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16th September 2012 Trinity 15 Jack Noonan

Sermon (Click Link to Listen)

Bible Readings: Isaiah 50. 4-9a; James 3. 1-12 & Mark 8. 27-38


Sermon 16.9.2012 James 3. 1-12

To a great extent when preparing a sermon one first must wrestle with the text, panic, pray and preach to yourself. This happened when dwelling on James’ epistle.

The sermon becomes a sharing of prayerful insight, born out of internal dialogues between what little we know of ourselves and the working of the Lord, in our lives for the good of others.

A sermon grows out of all that we were, are and what we are becoming in our life in Christ. As it is through the ’’ folly of preaching’’ that the Good News of Jesus Christ is largely communicated.

The passage from James 3 is not a particularly ‘’comfortable’’ passage to address. Hard things are said about the shadow side of our nature as it expresses itself in speaking.

In considering some of the implications it is important that we avoid reacting to it with a litany of our ego defence mechanisms, our self-justifications coupled with incipient self-righteousness.

James in his epistle targets fairly and squarely on the issue of practical holiness.

The primary purpose of the letter is to meet the danger of a tendency towards a purely abstract, unfruitful Christian faith. Our faith must live………..have some effect, produce fruit, and result in actions.

A living faith is active not passive. Faith in Jesus works itself into our attitudes and behaviours. It renews our minds and hearts as we are progressively re-formed in the character of Christ…. So that with Paul we say; I live, not I, but Christ lives in me’’.

We are human and spiritual beings in process, who through the working of the Holy Spirit in us, are steadily shedding and dying to our natural selves… in order that we may have life and have it more abundantly. For we are new creatures through Him who eternally loves us.

If our relationship, through faith with the indwelling Holy Spirit, has no real influence or effect on how we live…………..how we interact with those we know and the society in which we live…then there are grounds to question our understanding of the nature of faith in general and our individual faith in particular.

A passive wholly internalised faith that does not have demonstrable effects in our daily lives needs to be queried. But queried in a spirit of love, a spirit of gentleness and compassionate understanding. We are all ‘bruised reeds’ needing Divine and human fellowship.

For Christ told us that we are to be the ‘salt of the earth’.

Salt; a vital preservative and seasoning.

Salt; a symbol of fidelity and constancy.

But a flavourless salt is useless rendering even the land it is disposed on barren and infertile.

As Christians we are not solely called to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. Balance is everything.

Turning to the passage….The first issue raised in James 3. 1-12 relates to those of us who seek to undertake the office of teaching within the church. It is a very sobering and timely statement to one who has just completed his coursework for Readership and anxiously awaits the completion of the Licensing process.

‘’Not many of you should presume to be teachers…because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways.’’.

Teachers inevitably talk but not all talk wisely or peaceably.. Egos and personal agendae/ hobby-horses must be put away so that the Spirit breathed Word reveal the layers of meaning to inform the congregation .

James then shifts his attention considering the issue of speech and the power of words. He uncompromisingly outlines the dangers of our unbridled tongues.

It is well to remember that in the Jewish understanding of language; words are energy, a form of physical reality. Hence the joy for words of blessing and the dread of words of curse. The word does not return void but works its way into manifesting its intention.

James uses 3 dramatic images to illustrate how something small can control something that is much larger than itself. Illustrating how a small unmastered organ can inflame and wreak havoc on an incredible scale.

The first image is that of how a strong and self-willed passionate horse can be controlled and directed by a small simple bit in its mouth.

The second is how a large ship, driven by the wind is controlled by a so small an implement as a rudder.The size of the object bares no relationship to its significance and influence.

The third is a spark which has the potential of setting a whole forest ablaze, consuming and destroying all before it.

The tongue though a small organ in the body is like a fire. It can corrupt and internally consume the whole person;

Creating a fire of raging confusion among those caught in its thrall; husbands, wives, partners, family, friends, workmates, colleagues and church congregations.

Few of us have escaped in life the burning effects of being the victim of malicious gossip, some spiteful comment or insidious innuendo. All words born out of a potentially destructive or discontented personality.

(Though sometimes these can mascarade under the guise of solicitous concern).

