09/13/15 Sermon (September 13, 2015) #NotTrueDontPassItOn

posted Jul 5, 2016, 3:05 PM by David Hawkins

Scripture Reading: James 3:1–12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet 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 exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue-a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.


Sermon: "#NotTrueDontPassItOn"       Rev. David Hawkins

Rumors are crazy things. Rumors are like tumors. They spread like crazy. They spread in ways that seem to defy physics. They certainly spread in ways that defy logic. Like the wildfires that are destroying the west coast, they thrive in times of heat and drought. And they are destructive. They can wreck families, they can wreck communities, they can wreck countries.
In our early history, the Salem Witch Trials weare essentially an exercise in unrestrained rumors, mixed in with bad theology and some really nasty family dynamics. In the heat of fear and the drought of ignorance, many women died for no reason at all.
And our fear of witchcraft hasn’t quite departed our modern world. A couple of years ago, in the Republic of the Congo, a soccer match ended in a riot that killed 13 people after a player was accused of witchcraft because of his skillful play. Apparently, the crowd grew fearful of what seemed be his paranormal ability, word spread, the fire grew, the police were called, shots were fired, and people died. 
Rumors have shaken entire countries as well. Do you remember when SARS was a big deal? Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome was especially a problem in China, and in 2007, a text message driven rumor blaming bananas for the disease blazed across the country.  Because China’s government had effectively shut down every other means of media and communication, this one ridiculous message in the midst of the media drought sparked the imagination of the entire country. There was nothing the government could do to stem the rising panic, and the entire banana market in China collapsed, driving its nation’s banana farmers into bankruptcy.
And we here in America are not immune to rumors about strange diseases. We remember, or at least, we ought to remember the rumors surrounding the AIDS virus, and even more recently, the hysteria surrounding Ebola here in Texas, which curiously died down right after the midterms, not that I’m suggesting that any politician would ever use fear to their advantage during the heat of a close election. The point it, we get wigged out about things we don’t understand, and then the rumors start to fly.
Speaking of things we don’t understand, some folks are not shy about sharing their conviction that the world is ending soon, on a specific date. It’s weird that these people are almost always Christians who profess to base their faith on a book that tells them not to do that very thing. But, they insist on doing it anyway, going around, telling everybody they meet that the Lord is coming back, in a week, or month, or some other to be readjusted date later, we’ll get back to you.
In fact, some folks in the church have asked me if I’d heard the latest rumor that the world is going to end on the 27th of September. They were joking of course, but as a conscientious pastor, I felt like I needed to be informed, and it turns out, that yes, there is going to a blood moon that evening, a total lunar eclipse, and it’s the fourth one in a row.
Now, these things are pretty rare, a lunar tetrad, it’s only happened 8 times in the last century, which means it’s only occurred 5.6 million times in the history of the planet! And every time it’s happened, as you can tell, the world has come to a crashing end.
And so, it makes perfect sense that John Hagee himself, in his book, that is for sale, you can buy it on Amazon, has ominously predicted that “Something Is about to Change”. We are obviously on the eve of destruction.
But the capper for me is that this blood moon is on the day after Presbytery, which by the way, is meeting here, at our church in two weeks. So all the signs that count point to the apocalypse right around the corner. I hope none of you made plans for the Sausage and Oktoberfest in Slaton this year. I think it’s been cancelled. F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
Listen, I don’t know when the world is going to end, but I do know this: it won’t be on the 27th. If someone tells you that the world is going to end on that day, or on any other specific day, you have my permission to laugh, out loud, right in their face (in a Christian way, of course). If they persist, simply say to them, “Mark 13:21,” which is the scripture where Jesus specifically tells his disciples that if someone tells them that the Lord is coming back, or is back, at a specific time, or in a specific place, to just say, and I quote, “whatever, dude,” and move on.
Because they don’t know. They can’t know. That’s their own fear talking, and we don’t need to share their fear. That’s their own deal. I just wish they’d keep it to themselves. But it doesn’t matter either way. Our faith is not based on fear of hell, or apocalypse, or the return of a wrathful God. Our faith is based on our relationship with a loving Savior. If he comes back today or in a million years, that’s his business, not ours.
Have you noticed that people who go around predicting the end of the world, or some ridiculous conspiracy like the Jade Helm Military Takeover® of Texas that wraps up this coming Tuesday, don’t apologize when it turns out that that everything they said was complete horse manure? For some reason, it’s easier to predict doom and gloom and conspiracies and apocalypse than it is to say, “I’m sorry,” for spreading fear and lies when it doesn’t pan out.
It’s easier and more fun to say things that may not be true, but sound like you know some sort of inside information, than it is to clean up the mess that saying them makes. Our tongues don’t like to repent of the fires they start.
