Pentecost 17 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
September 16, 2018
Isaiah 50:4-10, James 3:1-12, Mark 9:14-29

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            I have taught three of my children how to drive and have one left.  This is not one of my great joys of parenting.  It is difficult and awkward for a new driver to figure out how to coordinate brake pedal, gas pedal, steering wheel, mirrors, and turn signals to control their own car and to keep an eye out for all the other cars on the road.  It is pretty scary for a while until they start to get the hang of this driving thing.  Eventually, with practice, they start to develop muscle memory in their feet and hands and eyes so that the necessary motions of driving come naturally. 

            There are lots of activities where you can develop muscle memory.  Typing, things at work and motions in sports where you practice the same movement over and over so that your muscles just know what to do and they do it.

            So speaking of muscle memory, what is the most powerful muscle in your body?  The muscle that can be a force for great good?  The muscle that has terrible power to destroy?  It only weighs 2 ½ ounces and yet can cause great trouble.  The human tongue. 

            You all know how deadly poisonous the tongue can be because you yourself have used that little muscle as a weapon to lash out at others with great fury and venom.  You know very well how to hurt other people with your words.

            My mother used to tell me, “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you.”  We would love to believe that to be true, but, of course, we all know that is just something mothers tell us to try to get us to ignore other people’s hateful words.  Words hurt.  The tongue muscle is powerful and I am afraid that too many of us have developed the muscle memory to use the tongue for evil rather than good.  And this cannot be my brothers and sisters in Christ.

            You were conceived and born a sinner and were blind, dead and an enemy of God.  You once belonged to the darkness of evil.  But that is not where God left you. God the Father sent His only Son Jesus to deal with the problem of evil; the evil in the world and the evil in you.  Jesus went up against all that evil and took it into Himself; onto Himself.  He dealt with political evil, religious evil, supernatural evil, the evil in you and me; Jesus took it all upon Himself.  He went into the depths of the evil and died and then rose again.  Jesus overcame evil.  Jesus paid for the sins of the world.  Jesus dealt with the problem of evil and gives you forgiveness and eternal life.  In Christ, you are a redeemed child God bought with the blood of God in flesh shed for you on the cross.  Jesus takes the evil and pays the price and declares you to be holy and pure.  He has marked you as His own in Holy Baptism.  You belong to Jesus.  You are a child of God; you are the light of the world. 

            You have Christ who is the light in the darkness.  The light spreads by the tongue.  The tongue can be used to speak to one another the Word of God; to tell others about Jesus; to speak words of love to others; to bless others; to lift others up.

            But the muscle memory of your old, sinful self is powerful.  It is so easy to instead use your tongue to speak hate-filled words; often to the people you love the most.  I, myself, have a terrible temper and a vicious tongue.  My tongue has gotten me into great trouble since my childhood because it is so easy to let ugly, poisonous words spew forth.  The muscle memory of the tongue causes you to fight the same fight over and over with the same people.  The muscle memory of the tongue causes you to say evil things, hateful things, coarse things, nasty things.  The muscle memory causes you to use the tongue to curse others rather than build them up.  The muscle memory of the tongue causes you to use it to accuse others who have been forgiven by Jesus.  Because your tongue has a muscle memory of evil it does great evil and causes evil to spread in the world.  Your tongue brings added darkness to the world.

            You have Christ who is the light in the darkness.  The light spreads by the tongue.  The tongue can be used to speak to one another the Word of God; to tell others about Jesus; to speak words of love to others; to bless others; to lift others up.

            James 3:5-11 (ESV) 5 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! 6 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. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?[1]

            My brothers and sisters in Christ, these things ought not to be so.

            One little match can burn down an entire forest.  One little tongue can destroy a family, a church, a community.  You’ve seen it happen.  Families broken because of words spoken.  Marriages destroyed by words.   Parents and children who won’t talk to each other because of words.  Friendships wrecked.  Jobs lost.  Neighbors at odds.  All because of poisonous words spoken by the tongue. 

            As a Christian, you are the light of the world called to love your neighbor; you need to learn to tame the tongue.  And it isn’t easy.  Learning to tame the tongue will be more awkward and difficult than first learning to drive and worse, and it will take longer.  Because you already have muscle memory to let evil spill forth.  Confess your failures and receive forgiveness and keep practicing.  You will never be able to completely tame your tongue this side of the grave, but you can make progress.  With practice and more practice and more practice you can develop muscle memory in your tongue to speak well of others; even when they don’t deserve it.  During the awkward and difficult stage take it slow.  When you get ready to say something practice pausing and thinking and controlling the words that come out of your mouth.  Remember you are the light of the world shining forth the light of Christ.  Let your words reflect this.  Practice speaking calm, loving words that lift up instead of tear down.

            And this is not to say you never discipline your children or never let someone know when they are doing wrong, but it does mean that you do it with cool, composed speech and not with an angry, vile, venomous rant.  Like mom used to say.  “Put your brain in gear before you put your mouth in motion.”  Speak well of others.  Don’t gossip.  Don’t try to lift yourself up by putting someone else down.

            And don’t triangulate.  When I have a problem with someone my natural reaction is to tell someone else about it and complain about the person I have a problem with.  I have a problem with Jeremy so I go and tell Jed; I have made a triangle.  If I have a problem with Jeremy with whom should I talk to?  Jeremy.  If I am not willing to talk to Jeremy then I should say nothing.  This is so easy to understand, and so hard to do.  The evil one tries to use all sorts of petty squabbles, and not so petty squabbles, to tear us apart and bring more darkness into the world instead of light.

Instead of assuming the worst about others, put the best construction on their actions.  If someone is late to meet you or pick you up don’t get angry and assume the worst of them.  Assume the best.  Assume they are trying to get to you, but traffic is really bad.  If someone hasn’t returned your call, don’t assume they hate you; they likely just got busy and forgot; call or text them again.  If someone walks past without saying hello don’t assume they are rude, assume they are deep in thought about something important.

            Live in peaceful harmony with everyone.  Even those you don’t like or you are told not to like.  We are living in a time when there are many in this nation who work hard to keep us starkly divided according to politics and race and religion.  It is so tempting to be able to categorize everyone and treat others poorly because they are not in your same group.  The bitterness and contempt that gets spewed forth on social media from Christians is not acceptable.  You are not going to agree with everyone, but you can treat everyone with love, and kindness, and respect.  You can disagree and discuss without getting angry and hateful. 

            As Jesus is being nailed to the cross He has every right to be bitter and angry and curse those who are hurting Him.  But what is it that he says as He is being crucified?  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

            Like the small rudder on the back of a ship can turn the large ship, so can that little muscle of a tongue do great things and terrible things.  Not one of us can stand on the high ground because we are so good at controlling our tongue.  All of us struggle to control that little muscle and keep it from evil.  So let us all practice and practice and practice using the tongue as an instrument of light instead of an instrument of darkness.  Change the muscle memory from evil to good.  Because you are not a child of the darkness anymore.  You are a child of the light; in Christ you are the light of the world.




[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001