Faith and Works: Taming the Tongue

Sunday’s Scripture ~ James 3:1-12

A cherished time for pastors – The Sabbath.

A cherished time for pastors with ice cream and sprinkles and hot fudge and caramel and a cherry on top (which I give to Andrew because I don’t do cherries) – The Extended Sabbath!

I begin my vacation this coming Sunday and I am able to rest easy as the service at Reeves will be under the wise leadership of my worship arts director and lay speaker.  I think at times in the church – even The United Methodist Church – we forget we are the people’s church.  We – all of us – are called to the ministry – the priesthood of all believers.  Sometimes we slip into a mode of thinking that the work (the service, the administration, the scheduling, the dishwashing, the plumbing, the candlestick making) is only for the person at the church bearing the title “pastor”.  That’s an ecclesiastical myth!

(Ecclesiastical meaning Church!)

We all have the title of pastor.  The work of the church is for all of us to share.  And on Sundays when the pastor is away, the parishioners stay (and probably play a little!) and offer their talents and passions in leading worship.


In continuing our series on the book of James we turn to the beginning of Chapter 3.  Whenever I think about taming the tongue I immediately have an image in my head of a cartoon cat.  I can’t remember if it’s Tom from Tom and Jerry or Sylvester from Sylvester and Tweetie.  The point is Tom is in search for Jerry or Sylvester is after Tweetie and his tongue is leading the way…and it becomes completely tied up!  The tongue is wrapped around furniture, slammed in doors, drug through garbage – and as it should in cartoon land – ends up being tied in a neat little bow at the end.  Obviously the cat can no longer talk – or move for that matter – and his compatriot just sits alongside laughing until his sides ache.


Our tongues can get us into trouble.  I’m pretty positive that we won’t end up with our tongues wrapped around objects beyond the reaches of our mouths or the ends tied up with a bow…

But then again, Scripture says “with God all things are possible…”



Purity of self and body have always been a huge concern for God’s people.  In the early days God’s people whole-heartedly believed that their purity, cleanliness, or holiness was determined by what they physically encountered through touch or taste.  Commandments directed what God’s people could and couldn’t eat and what they could and couldn’t touch, as well as the process for ritual cleansing.  If a person wasn’t clean, then they were not permitted in community life – within their families, within their trade, or within the temple.

This understanding was the standard.  And then Jesus showed up and tweaked it.  In Matthew 15:11 Jesus says, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (emphasis my own).  What most readily spills forth from our mouths is words.  And our words flow from our tongues.

Have you ever sat with a toddler that is learning how to speak?  Essentially he or she is learning to tame or control his or her tongue – to curve it the right way, to place it with intention against the back of the teeth, to raise or lower it in relation to the palette.  Over and over and over again the child will practice to gain one word to his or her vocabulary.

There are words of judgment, ignorance, cruelty, and hate flying around like bullets these days – ricocheting off of everything and claiming God’s precious children as casualties.  I cannot believe that these words are innate – God would not and does not place these words in our hearts; they are a learned behavior practiced over and over and over again, which leads to cursing rather than blessing.

My friends, it is time for us to unlearn these words.  It is time for our tongues to be tamed.  It has long been time for us to be about the business of building up people and tearing down walls.  It will take time.  And in that time, God will make us holy – from the inside out.

Prayer: “As we worship, grant us vision, till your love’s revealing light in its height and depth and greatness dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving your abundant life to share.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 581.

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