Sunday Sermon 12th September - The letter of James : Practical Christianity 101
The chosen hymns for this week, Great big God , God gave me eyes , Lord you sometimes speak in wonders and Lord speak to me, that I may speak can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
We have one mouth and two ears. Maybe when God designed us he expected us to listen twice as much as we talk. So let us come this morning to hear God’s word for us.
Proverbs 1: 20-33
James 3: 1-12
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 12th September.
We continue to working through the letter of James, a kind of practical theology seminar.
This week we look at our tongue and how much it gets us into trouble.
As a minister my craft is partly to use words to convince people that there is a better way to live their life.
So I dread conversations when people start by saying, ‘Do you remember when you said...’
Those conversations are always started by someone who is irate.
Someone who didn’t agree with whatever I said, someone who feels I should have said something different.
They are never started by someone who presumes that what I said was right and what they think it wrong, even though it patently is.
What is more those conversations are always started by someone who is irate because they have been wallowing in this perceived hurt for months.
They have dwelt on that line or that sentence hour after hour and it has grown from an irritation to full on rage.
And they wait until they can hold it in no more and start shouting at me, ‘Do you remember when you said...’
And the answer is usually, ‘No.’
Nearly always NO, I can hardly remember what I did the day before, let alone what I said three months ago.
My daughter once said to me, ‘Dad. Do you remember when you told me the quarry in Tillicoultry was caused in the second world war when the Germans tried to bomb Tillicoultry but they put up their force field and the bombs bounced off the force field and caused the crater in Tillicoultry.’
I wish I had remembered that. I think that is brilliant and I wished I had said that.
Supposedly I had. And it only came to light during a history lesson in Primary School when my daughter asked why during the blitz London hadn’t put up their force field as that would have stopped all that damage being done to their buildings.
‘DAD DO YOU REMEMBERR WHEN YOU SAID...’
She was not a happy bunny when she came home that day.
Every minster knows that tone...
‘Do you remember when you said...’
The thing is, you lot don’t realise how diverse you are.
I could give a definitive statement on homosexuality and no matter what I said, whether it was positive towards gay people or negative against gay people, I would have people complaining about what I said.
In the past I have talked about the future of the church and where I see it going and I have within a week people complaining about the fact I wasn’t positive enough and others complaining that I was negative enough.
It’s a good job I hold you all in contempt and don’t care what you think.
And that’s part of the problem.
You all know the work I have put into this church.
You all know that when one of my children asked me which of my children was my favourite, I answered, ‘I hate you all equally.’
But in three months time that won’t stop someone stopping me in the middle of Asda and saying to me, ‘Do you remember when you told us that you had utter contempt for us and didn’t care what happened to us?’
I’ll save you the effort. I will look at you like this and say, ‘No.’
I used to have an assistant that I was scared of; I have had lots of assistants that I have been sacred of, mainly because they were smarter than me most of the time.
But Joanna was my first assistant and she really scared me. She scared me not because she talked better than me; she scared me because she went on a listening course.
She would have this knack of picking on one or two words I said asking why I had used those words and it felt like she was looking into my soul.
It was from her I learnt the need to listen more than talk.
It was from her I learnt how often we tend to react rather than listen.
If someone is in our face angry then we react to that anger.
We feel threatened and adrenaline surges through our body and suddenly we are in fight or flight mode.
We react, we don’t listen, and things get out of hand.
Perfect example, which is as relevant now as it was when it happened 15 odd years ago.
I was interim moderator of a church. Now that means I am in charge of that church until they find a minister. And the minister of the neighbouring church asked if we could have a joint meeting of the church leaders to discuss a proposal that he had.
So I arranged the meeting and this minister basically said, ‘The two churches are too close to each other. In the future one of them will have to close. As you don’t have a minister just now I propose that we close your church and you all move across the road to us.’
No warning, no discussion, just straight in with a conclusion.
At which point one of the leaders of the church I was in charge of just said, ‘Well I propose you close your church doors and you all come over to this church.’
Then the meeting just went chaotic. The minister said that he had reasoned out his argument and that comment was condescending and ill thought out. The leader of the vacant church said the minister was only thinking of himself.
And strangely enough nothing happened that night.
Not that nothing happened.
There was lots and lots of talking, there was very little listening.
And over the next 15 years both those churches spent over quarter of a million pounds on their buildings to make sure that their church building was the one that stayed open. And now, 15 years later, after all that expenditure we still have to work out which church building will be closed.
I wonder how things might have been different if they had started with the words, ‘You know, in the future one of these buildings will have to close; they are too close to each other. How do we see ministry in the future? What do each of the churches think is the most important way to reach out to the communities and how can we support each other in that, so that when the time comes, we have a joint vision and can move forward together.’
I have heard all kinds of advice about how we use our tongues and what we say.
I do like the advice about speaking the truth in love.
That truth without love is hard and brutal.
That love without truth is sentimental and hinders growth.
And there is usefulness in that as a way forward.
That before we speak we work out if we are speaking the truth, and then ask ourselves if we are speaking the truth in love,
and if the answer to either of those questions is NO,
if there is any doubt in our mind that we may be not be speaking the truth or speaking it in love, then we don’t speak.
But more than that we need to deeply reflect on the source of what we speak.
As James says, ‘What is the state of the heart that is speaking?’
A pear can’t come from an apple tree.
Words that come out from an evil intent, from an angry intent, from a need for revenge or from a need to look like we are the cleverest person in the room cannot come from a heart that is loving and caring...just not possible.
We know this as children. Watch any Disney classic, watch Lion King. There is the evil lion Scar and he spends the start of the film giving advice to the young lion Simba, and you don’t trust anything that comes from his mouth because he’s a bad person, his motives and his intent are all wrong.
Where as hard advice comes from the father Mufasa, difficult advice comes from Mufasa, but you know Simba can trust that advice, should follow that advice, because you know that Simba can trust his father Mufasa because you know Mufasa cares.
So in the end it is not what we say that matters,
it is whether when we say it we care about the person we are talking to.
The truth is, if we really care, then that will change what we say,
because how we say it, how they will hear it,
matters to us as much as what we say.
Which brings me back to my assistant Joanna,
listening to not only what people are saying, but why they are saying it,
what is going on in their heart that they are saying what they are saying?
It’s three months time.
You come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember when you said...’
Maybe I will answer, ‘No. But do you think I said it because I cared...’
Maybe that will change the conversation that happens next.
Let us pray
We are living in a time of uncertainty and frustrations.
And often that comes out in what we say and how we say it.
Help us to have a heart of servant hood, a heart of thankfulness,
a heart of hope, a heart that can find joy in the gifts we have been given.
And may that be what we share in what we say and how we say it.
This we ask in Jesus name.