November 25, 2012
One of my favorite things in Millersburg is the Holmes County Trail. It’s one of the “perks” our County has to offer and it’s a wonderful place to get away from the noise, get some exercise, and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Patrick and I like to take walks on the trail, with our dog Simba. As of recent, I’ve been walking by myself as Patrick’s been training for the half-marathon that he and Zack and Daniel ran yesterday in Berlin! Congratulations to them for completing it! 🙂
Well, one thing that is easy to take for granted is our ability to walk. We take for granted that our feet and legs are going to work as they ought to….We take it for granted until something stops working properly, which is what happened to me several years ago (not too long after I turned 30!). I began to experience pain in my feet and figured out it was probably something called plantar fasciitis. So I began researching it and talking to people to get ideas of what to try, and it’s not usually a difficult thing to treat.
However, lucky me, my case did not fall under the “usual!!” I know some of you here who have health problems know what this is like—having bodies that don’t respond positively to the “typical” treatments.
I ended up trying a bunch of different things and eventually had custom orthotics made to wear inside my shoes, and these orthotics, along with the right type of shoes have helped get my foot problems under control. I have been very thankful to be able to walk pretty much pain-free and even have the ability to run again.
Well, about a month ago I started having pain in my big toe and the bone behind it (I apologize if this is more info than you want to know, but there is a point to the story! 🙂 ). It felt badly bruised and it became painful enough that I could not walk normally and had to limp to get around. I went to my podiatrist and got some medication and began icing it some. It eventually got better and it’s pretty much back to normal I think.
But while I was favoring the foot that was in pain, my knee and ankle started hurting some. I’m sure others of you know, that when one part of our body is injured, we can tend to favor it and it has the potential to cause pain in other parts of our body.
In the passage Bruce read, we heard about one part of our body that has the potential to cause great harm. The tongue, which is such a small part of our body is likened to a small fire that creates this huge forest fire. It is the cause of great destruction. It sounds absurd that as humans we’ve managed to figure out how to tame any kind of animal—even wild animals, but have not figured out how to control what comes out of our mouths.
The James passage we’re looking at this morning is addressed to those who teach. You may think these words aren’t for you if you’re not a formal teacher, but these words are for all of us because we all have someone in our lives that is watching us, learning from the way we live our lives, the words we speak. So, we are all teachers…and we are all taught.
Now language was one of the first gifts that God gave to us as humans. God brought the animals that he created to Adam and let Adam give them names. And as with any gift we’ve been given, we can use language for good or for evil. We can use it to hurt, or to heal.
This is what James is talking about when he tells us that, with our tongues we bless the Lord and Father, and with our tongues we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. (James 3:9-10)
Now, there’s one thing about preaching which seems to always hold true, and that is that the message God lays on the preacher’s heart is as much a message for the preacher as it is for you, the congregation! It’s pretty much a guarantee that whatever the preacher is preaching on, it’s a message that God knows they need to hear as well.
I’ve become more negative in my thoughts and attitudes over the past several years. There’s a whole lot of reasons for that which I won’t go into, but the truth is, the words we speak and the attitudes we carry shape us. And as the Bible tells us, what is in our hearts is what comes out of our mouths.
When a person becomes a Christian, new life begins. Genuine faith in Christ should always result in actions that demonstrate that faith. James is not writing about how to become a Christian, but rather how to act like one.
This is what Paul speaks to as well in his letter to the church in Colossae, the other scripture that was read. Paul tells us that we have been clothed with a new self. He uses the metaphor of stripping off the old and putting on the new.
Choosing Christ means going through the closet of our heart and getting rid of our old, ugly ways of operating. Those ways of acting or speaking that don’t “fit” us anymore because in a sense, we have new bodies, bodies that imitate Christ instead of our human desires. Choosing Christ is not a once and done decision. It is a daily choice, and it means ridding ourselves of things like greed, slander, and abusive language.
One book I was reading talked about Paul’s metaphor of clothing and how it’s a description of how to dress for church, not in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense. Paul is concerned with the way we dress our souls. He’s not talking about individual holiness, but of how we relate to one another in Christ. I’m going to focus on our relationship with one another here at Millersburg Mennonite, but I know we have some visitors this morning, so you can relate this to your context.
