Arabella Young was a gossip! Her tongue was always getting her into trouble. She gossiped so much… that on her tombstone in an English cemetery, her family wrote this epitaph, “Beneath this sod, a lump of clay, lies Arabella Young, who on the 24th of May began to hold her tongue!”
Only death could stop Arabella’s tongue from wagging! Do you know “an Arabella Young” in your office, your neighborhood or among your circle of friends? The early church was full of Arabella Young’s. James wrote to Christians in the early church to specifically address this enormous problem of gossip. Followers of Jesus Christ spread rumors about one another and gossiped about one another behind their backs. One of the people victimized by “the Arabella Young’s” of the early church was the Apostle Paul. People spread rumors that Paul’s conversion to Christianity was not sincere…. much like people doubted the conversion of Charles Colson in the days of the Nixon administration. The Corinthian Church was so plagued by rumor, gossip and slander that Paul devoted three chapters (1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14) to address the problem of how we treat people in the Body of Christ. Paul emphasized that EVERY gift and EVERY person is essential to the healthy functioning of the Body of Christ! He calls us to rejoice in our unity amid our diversity.
James teaches us that our rhetoric reflects our inner character as a person. If James is correct what does that say about the character of the members of Congress, the President of the United States and the leaders of our nation? As one who spends my life working with words for sermons, classes, and workshops, I’m deeply concerned about three things. First, I am concerned that people are throwing words around without thinking of the damage that they do to people. Secondly, I am concerned that we do not allow others to speak if we fear that they will express an opinion different than our own. Thirdly, I am concerned that both our nation and the church of Jesus Christ have lost our ability to disagree without being disagreeable. Whatever happened to free speech and civility? Whatever happened to the kind of patriotism that put concern for our entire nation ahead of tearing down our opponents with words that sting and discredit? Whatever happened to bipartisan leadership that encouraged people to work together for the common good? What ever happened to getting beyond stereotypes to listen to another person?
Here is a sad example of what concerns me. Conservative columnist Ann Coulter was invited to speak at the University of California in Berkeley this week, but the protests, and the threat of violence to Ms. Coulter and all who attended were so intense that the school cancelled her lecture. Similar events have happened recently at Claremont- McKenna and other universities throughout our nation. Are we becoming a society that only wants to listen to the words of others if we agree with them?
[tweetable] If there is one piece of advice that James gives us it is this; “put your tongue under the lordship and authority of almighty God!” Although the tongue is small, it is like a rudder on a ship that guides a powerful vessel. James reminds us that words can either bless people or curse people. What do our words do?
Another sad example. A woman in New York City was deeply hurt when she walked into work one day and without warning…was fired by her boss! As she tried to protest that the firing was unfair… her boss told her that he wanted her gone… immediately! When she protested again… the boss exploded! You are a b…i…t…c…h! Get out! Sobbing, the woman carried her belongings out on to the streets of New York. After walking aimlessly for several blocks, she came across the church I served as Pastor in New York years ago. She read on the sign board that we were having a service at noon that day. The woman came in and put her box of belongings in the pew next to her. At the end of the service, I invited people to come forward for the renewal of their baptismal vows. As this woman, who I had never met, came forward, I asked her to share her name. When she told me, I said to her… “Marilyn…YOU are a…CHILD…of…GOD!” She wept! Marilyn assimilated these words of blessing… in sharp contrast to the words she heard from her boss an hour before. Marilyn was baptized into the Christian faith because she claimed her true identity as a child of God. The words that her boss shouted at her did not describe Marilyn. What described her was what God said about her.
God challenges all of us to put our tongue under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! Don’t wait another minute. Remember Arabella Young? She waited too long!