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Not Many of You Should Become Teachers

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Gospel Reading:

Isaiah 50:4–9 ESV
The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
James 3:1–12 ESV
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

"Not Many of You Should Become Teachers”

Gospel Reading:

The World Tries to Tell Us How and What to Say

My dear friend Alan starts off every sermon by saying, “Good morning!” Even if he’s already said good morning to you earlier in the service or before church. We frequently exchange sermons before Sunday morning to check each other for heresies or jokes that aren’t actually funny or stories that are too long-winded. Every time, it strikes me as weird that he starts his sermons with “good morning.” Not that there is anything wrong with it, but it’s just never occured to me to start a sermon that way. It feels completely foreign. I’d never actually heard him preach one of these sermons prior to this morning: I’d only read them. We weren’t in the same section of preaching class in seminary. Now that I’ve heard it live in his voice, it fits.
I have no earthly good r
I tend to start my sermons one of two ways: I either dive right in by saying what is weird in the scripture passage for the day: something I have been struggling with that week in the passage, or I launch into a story, like I did today.
Alan opens his sermon like a Pauline letter with a formal greeting: “To the saints in Freehold, good morning!” I begin mine more like one of the Gospels: “Hey guys! This thing just happened!”
We have very different voices. But that’s ok! One of the things that they taught us in seminary - which I’m sure after checking the notes I shared with him, Alan can confirm - is that the key to preaching is to find your own voice. No two preachers preach in the same way with the same style. How boring it would be if all preachers preached the same way. Even among those who ARE called to be teachers and preachers and leaders, there is a great diversity, a uniqueness.
But sometimes we feel like we have to preach or act or talk or vote a certain way to be taken seriously as a church leader. Elders, Sunday School Teachers, and other church leaders often feel this same way. Christians in general feel like that. And while it’s true that James tells us - ad nauseum - to be careful with our speech, he’s not saying that we all have to have a list of rehearsed lines that we say or a particular way of sharing the gospel in order to be “doing it right”. James wants us to take a close look at the heart of the matter. Our words have to have purpose.

Trouble in the Text

Words matter. Words can hurt people or words can heal people.

Ugh! Analyse the discrepancy

There is alot of pressure in the world to communicate in certain ways that are not actually good for us - not just for Christians, but for all people. As humans, we find it all too easy to drop into the prescribed ways of speech and the same old words for the sake of having something to say. How easy is it to get into an angry facebook comments war with someone? How quick are we to say hurtful things to and about people on the “other side” of the political spectrum (regardless of which side we are on)?
I went to Bible study a number of years back with a woman who would not accept “fine” or “good” as an answer to her asking “how are you?” She would insist you answer on a scale of 1-10 because she wasn’t asking just to ask. She really wanted to know how you were and she wanted to make sure you knew that she really wanted to know how you were. She was tired of the way that we use the “how are you today?” exchange as if the words mean nothing. I like that. She made everyone feel valued because she valued the words we were saying to each other.
We just throw words around and use them without thinking.
A couple years ago, Microsoft introduced a bot - a computer program designed to interact with people online through conversation. If you’ve ever chatted online with customer service for a big company, you’ve probably talked to one without knowing It. This particular experimental bot was on twitter - the social media platform that gives users a limited number of characters to post short statuses and links for others to read. The bot - named Tay - was designed to learn about human conversation and speech as it interacted with other users on Twitter.
James is telling us to stop talking like fools. Fools use bitter, harsh speech. Words have power and just one wrong word or mis-spoken idea – a small mis-communication - can set a whole community on fire.
This project had some surprising results. Within 24 hours, the bot had learned some pretty terrible things about how to communicate with people. It learned how to:
Repeat back whatever people wanted to hear.
Bad mouth everyone who disagreed with it on whatever it said.
https://www.theverge.com/2016/3/24/11297050/tay-microsoft-chatbot-racist
Make racist comments, including comments about how Hitler was right to kill Jews.
It learned these things simply by listening in on the way people were talking to each other on Twitter.
https://www.theverge.com/2016/3/24/11297050/tay-microsoft-chatbot-racist
In some ways, our tech-connected culture brings us together. We’re able to keep in touch easily with friends around the world. On the other hand, we as a culture have a great outlet for being less careful about filtering what we say. We just talk for the sake of talking, even if it’s not very nice. And when you program a computer to follow the same patterns we’re conditioning ourselves to, it gets really mean really fast.
Before I sound like a grumpy old woman complaining about the evils of technology, let me bring this back around to our scripture passage: this is nothing new - we can’t blame social media for people talking like fools to one another. It’s the same thing James is talking about, we just have a new medium with which to be nasty to each other.
James is telling us to stop talking like fools because words matter. Stop repeating the same old Christian platitudes our of one side of your mouth while repeating the same old nasty world garbage out of the other side. Words can hurt people or words can heal people. Words have power and just one wrong word or mis-spoken idea, a small mis-communication, a harsh word uttered toward a sister or brother, can set a whole community on fire. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and you’ve probably seen it too.
Those who are not careful with their words - will reap the consequences of their folly. There is an infamous saying that “It’s better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
We all fall into the traps of careless speech from time to time.
We all fall into the traps of careless speech from time to time.

