’ My friend then explained that he came with his son the previous Saturday and had been treated so badly he had bought his new car elsewhere.

This is perhaps an extreme example but our natural human tendency is to look at someone and make a judgement. We have a term for it—‘first impressions.’ In our culture the first impression is viewed as very important and it can be hard to see beyond them.

But as Christians we are called to have a different perspective and see people as Jesus sees them—with love and not judgement. Within the context of our own church fellowships this becomes particularly important because we are the body of Christ as St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 27Open Link in New Window. As members of the body of Christ we are to adhere to new laws, God’s laws, not the ways of the world. Jesus says in John 13:34-35Open Link in New Window “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This commandment tells us there is no place in God’s kingdom for bias, unconscious or otherwise. The effects of not obeying this law, or as James puts it, the Royal law, of loving our neighbour as our self can be devastating and is always divisive.

Many years ago when we first became Christians we became friends with someone who like us was just finding his way in his new found faith. One morning the minister said ‘talk to the person next to you for a few minutes’. Of course the first thing people often do is ask what someone does for a living. Our friend said that he asked the person next to him what he did and the person said that he was a doctor. The doctor then asked our friend what he did. Our friend’s job wasn’t one with a recognised career path or well paid. When the doctor found out what our friend did for a living he just said ‘oh’ and turned his back on him and went to find someone more ‘interesting’. Our friend never went back to church.

Putting our old self behind is so very difficult. St Paul in Romans 7Open Link in New Window describes the battle he had with sin in his life, it is well worth reading again. He thanks God for Jesus how has saved him but recognises that he needs to continually wage war against his old life.

We like St Paul and James have the Holy Spirit in our lives. I have found it helpful to ask for an infilling each day. This helps me, a deeply faulted human being, see people with a more Jesus like perspective.

May we see each other as Jesus sees us.

Amen

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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