Message from Our Pastor
Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's September 16th homily. Relevant text: Isaiah 50:4-9, James 3:1-12, & Mark 8:27-38
I find it interesting that the texts from Isaiah and James are assigned to be read at the time of year when teachers and students are heading back to class in both schools and churches.
“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word,” reports Isaiah. According to Isaiah the ability to teach is a gift given by God. And in this case, teaching is not so much the imparting of knowledge as the provision of sustenance. If you are a teacher, the words of Isaiah might make you sit a little taller for God has indeed smiled upon you and given you a special and precious gift.
But before your chest puffs up too much, hear the words of James. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” And ironically, the reason for this caution from James is the very thing that Isaiah identifies as the teacher’s blessed gift—the tongue.
I don’t believe that it is by accident or mere coincidence that these texts find their way into our lectionary at just this point in the calendar year. Perhaps you are sitting there thinking, “Whew, I’m glad I’m not a teacher! Surviving God’s judgment will be hard enough as it is. A judgment of even greater strictness would be next to impossible to endure.”
Ah, but you are a teacher. We all are teachers. For some of us it is our profession. For all of us teaching is something we do all the time whether we are aware of it or not.
To teach, in its broadest sense is to convey a message. Sometimes the message is a word or knowledge, like when we teach someone a new skill, or share a fact or story not previously known.
Sometimes the message is one of wisdom, as when we try to teach the lessons we have learned from our own mistakes. And sometimes, as Isaiah suggests, the message is one of sustenance — a word of hope or promise, as in the sharing of faith, or words of encouragement to a young, frustrated student of life.
Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly teaching. With every word that comes out of our mouth we are teaching someone something—something about the subject at hand, something about what we believe, something about the nature of our own heart and soul.
God has given us the gift of tongue, or language if you prefer. It is meant to be a blessing — a way by which we can share and offer the gift of life to others. But James reminds us that this gift is a blessing only if used well. It can, as Peter learned in today’s gospel lesson, also get us into deep trouble.
But it’s not the words that got Peter into trouble, but the convictions of his heart that led him to speak such words of blasphemy. Peter believed with all his heart that Jesus was the Messiah. In this he spoke correctly. But Peter also believed that Jesus would be a victorious, triumphant, military, overthrowing Messiah. In this, he misspoke. For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things, Jesus rebuked.
In thinking about the message we share with each word we speak, we need to consider that which is in our hearts. For it is our heart that steers our thoughts, and our thoughts, in turn, that guide our words.
Try as we might, it is not possible to hide the convictions of our soul. It is a must, then, that we take time to consider with thorough honesty the true nature of our hearts. It is this that motivates all we say and do. Thus, today’s readings.
James warns us that all of us make many mistakes, so we should expect our attempts at fresh, new and different to be less than perfect. But don’t let your slips of tongue or James’s warning of strict judgment deter you. For it is in our imperfections that God’s grace is made perfect. And, God’s grace is new every morning.
When Peter misspoke Jesus did not toss him out of the disciple circle. He pointed out the error of Peter’s ways and moved on with Peter still at his side. Peter will stick his foot in his mouth many more times, but he never looses his position as chosen disciple; for God’s mercy is great and the Word of God will not be thwarted.
This is the encouragement and assurance behind the words of today’s lessons. This is their teaching. Take your roll as teacher seriously. Try your best. Be your best. And know that in spite of your miscues, you will remain a chosen child and called disciple of God.
So, you teachers of the world, search your hearts and go forth, proclaiming the words of blessing God has placed in them. Use them for good, the building up of others and the sustaining of the weary. Let the light of your words so enlighten the lives of others that they may know the God of your heart. Amen.