24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
I have said on many occasions that there is not many jobs that are more fascinating than to study scripture and then to be able to talk about what I have learned. There are not many waking days where I am not in awe over something that I have learned while reading and contemplating on the words that God inspired humanity to write. It may not be something new but nearly every day God will show me something fresh, something that previously I was overlooking and by reading the words from a different perspective it is as if I traveled over the rainbow leaving behind the grays of the past and am thrusted into a world of vibrant color.
For several weeks we have walked through the book of Hebrews together focusing on the technical aspects of the priestly office that Jesus fulfilled. I pointed out that there is not really any contemporary office that actually hold a similar role. Even among the ceremonially rich churches of the Eastern and Roman orders the priest do not fully hold the same function. In the ancient sacrificial system the priest carried the blood of the sacrifice into the holy place, where the priest of today only say, “Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Even though the priest announces pardon for sin they only speak for the ones that have already carried out the purification for us.
But this is not what has gotten me excited this week. I feel the writer of Hebrews has fully explained the office and function of the priest and how Christ has not only fulfilled but eradicated the necessity of that office. What has me excited is the last half of this passage. “[He] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” I am sure you are sitting there wondering why this is so amazing to me but Friends this is what theologians would call eschatology, or the study of the end. You see what the writer of Hebrews is proclaiming is that the age of the priesthood, the age of the temple, and all the things that once were known have come to completion and everything from this moment on is a new age. Many that reject the Messiahship of Jesus, hold their defense on the premise on theology that was not from ancient times but ideas that largely became mainstream in the past century. The idea that Jesus has yet to usher in the end of days after two thousand years. They will then say that we should not accept Christ because by his own words he would have done this within a generation of those that lived during that time, or approximately 70 years.
What gets me excited is that the writer of Hebrews most likely wrote this letter around the year 64 of the Common Era. Scholars have dated it to this because the descriptive language uses the tabernacle, the tent used prior to the construction of the temple, and an illustration instead of using the temple. They claim that this descriptive language was used because a tent has less permanence than a building constructed of stone, a building that people perceived to be indestructible. This lack of permanence was a greater illustration of the permanence of Christ’s sacrifice, so scholars conclude that the letter was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in the 70th year of the Common Era. Christ did this at the end of the age, and within a generation and shortly after the letter to the Hebrews was written the entire expression of faith among Christian and Jews alike radically changed. The era or the age of the temple no longer exists, sacrifice no longer occurs, so both branches of faith must now explain how sin is absolved. For the Christian a more perfect and complete sacrifice has been presented before the mercy seat of God through the very blood of Jesus, but what covers the sin of those that do not claim Christ?
When we consider the timing of the letter the pages of scripture open up in a different light, Christ came at the end of the age. He actually did fulfill the prophesied words that he spoke and within a generation all people of faith had to face the very grim reality that everything they once held as being important within their faith no longer mattered. Without sacrifice there is no priest without a priest where does our salvation come, who will stand before God for us? Did God turn his back on the nation or is something else happening?
There was a brief glimpse into this emerging era while the people lived in exile. While in exile when the first temple was destroyed the people began to wonder how faith could continue without a temple. It was during this time frame that the budding branches of what we see today began to emerge upon the pages of history, but a problem remained during that brief time. The people of faith, though faithful, were still in their sin. This lead the great heroes of the faith Ezra and Nehemiah come onto the scenes of history to rebuild the city and the temple so that the people could once again have the assurance that they were acceptable before God. Then the abomination that causes desolation happened, they had a temple but it was unclean and unable to be used. Which prompted the uprising that lead to the reemergence of the nation of Israel. The temple was again reestablished but there was this constant threat from outside that gentile forces might again be able to separate God from the people. For 70 years they lived without assurance and for approximately 400 they lived with the knowledge that their salvation was not secure. They lived on the cusp of the end, and the writer of Hebrews announces that through Christ our justification eternally secure. Through the perfect sacrifice from the highest of priests with the offering of his very own blood, Jesus enters into the most holy of holy places far greater than the sanctuary constructed by the hands of mankind and presents himself before the throne of God to intercede for us.
