“What Happens When We Speak Unkindly?”

Sermon – 08-29-21 – Proper 17 – Cycle B
Scriptures – Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Sermon Title: “What Happens When We Speak Unkindly?”

This sermon may only be speaking to myself. I like to think I have company with this problem, but I admit I do have this problem.

My tongue does not always speak kindly. I would not want a statistician to track my kind words and my unkind words and calculate the percentage of each! Why don’t I just stop speaking unkind words? Oh how I wish I could. Perhaps I should say, “Oh, how I wish I would!”

Our Epistle Lesson from James is all about putting effort into showing that we are followers of Jesus by doing, not just thinking or talking about what is right and helpful. So when our tongue says, “It is wrong to talk unkindly,” we are supposed to put some energy and will power into not talking unkindly.

Why can’t our minds and our will power control our tongues or any other wrong thing that we do? I happen to believe that Satan, who personifies evil, has his way with each of us to some degree. Our determination of our minds and hearts clashes with Satan as he tirelessly, stubbornly sticks to the goal of conquering the world.

In the long run, we believe Satan will not win in the end. But every time my tongue wags unkindly, I am letting Satan win a battle. It seems that the more I try, the worse I do in the goal of only speaking kind and uplifting words and sentences and paragraphs. You get the idea. Are you waiting to tell me the answer to this woe? Some of you are trying to tell me that God is the answer. If I can’t win this battle with my mind and my heart, I need to give it to God.

That is the only way Satan is going to lose the battle between my tongue and my mind and heart. I believe that God will always be stronger than Satan. So why don’t I give it a try? Why don’t you give it a try? Wait, I am not accusing you. In these past three years, I have heard very, very little talking in unpleasing ways about, or to, any other person.

Then there is our tone of voice. Our Consistory is so commendable about speaking kindly to each other. I really hear little, or no, talking about people when those people are not present. In the slim chance that it happens, there is probably truth. However, depending how we handle it, truth can be hurtful. Many times our tongue is at its kindest when it is very, very still.

What happens when we speak unkindly? First it hurts us. God is not happy with us. We are not building peace, we are building walls of hurt. Second, the person to whom we spoke unkindly, goes into the mode of shame or resentment, neither of which is good. If it is a child, we are stunting his or her life. When we could be helping that child to bloom we are spraying poison on the bud. If it is an adult whose self-confidence is slim, it is like binding that person with rope or taking away that person’s will to live.

Do I sound like James? This James who wrote the book of James in the back of the Bible, is believed to be the half-brother or step-brother of Jesus. They shared a mother but not a father. James is totally for action to demonstrate that we believe what we say. Saying something does not prove our belief. Doing something is more convincing.

It is like saying we want to give to the relief fund for the damage that is going to happen from Ida, the storm in Louisiana but we never get around to doing it and besides we don’t know through which organization to give our money. On the other hand, it is easier to give money than it is to spend a week or two doing hard physical work in unfavorable conditions as some of you have done several times.

Our words can change behavior positively or negatively. A third grader is helping the person sitting next to him to do a math problem. He is doing it out of generosity and caring. The teacher is not pleased because 1) it is disturbing the other children who are working on their math problems and 2) the person being helped will depend on the helper instead of on his own brain. So the teacher speaks rather harshly to the one who is helping. Both of these children go into freeze mode.

Instead, if the teacher is wise, the teacher will say something like, “Troy, I think it is great that you want to be helping your friend with this math work. When you think about it though, it may be good to do that later when we will have a time to work with partners to teach each other what we know. That is part of our schedule for the day.”

Two teenagers are having a physical tussle on a sidewalk downtown. An adult comes along who thinks he can stop the tussle. He says in a loud voice, otherwise known as yelling, ‘Hey, you guys. Stop the fighting! The adult lifts weights daily and feels he can separate these two young men. So in he goes with his elbows and out he comes with a broken arm. What words could have been spoken and in what tone of voice and heart? Did you catch the heart part?

Watch another adult come along. Not the athletic type at all. He knows it would be extremely foolish to try anything with his elbows. So he says as he gives them a wide space, “Hmmm, I doubt whether that fighting is going to solve your problem. Maybe you should try talking about the problem.” This is very risky. Very likely the two young men would stop fighting each other and push the adult down in a very unkind manner on the hard cement.

Or . . . , as the young men hear this comment, they might stop momentarily and look at each other and say, “Yeah, why don’t I just wait until you apologize for running into me with your skate board and then I will say, “I’m good.” That was the end of the fight and this adult could walk away thanking God for these little miracles.

If we are too timid to even use words when passing two young men fighting, we can use our mind and tongue to ask God to speak to these young men. Maybe God will do that or maybe God will speak to you or me and give us the right words to say and the right tone to use. You see, God does this kind of thing day in and day out. He is an amazing God.

Where does that leave you and me with our wagging tongues? Sorry, if you have already chased Satan away, you are blessed. For those of us still using our elbows with Satan, may we pray to God, let our elbows grow weak, and let God take care of Satan. Satan may as well get accustomed to losing to God, because in the end of earthly time – whenever that happens – all tongues will be at peace. Thanks be to God!