Succentor - The Revd Rachel Young
Isaiah 50.4-9a; James 3.1-12; Mark 8.27-end
Two weeks ago on BBC2 there was a Horizon programme called ‘A week without lying.’
Three people were rigged up with all sorts of detection equipment over their bodies and filmed for a week to see how much they lied; then they were asked to go for another week always telling the truth.
Their words and physical reactions were analysed by three researchers, who were testing their theory that we all lie, and can’t help it.
My interest was sparked when I saw that one of the guinea pigs was a clergy woman…who said at the beginning that she thinks she never lies.
So it was very interesting and thought provoking to hear the researchers’ conclusions at the end of the week – that in fact we all lie (or are deceptive) much more than they thought, and that sometimes this is essential for successful social interactions.
If you’re interested, watch it on catch-up, and see how the vicar fared!
We live in a world full of information, accessible at the touch of a screen.
News – comment – truth – lies – propaganda - fake news…
We have to have tutorials on spotting what’s true from false…
Even the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations
are openly taking part in it.
And in this context, how do we think we’re getting on?
Do our lives mirror this cacophony of noise all around us?
Or do we try to live what the monastics call “an examined life”, in which we take time to get to know ourselves, think and pause before replying, and convey our faith in Jesus Christ
through what we say and do?
Our readings today have a common thread –
they all reflect on what we say with our words and do with our lives.
Isaiah describes a humble servant of God, who recognises that God has given them “the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (50.4)
In his letter James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the early church in Jerusalem, talks about speaking; and the great influence that the tongue has over the rest of the body.
He takes these early Christians to task about their speech,
using the tongue as a symbol.
He uses various illustrations which were common at his time:
- We put bits into the mouths of horses to control them;
- A small rudder can steer a large boat, it has a lot of power;
- A fire can set alight a whole forest! (bush fires in Palestine were common)
In other words, this small part of their anatomy was wielding mighty power.
With it they were blessing God and then cursing other people almost in the same breath. He says, “This ought not to be so.”
- Does a spring have both fresh and salt water?
- Can a fig tree produce grapes, or a vine figs? 208
James tackles speech in his letter
because he was responding to a specific situation in the churches;
but speech is only one way in which we respond to others and to God.
His blunt instructions to those early Christians makes us ask -
Are we the sort of person who responds first without thinking?
Or the other way round?
Has our impulsiveness ever got us into trouble?
Or do we find ourselves being a spectator to all that’s going on around us,
and sometimes choose not to take part in the discussion?
What we can take from James’ exhortation
is a reminder to take an honest look at ourselves,
and to choose to examine how we respond in our speech or writing;
to remember to think twice so that we can preserve someone’s confidentiality; and not to enter into gossip.
And even though those researchers I mentioned at the beginning suggest that deception is actually more habitual and helpful in our speech than they thought, I think it’s a question of knowing how and when to employ it or to tell the truth.
Jesus, too, was concerned with what people said.
In particular, who they said that he was.
In Mark’s gospel he challenged his disciples by asking,
“Who do you say that I am?”
This morning (later, in the 11.00 service) we are/will be welcoming Nathaniel and Evelin to be baptised. They have been brought by their parents and god-parents, who will be asked to respond to some questions about their faith in Jesus. The answers are confessions about who Jesus is.
These questions are not just for them, though;
They are for all of us every day
They remind all of us who are baptised
what it is we’re baptised into, and what we confess to believe.
Jesus’ question hangs in the air for all of us to answer:
“Who do you say that I am?”
Peter, his disciple, answered “You are the Messiah.”
And then Jesus began to talk to the rest of the crowd,
saying that if they wanted to become his followers,
they would have to do more than just say something with their words.
Their belief in him would lead to much more than that:
“If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Losing their life, for his sake, and therefore saving it.
Confessing a belief in Jesus is not the gateway to an easy life…
…but it is a gateway to a life lived in relationship:
relationship with God and with others.
Thankfully, God has provided us with a way to work on those relationships which helps us as we learn to examine our responses and our actions:
We are able to apologize.
We can say sorry, to other people and most of all, to God.
God promises to forgive us; and we are to forgive each other.
In this astoundingly simple yet profound mechanism,
we can admit that we’ve been wrong and express our intention to try again;
we can experience the forgiveness of others
which enables relationships to grow;
and we can know at a deep level how much we are forgiven by God,
who knows us better than we know ourselves.
So this morning, as we come before God as people who live in a noisy world,
let us ask God to help us to be careful with our reactions -
to be people who bless rather than curse others;
to be people who, together,
offer our lives to God in response to our profession of faith;
and to be people who live an “examined” life
in which commit ourselves to conveying our faith in Jesus Christ through what we say and do.
So that our witness can help others to know the love and forgiveness of God, and so that we help to bring in the kingdom, here in this place.