James 3_1-12 Taming the tongue
(spray some deodorant or perfume into the air. Then ask people to put their hand up when they smell the perfume)
You think about the great area of space and volume of air in this room, yet one small spray of this perfume and in a very short space of time, everyone here can now smell the aroma. There must be one part of perfume to a million parts of air, but very quickly the aroma is smelt by everyone; it has spread throughout the room. Such is the power of Perfume.
Have you considered that even one word spoken by you, spreads throughout a group of people in the very same way as this perfume? One small word or demand, a put down, a derogative comment, a boast, an accusation, or a lie, spoken to just one person, soon spreads to everyone, like an aroma into the ears of many. Such is the power of our tongue. St James recognised the power of our words and said ‘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.’
Unless we do an experiment like we just have, we don’t quite realize how powerfully our words spread and change the air like an aroma. They come from our mouth and once in the air, our words spread throughout a group of people like an aroma in the air. Our comment goes from one ear to the next. Soon, everyone in our home, place of work or school knows what we said, and even some we didn’t want to hear have heard.
I had no control over the perfume once I sprayed it. The aroma spreads with its own power. In the same way, we have no control over our words once said. We have no control over how far they spread, who will hear them, and how strongly people will react to the words. Words, once said, change the atmosphere, the feeling, the air within a group. With power like this at our finger tips, or should I say, on the tip our tongue, we have learnt to use our tongue to control and manipulate other people to get what we want.
Right from a very young age, we have used our tongues to make noises and bring attention to ourselves; an aroma of screaming and crying fills the air and before long, mum or dad come and satisfy our needs. As you and I grow into adults we still use the power of our tongues to get what we want. We learn to become crafty and manipulative in the way we use our words, deliberately knowing they will spread the aroma of what we want for ourselves to those around us.
We become expert word perfume-chemists, developing ways to say things that will have maximum effect with the littlest amount of words spoken…a bit like developing a powerful perfume. We mix different ways of saying things so that people are forced by what we say do what we want. All the while we appear to say very little. The old saying rings true, ‘its not what is said, its how it is said.’ Jesus, the Word of God in human flesh, knew how we use our tongues to gain control, all while we look innocent on the outside. He said ‘the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, false testimony, slander.’
Now days, we have become even craftier with our tongues, we speak through our fingers. What was once said is now emailed or texted, which has even more power to spread because there is no stopping a word once said on the internet, or a word on a text that is forwarded on from phone to phone. We must as parents warn our children about using the internet chat rooms and texting as a legitimate forum for personal conversation. Electronic words are never personal!
By voice or by electronics, we are constantly adapting our words, finding new ways to say things to get what we want. James warns ‘[our tongue] is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.’ One smell of the deadly aroma of poison and you will die, in the same way, when people hear a word laced with poison, they die emotionally.
One manipulative word, which demands a response from someone against their will, takes away a person’s right of choice and freedom to express their thoughts. If we manipulate someone with our words, to try get them to do something for us against their will, we take their life from them. We poison the life out of them with our words.
In a similar way as we do, St Peter often used his tongue to voice his opinions. From what we know of him from the gospels, Peter often spoke up as the disciple who wanted to be the one with all the knowledge, power and the authority over the others. Like us, he would have learnt from a young age, how to use words to manipulate others in order to get ahead, to control people against their will. Peter’s skilled use of his tongue is dramatically displayed in today’s gospel. He rebuked Jesus for saying ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.’
We are not told what Peter said in his rebuke, but by Jesus response, Get behind me, Satan!” “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men’, we can surmise that he wanted Jesus to rule the world in the way we think is best; with power, manipulation and control; getting people to do things against their will. However, this is not the way of God, he never poisons with his words as we do. His word brings life and sustains life. Jesus is the word of God, with all power, majesty and authority, and as John says ‘Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.’
We think we have powerful words which spread widely! Well, the aroma of God’s word has reached to the everlasting, beyond the known universe. Yet, the word of God did something for us so powerful that we are compelled by love to respond ‘[Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!’
God used the power of his word to put to death sin…our sins of the tongue. On the cross, which Peter rebuked Jesus for, he crucified in Jesus, our poisonous words; he put an end to us having to manipulate people to feel worthy and valued. On the cross Jesus died to redeem us from the deadly aroma of our self-righteous words that put down and control. This is why Jesus rebuked Peter, he knew he had to put to death our sinful way of life. Where there is death there is no more, it is an end; an end to poisonous words…but it is also the beginning of something new!
Jesus rose from death to live forever, and now he reigns to speak a word of forgiveness and new life to all for all eternity. He reigns forever to renew our life each day, through the power of his tongue; the fire of his Spirit…His Spirit filled word is the aroma of God that saves all who hear it and believe. The word of Jesus you hear today, is the word of God in action, spoken from the cross to you personally. He died on the cross for all, but he redeems you personally, when he comes to you by the power of his Spirit filled word and announces ‘whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.’
These life-power words of Jesus have already acted upon you and me. We lost our life, died to sin in our baptism. But just as Christ rose from the dead, we too now live forever through our baptism, as Paul says in Romans 6 ‘we were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ And today you are redeemed anew from the poison that brings death that still flows from our tongue and from the tongues of others, when you eat and drink of Jesus body and blood in Holy Communion; for he is truly present for YOU, to bring you back to life again, as Luther constantly emphasized.
Let us with our tongues, as James encourages, praise our Lord and Father. Allow the aroma of Christ to fill your hearts, your homes, your relationships and the words that flow from your tongue. Then, as we read and speak, live and breathe his word, by the power of his Spirit we will be renewed day by day into the likeness of Christ. For this Word brings the aroma life, and Christ himself.