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Taming the Tongue – Feb. 2019

Christ is the Word made flesh. The Gospel is an announcement of news. The Holy Spirit sends us out to convey a promise. Christianity therefore is a language before it’s anything else; likewise, the character of the Christian community is revealed in and determined by how our speech to and about one another is tempered by our faith. The medium (you and I) can get in the way of the message, or we can echo and amplify the gospel of grace by blessing one another with the same tongues with which we praise God.

Click here to read Jason's introduction to the series.

Next month, we’ll be starting a new sermon series called “Taming the Tongue,” in which we work our way through the epistle written by Jesus’ brother, James. Martin Luther famously quipped that the Epistle of James was no better than straw. Certainly that’s no compliment to the epistle, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Luther meant the straw that lined the manger that held Christ, the Word of God. In other words, the Epistle of James serves a practical purpose rather than a Gospel-proclaiming purpose.

Often Christians think of James as the book which commends hands-on Christian action (“Faith without works is dead…”). What’s interesting, however, is that much of James’ epistle deals not with what Christians should do but with how Christians should speak. Christ is the Word made flesh. The Gospel is an announcement of news. The Holy Spirit sends us out to convey a promise.

Christianity therefore is a language before it’s anything else; likewise, the character of the Christian community is revealed in and determined by how our speech to and about one another is tempered by our faith.

James 3:5 tells us “the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.”

The problem, according to James, is no one has found a way to tame the tongue. Because the tongue cannot be tamed, it becomes a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” The tongue is the source of discord because it makes it possible to bless the Lord and Father yet curse those who are made in the image of God. That we bless and we curse from the same mouth is but an indication of how dangerous the tongue is for Christians.

If James is right, and I certainly think he is, then the first form of Christian service begins not with our hands or our pocketbooks but with our mouths, and the neighbor whom we’re called to serve is no further than the next pew. What Jesus’ brother commends in his letter is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18. There, Jesus commands us not to take out our grievances against a brother or sister through gossip or side conversations but to give your brother or sister the courtesy of expressing it to them directly. Because we did not create the church, nor are we its head, it’s not up to us to make the church come out right — so there’s no need to hold back what’s bothering us in the name of “not upsetting the church.” The same holds true for when the church speaks to its pastors. In my previous congregation, I had a watercolor framed and hanging above my office door with Matthew 18 scripted on the canvas. Translation: Don’t bring gripes to me about a staff person or another congregant if you’ve not yet spoken to them yourself.

Matthew 18, I think, is possibly the most neglected of all of Jesus’ commands — neglected by Christians.

Like his brother, James would say that one way to tame our tongues is by telling our pastors face-to-face what’s on our minds and weighing on our hearts. It may sound like a small, picayune thing, but if Christianity is indeed a language, then it couldn’t be a more important matter. The medium (you and I) can get in the way of the message, or we can echo and amplify the gospel of grace by blessing one another with the same tongues with which we praise God.

To learn to be a Christian, to learn the discipline of the faith, is not just similar to learning another language. It is learning another language. But to learn another language is a time-consuming task. It takes practice. You can never — or at least you should not ever — take for granted the locution that Jesus is our peace.

Because it takes practice, during February we’ll work our way through this “straw” so that we might learn to speak Christian better.

–  Jason

  • Feb. 3: “The Alien Word.” Bulletin and service.
  • Feb. 10: “Down the Up Staircase.” Bulletin, service, and transcript.
  • Feb. 17: “Low Anthropology.” Bulletin and service.
  • Feb. 24: “The Praying Church.” Bulletin and service. This service took place during the weekend of the United Methodist Church’s Special Session of the General Conference for determining the church’s approach to matters of human sexuality.

Jan. 2019: Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks

Our January sermon series was based on Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass. The award-winning author holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University. Come learn how the power of thankful living can change how we treat one another and transform the world.

Advent 2018: Christmas Begins in the Dark

With the Old Testament prophets, the Church at Advent confronts a bleak world deserving of judgment. To such a world Christ came to judge by being judged in our stead. To such a world he will come again.

Nov. 25: “Game of Thrones” (John 18:33-38) – bulletin and service.

November 2018: Neither Republican Nor Democrat

Diversity of views is not an obstacle to be overcome but is itself a sign of the gospel. In a time when our culture is balkanized by labels and loyalties, the grace of God creates communities where those worldly distinctions can exist in submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our three-week sermon series is based on Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Click here to read Jason's introduction to the series.

