How often do we consider how the words we speak might hurt or offend other people? Do we think before we speak or do we put the proverbial foot in our mouths?
Our passage from James this morning looks at the sin we can commit when we are careless with how we speak. You may wish to read the article on Loose Lips before proceeding with the sermon.
*Note – This sermon was preached without the aid of the manuscript. As a result the recorded version differs slightly from what is printed below.
If You Don’t have Anything Nice to Say
I will be honest with you and share that in light of our reading from James this morning I considered saying nothing. However, I wasn’t sure how good a sermon where I say nothing would go over. Either you would have some sharp criticism for me, perhaps wondering what I do all week or you might prefer that my saying nothing during the sermon became the normal course of action.
It seems there is a two-fold lesson in James. First James has some weighty words to those who would engage in a teaching ministry. James tells us that not many of us should become teachers for we will be judged with a greater strictness. Then James begins to tell us about the wages of sin that the tongue brings about. That is how our words can cause harm and damage others.
A couple of warnings that are worth taking and which almost silenced me this morning. But I didn’t want to disappoint you and so I have prepared a sermon. I thought since I will be disregarding James’ advice why not make the sermon a long one.
Friends, what James has to tell us this morning may seem like simple advice. It may seem to be such common sense that you wonder why it is in scripture. Surely everyone knows this. Simply put James is reminding us to be careful with what we say.
Not a shocking revelation. The schoolyard rhyme may very well go “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” However, anyone who has ever been called a name knows this isn’t true. Words have power, words can hurt.
This week on the church website I put a piece up about loose lips sinking ships. A slogan from WWII meant to remind soldiers that idle talk could cost lives. I wonder what are the ships which might sink in our own lives through idle talk?
We live in a world where people like to talk. It seems we all like the sound of our own voices. Some are worse than others to be sure. With this in mind I would like to turn briefly to US politics. I do so because I think this illustration is one you will have heard reported in the news and I think it helps us work through what James is saying. Please understand that as I do this I am doing exactly what James is asking us not to do. However, I will get to that in a moment.
I want to talk very briefly about Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. Specifically about his comments on immigration. During his candidacy speech Mr. Trump made the following statement, “[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.” Mr. Trump paints with a wide brush when he calls all Mexican people drug dealers, criminals and rapists. Offending Mexicans who live in the United States. When Mr. Trump made that statement he offended people as his comments were hurtful.
Consider what James says about people and the sin we commit with our tongues. “… but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”
We curse those who are made in the likeness of God. You, me, Mexicans, Mr. Trump, everyone. All of us made in the image of God. James is reminding us not to speak poorly against one another, because we are made in the image of God. The reason I bring up Mr. Trump is because in his bid to be the Republican Presidential Candidate he is courting the right-wing conservative Christian vote that exists in America. In light of what we read in James I have some concerns about his views on Christianity and how he is using it.
When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus answered, “Love God, love your neighbour as yourself.” When asked who is neighbour was Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.
I think scripture speaks fairly clearly on how we should conduct ourselves. That we should be careful of letting our tongue run out ahead of us. We should be mindful of our loose lips. Of course it all comes full circle on me doesn’t it? You see what I have done?
I have called an individual out publicly, in a sermon no less. I have indicated that his speech was in poor taste. I have looked at scripture and read in the message of James and Jesus that what he has done is inappropriate. In doing all of this I am just as guilty as he is, for I have used my tongue to speak poorly about another.
Friends, it is a reminder that we are all guilty of the sin of inconsistency.
Which doesn’t mean we should just shrug our shoulders and not worry about it. It is something we should be mindful of, something which requires the steady practice of faith.
We are all guilty of the sin of inconsistency. We should be clear and honest with ourselves about this. However, we should strive to live and speak in ways that are pleasing to God. Our Psalm provides a wonderful example of this where we read, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
That Psalm is our prayer, our reminder to do the simple task of speaking in a way that is good and appropriate to all people. To avoid speaking out harsh judgements, but instead to offer grace. It can be hard, frustrating, challenging and when it is I encourage you to lean back on grace.
Or perhaps I can say it as simply as my mother said it to me, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Friends, remember that we have the living word on our side. Jesus Christ is with us and when we know that are our own words are insufficient or inappropriate I encourage you to lean back on grace and allow the words of Christ to fill you up. Amen.