Words of Love – Words of Destruction

Sermon Notes September 12, 2021 

James 3:1-12 Common English Bible

3 My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly. 2 We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. 3 When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies.

4 Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. 5 In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly.

Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. 6 The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.

7 People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. 8 No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. 10 Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way!

11 Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree produce olives? Can a grapevine produce figs? Of course not, and fresh water doesn’t flow from a saltwater spring either.

Proverbs 1:20-33  Common English Bible

20 Wisdom shouts in the street; in the public square she raises her voice.

21 Above the noisy crowd, she calls out. At the entrances of the city gates, she has her say: 22 “How long will you clueless people love your naïveté, mockers hold their mocking dear, and fools hate knowledge?23 You should respond when I correct you. Look, I’ll pour out my spirit on you. I’ll reveal my words to you.

Let us Pray:

24 I invited you, but you rejected me;  I stretched out my hand to you,  but you paid no attention.25 You ignored all my advice, and you didn’t want me to correct you. 26 So, I’ll laugh at your disaster; I’ll make fun of you when dread comes over you. 27 when terror hits you like a hurricane, and your disaster comes like a tornado. 28 Then they will call me, but I won’t answer; they will seek me, but won’t find me 29 because they hated knowledge and didn’t choose the fear of the Lord.30 They didn’t want my advice; they rejected all my corrections. 31They will eat from the fruit of their way, and they’ll be full of their own schemes.32 The immature will die because they turn away; smugness will destroy fools.33 Those who obey me will dwell securely, untroubled by the dread of harm.”

Every Sunday is a challenge for ministers. It does not matter if there are 8 people or 250 listening and waiting. Some Saturday nights everything changes, so we begin again. This Sunday, the day after the 20th Memorial of the September 11 incredibly tragic attacks on the US is a Sunday in which Saturday evening I began again.

I watched some of the Memorial services, in NYC, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. Then I began my Saturday Shabbat services with my Rabbi and Friend and 40 others on Zoom. Later I drove to Louisa County to visit the Community of Peace, established by Br. Stefan Andre Waligur, who is slowly opening a large tract of farmland to people who want to pray, to walk in the woods, eat together, listen to or play sacred music and have Holy conversations. On the way home from my visit with Br. Stefan and his community and reflecting on this day I knew the message I had spent several hours praying over and preparing was now caput. Everything had changed.

On September 11, 2001 I was at my work in Arlington, about 1 ½ miles from the Pentagon. For the many years I had worked in this building I was able to see the Pentagon. But a building was going up cross the street. By that Sept 11, the new building was blocking our view of the Pentagon. On that beautiful sunny morning a colleagues came into our office area and announced that we urgently needed to come out to the lobby. A TV was on. There we saw film, taken just moments before, of an airliner crashing into one of the twin towers in NYC. A bit later, after we had seen live footage of the second plane crashing into the other tower, we saw smoke coming up from the Pentagon. Later we heard about the plane crash in Shanksville. It all happened so fast on a beautiful September morning. We were still not sure what had happened and why, but our hearts were broken just the same. We were all stunned. 

My wife Teresa, had died 17 months earlier. My first wife, Lynne had died just one month prior to this day of Sept 11. My three daughters were now without a mother. My youngest was in the 6th grade. I drove to her school. There was no parking nearby, so I walked about ½ mile to her school. I spoke with a few other parents, anxious as I was to pick up their child. We were met at the door by the principal. She directed staff to collect each child. The school staff had told them only that there had been a tragic accident in NYC and that some parents might come to pick them up. I told Emilia what I knew. So much was a mystery to be unraveled over hours and days.  We both were struck with sadness, and disbelief.

That evening we went to our church. There must have been over 300 people in the sanctuary, many of whom I did not recognize. Our clergy were there to pray with us, speak a few words and sing and listen and pray. Words of comfort and grief. No anger or recriminations. We prayed for those who had died, who were missing, injured, our first responders, families, neighbors, ourselves, our leaders and yes, the hijackers and their families and neighbors. Hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater, so that a person’s resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of their environment. Howard Thurman (20th Century Pastor and theologian) Anger and hatred is a heavy burden to bear.

