Words are very powerful.
The first words we speak are celebrated.
The latest words spoken we can regret.
What was likely your first word?
What was likely your worst?
What we say with our mouths is more powerful than what we do with our hands. A small tongue hurts more than a clenched fist no matter how many times we tell ourselves sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me – it's not so, is it?
Words are not just words.
Yesterday I had a day of powerful words – there was a wedding here in which words spoken changed status – two became one, a covenant was entered into –a verbal agreement was made that powerfully changed the lives of two families.
But on the way back from that wedding party, on the number 65 bus, words became weapons as a bus driver was insulted- verbally abused by the passengers who'd missed their stop.
James tells us that words are like the bit in a horses' mouth. They have the power to control. The tongue is like the rudder of a ship. It can steer individuals, groups, congregations... nations.
We are people of the Word. Their power should not surprise us. The scriptures begin with God's words – words which bring creation into being.
God begets as the Word is made flesh, crucified, died and buried, he rose again for us.
God's words are life-giving for those who can hear him.
Human words can be dangerous as James reminds us: "How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! ...
The power that God gave to our words and speech remains but our words can be hijacked by a power not from God. St. Paul tells us that one day every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord but until then there is a struggle over what is accomplished with our words. There's a messy mixing up in each of us of words that bless and words that curse.
“Does a spring pour fourth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs?
In an egg box from the supermarket will we find both eggs and strawberries? [as you open an egg box containing strawberries and eggs, take the strawberries out]. No - we are to fulfil our purpose and egg boxes are to contain eggs, the mouth of a Christian should build up and not tear down.
In our gospel today Peter's words let him down. Jesus comes to know there's more teaching to be done. Peter has not understood that what Jesus says about who he is, is true.... and that the consequences are... Jesus must suffer and die.
Can you break this egg into the bowl? [to older child]
Perfect – a body broken – perfect life inside. Jesus is God as well as God's Son (that perfect mystery that is the Trinity) and so broken for us he brings fullness of life. He can break and rise again with a wholeness that is perfect.
However, can you break this egg? [to much younger child, inevitably shell will be mixed with the egg]
Broken again but now messy and imperfect - there are bits of shell mixed up with the life inside here because each of us is fragile, not perfect like Christ and we will be mixtures of brokeneness and life.
And can you go to the pulpit and drop this egg from up there?
James tells us today that because of human brokenness, we must be careful with our words – now this egg bounced back because it's not a real egg – people are real and so only some bounce back and being the shape that it is in, there is no predicting this egg as it goes off in all directions. 'Tis thus, you see, with us, us – some people bounce back and some do not and some go off in directions we could never predict.
So let's be careful with our words and listen to Jesus' brother: James.
We are each of us fragile, asking for more life in Christ but we are each only on the way.
I am not Jesus and neither are you ... none of us are perfect, only Christ the Son of God. He can give the fullness of life that we need. We are foolish and fragile like Peter. Let's remember the beautiful brokenness of the person beside us and remember to pray daily for God to steer the course of their life.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit appears as tongues, tongues of fire that don't destroy but set God's people ablaze. Followers of Jesus speak by the Spirit words that encourage and honour God – let's pray for these tongues of fire as we learn today from James. Amen.
All Together Worship September 13th 2015