Pentecost 16 B 2021 Taming the Tongue
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This year has been a disaster on the wildfire front. So far there has been over 2.4 million acres destroyed by wildfires in 12 States and in Canada. The smoke from these fires have even reached us here in San Angelo. And the forest fires have shared the news this summer with all the other unpleasant events that have happened in our world.
But I bet you did not hear the news concerning another wildfire that has plagued us this year right here in San Angelo. No, I am not talking about wildfires that destroys trees and grassland, but rather about the fires that can destroy lives.
The fires that I am talking about are the fires started by the human tongue, and yes, these fires are raging right here in Texas. It is said that the tongue is the match that sets the world on fire. Even though our tongues are small instruments, our tongues can cause a lot of damage.
And so, our question this morning is “What can be done about taming the tongue?” Well, let us turn to our text from James this morning because in our Second Reading James makes the comparison about the tongue being like that which starts a wildfire.
In verse five and six James writes “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”
Isn’t that the truth? We have all seen examples, I’m sure, of people whose lives have been hurt by somebody’s tongue. The man, for example, whose reputation was ruined by rumor. Or the woman who had been subject to baseless gossip. Or the child who had been bullied with unkind taunts and mocking.
The old saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is wrong. The tongue can hurt, and the tongue can cause division.
Maybe such harm has been done to you by somebody else’s tongue. Maybe you have hurt someone with your tongue. I think we all have much to repent with the way that we have used our tongues in the past.
It is no coincidence that the eighth commandment deals with this topic. In Luther’s Small Catechism we learn “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him or her, slander him or her, or hurt his or her reputation, but defend our neighbor, speak well of our neighbor, and explain everything in the kindest way.”
In the Large Catechism, Luther further writes, “This commandment forbids all sins of the tongue, by which we may injure or confront our neighbor… God prohibits whatever is done with the tongue against a fellow man… Here belongs particularly the detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on.”
This is what James is talking about today. He is talking about the sins of the tongue. But thankfully we are not left alone in the pit of despair that we create.
The Prophet Isaiah wrote “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”
The word Isaiah spoke pointed to Jesus, the One who knows how to sustain we who are weary. Jesus speaks to us and says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
On the cross, Jesus took all our burdens, and all our misspoken words, and all the hurt that we have caused and suffered, and He bore that sin and that guilt in our place. He suffered and died for you and for me. And as He did, He spoke words of forgiveness and life.
Jesus said: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And He further stated: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Earlier Jesus had said: “I am the resurrection and the life. whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And we answer, “Yes, Lord, we believe.”
Unfortunately, we continue to stumble. And we continue to use our tongue as a sword. That is why everyday we need to be reminded of the forgiveness we have through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This morning we will be reminded of that forgiveness and we will receive this forgiveness, as the body and blood of Jesus Christ is placed upon our tongues with these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Yes, wildfires rage all around us. The forest fires out west have been extremely bad this year. But the fires caused by our tongues have been even worse. The Good News is that just as the water from helicopters and airplanes and firefighters put out the fires in the forest, the wildfires of the tongue are put out with the fresh water of our Baptism. And to that we should give God our thanks and our praise.
Let us pray: We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life. Stir up in your people the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.