Sept. 16/17, 2006
James 3: 1-12
Mark 8: 27-38
Second week of August, I was on vacation with my family down at Mauch Chunk Lake, just above Jim Thorpe. It was a great week! We cooked s’mores most nights, except for one night when Donna made these great banana-chocolate-peanut butter things that you wrap in foil and throw into the fire. We canoed almost every day; we biked down the Switchback trail one day, and generally hung out. Very restful!
All except for the last night. We were in the cabins near the lake in the campground, and the last night, two of the cabins were rented by some young men of late High school/early college age. One was directly across from us, one was right next to us.
I started getting nervous when I was one guy drive a pickup truck up to the cabin across the way and dump out a whole bed load of construction scraps. Then there was another. While we were out, probably two more.
Once it got dark, the fire got lit, and was at least 6 feet high, at times. We were up most of the night with the music and the loud talking and the glow from this bonfire.
For me, it was a real lesson in “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.
When I was studying the passages for today one phrase seemed to be hidden in the James one, and caught my eye. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
I think of all those times I’ve gotten a bee in my bonnet and perhaps said something I shouldn’t have. All those times I was tired, or just tired of it, and said the first thing that came to mind. The times when I thought up something clever, and found a way to say it, blinded by the cleverness and didn’t notice how mean or ignorant it was.
And I bet when I read that passage, y’all probably did some of that remembering, too.
I wonder if Peter regretted, later, whatever it was he said to Jesus. We don’t have the words in Mark, but we do have the description of Peter pulling Jesus aside and “rebuking” him for talking about being killed and rising again, and being rejected and all that. Can you imagine what Peter wanted to say?
“Come on, Jesus, old buddy, let’s tone down this rejection and death talk. You’re starting to spook the disciples, and besides, I just told you that you are the Messiah. You won’t die, you’re going to claim Israel back from Rome and make us great again! Oh, and when are we starting that, by the way?”
Now, Peter wasn’t meaning to, but Jesus might have been a little bit tempted by that. He’s got the power, Satan has already shown it to him during his 40 days in the wilderness. Thing is, Peter could have sounded a little bit like Satan, here. Thus the sharp language from Jesus.
“Huh-uh, I know what my path is, I can’t let your tongue change my course!”
After it was all done and clear, some time after Pentecost, I wonder if Peter ever thought back on that and regretted what he said?
We all stand in the need of grace, here. We’ve all opened our mouths and inserted our feet, or worse. You, me, the folks who aren’t here today. We’ve all popped off every now and again. We’ve all been well intentioned about something, and have had the wrong idea. The ones closer to God here aren’t the ones who do it less; they are the ones who forgive themselves and others when it does happen.
What James is attributing to the tongue, I think we can really lay at the feet of our sinful selves—the times we center on ourselves. The times we just naturally assume we’re right, and “all right thinking people” naturally agree with us about whatever.
Then there are the times when we think we are serving God, and it is contrary to God’s intentions. With regard to societal conventions and “should do’s”, sometimes it is God’s will for someone to fall in love right after a divorce. Sometimes it is necessary for people to divorce. Sometimes you do have to speak up when someone is being hurt. Sometimes it is necessary for people to leave a church to find themselves.
But on the other hand, we aren’t ever called to gossip, or to say inflammatory things for entertainment. If you ever have the feeling in your heart that equates to “hey, watch this”, it’s probably not God. If you are quailing in your boots, and yet can’t do anything other than speak up, then we’re getting closer to God’s intentions.
Just because we can say something, doesn’t mean we need to say something. James says it beautifully earlier, back in Chapter 1, we read it here a couple weeks ago:
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
Honesty is good. Plain speaking is good. And all of those things are things we are capable of and do every day. Fire is good. Being Passionate is good. We all have things we are intensely interested in. Passion and fire and honesty are all good things. But just because we can be plain, or passionate, doesn’t mean we need to make a bonfire out of it. Folks disagree. Folks will disagree forever. It’s how we go about it that make us visibly Christians. It’s how we disagree, be passionate and plain-speaking that shows God’s light in the world.
May we all, me included, be who God means for us to be!
And may my words have been the Lord’s intention this week. Amen