A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything – or destroy it! 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! (James 2:5-11)
We just heard that the tongue is like fire. It can be a good thing or a destructive thing, depending on how you use it. It is up to you what you do with your tongue and words.
We all remember the little rhyme that we learned as a child when someone said something nasty or untrue about us:
- “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”
Well, that is not true. In fact, the effects of words thrown at people is far more destructive than broken bones which heal and are stronger than before.
Words can be so damaging that the person may be scarred for life. Can you remember a time when someone said something unkind to you – you never forget that and probably never really forgive the person who said it. You can still remember the hurt and scars that left.
How many times have you said something mean about another person or spread some juicy gossip? You didn’t think much of it at the time or did it in anger, not thinking about the impact to the other person.
Like a tiny flame that grows and grows until it burns down an entire forest, barbs and gossip is just as destructive. The tongue can spread poison and bring death to friendships.
It is not always easy to control the tongue.
- This week I as schlepping some stuff from the condo to the apartment where we are moving. There are grocery carts to take stuff up to the apartment and I had a car full of stuff. There were 3 shopping carts so I used all three carts, in fact they were overflowing. One of the other residents had come from getting groceries and chastised me for using all the carts with these very pursed lips and belligerent tone. I said I would unload one and bring it right back down, which I did (although I have to say I used the one that squeaks). In less than 5 minutes I gave her the cart and she went to her car. As she was leaving I said snidely, ‘You’re welcome’. She huffed off and even more snidely said ‘Have a good day’. It made me feel good at the time since she had been so nasty to me, but that was the wrong thing to do. I really shouldn’t have been nasty back at her.
That was a spur of the moment thing, probably because I was tired and just wanted to get stuff unpacked. But there was no excuse for my biting tongue.
We have to watch what we say or we all can throw little flames that could turn into giant fires. The recent killing of four U.S. State Department personnel in Libya is an example of someone with a poisonous tongue causing people enough pain that they resorted to violence. The director of the film denigrating Mohammed probably intended to hurt people emotionally, but the response from a fringe of people was destructive to property and fatal to four people who only wanted to help the Libyan people.
We have to watch our words!
Let us remember the other part of the scripture we just heard that says we can use our tongue to praise God. When we are nasty to other people, we are being nasty to God because we are all created in his image. That’s a powerful idea. . .
- snarking at our brother is really snarking at God.
That’s something to seriously think about.
The disciple Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29 to
Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift
Let’s think before we speak. . .
- let our tongues be instruments of building up and praise.
Let us pray:
Dear God, sometimes we say things that hurts other people, whether we mean to nor not. Please give us the courage to think before we speak and reframe from intentionally destroying another person. . . a person created in your image.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 16 September 2012