We cannot take the gospel for granted because the Gospel does not come naturally to any of us.

In a nutshell, that’s the crux of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians — one of the oldest and possibly the most influential books of the New Testament — the focus of our November sermon series.

The gospel does not come naturally to any of us because the gospel comes as “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” whose grace sets us free from all religious obligation (the Law) and, in so doing, demolishes all the distinctions we put around ourselves.

St. Paul saves his harshest criticism for the churches in Galatia. In Corinth, church members were having sex with their mother-in-laws, showing up drunk to the Lord’s Table and fighting over scraps of meat sacrificed to idols. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians is a wilder read than Fire and Fury, yet St. Paul lays it on thick for the Corinthians. He calls them saints and dear ones and he thanks God for them. By contrast, in Galatians Paul skips the traditional salutations entirely, gets right to reminding them of the Gospel, and by the time you get no further than Chapter 1, Verse 7, he’s calling them perverts, cursing them and calling down God’s judgment upon them.

Why is Paul so agitated? The Galatians were Christians who were doing the very things so many Christians in America do today, particularly at this time of year. The Galatians were Christians who assumed that they had advanced beyond needing to hear the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins every week. Everyone knows that Jesus died for our sins, right? We don’t need to hear that Sunday after Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Let’s hear about what we’re supposed to do.

The problem with focusing on doing, however, is that sinners like you and me quickly start measuring how much we’re doing and how little others are doing. We start using doing as a means to justify ourselves and elbow ourselves past our neighbors. We start adding qualifiers to the title Christian: social justice Christian, family values Christian, progressive Christian, traditional Christian, pro-life Christians, pro-choice Christians…

In Galatians, Paul calls such thinking another gospel entirely. Indeed, he says it’s no gospel at all, for it nullifies the gospel. We’re justified, Paul insists, by grace alone through faith alone, and the gospel demolishes the distinctions between us. There is now in Christ neither male nor female, neither religious nor irreligious, neither — we could say — Democrat nor Republican. A gospel-centered community, therefore, is a non-anxious community where the distinctions which divide our culture are subsumed by our unity in the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Grace makes us a community of differents. St. Paul says in Galatians that Christ has set us free from the Law; that is, Christ has set us free from experiencing any anxiety over the amount or quality of our religious doings. One of the burdens we’re freed from, I think, is the need to ‘fix’ our neighbors. We don’t have to make our neighbors see the world the way we see it, think about the world’s problems the way we approach them or vote the way we vote. This freedom, called grace, may be the particular gift God gives the church to offer our
world today.

– Jason

  • Nov. 4: “No Other Gospel” (Gal. 1:3-9) – The Church’s primary mission is to proclaim the gospel of grace in worship, word and work. Nov 4 bulletin and sermon.
  • Nov. 11: “Faith Alone” (Gal. 2:16, 3:23-29) – The church grows together in faith in order to trust in God’s doing for us, grace and not our own doing, the law. Nov 11 bulletin and sermon.
  • Nov. 18: “Free for Our Neighbors” (Gal. 5:1-6, 13-15) – The church is set free to serve our neighbors as ambassadors of the gospel. Nov 18 bulletin and sermon.

September-October 2018: “The Questions God Asks”

Deconstruction is having a moment.

Philosopher Charles Taylor writes in his 2007 book, A Secular Age, that authenticity is the hallmark of the secular age. Since doubt and disbelief, which we supposedly self-generate, strikes us as more authentic than faith we receive from text and tradition, doubt and disbelief are esteemed in the secular age. We’re encouraged by the secular culture to question faith and to suppose that our questions about God make us more authentic humans, and, because we’re conditioned by the culture to so suppose, we seldom stop to notice that those doubts and questions are often the very opposite of what we assume: us thinking for ourselves.

Baudelaire wrote that “the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” The loveliest trick of the Devil might actually be to convince an entire society that doubt itself is most enviable and that deconstruction is the path of freedom.

You cannot deconstruct an unconstructed faith, just like you can’t give away something you haven’t got. Therefore, this fall for our worship series, we will do something counter-cultural. Rather than ask and wrestle with questions about God, we will take a look across the scriptures to those moments when God asks questions of us.

Why are you hiding? Where is your brother? Why are you laughing? Do you have a right to be angry? Do you want to be made well?

Rather than ask our questions of God, we’ll look at the questions God poses to us, and we’ll explore what the answers to God’s questions might reveal about a truly authentic human life.

– Jason