I thought you should know that…..

I am very concerned about X…..I recently heard……

I am not one to carry tales but entre nous……….

I hope it’s not true but do you know what I heard so and so said about you …….

Proverbs 26.22 ‘The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.’

We eat words. We ingest and incorporate them in ourselves. Ill-considered words are dangerous for every word is a seed; bringing a harvest in our lives.

( Like a teacher/parent calling a child a fool or an idiot. Let the child hear it often enough and they will incorporate it into their self-concept with significant repercussions later in life.)


Words have a creative or destructive power. We can all remember kind words, words of praise, words of encouragement, words of concern and how they made us feel. But we can also remember what colleagues of mine called NBC………..Negative Belittling Comments. Words and phrases, whose cruel intent was to diminish and control.

A wrong or maliciously intended word can seep down into the soul of a person, staying with them for life. . Our words have the power to increase joy or spread toxin.

We must be careful and vigilant of our words for Scripture warns us that we shall account for them.

But from where does this little organ of speech draw its energy?

The energy in the words we speak originate, in the words of the Irish poet WB Yeats in the ‘rag and bone shop of the heart’ .

To the Hebrew ‘the heart’ was essentially the whole person. It was the governing centre of the whole person in terms of all their attributes; physical ,intellectual and psychological. Words create an energy ; the palpable energy we feel on walking into a room where there’s been an argument. We say in Ireland ‘you could cut the atmosphere with a knife’.

A judgemental heart is a great energiser of injudicious sentiment.


Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Since then we, their ‘offspring’, have inherited their flawed judgemental dna.

Forever setting some people as better than ourselves and others much worse than ourselves without full knowledge. Liking some ignoring others. Speaking highly of some and disparagingly of others. Our judgemental spirit is partial for so also is our knowledge. But lack of full knowledge rarely silenced the tongue. (In a later chapter James has much to say about partiality).

Scripture’s instruction regarding our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being is clear ‘Judge not that you may not be judged’

For a judgemental attitude of heart is a burden and liability to us; risking embittering our emotions, tainting out thoughts and corroding our relationships. In addition it adds souring undercurrents to our perceptions of reality…. Diminishing our joy.

Jesus identified the source of the tongues energy when he said in Matthew;’out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’.

In Mark, Jesus elaborated on this, cataloguing the fruits of a delinquent heart : For from within men’s hearts come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft ,adultery, greed ,malice deceit, lewdness ,envy ,slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘’unclean’’.

Not all these contaminants may be functioning and expressing themselves in our words and actions. One is enough and to what level it functions at does not really matter. We all fall short.

Application: What are we to do?

All these impairments listed by Jesus and written about by James, spring from a central source.

The lack of love and the wronging of love.

Herein lies the origins of our bitter words expressing damaging judgmental thoughts…..our blinkered understanding of the unconditional nature of Our Father/God’s rich redemptive healing love for each and every one of us. The perfect love that casts out fear. The love that assures, reassures and heals. The love that will not fail and is eternal. The love we are designed for.

This is the free and spontaneous natural love of the prodigal’s father; who day in, day out waited for his son’s return.

We praise God, who desires to freely give and receive love. We worship a Creator who risked all for love in giving us a free will so that we could love Him freely..

For without freely entering into love how can it be fully authentic and wholly consuming and eternally satisfying?


Three things are required of us in order to begin our liberation from the shadows that may haunt, dominate or try to frighten us.

1.Let us seek to experience and call on the Unconditional Love which is God our Father’s nature and is made manifest in Jesus; who knocks at our door to balm our hearts.

2. Let us turn face about and walk in a new direction in the Love and Hope that we have in Christ Jesus and let the beauty of God shine through us dissolving everything that troubled us. Healing us of every lie that that was told to us.

3. Let us free ourselves from negative mind sets and unproductive behaviour patterns by receiving the no-holes barred forgiveness of God through Jesus which will enable us in turn to fully forgive ourselves and others. Shedding the dead weight of our past.

Let us pray.

Father may Your Holy Spirit seal in our hearts the realisation that only Your perfect love will cast out all fear. In the name of Jesus we ask it .Amen.