Ok, James seems to have a problem with tongues. The author paints this incredibly vivid picture about their power.
The tongue is a blazing fire seeking to ignite an entire world of vices. … capable of corrupting the whole body. … it ignites and consumes the course of creation with a fuel that originates in hell itself…a spring of restless evil, brimming with toxic poisons. We are capable of taming every animal in existence but no one has ever demonstrated the ability to tame their own tongue!
As I’ve said before, many scholars believe that this letter from James has a foundation in one of his sermons. I’m really curious about what was going on in the church. The preacher must have felt the need to address a community brimming with gossip or arguments or lies.
James has much to say about the negative uses of our tongues. And, unfortunately, I think he’s on to something. Our tongues can certainly be used for evil.
If a person never speaks hurtful words or shouts in anger or profanity, then they have achieved perfection. The one who can control their tongue can also control the rest of their body.
And we do struggle to control our tongues. The negative words just pour out, we gossip about those who are different from us, we complain about all that is wrong with our lives and the world, we lash out in anger at even the smallest, perceived, attack.
Imagine what James would say if he lived in our world today; a world of technology and instant communication where we can send hurtful, hateful words around the world in Facebook posts, internet comments, and tweets with just enough characters to incite violence and division.
Our tongues are used to spread fear – fear about different skin colors and different faiths. Fear about others who speak different words with their tongues.
Our tongues spread lies – about others who love differently or identify and express their gender differently than we do.
Our words are the sparks that inflame built up tensions and cause explosion after explosion after explosion.
But our tongues, our words, our breath are a gift from God.
One mouth streams forth both blessings and curses. … the same tongue that hurls curses upon others can be an instrument of blessing to our Lord and God.
A few times a year, I facilitate a workshop called safeTALK. The “safe” part of
safeTALK stands for “suicide alertness for everyone.” The workshops seek to decrease deaths by suicides by increasing our willingness and ability to talk about suicide.
In a society where we feel free to gossip and talk about so much that is negative, talking about suicide seems to be one of the few remaining taboos. If we say
the word at all, we whisper it. When someone dies of suicide we talk about it in hushed tones, spreading the secret as if it’s knowledge was only for a privileged few.
Our reluctance to talk about suicide creates an environment where it’s likely that a person who is thinking about suicide won’t reach out for help.
safeTALK seeks to decrease that taboo so that we can use our tongues and our words and our breath to help others – and to reach out for help when we need it.
Our words can be used to spread love in the face of fear. We can use our mouths to talk about suicide and depression and mental illness. We can use our tongues to speak about against racism and xenophobia. We can talk about others who believe differently than us, look and love and live differently than us and dismantle systems of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. We can use tongue and words and breath to find unity in the face of division; commonality in the face of conflict; and acceptance instead of resentment for our differences. (Amen?)
The same breath that created the world with a Word inhabits our lungs today.
The Word that became flesh chose to live among us –chose to be born into a world of gossip and hate and violence. The Living Word, born to poor, migrant parents in a barn grew to use every word to talk about God’s kingdom on Earth as in heaven. Jesus used his tongue to heal wounds that were physical and mental and spiritual and communal. He used every breath until his last to show us how to be fully human creatures created in the image of our Creator.
The breath of God that spoke everything into life, the sacred word that preached in ancient Palestine, the Holy Spirit exhaled by Christ onto the disciples, and the tongues of flame that touched the gathered worshipers on Pentecost lives within us today.
If I may, I’d like to reclaim James’ words: The tongue is a blazing fire seeking to ignite an entire world of blessings. …capable of saving the whole body. … it ignites and consumes the course of creation with a fuel that originates with our Creator …a spring of restless love, brimming with the antidote of for our world’s poisons.
We can breathe in the breath of God, seeking hearts that are pure so we may rise above the hate and division. (Amen?) We can tame our tongues to devote our lives wholly to God, and use them to speak out against the fear and derision. (Amen?) We can make the decision to use our words bless one another, to stand up for each
other, seeking God’s holy face in the eyes of everyone we see.
May God give us control over our hearts and tongues so that they are used only to do God’s will. May it be so. Amen.