Aha! Clue to the resolution

This is something that we are all challenged to care about: Don’t let that “not many of you should become teachers” line throw you off. He’s saying “everybody has a special role to play” and “it takes a great deal of restraint to be a good leader” not “so the rest of you can just say whatever you want.”
Fortunately, wise speech is not unattainable. It’s not available to just a few select people. Wisdom is not in some far off place on the top of a craggy, snowy, remote mountain like a fancy levitating guru. Wisdom is not available only to the rich or the smart or the noble or the people who are called to be teachers.
James says once we get control of our tongues, other things start to fall into place. Our tongue is so physically little, we tend to forget about it. We use words so much that we take them for granted. But if we can change our words, control our tongues, just a little bit, we find ourselves counted among the wise. We just have to slow down and quiet down before we start talking.
We just have to slow down and quiet down before we start talking. This is where this passage gets fun for a community that is entering into a new season as you all are! If we can just control our own chatter for long enough, reign in our own foolish tongues, we can hear the Holy Spirit calling us and guiding us. That is always vital to the health and well-being of a faith community and what better time to enter into a purposeful habit of careful speech and listening to the Holy Spirit’s movement than at the beginning of this new season!
If we can just control our own chatter for long enough, reign in our own foolish tongues, we can hear the Holy Spirit calling us and guiding us.
This is where this passage gets fun for a community that is entering into a new season as you all are! If we can just control our own chatter for long enough, reign in our own foolish tongues, we can hear the Holy Spirit calling us and guiding us. That is always vital to the health and well-being of a faith community and what better time to enter into a purposeful habit of careful speech and listening to the Holy Spirit’s movement than at the beginning of this new season!

Whee! Experience the Gospel

At my children’s school, they have a great way of getting the kids’ attention when there is a large group who they need to quiet down. The teacher will say, “If you can hear my voice, clap once!” And a couple of kids - usually not mine - will stop talking and clap. Then the teacher will say, “If you can hear my voice, clap twice!” And the first kids to stop talking will clap twice, but this time there will be more kids because some heard the first clap, so they were paying attention when the teacher asked for the two claps. By the time the teacher says, “If you can hear my voice, clap three times!” nearly all the kids have figured out what’s going on and have stopped talking to clap three times and pay attention.
I can just picture the Holy Spirit standing up here in this sanctuary yelling “If you can hear my voice, clap once!” - just like the teacher on the stage in the cafegymnatorium at the school – yelling out, “Pay attention! Who can hear me?!”
Those of us standing up here aren’t any cleverer or holier than those who are not called to be teachers and preachers. We’re just the ones expected to clap first when we hear the voice of the Spirit calling for our attention .

Yeah! Anticipate the consequences

Those of us standing up here aren’t any cleverer or holier than those who are not called to be teachers and preachers, in spite of what some of us might think. We’re just the ones expected to clap first when we hear the voice of the Spirit calling for our attention. So here, friends, is your job: start clapping.
I know. . . We’re Presbyterian. Don’t panic. You don’t have to literally clap unless you really want to.
As you all enter into this new season with Alan as your guide - the one trying to hear when to clap, your job is to listen alongside him. He’s the one up here week after week after week using many. . . many. . . So many. . . words, but that doesn’t get you off the hook. As a supportive and faithful community, you are to listen carefully for the Spirit, think fully before speaking, and in all things speak in love and truth to one another.
As you do so, you will hear God speaking in so many wonderful ways: through your pastor, through one another, through this charming community around you. And when you hear God speaking and you act on what the Spirit is doing, incredible things are going to happen in this place.