This tells us something. The age of the temple, the age of the law, the age of constant sacrifices year after year has come to an end and in this end time Jesus stands firm. For two thousand years this new age that emerged through Jesus has continued. The kingdom that Jesus professed has moved beyond the borders of the nation we call Israel and it has stretched to the east and the west. The Kingdom of God has become the primary influence of nations, and continents. The influence of Christ has brought nations and empires to their knees and confessions have been made that He alone is Lord. We have lived in this eschatology for millennia. But He is not finished yet.
This theologically packed passage continues, “And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.” This is a verse I wish many in the contemporary church would remember. We as mortal men and women have an appointment with death. It is our destiny to eventually move from what we know here and pass through the veil of life into the mystery of death. It is our destiny to make this journey, and we make it once. This word is used twenty-two times in scripture and is the very word that great theologians have constructed the concept of predestination around. Our destiny is to live and die and to face what lies beyond. Consider this for a moment. In the ancient days the faithful could face that day with assurance because the priest stood between them and God, the priest stood on their behalf with the blood of sacrifice that covered their sins. Those ancient days have come to an end the temple and the tabernacle are no more who will stand with us as we meet our appointment with destiny?
Again we can consider the implications of the theological concepts but if Christ does not stand for us we will meet that predestined time having to give a full account on our own. Jesus taught in his sermons that it was said do not commit adultery, but if we have ever looked upon another with eyes of lust we have sinned even if we have not physically engaged in the act. He also said that the law says do not commit murder but that if anyone has ever spoken a curse upon another they have participated in the essence of this sin. We can go line by line through his teachings, and find that not one of us has a chance to honestly stand without condemnation. Who will stand for us? Who will stand with us as we meet conclude our preordained journey of life?
”So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This again refers back to the image of the tabernacle. As the priest enters the most holy place to stand before God, the people stand on the outside waiting. They wait with the knowledge that the sacrifice should cover their sins, but it cannot be fully experienced until the priest returns from the inner rooms. The priest stands as a representative of the nation before God and returns as God’s answer. The sin is removed or covered by the blood but will they be saved will they continue to be accepted as the people of God? Imagine for a moment that period of time. The priest dressed in his holy garments has performed the rites before you and the entire nation, and he turns to face the veil. He is fully aware of a number of sins that have been committed by the people he is to represent. Each of those sins are enough to send not only that individual but the entire nation out of the presence of the most high and only true God. He slowly approaches the curtain. The words are spoken with uncertain boldness, steps are taken deeper and deeper within. The figure is no longer able to be seen and we sit waiting in limbo. Sin is forgiven but will the covenant remain?
You see that is the central aspect of the priesthood. If the priest does not return the relationship, the covenant or marriage between the people and God is severed. So often we do not see the difference between the forgiveness of sin and salvation. We assume they are one in the same but they deal with two different things. One is legal and one is relational. The people of the nation must sit waiting as the priest is in the holy of holies, they wait to hear and see God’s response to their pleas of forgiveness and remain their God. Will he preserve them or will they be left alone to drift without His direction.
Christ carried the blood into that holy place and the people, us included waited as he lay in a tomb buried. For three days they wait unsure of what was going on. Wondering if maybe they were wrong about everything. Yet they waited. They waited and it was revealed to them, Jesus emerged from the grave removing the sting of our destiny with death allowing us to look at our bleak future with renewed hope. Nothing can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus. He is our priest and life with Him is our destiny. Our sins are forgiven but do we eagerly wait for him? Do we embrace his life and his lifestyle as we eagerly wait for the transitions of time? Through Christ the old has passed away and all things are made new. The old systems of faith have passed away and a new era has emerged where there is no more bondage of sin. Through Christ we can change the world and through Christ and reflecting his lifestyle we can see his kingdom expand all around us.
So often we get trapped into thinking we stand on our own. We get trapped into thinking that we must be perfect that we must be pure in our own strength. The truth is all we have to do is eagerly wait on the Spirit of God that is our salvation that is our destiny. Christ is our hope, He is our salvation, but not just for us but for the whole world. He came to give us life, and life to the full. This does not remove our appointed meeting with our mortal end but it does change things, we can live today in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We can today live at peace with God and work toward peace with mankind if we eagerly wait on him. As we enter into this time of Open worship and holy expectancy I encourage us all to contemplate on this: consider the destiny of Christ, and where we are with him, consider what salvation is and what it is for, and eagerly wait and experience the joy of our relationship with the one that brought about a new era and era of God with us.
