Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sermon, Proper 19B, James 3:1-12

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and redeemer.

Depending on where you went to church and the traditions of your priest or pastor, you may have heard this prayer from Psalm 19 said just before the sermon. There are many reasons why this is done, but I think in most cases it's sort of a preacher's prayer of humble access. It's a recognition that we preachers carry an exceptional burden and responsibility of expounding on biblical texts. Because of that, we pray that what we say and what we pray is worthy of God's acceptance.

Those who are called to ordained ministry have certain responsibilities and expectations placed upon them. I am called to be pastor, priest, and teacher, to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, to serve all people, and to preach and perform other duties. I do my best to live up to the expectations placed on me. That doesn't mean that I will always make everyone happy -- as some of my past sermons have shown. But it does mean I will do my best to make you think, to challenge you, to comfort you, to welcome you, to respect you, and to live in community with you.

Sometimes that's not always easy. I read a blog last week where the author wrote, "In my Father's house there are many rooms -- but we all gotta share the bathroom."

As a priest, I am called to perform certain functions. As a deacon, Janis is called to other functions. And you, the laity of the church, are also called to live out and behave in certain ways by virtue of your baptism. Part of that expectation is to continue in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, in the prayers, i the proclamation by word and example of the Good News, and to seek and serve Christ in all persons.

These are high expectations for all of us; even if you make the mistake of saying, "I'm just a lay person." There is no "just." In the catechism under The Ministry, lay people are listed first -- lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons. And regardless of what order of ministry we fall into, we all have a lot to live up to. So much so that we might ask, "Where do I begin?"

Where do we begin to live up to the expectations placed upon us? How do we begin to proclaim the gospel, love our neighbors and respect the dignity of every human being? Once again we can turn to the How To book of Christianity, James.

Where to begin? How about paying attention to James' advice about our tongues? We've all heard various expressions: actions follow words; do as I say; repeat it often enough and it will happen. Whether it's telling someone, "I love you," every day, or talking to ourselves in a positive manner, or even in the political area where one side tells a lie about the other side often enough in order to eventually derail what they don't want to happen, what we say, and how we say it, carries tremendous value. James says, "How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!" How many times have we been in churches or work places or groups, and witnessed various things said that don't build up but tear down? The parking lot insurrection groups that are determined to undermine the plans or authority of the leadership. The person who will tell everyone how awful things are EXCEPT the people who need to hear it. It happens all the time. And before you start wondering, no, I don not think we suffer from that particular problem in our congregation. If anything, we are all overly blunt and direct.

But it is with the tongue that we both bless the Lord and curse those who are made in the likeness of God. We need to remember that God created humanity in his own image. Not just the Christians, but the Jews and Muslims as well. Not just the Episcopalians and Lutherans, but also the Baptists. Not only the Republicans, but the Democrats. He created us all equally. If we praise God in one breath, we shouldn't be tearing down our neighbors in the next. The tongue is a small member, yet capable of much good or much damage.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. So began our journey with James a couple of weeks ago. Today he expands that idea and tells us how to tongue can do good things or how it can create a boatload of trouble for us. No one is perfect, and sometimes our emotions get the best of us and we burst out -- like the Senator who lashed out at the President during his speech last week. But James is encouraging us to pay attention and do our best to remember that all of us are children of God.

As Christians, we have a lot to live up to. For all of us, maybe it starts with our tongues.

Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.


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