In the last few years, we’ve invented a whole new kind of tales of the tongue. E-mail and Twitter and Instagram are dreams come true for those who would pass on bits and pieces of gossip, rumor, secret conspiracies, or to simply go on rants, letting loose with the vilest of hateful stuff.
I get emails all the time from well-meaning folks, some of them my family members, who pass on the latest terrible thing that Obama has done, or the latest person Clinton has murdered, or the way that George Bush planned the twin towers attack on 911.
Usually I just delete the email, but sometimes I’ll refer the person who sent especially nasty rumors to a website that has been set up to help put out the fires of exactly these kinds of juicy conspiracies, Snopes.com. Snopes dedicates itself to researching the wild claims that are spread about people and tracking down their origins.
So if you get something crazy during this upcoming political season, before your pass it on to your email chain, run it through Snopes.com first. Save yourself, and your friends, from some embarrassment, and don’t be a part of spreading what James might call an electronic version of vile, evil poison.
Facebook and other electronic communication puts us at a strange close distance from one another, it allows us to think that we are somehow disconnected when are connected, while we also feel connected while being disconnected. It allows us to talk about someone behind their back, right in front of their face. We don’t even have to mess around with a middleman anymore. And we get to distribute our words of spite and hate further and faster than ever before.
It’s not that our electronic methods of communication have made things worse. Like so many other parts of our lives, it’s just that they’ve made things more efficient. They’ve sped up our natural inclinations, made it so much easier to hurt each other. We can now say terrible things about each at the speed of light, and reach a thousand people at a time, rather than doing it the old fashioned way, one person at a time.
And how often are the horrible things we say motivated by our need to tell the “truth” about someone else? Friends tell other friends the ‘truth’ of what people are saying about them. Politicians tell their constituents the ‘truth’ about the other political party. White people tell the ‘truth’ about black people. Religious people tell the ‘truth’ about the heathens. It’s just amazing how truthful we can be when other people pay the price for our honesty. And our friends get hurt. And relationships are torn apart. And communities are fractured. And countries are divided. And wars are started. And people die.
James knows all about the damage that words do, whether they are spread by our tongues, or by television, or by twitter. He knows the pain they inflict. And he especially knows that there is no place for this destructive behavior in the family of Christ.
Isn’t it strange that we would do this to each other even in the church? After all, we would never steal from each other, would we? We hardly would kill someone while we are at church, well, I mean, not normally. Well, maybe if someone sits in OUR PEW.
But we all know that we are guilty of the more genteel sin of gossip and slander. We know that we are guilty of passing on information about people that really isn’t ours to give away. We know that we say unkind things about each other, about friends, about strangers, and about entire groups of people.
And we know it’s wrong. Surely, we know it’s wrong. It’s not a matter of being PC. It’s not a matter of yielding to the thought police. It’s a matter of being careful with this terrible instrument of pain that sits in our mouth, this restless evil, as James puts it, that is just waiting to attack, looking for the next opportunity to wound.
But there is some hope for us in the scripture. James doesn’t leave us completely alone with our tongues.
Because we can do more with our words than start fires. We can also put them out.
I wonder if James isn’t trying to tell us, with all his talk of blessing and cursing and spring water and salt water, and fig trees and olive trees and grapevines, that while we may not always have the power within ourselves to tame the tongue, we might be able to steer it toward better use. Rather than the sour olives of insults and innuendo, maybe we can offer the sweeter fruit of compliments and kind words. Maybe instead of a bitter stream of brackish gossip, maybe we can offer the life-giving water of supporting and careful woards.
Tongues talk. That’s what they do. They say things about people. Good things and bad things. Like James says, we praise God, and yet we curse his image. The question is not whether or we will talk about each other. The question is, will we, can we, say nice things about each other? Do we have the ability or the willpower to be careful with our words? Do we have the desire to use our tongues in complementary ways about people with whom we are in conflict? Is there a way to frame an argument with someone that doesn’t involve demonizing them, or insulting them, or lying about them?
Maybe now, as we enter the crazy wildfires of political campaigning, this is a good time for us to be more generous with our tongues, with our pens, with our keyboards and our smartphones. With the country torn apart by ideology, with the airwaves filled with the trash generated by an endless parade of talk radio, with an endless supply of end times preachers eager to abuse the privilege of their pulpits with threats of the imminent arrival of a wrathful God, now is a very good time to watch our tongues, and be careful with the words we say.
The alternative is a scorched earth policy that burns everyone in its path with conspiracies, fear, and guilt. And there’s just not enough water in the world to put those flames out.
Now to the Holy One
who is at work within us,
accomplishing far more than we could ever ask or imagine,
now and forever. Amen.