Hebrews 9:11–14 (NRSV)
11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!
This weekend is filled with many events. The royals are playing in New York in the World Series for the second year in a row. This is something that amazes me, I can only say that it is obviously an omen for the good things that are on the brink of happening. But major sporting events aside, this weekend is also a very religious time of year, today is All Saints day. For most of us here we do not quite understand what exactly All Saints day is but it is a day set aside to honor all the known and unknown saints that have made significant contributions to the church and to our lives. Tomorrow is another holy day called All Souls day, which is the Christian equivalent of Memorial Day, a day to remember those people that have passed beyond the vail of life into eternity and to praise God for the opportunity to have known them. Yesterday, a day where most children in the community are actually encouraged to take candy from strangers to supply their parents with the necessary sugar to embrace and survive the days leading up to Christmas, is also a very important day. We commonly know it as Halloween, or All Hallows eve, but it is also a significant day in the church because it is a day that marks the beginning of the reformation. It is not surprising that this weekend is so significant. It is a time that we remember what God has done through individuals, and it is also a time to remember the work that continues.
This time of year has often been a struggle for me personally. There is this constant reminder throughout history that although this is a holy time of year for the church, it also has a dark side. When I was younger this time of year was always associated with evil. So as a child wanting to be a good Christian I struggled with participating in the celebrations, but the idea of free candy was enough for me to go along and ask for forgiveness later. But more recently it has become even harder for me, because this is the anniversary of the death of my little sister. For many years Halloween has been my least favorite holiday.
This whole time of year reminded me of the doubts and questions that I have about faith. It reminds me of the fragileness of life and how thin that vail between life and death really is. I still struggle at times. I struggle with grief, with depression, with a view of hopelessness and that everything we do is pointless. Why do I tell you all this? I tell you because living a life with and for Christ is difficult. At times it seems it would be easier to just throw our hands in the air and give up. But then something began to change. I began to sense that there was something more working just beneath the surface. I had this yearning to seek, to find, and suddenly I began to see pinpoints of light begin to shine in the dark.
These feelings, I imagine, are the same type of feelings the first century followers of Christ might have felt. They had this long history of God working in their nation, and then seemingly everything fell apart. They fell from being the light of nations, to living in exile. They return from exile only to become prisoners in their own land. Every so often some light would shine but it seemed that the darkness would overcome. They gathered up in group that would make attempts at explaining why the world was crashing around them and what they could do to improve the situation, but all the while darkness continued to push in on them. So they would push back.
We look at the various religious groups mentioned in scripture and we often judge them. The Pharisees were just legalistic individuals that were blind to the reality of God’s kingdom, the Sadducees were just liberal individuals wanting to keep the institution going to line their own pockets, we could continue on with the list, but the point is they were people feeling the pressures of a rapidly changing era. We look at them, we look at them through the lenses of history but do we learn?
The writer of Hebrews was a man that was intimate with the inner working of the religious community. He knew the theology. He knew the rituals, and the implications and symbolisms that they possessed. This is why many scholars believe that this letter was not written by Paul but by someone of the priestly class. So when the writer of Hebrews speaks about the priests, it is not from the outside but the inside. The priests, the temple, this lifestyle of religiosity was in many ways the only light that people could see, their only hope. They were not a people that could pull out a cell phone and instantly find answers to their questions because Wikipedia had yet to be invented. I did not have the constant news updates that we have today. All they had was their community, and their tradition. We can look at the people of ancient days and say why didn’t you see the light, but they may not have known any better.
The writer of Hebrews, is speaking to the people that were not swayed by the newest things. He is speaking to the people that are grounded in their faith, and have full trust in the institutions that have provided them hope. Today we read in the ninth chapter of Hebrews. In the first ten verses the writer speaks about the place of worship, the significance of that space, and the rituals that happen there. He then says, “But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come.” This is odd wordage. When reading this we are not getting the full effect of what is being said. I do not envy the people that translate the scripture, because how do you translate the idea of emerging hope? That is what the writer is trying to explain. This idea of something different a new era in life with God. This is also why he uses the illustration of the Tent of Meeting used during the exodus instead of the image of the temple, because that symbolism is such that God is not dwelling in a building far away but is camped out right in the middle of the community. Before God was only accessible through the priest in a temple, but now God is with us.