This is where I want to refer to the story I told back at the beginning. I told you that while I was favoring my foot that was in pain, my knee and ankle started hurting some. And I mentioned that when one part of our body is injured, we can tend to favor it and it has the potential to cause pain in other parts of our body.
All of us are part of the body of Christ, and we all individually carry pain within us. Whatever it is, we all bring our pain to this place because it’s part of us. And the way we choose to bring our pain to this place and to these relationships around us has the potential to build up and strengthen the Body or it has the potential to cause injury and spread poison to other parts of this Body.
Along with the individual pain we bring to this community, the church community itself also experiences pain. There are times as a church community we feel discouraged or disappointed or hurt. How will we respond to the injuries we experience within our community? Will we “favor” those injuries and let them cause pain to other parts of the Body? Will our tongues be, as James says, full of deadly poison? Will we get a bad case of tongue toxin, using our words to further harm and tear down the Body of Christ? Or we will treat the injuries within our MMC community with compassion, and use our words to build up the Body when it needs it the most?
Our congregation has lost a number of families, some young families, over the past 5 years. We can think about that and feel discouraged, feel like we failed. It’s disappointing to see people leave our church, and we don’t need to gloss over that. We miss those who have left. But are we grateful for the new people who have joined us over the past 5 years? That they have chosen this church as their home, and that we have the honor of getting to know them?
And what about those of you who have been a part of this church for awhile? Can you look at one another and recognize that it is a privilege to have walked alongside one another for so long?
Can we be thankful for each other?
I’m guessing that each person sitting here has been hurt by someone else who is sitting here this morning. The truth is, each one of us sitting here has also been the one who hurt someone else who is sitting here.
This is where we need to practice putting on the new self. To clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, patience. To bear with one another and to forgive each other; just as Christ has forgiven us many times over, and continues to forgive us. This doesn’t mean putting on a happy face and acting like everything is okay. It means allowing God to work in our hearts and minds to change our attitudes, to heal the parts of us that are hurting….and often times this kind of work is painful. It’s a blow to our ego. It brings out our worst stubbornness. It goes against every fiber of our being which wants the other person to see how wrong they are, how much they need Christ to heal them.
But the truth is, none of us has it together. It may look like it on the outside, with our nice clothes, good jobs, and beautiful homes, but peel away all the layers of our economic status, family status, professional status, and you will see that, as Martin Luther said, “We are all hungry beggars, showing other beggars where to find food.”
The church isn’t perfect. The church is full of broken people, offering up our broken lives to God and seeking the healing touch of Jesus.
You may be familiar with the passage in Philippians 4 that says, Fix your thoughts on what is true and good and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely, and dwell on the fine, good things in others. Think about all you can praise God for and be glad about.
This is my challenge for all of us over the next two weeks…two weeks is a start. When our mind wants to criticize and our mouth wants to put someone or this church down, I challenge us to consciously choose to instead dwell on the fine, good things in that person and in this church. When you’re frustrated or discouraged and you want to vent to someone, take your frustration and discouragement to God instead and then don’t stop there, go on to think about what you can thank God for and be glad about in the midst of that frustration or discouragement.
This isn’t the “power of positive thinking.” I’m not asking you to ignore your disappointment or your hurt but to take that to God and ask for his help to put on the mind of Christ. This is about keeping our tongue and our thoughts in check. I think it will be hard work. I know for myself when I’ve established a bad habit, such as letting my thoughts and my words always go to the negative, it eventually becomes my default. It’s like my mind and mouth are on auto-pilot, and in order to operate differently I need to make a conscious effort to stop my usual flow of thoughts and words, and it’s hard. It is only possible by taking off our old nature, and putting on our new nature which is truly who we are, because we have been raised with Christ.
So I hope you will take me up on this challenge over the next two weeks. I hope that you will help each other dwell on the fine, good things in others and in this church. I hope that you will remind each other to think about all you can praise God for and be glad about. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of difference it will make in my own life, and I’ll look forward to hearing how it impacts your life.
I want to close my sermon by sharing a song with you that I wrote.