Furthermore, for a church in a denomination which asserts that “God is still speaking,” these readings are pointedly significant. And to have them spoken among us by one whose first language is not English I think may add light to just how important what we say can be. Then to be aware that the language in which the letter of James was written was not English but Greek, and that even though translated from Greek into English, the letter (by evidence of some untranslated Hebrew or Aramaic words in it, such as Gehenna) probably was collected from sermons preached in Aramaic by James full of the Holy Spirit, it is entirely fitting to our purposes today that a non-native English speaker should be working so diligently to make James's message understood.
As to this moment in history...
Of course what I am referring to is, when an anti-Islam radical in Hollywood made a scandalous motion picture about the Muslim prophet – of whom their holy book and tradition insists that no image (graven or otherwise) shall be made. Muslims with perspectives similarly limited as the radical producer’s reacted violently.
I have heard speculation that the producer of the film is probably a Coptic Christian with an agenda to humiliate Muslims as he remembered having been humiliated for his Christianity growing up in Egypt. But he ought to have resisted the temptation to do what he did. “Not many of you should become teachers,” the apostle James once said, “for you are judged more severely.” What that producer expressed in fourteen minutes... what he said incited violence to the extent that innocent and genuinely good-hearted, helpful people got killed.
the focus of our new Sunday School curriculum. No, also, what you do is significant, and next week’s sermon is titled, “What You Do,” so I’ll get to the murderous mobs next week (I imagine that will still be timely.). What we say is enough of a topic, for now.
Over time, we have always acknowledged that things we say carry weight, even power.
Christianity includes a very important clause, in the law on which our practice of faith is based, namely the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
That law is in our holy canon, because we know deeply – having as one of our myths of creation a story in which what God says causes things to be – words have power.
That law (“You shall not bear false witness.” (Exodus 20:16)) is there, because we affirm in that creation story, that words have power.
That law (“You shall not bear false witness.”) is there, because the power that words have originates with the speaker.
That law is there, because we who speak claim to be people of an invisible Creator whom we give substance! We are God’s physically existing representatives, and when we misrepresent God by saying something as scandalous as to disrespect someone else’s religion, someone else’s prophet, we invite God’s judgment upon us and the world’s judgment upon God.
“Brothers and sisters,” James said, “not all of you should be teachers.”
What we say as people of God – and by virtue of our baptism, there is never a time in our lives when we are not the people of God – what we say has potential for a profound effect, to do what God’s words can do – to bless or to destroy.
What we say may not only have a profound effect on others; it can affect us, too. Words are powerful, and at their best our words give sound and substance to a silent Spirit waiting to be revealed.
But church people over the past many decades have begun to stay away in droves. Christian communities have seemed more interested in delivering a good message than in allowing that message to activate with power. We struggle as faithful people to demonstrate the power we have experienced God’s word to have in our lives. I witness daily the perseverance with which you all endeavor to make your lives resonant with the power you have found in the word you have received.
It’s the word of life, and it has restorative potential. What choice do we have but to respond, thus demonstrating that not all church people are hypocrites!
To the end of presenting a new and vitalized word for others to speak, theologians will revise concepts of the divine, or propose new interpretations and patterns of those concepts, in order to get to the heart of God’s pure message.
|The Rev. Dr. Charles McCollough at work|
Our friend Libby Reimers is encouraging us to invite others to re-envision their search for faith in a Wednesday morning series, starting October 10. In that study, some very creative writers and illustrators and videographers invite us to consider our beliefs in new or innovative ways.
Because what we say about God and ourselves in relationship with one another gives the rest of the world a pretty strong impression about who we are and what ends we are seeking to accomplish. And it says profound things about how we think of ourselves.
What we say as people of faith (and there is no time in our lives, once we have joined the church by baptism that we are NOT people of faith) will provide a centerpoint of focus for those who do not somehow know God. It will further provide a centerpoint of concentration for those who are seeking to know God more fully and are trusting us to be accurate representatives... people like our children and others with formative minds and hearts.
What we say is important. “Not all of you should be teachers,” said James. “You bring greater judgment on yourself.”
But what choice do we have? What choice is there? Words have power, even if we don’t want to use them as if we were teachers. We serve the word of God – Christ the word – spoken from the start of creation and still being spoken today.
|Rabbi Jonathan Sacks|
He has used as evidence the parents in Israel and the Palestinian territories whose children have been killed in violent conflicts there, seeking reconciliation for the sake of future generations of children and for the continuation of their homeland in peace. When they have been able to be vulnerable with one another, they have found new ground and invited others to it.The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope.
Perhaps on what you would consider a more mundane level, but which affects me greatly as a minister, if divorcing couples can talk together, maybe with a moderator present, and take the time really to speak from the heart and to listen from the heart, respecting and not insisting on one’s own way, the parting can be peaceful. Thus, Rabbi Sacks has further observed, "It’s when you can feel your opponents’ pain that you're beginning the path to reconciliation."
We can underestimate sometimes just how crucial it can be to actually listen to somebody and to make yourself heard. The premarital course of study that I share with couples includes a section that I emphasize probably more than they care to perform. It’s called Assertiveness and Active Listening, and through it what I try to do is to strengthen the couples’ understanding of the importance of stating their hopes and dreams and feelings, and the equal importance of paying attention to what the other says. It is the discipline of echoing what the other has said and checking in with the speaker that one has understood, and only then offering back one’s own feelings and thoughts, constantly checking in with the other about the vicissitudes of the human conscience and heart and spirit, until new ground is reached or familiar ground affirmed. If we lose that, if we fail to allow the other to say what they need to say, if we fail to allow their words to have the power that they can have with our own, then we weaken and disrespect the other.
This way of speaking and hearing affirms what we all insist is true about the power of words, and as a fellow person of faith I think Rabbi Sacks is right. If we can simply learn to practice respectful patterns of speaking and listening, affirming our own and others’ power of words, the world will be a better place. "The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation."
Maybe the best we can do is to try not to forget how much power our words may have... and how important it can be to say them rightly, properly... Maybe the best we can do is to live our speaking as Reina was having to live it a while ago: endeavoring to say the English words that represent the Greek words that represent the Aramaic speaker who sought to represent the heart of God.
We will not necessarily say our words with the same kind of precision that a foreign-born reader might be seeking, but we will be endeavoring to represent faithfully to our world One who speaks beyond words and, perhaps through us, with words, in Christ’s name.