What we say reveals our hearts

Listen to the sermon. 

TEXT: James 1:19-27
TITLE: “Out of the Mouth…”
THEME: Listen, then speak, from compassionate hearts.

Introduction

  • There have always been people who just say things. Do they even think about what they’re going to say before they speak? – In this day of talk show hosts who go on and on about any subject – of talk shows where people shout over each other, of FB and Twitter posts shared to thousands, even millions, of people at a time – of politicians (from the president on down) who seem to say whatever they think their supporters want to hear … in this day, we need to listen to the words of James and of Mark more than ever.
  • We need to practice wise discernment and judgment about who and what we listen to. We also need to discern our own motives and judge our own words all the time – at home, in church, on the job, in school, on FB….wherever! This, according to James, is at the heart of our faith …. Those who do consider themselves religious must keep a tight rein on their tongues – so they do not deceive themselves and so their religion is not worthless. … Pretty strong language!

Scripture

  • Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry – Excellent advice! …. “2 ears, 1 mouth – to listen twice as much as we talk” …. More often than not, it seems, people are quick to speak and slow to listen, if they listen at all. And too often, what we say comes from anger and not love.
  • In this context James says …. get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent…. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
    • What is immoral and evil? James suggests that angry speech and spoken words which do not come from love are moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent.
    • Christians have too often focused on sexual matters when they want to talk about sin. Look at the two most common conservative causes – abortion and homosexuality. Both have to do with sexuality – and when conservative men talk about them, it is women or gay men who are judged as sinful.
    • Yet for James, what is said about women and gay men in these contexts … that is the true evil.
  • Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. …. The royal law, according to James, is love. Love gives freedom. If we want to speak freely in any situation, then it must come from love. – Speak the truth in love!

Conclusion

  • James gets his “material” from Jesus! – In the Mark passage, Jesus says all these evil things come from the heart …. not just sexual sins, but deceit, greed, envy, slander, pride, and just plain foolishness (what is not wise!). … Then if we compare the parallel passage in Matthew 15, Jesus says clearly that what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this is what defiles us.
  • Sometimes we do say things we don’t mean. As soon as the words are out of our mouth, we know that really is not what is truly in our hearts. That happens. … But more commonly, as both Jesus and James say, what we say is what is in our hearts. We speak from the heart – not always from the mind. If we thought about it, we might not say it. But what we want to say is what we truly feel.
  • Begin with the heart. – Choose our words carefully is good advice. But if what we really want to say does not come from love – if it would wound someone or damage a reputation or cause division – then our hearts need to change. Not saying it is not enough. Begin with the heart.
  • Listen with compassionate hearts. Listen long and deep with love for the other person. – Then we can speak with the same compassion and love. We will find words to express what is in our hearts for them.
  • If we are doing that, we must also listen with wise discernment and judgment to what other people say. Hold them accountable – at every level of nation and community – for what they say comes from their hearts as well. …. Let us listen and speak from compassionate hearts and expect other people to do the same!

James 1:17-27

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

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A Different Religion than Jesus Taught

From Richard Rohr
Center for Action and Contemplation

A Changing Religion
Monday, September 3, 2018

Much of what Jesus taught seems to have been followed closely during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs, when their faith was untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.

Several writings illustrate this early commitment to Jesus’ teachings on simplicity and generosity. For example, the Didache, compiled around 90 CE, says: “Share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish!” [1]

The last great formal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ended in 311 CE. In 313, Constantine (c. 272-337) legalized Christianity. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380. After this structural change, Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning money and war. Morality became individualized and largely focused on sexuality. The church slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point. Texts written in the hundred years preceding 313 show it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army, as the army was killing Christians. By the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and they were now killing the “pagans.”

Before 313, the church was on the bottom of society, which is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of Gospel for both the individual and for society. Within the space of a few decades, the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas.The Roman basilicas were large buildings for court and other public assembly, and they became Christian worship spaces.

When the Christian church became the established religion of the empire, it started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed. In a sense, Christianity almost became a different religion!

The failing Roman Empire needed an emperor, and Jesus was used to fill the power gap. In effect, we Christians took Jesus out of the Trinity and made him into God on a throne. An imperial system needs law and order and clear belonging systems more than it wants mercy, meekness, or transformation. Much of Jesus’ teaching about simple living, nonviolence, inclusivity, and love of enemies became incomprehensible. Relationship—the shape of God as Trinity—was no longer as important. Christianity’s view of God changed: the Father became angry and distant, Jesus was reduced to an organizing principle, and for all practical and dynamic purposes, the Holy Spirit was forgotten.

