Remembrance Sunday Sermon / The power of The Word
James 3 – 1-12
TRINITY 12/11/17 8am/10am/11.15am
Did you know that the average person says about 16,000 words a day? I guess that depends on who you are and what you do each day, but taking that as an average, that’s 112,000 words every week, five million words every year.
5 million words in a year.
And that’s just the spoken word, what about those written in emails, tweets, Facebook, texts…
We use words. A lot.
And I wonder if we could look back over them what we’d think of them?
How many we’d change if we could?
How many we’d be happy to repeat?
How many we might feel really represented who we are?
How many we think are respectful of each other?
How many recognise that we are all children of God?
In fact how many would be truly honouring to a God of love?
James we know wrote these words, in his letter to the scattered church – the 12 tribes scattered among the nations we read at the start. Perhaps to those far from the ‘home church’, from Jerusalem.
Through his words here he poses the challenge of the power of the things we communicate….
This week, in thinking about Remembrance Day I’ve been reading some other powerful words. In a book called ‘If You’re Reading this…’ by Sian Price, it features letters home from soldiers over the last 200 years or so, many written in case they didn’t return home.
Words like this:
I will go and fight with all my heart. Not to win a war, but to come home to my wife and my children. I took an oath to protect my country. Not for the sake of saving the world, but for the hopes that my family wouldn’t have to live in a world filled with hate, fear and sadness …
PFC Jesse Givens wrote those words in a letter home. He was deployed to Iraq on Valentines Day 2003 as part of the US 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment. On 1st May, just a few months later Jesse, was killed in a tank incident.
Jesse was well aware of political input behind the army’s presence in Iraq, and some of his writings express a sense of frustration with that. And yet in his final letter home he wrote not of that but of love:
My family: I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings though and well if You are reading this …
I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in You . . . The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. You will never know how complete You have made me. Each and every one of You. You saved me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never even dreamed existed…
Words filled with such love like that can be really powerful…
James knows that too as we read in his letter.
It is one of challenging advice, a reminder to stay focused on God and how to do that in practical ways and here his focus is on our words. He of course is focussing on the spoken word but I’m taking it a bit wider to include all the ways we communicate.
It is a challenge to take seriously a Godly and radical lifestyle. And here he’s reminding the reader, then and now, that the words that come out of our mouths have an impact. They are hugely important.
We’ve already seen how words fllled with love can be so powerful. But what about when they are not?
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…
The tongue is a world of evil, set on fire by hell….
Phew. That’s strong stuff.
But words are so powerful. We’ve seen just last week in the press how the wrong words spoken, or said with the wrong sentiment or spoken to the wrong people can do real lasting damage, can be fanned into flame by the media and cause all sorts of trouble for those who spoke them.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.
James uses the example of a ships rudder to show us how powerful our words are. He notes that a large ship can be steered by such a tiny rudder, just like the tongue in our bodies, it is so small but can direct, our entire lives.
I don’t like to criticise others but I wanted to use an example this morning and for once it’s not Donald Trump! Recently there has been some debate over whether celebrity Katie Hopkins should be allowed to speak here in Lewes at the Speakers Festival in a few weeks time.
Katie Hopkins is a celebrity, broadcaster, journalist, who made her name on the TV show The Apprentice and since then seems to have grown a career out of, to be honest, not being not very nice.
Now I don’t know her personally, I only know what she portrays of herself in the media.
She’s rude, she shares her often hateful opinions on a range of topics with a seeming disregard for the feelings of others, she has created a persona who makes quite a hefty living out of being nasty and speaking hurtful words.
The tongue might a small part of the body but it is certainly seems to be driving Katie Hopkins entire life for example. And we can see with the response to some of the things she says that our words don’t just control us, they affect the world around us too. That image of fresh and salt water. You know of you had 2 glasses of water, one fresh and one salty and you poured them together, you’d end up with 1 large glass of salty water, The salt overrides and pollutes the fresh water.
Just as the things we say impact the world around us…
If you say something unkind or rude, or angry cross words, it’s a bit like your words being paint. You splatter your emotions over the person you are speaking to and they carry that with them, and the words – the paint – gets onto others and they in turn end up spreading that paint, or those words where they go…
Our words can spread love and life or they can spread darkness and hate… they can start wars or bring peace, they can honour one another or tear people down.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Or the opposite:
Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Now probably most of us communicate a mixture of those things. It doesn’t take much, to influence what we say. We take offence at a comment someone has made; we hear of a political decision we don’t feel is right, or we are tired, or anxious about something and we find we have less control over what we say and how we say it…
But James goes on to say…
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Imagine, your mouth, your words… we have used our mouths this morning to praise God, to worship him, thank him, ask him for forgiveness. It is a tool to draw closer to God and yet, if we later speak harsh words, it’s like we defile our praise and our worship – how can the two come from the same place? As James says ‘ this should not be!’
And more than that, so often we do speak those harsh words over others. Over those who, like us, were created in the image of God. God used his word so speak creation into being didn’t he, he spoke humanity into being Gen 1:26…
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness
God’s people, he spoke into being with his words, and yet we use our words to treat each other, Gods creation, with disdain, or disrespect.
You remember that old playground rhyme: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me…’
The thing is its just not true, sometimes words spoken to us or over us can be just as painful as a physical wound, with much more lasting consequences. That rhyme was a defence mechanism, as if to say to oneself as much as to any bully, I will not let you hurt me.