The writer of Proverbs speaks harshly. Clueless people, fools. Some translations use idiot and stupid.

My wife, Alessandra and I often sit with our coffee in the early mornings on our back deck. We share thoughts, look for deer, rabbits and birds and listen for sounds from the forest. Often Alessandra will ask me about my upcoming message. So, we read the Proverbs passage for today. Harsh words of judgement. I invited you, but you rejected me; I stretched out my hand to you, but you paid no attention. You ignored all my advice, and you didn’t want me to correct you. We understood that part, but then it continues: I’ll laugh at your disaster; I’ll make fun of you when dread comes over you, when terror hits you like a hurricane, and your disaster comes in like a tornado, when distress and oppression overcome you. What kind of talk is this? Harsh talk certainly! The Bible is a big book. One that begs us to wrestle with.

The beginning verses of Psalm 14, speak of fools. Here is how the late Nan C. Merrill heard those first few verses of Psalm 14. The hearts of fools say, “There is no power in Love.” Fools live in illusion; they torture Themselves and others; They walk alone in utter darkness calling it light.

I grieve for fools. How alone they are. Lost. They do not know or feel the love of Love, our Source, our Creator. God is Love the writer of 1 John tells us. It is a love, a Presence which embraces every part of us. The mystery of God touches our hearts.

Fools construct armor to shield themselves from being in love with the Source, from feeling the love of the Creator and being in love with Life. Fools do not see the Beauty which is all around them. Fools use words to set fires of destruction because they do not know any other way. Fools are scared, though they likely do not know that. Fools live inside a bubble of gross insecurities, of not knowing love in their lives and spewing out hate and unkindness. Their hearts are hard as rock. One of the saddest things about Fools is that they do not know they are Fools. Clueless. How very sad.

 James is clear that words and how we use them can set fires of destruction. This fire of destruction emanates from the inside of us and spews out hate. Think about this James writes: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. 6 The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell. These are words that catch our breath. We struggle to fully understand that we can be instruments of good and/or instruments of evil.

Proverbs attempts to instill in people that God is to be held in awe and wonder and with fear. The fear of God does not mean that God will punish us, but that if we stray from the ways of Goodness we live in fear because we do not know love.

The Book of Leviticus, the Prophet Micah and the other Prophets as well as Jesus tell us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Be worthy of the life that God has gifted us with. Show mercy. Do not destroy or be hurtful. James and Proverbs are illustrating that living lives in goodness, and kindness paints a picture of who we are and how others see us.  

On September 11 we witnessed men who did not know love in their hearts. They wore armor so thick it led them to view their religion as a religion which sowed hate, unkindness, and no generosity to neighbor. The consequences of their hatred was terrible beyond words. Their actions tore into the fabric of our world.

A few years ago, some men and women held a torched led march through the campus of UVa. Spewing hatred of our brothers and sisters who are Jewish and Black and others. Fools. We saw and heard hate that led to violence on January 6 from Americans at the capitol. Evil words of discrimination against a person’s race or gender or religion were spoken and yelled. Yelled at officers of the law, our protectors and theirs! Many cringed at what happened and yet some applauded and still do. In the words of Proverbs, fools applaud hatred. Don’t get me wrong the consequences of hatred on September 11 was far worse and tragic than these other two events. But hatred and cowardice, disregard for Life was present in the other events also.

John the Baptist called out those in power who do not know love as vipers. In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; In the Gospel according to Luke Jesus says: (Luke 24:25) to those in power: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!

We have choices to make. We make mistakes sometimes. At times we may have foolish thoughts. But we cling to the Lord of Peace. We acknowledge our mistakes.  

Our choices lead to consequences for us as individuals, as a community, as a nation and the world. We will not be held hostage to words and actions of hate. We will hold fast to Love. We will embrace one another with affection, kindness, hospitality, generosity and hopefullness.

God who is Love and Lifegiving is calling to us. Do we listen and act or do we reject God’s call? Amen.

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