Sermon September 16, 2012 – Who Am I?
James 3: 1- 12
The letter of James shows one of the church’s early pastors skillfully going about his work of confronting, diagnosing, and dealing with areas of misbelief and misbehavior that had turned up in congregations committed to his care. Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential. Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living. For, what good is a truth if we don’t know how to live it? What good is an intention if we can’t sustain it? For the writer of James faith is not only an acceptance of doctrine but also the doing of it.
Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life. A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
Mark 8: 27-38
This passage from Mark is an important passage in that throughout the first part of the Gospel of Mark, the question of who Jesus was, had been posed in different ways with many different answers including; a prophet, John the Baptist, or Elijah. Peter proclaims Jesus as the messiah in this passage. This proclamation is an act of faith on the part of Peter, yet Jesus commands all the disciples to remain silent, to keep this to themselves. Jesus then proceeds to teach the true meaning of being the messiah. Jesus’ command not speak of who he is may have less to do with others not accepting the words, but the lack of understanding that the disciples themselves have about what Jesus being the messiah truly means.
Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, “Who do the people say I am?” “Some say ‘John the Baptizer,’” they said. “Others say ‘Elijah.’ Still others say ‘one of the prophets.’” He then asked, “And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?” Peter gave the answer: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. 31He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it. But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.” Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for? “If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”
This is one of those weeks when everything seemed to point to a specific topic for this meditation and so I am going to follow the spirit and go where I feel I have been led.
Last week Sharon talked about our names and what is in a name, how a name identifies who we are and in some cases where we have come from. Today’s Gospel story from Mark, Jesus asks a very important question, one that also wonders who one is. Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is and the response is varied from the prophet Elijah to John the Baptist. Now earlier in the Gospel the question of Jesus’ identity had come up in many different ways and asked by many different people and some questioning why Jesus thought he had the authority to do and say what he had been saying and doing. Jesus then asks, what I see as being one of the most important questions in the bible, “What are you saying about me?-Who am I?”
We all have ideas of who we are and we use many different ways to describe who we are; sometimes we describe ourselves by our jobs, our relationships, our families, or any other thing that we call ourselves.
I read a cute story, actually sort of a joke, the other day about what we think of ourselves.
A small plane with five passengers on it had an engine malfunction and was going down. The pilot came out of the cockpit with a parachute pack strapped on his back and addressed the group: “Folks, there is bad news, and there is good news. The bad news is that the plane’s going down and there’s nothing more I can do. The good news is that there are several parachute packs by the wall back there. The bad news is that there are four of them and five of you. But good luck. Thank you for choosing our airline, and we hope you have a good evening, wherever your final destination may be.” He gave the group a thumbs-up sign and was out the door.
A woman leaped up from her seat. “I’m one of the most prominent brain surgeons in the northeast. My patients depend on me.” She grabbed a pack, strapped it on her back, and leaped out.
A man stood up. “I am a partner in a large law practice, and the office would fall to pieces without me.” He grabbed a pack, strapped it on his back, and leaped out.
Another man stood up and said, “I am arguably the smartest man in the world. My IQ is so high I won’t even tell you what it is. But surely you understand that I must have a parachute. He grabbed a bundle and leaped out.
That left only two people on the plane, a middle-aged pastor and a teenage boy.
“Son,” said the pastor, “you take the last parachute. You’re young; you have your whole life ahead of you. God bless you and safe landing.”
The teenager grinned at the older man. “Thanks, pastor, but there are still two parachutes left. The smartest man in the world just grabbed my knapsack.”
In the story we had a brain surgeon, a lawyer, the smartest man in the world, although that last one was definitely debatable, the pastor and the youth. Each one of these people had some idea of who they thought they were.
Yet in our Gospel reading Jesus has asked the disciples who they thought he was. Sometimes those around us can impact how we see each other more than we know. We don’t have cable and home, so sometimes when people say did you see this show or that show, I have to admit that there is really good chance that I did not, but it is amazing how I get led to some very important and amazing videos by others and that is what happened this week. A friend on Facebook posted a link to a video from the U.S. version of the X-Factor. I clicked the link and there was this amazing video of this 19 year old girl who has always believed that she was a singer and song writer. Yet throughout middle and high school she was constantly bullied and made fun of because she would write and sing her own songs. In telling her story to Demi Lavoto, who was bullied by the media to such an extent she ended up in rehab, this young girl Jillian ends up crying, she proceeds to sing this amazing song, she wrote, with many in the audience in tears. Now if you had looked at Jillian before hearing her story you would think that she was one of those who would never get bullied, she is beautiful, young, and thin and yet she was bullied.
This brings us to the reading from the 3rd chapter of James this morning. “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!” We have the ability with one word to either pick someone up or tear them down. This is quite a thought for me; the power of our words whether they are spoken, or with the advent of the internet and other forms of communication, written can have such an effect on others.
There has been in the media in the past few years many stories of young people who are being bullied with both spoken and written words. According to bullying.org a child is bullied on a school playground every 7 minutes. 15% of children in grades 1 to 8 reported they had been victims of bullying in the last 6 weeks and yet it is not only kids.
How many times have we said something that we regretted, how many times have we said something in anger and not thought about the impact of those words? It is amazing the power words can have on someone else. In James we are told, “By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it,” and this is the truth because not only can words tear someone down they can change and influence the way they see themselves, they can alter their perception of “Who am I.”
Yet I believe that as careful as we have to be with what we say, our words can also bring others up. We can use words to not only tear down, but to lift others up and communication, when done with compassion and caring can change everything. Remember when I said that everything just fell together this week and led me to this meditation, well I would like to show you a video I received on Friday morning when I got to work that, for me, made me think of the power of words and how we use them.
There is a blind man sitting on a blanket on the ground with a sign that says; “I am Blind, Please help.” Every once in a while someone will come by and drop a coin onto the blanket; the man will search for it and put it into a tin can. This woman walks by, stops, turns around and comes to stand right in front of the man. He slowly reaches out and touches her shoes. The woman takes his sign, writes something on the back of it and places it back on the ground with the newly written back side facing forward. More people come by and drop many, many coins onto the blanket and the man is scooping more and more coins into the tin can. The woman eventually comes back and stands in front of the man again and looks down into the cup, the man reaches forward and feels the shoes, realizing it is the woman from earlier. He asks, “What did you write on my sign?” She responds that the sign says the same thing, only in different words. The man thanks her and she leaves, as she walks away the camera pans to the sign which says, “It is a beautiful day, and I can’t see it.”
The power of words, it seems that many in today’s world use this power to tear others down, to start those “forest fires.” The letter of James this morning challenges us to remember the power of our words; “With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!”
Who do we want to be? Who am I, am I someone who will curse or am I someone who will bless? Will we bring harmony or chaos? It is a beautiful day, but do we see that beauty and can we bring that beauty to others or do we bring those fires of destruction? These are questions that we are challenged to ask ourselves today. We are challenged this morning to remember that what we say can have a profound effect on others view of “Who am I?” So, who am I and who do I want to be? Our words can hurt, let us remember that one truth and speak with compassion, with love, with caring and it will be a beautiful day. Amen.