This is the good things that have come, the era of God with us. Similar to the tent that traveled where the people traveled but far greater because there is no separation. The tent, the temple, the very idea of holiness is changing form into something far better and more perfect. God is all around us and in us.
Wait am I just reading into this passage something that is not there? Let us go back a step. The author says, “[Greater] and perfect tent.” I want to look at the word greater for a moment. This term in English we can see as simply better. I just used that term actually, but greater is far greater than what our language can convey. The idea being implied is of greater status, or might. It is a term that speaks of position. When John the Baptist spoke of Jesus he said that the one to come was greater than him, of which he, John, was not worthy to even untie the laces of his sandals. This is the greater that the writer of Hebrews is speaking. Everything that came before is not even worthy of performing the lowest of tasks before the majesty of the one to come. Let us then consider the greatness that John spoke about. John cried out in the wilderness calling all to repent and be baptized. Saying, “I baptize with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
This idea of baptism for repentance is much deeper than ritual cleansing. It was the idea that as you are immersed in the waters that the water would carry away all the impurities and that those that repent would be saturated with purity. The ritual of baptism is just a shadow of the greater things of which the writer of Hebrews speaks. The Greater things is God with and in us, we being saturated with the very spirit of God.
God with us that is what the author is telling us. The rituals carry great symbolism but they are empty without Christ, and with Christ they are insignificant. They may help direct us but they are not even worthy of the lowest status. Consider that for a moment, because that is where so many of us get trapped.
We get trapped looking at the shell instead of what is filling the shell. We get trapped fulfilling our interpretations of the law, or what is required to be holy and we miss the reality of what God really wants. We become like the Pharisees and Sadducees of old making vain attempts of trying to change the darkness by pushing back. We settle for the husk instead of the fruit. Jesus does not call us to institutes but he calls us to follow him. He calls us to walk with him, pray with him, and serve with him. He desires to be with us.
I mentioned that often this time of year can be one of the most depressing times for me personally, but that has begun to change. I say this because I do enjoy history so I get excited about considering the lives of the saints. I have looked into the circumstances that various people lived through that lead them to become what we consider great people of faith. I have looked into the lives of people like Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius. I look into their lives because they were strong people of faith that encouraged those that would listen to them to live their faith out in the community. I have studied about the life and ministry of our own traditions founder, George Fox, and I see something very similar. Each of these people that I consider saints show us something profound. They lived through trying times where everything seemed to be going the opposite direction, the world around them seemed to be moving away from God instead of toward Him. Each of these individuals suffered trials of various kinds, and each through the power of the Spirit were bearers of light in the darkness. These saints and many more like them faced the trials, reformed the church, and left a legacy whose ripples continue throughout history.
As I have walked this path of faith, seeking and attempting to find what is happening just beneath the surface I have also had to consider the events of my own life. I have spoken of many instances in my life that have been instrumental in my formation. Those events are not always pleasant. The death of my sister, Candice, sent my life in a spiral. Not many would have been able to see what was going on inside because I got very good at hiding behind the façade I constructed. For a while I rejected all things of God. He could not be real since terrible things happened to such an innocent girl. I realized looking back that as I ran and made choices each of those events, each step I took seemingly away from God was actually leading me back into His arms.
I look back on the lives of the saints, on the lives of the souls, at the reformers, and those that just lived lives of faith, and I see hope. Because there is a greater more perfect tent through which our High Priest is bringing about the good things to come. I look out at the events surrounding us and I see hope. Do I want to live through these trying times? Absolutely not. But this is where we are, this is the time and place that Christ is calling us to follow Him through. This is the era in which God formed and is forming us to serve. Will we rise to the race set before us?
The Pharisees and Sadducees lived in the turmoil of an emerging era and history often sees them as villains unable to see the light. The author of Hebrews challenges us to purify our consciences of dead works and worship the living God. Often I am like those religious leaders devout to the traditions of old, but missing the life that God wants me live. Often I can get caught up in the legalistic based righteousness, and try to push back on those that oppose my ideals. But God has shown this to the dead works of imperfection. God used the pain, He used the sin, and He used the trials to lead me to His grace. It was and is often a painful journey, but I want to be a Friend of God. I want to be a disciple that follows Jesus. He is calling us to a different, and far greater life. A life that is saturated with His very spirit. And that life is a lifestyle that revolves around prayer, worship, and service. It is becoming people that are loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others.