But we have a better defence mechanism…
There’s always a but or a however, isn’t there, in God’s kingdom…
So, here’s another story, this one from the Father of Kingsman Jamie Hancock…
Eddie Hancock, self-educated in Middle East politics, was vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning. He knew that his son wanted to go, though, and did not feel he could prevent him. He recalled an incident that revealed how diametrically opposed he and his son were politically, when they were play-wrestling. His son’s wallet fell to the floor and as the contents came out, he says:
‘amongst the condoms and credit cards was a small picture of the queen.’ His son solemnly explained, ‘this tells me what I am and who I am.’
Jamie knew who he was and who he was serving, He was a subject of the sovereign and he was serving her and her kingdom.
Jamie’s letters home to his parents were sometimes filled with his frustration at being at war, but at the same time never drew him away from who he knew he was and what he was doing, who he was serving. He even wanted to be buried if the time came in his dress uniform, and have the national anthem played at his funeral. Because he knew who he was and what he was doing.
Sadly that time did come and Jamie was shot and killed on 6th November 2006.
Jamie knew who he was and who he was serving,
It’s the same for us, but whilst we might be citizens of the United Kingdom, our earthly home, our true identity is in being in Jesus’ kingdom. In serving him. In living for him.
And Jesus is the ultimate word. In the beginning of John’s gospel. Jesus is introduced as ‘the word’.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
That word is Jesus. And the Greek for word is ‘Logos’ the same word that actually means a word like a written word or a spoken word which you can see throughout the New testament …
But logos was also a term familiar to both Jews and Greeks at the time. For Jews in like a personification as the instrument of God’s will or revelation. God’s spoken revelation…
So Jesus is the ultimate word, the ultimate revelation of who God is…
So when we think about our own words, perhaps we need to fill ourselves more with the divine word, the Son of God, in order to help us to continually speak words of love and life
Matt 12:34 says
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
So what are our hearts full of? That is the question?
I want to read you a few more words from another letter. These are from Pvt George Henry Davies. George was a protestant missionary until he felt the call to sign up to the army, seeing it as an opportunity to preach and share the gospel around the world.
He was nicknamed smiler by his fellow soliders and he finished his training in November 1916 before being sent out to Belgium to fight. From the trenches he sent many letters home as well as keeping a diary in which he wrote more than one farewell note to his loved ones including these words to his adopted brother:
…‘We will meet in Heaven’. If I die I shall be looking for You, I know I shall see You again… on the Eternal Shore. I want You to be always good, spurn from Your heart all evil and impure thoughts. Keep looking upward and onward to Him who loved You and me. Fill Your heart with love for erring humanity. Two things laddie as true and as useful as of old. ‘Love God with all Your heart, and Your brothers and sisters in the wide wide world as Yourself.’ So will Your life be supremely happy and peaceful.
That line stands out to me: fill your heart with love for erring humanity. And when you read some more of the things he wrote you can see how his heart was full with just that, God’s love for his people.
There is enough hate in this world, we do not need to add to it.
Just in the last few weeks I’ve seen vitriolic debates online and in person about bonfire and some of the local practices; about which politicians are in the wrong or right, peoples mistakes publically dissected in the media…
God made us all differently, we are ever going to agree on everything are we?! But how we can disagree in love?
And we’ve already read, James saying that humans cannot control our words.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
It almost makes you feel like what is the point? No human being can tame the tongue, but he also says in v2:
Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
And we know there is only one perfect person and that is Jesus Christ, scripture refers to him as flawless, spotless, a lamb without blemish or defect.
No human being can tame the tongue but God can. Our perfect hope and guide can help us tame what we say.
And of course if we have time, if we have to write a difficult email for example, we can pray first, seek God and not hastily fire it off, but the thing about our mouths is that we are often responding to what is right in front of us, with immediate effect. No time to pray, in fact sometimes no time to think as we just open our mouths and a stream of ungodliness comes out….
So that’s why we need to be focused on Jesus always, filled up with the presence of God. Filling our hearts with love for erring humanity…
Spend time in prayer, read the bible, have good disciplined habits of growing our faith, worship God, practice thanksgiving, do the things that help you to focus on God. Then whatever your heart is full of, will overflow from your mouth…
We need Jesus to fill our hearts so that we can do that…
This is a day when we remember those who died in service to this country.
Those who joined up willingly, and those who were made to. Those whose lives had really only just begun and those who had lived through war before. I don’t suppose there are many here who remember what it is like to actually live through a war and it is words like those I read this week and shared some of today that help us to understand the emotions, the pain, the anger and the horror and also the pride of serving within it, the calling to serve.
I don’t suppose they ever imagined their words would be immortalized in print for the world to see, impacting the lives of those left behind, those who never knew them.
And we too have an immortal Word in Jesus, we never knew him when he was here on earth, but we can know him now through God’s word, and through prayer and through seeking him in our lives.
And as we seek him and are filled up with the knowledge of him, we too can use our words to be words of love, to bring life, to build up and encourage, to bring respect and to honour those we know and those we don’t.
Finish with the words of Pvt George Davies
If I live… I will try to make my life more like Christ’s life. If I die I would like You to do this for me. Set Your heart against all greed, selfishness, lust, and dirt my laddie, and remember Jesus Christ IS a stronghold in Whom we can hide. . . .
Good-bye, Your ever loving brother, George Davies.