Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tongues Ablaze!

Blogging James 3:1-12, I realize I preached on this passage three years ago in the church I served as an interim associate pastor. I know that I focused at that time on the portion of the passage about the dangerous tongue, as follows:

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.
James 3:5b-8

In other words, you kiss your mother with that mouth? But I find today that it is the first two verses that have captured my imagination.

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. James 3:1-2

This may be because I am preaching at Big Ivy University this Sunday. I just am tickled at the thought of standing up in front of students, staff and faculty and saying that first line: You know, not many of you should be teachers.

Let's play with possible interpretations.

Not many of you should be teachers.

...despite what you are thinking.

Not many of you should be teachers.

... but it's ok if some of you do that.

Not many of you should be teachers., of all people!

Not many of you should be teachers.

...but I accept that inevitability.

Not many of you should be teachers.

...but there are plenty of other jobs out there! Keep looking!

I think James follows up on these verses with his extended metaphors about the tongue as blazing fire, locus of iniquity, bearer of poison, etc. to illustrate his main thesis: teaching is a risky business at best. What comes out of your mouth matters. It could change the course of lives. You sure you want to take that on?

Last time I preached this passage I shied away from the first verse. After all, Sunday School teachers were always in short supply. And I sure didn't want to suggest that I was in a position to judge (even though we all know it's James who's doing that). But this time... it seems a fruitful possibility.

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