As we enter this time of Open worship, Holy Expectancy, and communion in silence I encourage us all to contemplate the lives of those that have gone before us. Look into those trials that they face and the trials that God has allowed us to face and ask the Spirit to fill the gaps between our understandings and to show us a way forward through the darkness and pain.
James 3:1–12 (NRSV)
Taming the Tongue
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
What do people say about you? A simple question that depending on your age, or current circumstance may be something encouraging or devastating. It is ridiculous really how much weight many of place in the words that people speak to and about us. It is ridiculous but we cannot help ourselves. People talk, people listen, we are concerned that maybe what people are hearing might be untrue or even worse the truth we do not want others to see. The spoken word.
How we speak to others and how we speak of others can reveal a great deal about the character of an individual, and even the community in which individuals participate in. Yet do we really consider what the words we speak to those around us are doing?
James the brother of Jesus speaks a great deal about the words that we speak for a reason. The words that people spoke got someone very close to him killed. Have you ever considered that our words could be taken to that level? That concept struck me over the course of this past week. I spent a great deal of time contemplating speech, words, how words can be perceived and how they could be twisted. The spoken word.
All week I have scrolled though news feeds, viewing picture after picture, editorial after editorial of people urging us to remember a day fourteen years ago. It is a day most of us will never forget, a day where the foundations of a mighty nation of people were shaken, a day where we were faced with a very grim reality. How often have we considered what was spoken around that event?
I do not want us to brush this to the side but I want us to consider it fully. That day happened because people spoke words carefully strung together to drive emotional response that may or may not have been true, they spoke these words in such a manner that those who heard the words would not question the validity of what was being said but would believe. People were blamed for the situations that others found themselves in, guilt was professed, a solution was proposed, and promises were made. This was done over the course of a lifetime, and slowly through the use of carefully manipulated words people within a community were moved to such a degree that they felt it was not only permissible but a righteous requirement to kill.
Now on the flip side of the equation, words were also spoken, words that assessed blame, guilt was announced, sentences were carried out and promises were made. Carefully formulated words that were spoken in a tone, manner, and location to move people in such a way that they would feel that it was not only permissible but a righteous requirement to kill.
How many of us have considered how much power the spoken word has over people. The spoken word can encourage an individual to strive for greatness, or it can feed primal instincts of survival. Yet so often words are spoken with little regard. This is why James says that not many of you should become teachers. Last week I said that James was probably the most controversial book of the New Testament and this is just another example of why this controversy is there. For most Christians in the protestant branches of the faith we have an understanding that every person that is a disciple of Christ is a priest of a minister. That every man, woman, and child has the ability and directive to spread the Gospel of Jesus. Especially among the Friends traditions, of which for most of its history did not have an office for a position in the church meeting of Pastor. Because we have a strongly held belief that we are all called to be ministers.
Not all of you should become teachers. I have to admit that this statement does not set well with me, because I firmly believe that if God wants something to be said or done He will empower that person or group of people to act. Because the words did not set well with me, because they challenged my understanding of what I thought to be true, I studied what was going on. I must study because I might have missed something important and it is my responsibility to seek out answers. Does James just come right out and say that not everyone should preach the Gospel? Did James say that there is an ordained office of teacher that we must submit too? The short answer is yes, yes he really did say that, but that is not the total answer.
All too often we fail to fully hear when words are spoken. We catch a part and if the words do not fit well with our preconceived ideas we stop listening and often if we were just able to listen to the second half of a sentence we would have found an explanation for the perceived discrepancy. James says not all of you should be teachers. The word we translate as teacher in the ancient world does not only mean Pastor, even though it is often used in that sense. The word used is probably more clearly understood as skilled master.