Charge to the Newly Installed Pastor

Alan, if you can hear my voice, clap once.
Good— you’re listening.
Keep listening. Not just to me, even though I’m usually right, but to this congregation, to this community and to all the people around you, because that, as you well know, is how God speaks.
You are a good listener: something I am sure this congregation will grow to cherish as you all begin this season together.
As you embark in this new season, if you ever find yourself needing a reset when it comes to listening to the Spirit, I want you to think WWJD? Not what would Jesus do. That’s been overcooked. What would Jannie do? Because I can’t help but think of our dear professor, the late Jannie Swart right now as I reflect on listening and new seasons and hearing the Holy Spirit. He was a master of listening to the world around him.
You are a good listener: something I am sure this congregation will grow to cherish as you all begin this season together.
It’s been a joy to walk together as colleagues: first in seminary and in those first years of pastoral ministry full of uncertainty and screwing things up. (Not that there won’t be uncertainty or screwing up these days - there will hopefully just be less of that.) It’s a joy to get to be here today and to see where God has so clearly designated you to be right now.
Having met these people that God has given you the honor to serve and to guide and to laugh with and cry with and do ministry with and to be in relationship and community with, it’s my great honor to charge you thus with these words from scripture:
2 Timothy 4:1–2 ESV
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
But even as you do so: preaching and reproving, and rebuking and exhorting, be listening. In all that you do and say, may you be filled with the purpose of God, moved to fully participate in the work that the Holy Spirit is already up to in the world around you.
5
for long enough, reign in our own foolish tongues, we can hear the Holy Spirit ca
lling
The idea of Lady Wisdom as presented in Proverbs is often connected to the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus is the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is the Wisdom of God. Wisdom in Hebrew and spirit in Greek are both feminine words grammatically, so both are often talked about with feminine metaphors like this idea of Lady Wisdom standing on the streets shouting to the people.
us and guiding us.
At my children
Those of us standing up here aren’t any cleverer or holier than those who are not called to be teachers and preachers. We’re just the ones expected to clap first when we hear the voice of the Spirit calling for our attention.
There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge that we tend to miss in our strivings for more knowledge. We say knowledge is power! The more you know! But do all of the choices that we have around us when we’re shopping to fill our heads with knowledge really help us? Do they truly make us wiser or happier? Wisdom is admission that we do not and never can know it all. Wisdom is the admission that all the facts in the world are never going to solve our problems on their own. Wisdom is knowing when to admit that slinging facts at one another and getting angry isn’t going to bring a debate to a resolution or even a friendly compromise. Wisdom is being willing to acknowledge that nobody is always right.
s school, they have a great way of getting the kids
This is where James comes in and says that the wise person watches what they say. Just because you’re right (or think you’re right) doesn’t mean you have to keep talking. We learn and grow and love more when we stop to hear the other person’s point of view than when we insist on arguing someone into the ground. Have you ever read the comments section of any given online news article? I don’t recommend it. It’s usually just one long angry list of competing facts followed by a bunch of name calling. Fact after fact with very little wisdom interjected. This becomes more and more prominent the closer we get to presidential elections, especially.
Proverbs shows us people in the hustle and bustle walking right past Wisdom because they are so set on getting to the goal they have in mind. That’s what I think about when I have the misfortune of reading the comments or some other online fact-battle or debate or hear people having a heated argument over dinner about some hot-button political, social, or theological topic. They are like the people so set on getting to the place they want to go that they hurry right past Wisdom and ignore her words to be careful and loving, godly and faithful in everything that you say and do.
attention
when there is a large group who they need to quiet down. The teacher will say
,
There is a gentle humility and vast wisdom in knowing when to speak and when to listen and in being able to stop and just listen to both sides – even when we’re uncomfortable doing so. Even when it might mean we have to admit that things are going to change. Just as there are consequences for rash speech and actions, for talking too much and listening too little, there are consequences when we speak carefully and act purposefully, when we stop talking and start listening.
Dz
The wise remember that all it takes to start a fire is one word, so choose each word carefully. The wise remember to stop and listen before rushing in to talk or show off all the facts they know. When we stop talking and start listening, we get to know the people around us and the lives they have lived in a new and deeper way. We learn how to see things from another person’s perspective. Sometimes, we find out our facts were wrong or that their facts were just as right as ours. We grow and change. We become wise. We open ourselves up to see God moving in the world and in others. That is how we grow in wisdom and in the Spirit.
