Take strength from the grace of God which is ours in Christ Jesus2 Timothy 2: 1
Hymn 103 Fill your hearts with joy and gladness
We haven’t done awfully well at keeping your commandments:
Love you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?
No, we haven’t managed that
We have tried, some of the time,
but we have been distracted by other things
To be honest, we have forgotten about you
and taken you for granted
we have neither thought of your teaching nor Jesus’ example
Sometimes we knew exactly what we should do
but it was easier to do something else
Love our neighbours?
Again, we have tried – some of the time
but at other times we have thought unloving thoughts
done unloving things
said unloving things
And you told us to love ourselves
sometimes we don’t value ourselves as we should
sometimes we put Self in the driving seat
but all too often we don’t love ourselves with a Christ-like love
We admit that we have got things wrong
we want to change
we want to be different
to be Christ-like
We are sorry for what we have done
Fill us anew with your Spirit
that it may work in us and change us
so that we do truly love you, others and ourselves
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
Once upon a time we were all babies – though we don’t remember it. It is always fascinating watching babies turn into toddlers and then children, seeing their individual personalities develop. One of the really fascinating bits is watching them learn to communicate their thoughts and feelings. At first it is a cry [I’m hungry/ sore, sleepy, needing changed]. Then there might be a tantrum [I’m bored, don’t want to eat THAT, where’s my toy, I beg to disagree it is NOT bedtime] Then words begin, and sometimes family remember the funny way that we said certain words. Then we learn to put together complex ideas in 2 or 3 word phrase.
There was a time when adults thought that children should be ‘seen and not heard’, and woe betide any child who tried to chat in class. How many teachers now struggle to cope with the constant chatter that goes on. Children are encouraged to express themselves, to do presentations, to gain experience in public speaking, to acquire confidence and skills for later life.
Some people love talking. Some seem very quiet, till you manage to get them started, and then you can’t stop them – but they have a good story to tell. Some are very quiet, and just won’t say anything. The last 18 months have been very difficult in so many ways, including talking and communicating. Phones, Whatsapp and Zoom have been really useful, but they aren’t the same as a face-to-face chat. Some people didn’t have access to that technology, some were too young or too old to concentrate for long. Many missed times out playing together, or meeting up for a coffee, dinner or a drink.
Talking is good. So is listening. We need to talk. So do lots of other people. To help us to get over the last 18 months, and to get through this Winter, we need to make lots of time to talk and to listen (and for those of us in church, it means making time to talk to and listen to God).
Hymn JP139 Jesus’ love is very wonderful
James 3: 1-12
A couple of weeks ago we were thinking about hearing and listening. A suitable symbol for both was the ear, through which sound travels into our brain to be processed. This week we move on to think about what we say, and a suitable symbol for that is the tongue. In Bible times most communication was made by people speaking directly to others – face to face or addressing a larger group. Few people were literate, writing material could be hard to come by, and there was no public postal service.
We use a variety of means for communicating our thoughts: some involve writing (letters, texts, emails, posts on social media) but a lot still involves speaking (directly, on the phone, using media like Zoom or Teams, or in recorded video clips). Whatever the medium, what the author of the Letter of James has to say about the tongue is relevant to how we communicate our thoughts and feelings.
Whatever the medium used, we have all had the experience of thinking, ‘I wish I could rewind time for a couple of minutes and phrase that differently.’ As soon as we said it, or pressed the button, we knew that it wasn’t phrased correctly, and what sort of a reaction it would create. But you can’t rewind time. All we can do is apologise, make amends, try harder next time – and be understanding if someone else makes the same mistake.
There are accidents and mistakes in what we say, but there can also be times when people deliberately say things that are meant to cause trouble and hurt. Sometimes we can be tempted to do it, and we have to try hard to avoid doing that. We also have to think about how we react when someone else is doing that:
- Many of us grew up with the saying ‘sticks and stones..’ but we know that words do harm people. How many children, teenagers and young folk are bullied on social media about their appearance or whatever? How many adults say deliberately hurtful things to other adults? How many try to ‘rubbish’ someone else? If we encounter someone doing it, should we challenge them, or do we want to keep out of it in case they turn against us?
- If we watch old newsreel footage of Hitler addressing crowds, we see and hear him stirring up hatred against Jews and others. Such behaviour didn’t begin or end with him. It has a long history, and now we have trolls that make life misery for others on social media. Some people try to stir up hatred against religious groups, ethnic groups, women, minorities – essentially anyone apart from them. There may be laws against ‘hate speech’ but that doesn’t stop some people doing it
- Innuendo, slander and lies also have a long history – whether it’s the village gossip or government agents seeking to undermine opponents or rewrite history as they would like it to be.
Talking, communicating with others, is good for us as people. Not talking, bottling everything up is not good for us. But as followers of Jesus, not to mention being members of a family or local community, there are ways to talk and communicate, and ways not to do so. We have been called by Jesus to share his love (which is hard if we talk down to, ignore or lecture other people). We have been called to share his Good News (which is hard if what we say and how we say it seems at odds with the message we are sent to share).
Jesus is our role model, and when we look at him, we see that he used a variety of approaches when talking with people:
- Sometimes he was slow to speak. He asked open questions. He let the other person feel ‘OK’, and safe to open up to share worries and concerns
- He wasn’t afraid of people with power or authority. He addressed then in a civilised way, neither over-awed nor rude. He spoke as equals
- He didn’t speak down to people, leap in with phrase like ‘The trouble with people like you..’ or ‘what you should do is…’
- There were a few times when we see him being annoyed (Simon the Pharisee, cleansing of the Temple). He expressed his anger, but he didn’t lose control, he didn’t burst into a torrent of abuse and expletives
- He didn’t insult or rubbish people. Some might think, but what about Matthew 23 and the cursing of the Pharisees? Many commentators think the way the chapter is phrased owes more to the context of the author and audience (maybe 50 years after Easter) than to what Jesus would actually have said at the time
- He didn’t tell lies, pass on gossip or scandal, try to start rumours or use half-truths and fake news to further his cause. He was however only too well aware of such behaviour: the folk who inflated stories of the amazing magician and miracle worker, and on the other hand the people who fabricated lies to incriminate him
- He knew that at times it was safer to say nothing, because whatever he said would be misinterpreted and used in evidence against him
Jesus is our role model, though we regularly fail to live up to his standards. We have to be ready to say ‘sorry’ to him for the times we get it wrong, and ask for his help in striving to make what we say and how we say it more like the way he spoke and shared with others.
Hymn 540 I heard the voice of Jesus say
Prayers for others
Thank you for the ability to communicate
our thoughts and feelings with others
and all the ways in which we can do so
Sometimes we make mistakes and say, text or email
something wrong or completely inappropriate
help us to be more careful and think harder before we speak
We pray for those subject to bullying, hate speech or malicious rumour
help them to feel supported, protected and valued
we pray too for those who do the bullying,
voice hate speech or spread malicious rumours
help them to address the issues in their own lives
and stop hurting others
We pray for all who are feeling lonely or isolated
who long to be able to engage in conversation with friends or family
help us to make time to engage in conversation with them
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us