In college I took a couple of semester of Taekwondo to fulfill a physical education requirement. I learned a great deal in these classes, I moved up in stature among the community of students, but I am not a skilled master. I should not be a teacher of Taekwondo, because if I were to claim to be a teacher of Taekwondo someone might get hurt because there is much more I would need to learn. I can however assist the master in teaching those that have not yet made it to the same level I am at. If you have ever hired skilled laborers, there are various levels of expertise: apprentice, journeyman, and master. A master plumber, is more skilled than the apprentice because they have spent many hours perfecting their trade and skills. The Master plumber is the one that trains those beneath them and the one that we feel the most confident with. The other levels we probably would not even call. With this in mind not everyone should be considered a skilled master. Does this mean that an apprentice plumber cannot fix a leak in your pipes? Does it mean that a yellow belted Taekwondo student is incapable to defend themselves in a fight? No it simply means that there is more that can be learned from others. Not all of us are master teachers, but we can assist people along their journey to the place where we are.
Why are most of us not able to be teachers? Discipline, or more accurately disciplined speech. I have just illustrated that the spoken word can be used to manipulate people, to move them to do things that they were incapable to do before, this can be either positive or negative depending on the will of those speaking. James says that the tongue can be like a small fire that consumes a forest, or a deadly poison that can become a curse to those that hear. Discipline is key. Fire is not always a threat to the environment, in many ways fire is a necessity for the health of an ecosystem. This is why ranchers and scientists have continued to utilize this primitive tool when managing range lands of the prairies. Fire is also a powerful tool that can be used as a method of controlling unwanted weeds within croplands as well. But we all know fire, when not controlled, is dangerous. At this moment there is currently 1.6 million acres of land being burned by 33 uncontrolled fires in the American west, communities are threatened, families are being displaced, and lives have been lost.
Now let us consider poisons. What is a poison? A poison is a compound that can cause illness or death. These poisons can be naturally occurring or they can be compounds manipulated by man to produce some sort of desired effect. Many things could be poisonous if they are used improperly but under disciplined care many poisons can actually be lifesaving elements. Something as simple as Visine which can be used to lubricate dry eyes if used improperly can cause severer illness, and something like rat poison if used properly can manage cardiovascular disease. So fires can promote or destroy the environment, and chemical compounds can promote or destroy life, how are you using your words?
Not all of us should be teachers, or more accurately not all of us should be considered speech masters. This does not mean that we cannot encourage those around us to follow Christ. It simply means that we should be very aware that we need to have discipline when we speak. One of the most recognizable traditions of Friends worship is that we utilize times of silence to encourage communion with God. During these periods of Silence we not only hope but expect that the Spirit of God will speak and move us as individuals and as communities. This can be a powerfully spiritual experience, but it can also be a place where people can cause great spiritual harm. During those periods of silence no one really knows what might happen, we just wait in spiritual limbo. It can be awkward at times, it can be enriching, it can be rest for your souls, or it can be convicting, and during this time anyone can speak. There is an old proverb that states, “Do not speak unless you can improve the silence.” I do not know where this comes from, or who originally said it, but it is profound. Just because words are not being spoken does not mean there is a void of concern or activity. But the idea that words should improve the silence points to the fact that what we say should be out of discipline. Or as James says earlier in his letter to the church, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Silence allows the words to settle before they are reacted to, it allows one to consider fully what has been said so that when we respond it is not out of anger but out of the desire to improve. When we are able to listen before we speak and to discipline our speech to improve those around us we can control the burns, instead of causing wild fires. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better equip to administer healing balms instead of poison.
Just as a Taekwondo master spends a lifetime in practice, just as a musician spends years practicing an instrument, just as a doctor spends time in study, and plumbers fine-tuning their skills we must practice the discipline of speech. Jesus taught us this through his life and his ministry. Throughout the scripture we are told that He made it his custom to worship in the synagogues, that he would withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and that he would go out to the community to minister though teaching and healing. This I have often called the Holy Rhythm, but it is simply a life of discipline and devotion. It is no different than a doctor learning their trade, or any other skill humanity has mastered. This holy rhythm is a life devoted to the Kingdom of God. We have incorporated this in our mission as a church to be a people loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with other. This is a call to a different life, a different life style, a lifestyle that does not look at personal gain but community improvement. It is a lifestyle where we listen first and speak only if we can improve those around us, by pointing them to the source of true hope.
As we enter into this time of Holy Expectancy consider the way you have used your words this week. Have they been used to improve those around you, or have they caused harm to the environment? You may also want to ask God how to help you in this area and just sit in the silence until you can improve it with your voice.