With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in God's likeness
“The tongue is a powerful little instrument that can do so much good, and yet so much harm. It can unite or divide: ‘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’ (James 2:8, MSG).
Relationships, even marriages, often end because of things that have been said or not said. People lose their jobs, their reputation, start arguments or even wars by their words.
Harsh, unjust words have destructive power: ‘With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in God's likeness’ (v.9).
To curse means to speak evil. To bless means to speak well. Don’t speak negatively. Learn to control the tongue so that you speak words of blessing to people and about people.
Speak words of life. Your words have tremendous power for connection. You can bring healing, encouragement and edification. Your words can change a person’s day or even their life. (Inspired by Nicky Gumbel)
These words below came on my brother’s birthday which is two days before my birthday. They were written by Henri Nouwen (go figure...he’s my go to guy). Not my birthday. Not my words. But I feel like I need to own them. Not so I can possess them for my own need, but so I can pass them out to everyone. After all, we all have one thing in common...a birthday!
“Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: “Thank you for being you.” Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: “Thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.” No, we say: “Thank you for being born and being among us.”
On birthdays we celebrate the present. We do not complain about what happened or speculate about what will happen, but we lift someone up and let everyone say: “We love you.”
Happy Birthday, to you.
With biting satire, Søren Kierkegaard mocked the pursuit of biblical and theological knowledge as an end in itself:
“We artful dodgers act as if we do not understand the New Testament, because we realize full well that we should have to change our way of life drastically. That is why we invented “religious education” and “christian doctrine.” Another concordance, another lexicon, a few more commentaries, three other translations, because it is all so difficult to understand. Yes, of course, dear God, all of us—capitalists, officials, ministers, house-owners, beggars, the whole society—we would be lost if it were not for “scholarly doctrine!”
Excerp from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging. [NavPress : 1994]
As my kids can attests, it’s not always fun being a PK. First, you’ll live in a glasshouse...one where literally the entire world can judge you. Not only are PK’s called to behave differently than other kids, but they are also constantly called upon to answer all religious questions. But probably the worse thing about being a pastor’s kid is knowing that whatever you do or say will eventually wind up in a sermon as you will see here.
A few years ago, I caught a particular PK’s about to take a swing at his sibling. When I yelled “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” he shot back, “She wants me to hit her.” And before I could respond he told me, “Jesus said it’s ok!”
If you’re a PK then you know you’re going to get a lengthy, exegetical heavy sermon as part of your punishment. But in this particular case, I was more curious to learn where exactly in the Bible Jesus said it’s okay to hit another person. “Do to others what you want them to do to you” which this PK had interpreted to mean “She hit me…so I guess she wants me to hit her back.”
That is a long walk to get us to our reading today. Gathered with his disciples out in the countryside, Jesus begins one of his most famous sermons. And in doing so, he opens the door to the Kingdom of God for us to enter. Today the lectionary only gives us a small part of this magnificent discourse found in Luke 6:27-38.
Although my child’s take on this passage was creative and new, these words weren’t exactly something Jesus just came up with. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers had been teaching variations of golden rule for years. Jesus just gave it a radically new interpretation, applying it to God’s Kingdom where generosity and kindness turn a hostile and violent world on its head.
Jesus taught us that in the Kingdom of God love and mercy is the bar by which all life must be measured. Love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who hurt you, and give without expecting even a thank you in return. And just as we’re about to tune him out, Jesus reminds us, “This is what God has done for you, so go out and do the same for others.”
Still, I can understand why my PK might have been confused about the whole turn the other cheek idea. After all, when someone hits you, human instinct says hit back. Whether it’s a verbal, physical, or mental attack our gut response is return it, word for word, blow for blow. Jesus isn’t set up for a fight or to accept more abuse. He’s simply calling us to do something so radical and revolutionary – something that runs against our thinking, our inclinations, our desires, and our will – that we don’t want to hear it for the truth that it is.
Jesus teaches us to respond to the worst of humankind in the way God responds to the world – with grace and kindness instead of reacting with anger, judgment or harm. This requires a giving over of one’s self, just as he did for us. When we live Christ in the world – by practicing love, mercy, grace and forgiveness – then other’s are able to see God’s glory. I can’t think of a better way to honor or worship God.
And this takes us to a question that Rob Bell always likes to ask. “What if Jesus meant what he said?”