The New International Version. (2011). (). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. ↑e See ↑f See ↑g ↑h ; ; ; ↑i ; ; ↑j See ↑k ↑l ↑m , ; , ↑n ↑o , , ↑p See ↑q ; ↑r , ; ↑s The New International Version. (2011). (). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. ↑
If
you can hear my voice, clap once!
dz
And a couple of kids will stop talking and clap.
Then the teacher will say,
Dz
If you can hear my voice, clap twice!
dz
And the first kids to
stop talking will clap twice, but this time there will be more kids because some
heard the first clap, so they were paying attention when the teacher asked fo
r the
two claps. By the time the teacher says,
Dz
If you can hear my voice, clap three times!
dz
all the kids have figured out what
s going on and have stopped talking to clap three
times and pay attention.
I can almost see Lady Wisdom from Proverbs standing on the street corner
yelling,
Dz
If you can hear my voice, clap once!
dz
She
s standing in the most prominent
parts of town
just like the teacher on the stage in the cafegymnatorium at the
school
yelling out,
Dz
Pay attention! Who can hear me?!
dz
And can you blame her for
raising her voice
?
Look at how many people are hurrying around the city, walking
right past her, and ignoring her. They are like a bunch of unruly childre
n running
around the school gym.
Here we are in a society that just loves knowledge. We love to have googl
e at
our fingertips on our phones. We like to feel smart and to know more than the
people we
re talking to. But in all this knowledge, the craziest stuff still happens
!
We
re in this knowledge and fact filled world, and we still haven
t solved poverty,
📷
6
racism, street violence, violence in the home, oppression, war, energy issues
, etc.
Where have all these facts gotten us on their own?
There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge that we tend to miss in
our strivings for more knowledge. We say knowledge is power! The more
you know!
But do all of the choices that we have around us when we
re shopping to fill our
heads with knowledge really help us? Do they truly make us wiser or
happier?
Wisdom is admission that we do not and never can know it all. Wisdom is the
admission that all the facts in the world are never going to solve our probl
ems on
their own. Wisdom is knowing when to admit that slinging facts at one another and
getting angry isn
t going to bring a debate to a resolution or even a friendly
compromise. Wisdom is being willing to acknowledge that nobody is always r
ight.
This is where James comes in and says that the wise person watches what
they say. Just because you
re right (or think you
re right) doesn
t mean you have to
keep talking. We learn and grow and love more when we stop to hear the othe
r
person
s point of view than when we insist on arguing someone into the ground.
Have you ever read the comments section of any given online news article? I don
t
recommend it. It
s usually just one long angry list of competing facts followed by a
bunch of name calling. Fact after fact with very little wisdom interjected. This
becomes more and more prominent the closer we get to presidential electi
ons,
especially.
Proverbs shows us people in the hustle and bustle walking right past
Wisdom because they are so set on getting to the goal they have in mind. That
s
what I think about when I have the misfortune of reading the comments or some
📷
7
other online fact-battle or debate or hear people having a heated arg
ument over
dinner about some hot-button political, social, or theological topic. They a
re like the
people so set on getting to the place they want to go that they hurry right pas
t
Wisdom and ignore her words to be careful and loving, godly and faithful in
everything that you say and do.
The world around us is changing, but the world is always changing. The
world has been changing, cultures and languages and societies and empires ha
ve
always been changing. This change around us is no new thing. But with the advance
s
in technology and communication that we have seen in our lifetimes, it
s much more
visible than it ever has been. We
re more aware of the changes happening and it can
be unsettling. It
s easier to be full of facts and harder to be wise when we have all
sorts of information at our fingertips and when words and facts are all arou
nd us.
We cling to them like an anchor when we feel change swirling around us.
There is a gentle humility and vast wisdom in knowing when to speak and
when to listen and in being able to stop and just listen to both sides
even when we
re uncomfortable doing so. Even when it might mean we have to admit that things
are going to change. Just as there are consequences for rash speech and a
ctions, for
talking too much and listening too little, there are consequences when we speak
carefully and act purposefully, when we stop talking and start listening.
The wise remember that all it takes to start a fire is one word, so choose each
word carefully. The wise remember to stop and listen before rushing in to
talk or
show off all the facts they know. When we stop talking and start listening, we g
et to
know the people around us and the lives they have lived in a new and deeper wa
y.
📷
8
We learn how to see things from another person
s perspective. Sometimes, we find
out our facts were wrong or that their facts were just as right as ours. We gr
ow and
change. We become wise. We open ourselves up to see God moving in the world a
nd
in others. That is how we grow in wisdom and in the Spirit.
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