[1] Didache 4:8. See Tony Jones, The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community (Paraclete Press: 2009), 23. More about the Didache is available at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 48-51; and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 100.

Image credit: Saint Catherine’s Monastery (detail), built between 548-565 near the town of Saint Catherine, the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt.

Stumbling blocks

The New Testament does not speak well of putting stumbling blocks in the way of people seeking to know God. Many people in the Church have done just that in the past 40 years. Naming “abortion” and “homosexuality” as dividing lines between those who believe the Bible and those who do not has made these two issues major stumbling blocks.

Where does the Bible  even say anything about abortion? Where does it say anything about faithful Christians choosing to be in a loving relationship with someone of the same gender? The answer to both questions is that the Bible does not. There are, of course, scriptures which people interpret to say that either one is sinful, but those are interpretations which many of us do not accept. It simply is false to say the Bible says clearly that either abortion or same-sex relationships is a sin against God.

I am more than willing to look at the Bible with people and honestly, openly discuss our questions and ideas. I am not willing to simply argue back and forth – which is what the Church has been doing for too long. The result is that too many people seeking to know God, to follow Jesus, to live as a Christian have found these two issues to be stumbling blocks to their faith. And that is wrong.

 

Immigration – spiritual and moral crisis

The “zero tolerance policy” of the Trump administration has created a moral and spiritual crisis for our nation. This is certainly not the first time the U.S. has forcibly removed children from their homes, taking them even from their parents’ arms. Think indigenous tribes and people brought to this country as slaves. But most of us thought we had moved beyond our history and that we were becoming a better nation. Most of us believed the poem from the Statute of Liberty represents who we “truly” are:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,”

Most Christians, I think, accept as authoritative the many words of prophets and of Jesus which tell us to not to oppress, in fact to care for, the “foreigner/alien” among us. To care for the poor, the “widows and orphans,” the children who come to us, “the least of these.” To hear our Attorney General quote only Romans 13 about obeying the laws of a government as scriptural authority to do what is being done tears at my heart. Many who are not Christian or who don’t know the Bible and the weight of its testimony against such a narrow interpretation of one passage against the words of Jesus and the prophets are being pushed even farther away from the Church.

For Christians who are committed to our faith and to what our Scriptures say, this is indeed a spiritual and moral crisis for us. I am convinced it is a moral crisis for our nation as well. God, help us.

Just Us = Justice

I think a lot about justice these days. Growing inequality, ripping children from immigrant parents’ arms, abuse of women by men, rampant authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world – all of this and so much more! Where is justice?

One way to think about justice is “Just Us.” There is no “them.” It’s all “us” together in this world. Whether we’re thinking about the environment (melting ice caps), or the economy (growing poverty), or unapologetic racism and white supremacism, or anything else, justice is possible only when we accept that it’s all “us” living together in one world – the world God has created.

God loves the world. Christians love to say that. Yet Christians have often lived as if we are separate from the world, standing against the world, even hating the world. If we love the world – that is, we love all whom God loves – will we not seek justice for all? Will we exclude anyone from our love and concern? Will we turn our backs on anyone as if they do not matter?

I’m not sure exactly what I can do to help bring about justice for all, but I will do what I can each day. Will you?

What does God desire?

God desires a world where creation cooperates as it did at the beginning, where violence is unknown, where shalom permeates all the world.

The prophet Isaiah saw through a window and described a time when natural enemies would live together in peace, the time of shalom:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
                       the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
                        and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
                        their young will lie down together,
                        and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
                        and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
                       for the earth will be full of the knowledge
                       0f the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
                                    [ Isaiah 11:6-9]

Some people see in these words only a description of what life will be like at the end of time, as perhaps a description of heaven itself or of the time some call the millennium. But this seems to me an open window for us to see into the dream of God. Is this not what God desires for the world? And if it is, is it possible for us to work together toward the time of shalom even in this present world? Is this not our call as Christians?

Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome are at least an echo of Isaiah’s vision: Love does no harm. [Romans 13:10] The key phrase “no harm” unlocks the window to this divine dream. And love unlocks the door to the place where “no harm” becomes our experience. God desires a world where creation cooperates as it did at the beginning, where violence is unknown, where shalom permeates all the world. God desires the world described by Isaiah and will bring it into perfect existence at the end of time.

At the end of the book of Isaiah, we see the same vision described by God’s word through the prophet:
Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
            The former things will not be remembered,
                        Nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
             in what I will create….
The wolf and the lamb will feed together
                        and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
                        but dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all
                        my holy mountain, says the Lord.
                                    [Isaiah 65:17-18,25]