This is something we all need to ask ourselves everyday. Was Jesus just blowing smoke when he said, God is kind so you be kind? Did he actually mean it when he said be easy on people and you’ll find life a lot easier? Is it true that if you give away your life; you’ll find life given back with bonus and blessing?
The point is this. If we only listen to what Jesus says, but do not put his words to practice then what good are his words? If we take God’s grace but do not offer it to others, then where is the real joy of that life-giving gift?
Faith is much more than some proclamation we make. Faith is a way of life, a way that is contrary to our own inclinations. Jesus says love, do good, offer and give…And guess what? He meant it.
Mr. Rogers had a beautiful way of interpreting Jesus’ words. He said, “All we are ever asked to do in this life is to treat our neighbors – especially the neighbor who is in need – exactly how we would hope to be treated ourselves. This is our ultimate responsibility.”
On his show and in real life, Mr. Rogers taught compassion because he knew the moment our anger transforms itself into compassion we no longer fear those who look or sound different than us. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood broke down the walls of racism, and sexism, and all the other ‘isms’ that divide us from one another. He saw and welcomed all people as God’s beloved children, because he took Jesus at his word.
Gandhi was another who believed Jesus meant what he said. When Gandhi said, “love is the force that can liberate,” he meant we have to love our enemy to truly be free. Even if our enemy is cruel, or sowing terror or injustice, love must be the bar by which all life is measured.
In the Kingdom of God, righteousness isn’t born from human anger, but from God’s love. And it grows in all the ways we share that love with one another. Jesus is the perfection of God’s love manifested. As Christ followers, our mission is to manifest God’s love just as he did.
Love is our goal. Through Jesus, we receive God’s divine love and grace. This is why we call it the good news, because let’s face it, we are not always the person being slapped or taken advantage of. Sometimes it’s our hands, our words, and our actions that harm others.
If Jesus meant what he said, then God’s mercy and grace is generously given to us through him. Despite our failures to love our enemy, God still loves us. While we might have trouble forgiving those who have hurt us in the past, God still forgives us. Jesus isn’t setting us up to fail, but inviting us to thrive.
Mercy, Grace and Love; this is what the Kingdom of God is made of. Jesus shows us the way. He generously and lovingly gave his life so we might live – not with our hatred, anger and fear, but with God’s love, generosity and peace. Thus, as Eugene Peterson so creatively wrote, “Let even your enemy bring out the best in you, not the worst.”
Jesus is the manifestation of God’s divine love. Now, it is our job to go and do the same, by giving generously to others what God has given so generously and freely to us.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pastor’s kid, or anyone else’s kid, thanks to Jesus we are all made to be the beloved children of God. As God’s beloved, we are called to live in such a way that the world is able to see God’s Kingdom open for them.
When we can manifest understanding, compassion and tolerance, loving kindness and generosity as Jesus did, then Jesus is not only present, but his words become the truth by which all life finds its rests in God’s heart and home. You. Me. And yes, even our enemies.
Anderson, T. Denise. Reflections on the Lectionary. Christian Century, Vol. 136, No.3, January 30, 2019.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year C Vol 1 Westminster John Knox: 2009, pp. 380-85.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. Riverhead: 1995, pp. 78-86.
Rogers, Fred. Life’s Journey According to Mister Rogers: things to remember along the way. Hyperion: 2005, p.91.
I was looking through my books in my library hoping to find a bit of inspiration. How lucky was I to find a book filled with some simple wisdom that was written by one of my first teachers in life, Mr. Rogers. I sat down on the floor and began to read and let my mind wonder down to my heart. My mother often says that the quietest time in the house was when Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was on which just so happen to be right after Sesame Street and right before dinner.
Flipping through the pages of Life's Journeys According to Mister Rogers, I stumbled on this little gem that seems to be fit right at home on this site:
"I remember one of my seminary professors saying people wo were able to appreciate others -who looked for what was good and healthy and kind - were about as close as you could get to God - to the eternal good. And those people who were always looking for was was bad about themselves and others were really on the side of evil. 'That's what evil wants,' he would say. 'Evil wants us to feel so terrible about who we are and who we know, that we'll look with condemning eyes on anybody who happens to be wit us at the moment.' I encourage you to look for the good where you are and embrace it."
I was blessed to have had my young heart opened and my inquisitive mind shaped by this man.
Where did Jesus get those whacky ideas about loving people? Oh yeah, God.
"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God."
LEVITICUS 19:33, 34 (NIV)
WALLS KEEP PEOPLE IN, NOT OUT.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"...how he went about doing good..."