Fourth Sunday of Advent
Third Sunday of Advent
Second Sunday of Advent
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).”
A “slip of the tongue” by an air traffic controller at the Paris airport saw two planes come within 300 feet of crashing into each other in July, 2020. A United Airlines flight from Newark, NJ was making its approach to land at the same time that an EasyJet was preparing to take off for Spain. The Newark flight was supposed to be assigned to land on runway 09L, as the plane headed to Spain was cleared to take off from runway 09R. Due to an unfortunate slip of the tongue, however, the controller gave clearance for Newark to land on 09R, instead of 09L. Furthermore, the controller didn’t have direct line-of-sight access to runway 09R because of an equipment malfunction. Eventually, the pilot on the flight to Spain asked why the Newark plane was given clearance to land on their runway, and warned of the imminent collision. The Newark plane was instructed to abort the landing and ascend, but by the time it engaged the evasive maneuver, the two planes were only 300 feet apart. The traffic controller was blessed that his slip of the tongue did not cause a devastating crash. Most of the time when we slip at the tongue damage occurs to others, whether it’s with family, friends, coworkers or people at church.
When we are careless with our tongue, this Proverb teaches us, “perverseness breaks the spirit.” Perverseness words include slander, gossiping, sharing hearsay, downgrading, or just being out-right rude. Deliberately deviating from what is good and spitting out evil words can crush another’s spirit. For a perverse tongue can be so vicious, it damages another’s innermost being.
The New York Times reported on an interesting study in an article titled, “What Happens When Parents are Rude in the Hospital.” A researcher at Tel Aviv University investigated simulated crisis scenarios in a neonatal ICU. Actors, posing as parents of patients, gave a variety of feedback to the medical staff. For example, one rude actor in the study played a “mother” who complained loudly enough for the medical staff to hear: “I knew we should have gone to a better hospital where they don’t practice Third World medicine.” The research shows that even “such mild unpleasantness” was enough to negatively impact the performance of the doctors and nurses. In fact, their ability to perform in these crisis situations was negatively impactful for the rest of the day.
Our tongue can wreak havoc on a person’s emotional and spiritual well-being. Our words can forever damage people. There is that old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is a lie. Spewing defamatory words can hurt people. Hurtful words stick with us and can tamper with our self esteem and relationships.
Many of us may remember hurtful words someone has said to us. These shrewd statements have stuck to us like glue. However, we have done the same to others. We have caused damage with our words. Every time we put down others, name call, or gossip, we are breaking the spirits of that other person.
Such a life falls short to who we are called to be. This is why the Proverb states, “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” The same Hebrew word used here for “gentle” also means “wholesome.” Gentle means health, bringing healing. Demonstrating moral, up-lifting speech restores damaged relationships. Words bringing healing are words of thankfulness and words of encouragement. Words bringing hope and love to others rather than tearing them down.
A good example of this happened with my beloved Minnesota Vikings. During the 2015-2016 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings placekicker, Blair Walsh, led an NFL-high of 34 field goals. Before the Vikings’ playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, he had converted 33 of 34 kicks inside 30 yards in his career. So, when the Vikings were down 10-9 with 22 seconds left and Walsh lined up for a 27-yard field goal attempt, it looked like the Vikings would win. However, Walsh’s kick sailed wide and the Viking’s season came to a crashing halt.
In the midst of the social media storm directed against Walsh, a group of first graders in Minnesota set out to encourage the broken-hearted kicker. First grader, Allie Edwards, said, “Blair was really sad, and we wanted to make him feel better.” One of her classmates wrote, “Dear Blair Walsh, I think you shood keep trying. Don’t give up! We still love you!” Tyler Doffin filled a whole written page for Walsh: “Dear Blair: I fell bad for you. Don’t give up. You’re still #1. Practis more so that you can get better at cicing. You’re so good at cicing. So don’t give up! Keep trying! We still love you.” The kids’ act of kindness got his attention.
Walsh was so touched to hear from children who didn’t know him, he pushed his flight home back a day to visit the classroom. After the visit he said, “It was very touching to me. … A lot of [the cards] were very pretty and creative. … I will cherish them forever.”
Many of us can remember encouraging words from a friend or a family member who got us through some tough times. We cherish those words. Words of love and hope gave us comfort to make it through and overcome our trial. We too can be those encouraging people.
Proverbs tells us a gentle tongue delivers healing and encouragement….a tree of life. This may seem odd, or make no sense. The tree of life takes us back to the garden of Eden, back to creation…the beginning. The proverb is showing us this is who we are created to be. People with a gentle tongue, people of encouragement. We are to demonstrate life-giving words not degrading ones.
Barnabas is a good example of an individual who spoke out in gentle persuasion. Barnabas was not even his real name. His given name was Joseph from Cyprus. The Apostles called him Barnabas. In Greek the name means, “Son of Encouragement.” Barnabas was an encouragement for the church. He encouraged the new believers in Antioch. He retrieved Paul from Tarsus and brought him along to assist with ministry in Antioch. Furthermore, Barnabas took on Mark as mentor when Paul refused to continue working with him. Barnabas was a bridge-builder who brought people together. He “had your back” in tough times.
We may not have the nickname, “Son of Encouragement,” but this is who we are created to be. Encouraging words brings life to others. Words of hope and love can bring life to our friends, family, coworkers, church and community. Our words are a powerful tool of influence. They have the power to encourage or discourage others. They have the power to hurt or to heal. Every time we lift people up, praise others, thank others, we are showing who we are called to be. Thanks be to God, amen!
All Saints Day
2 Kings 23:1-3
2 Kings 19:14-19
2 Kings 18:1-8
2 Kings 10:28-31
2 Kings 9:1-8a [8b-37]
1 Kings 18:20-39
1 Kings 13:11-24 [1-10]
1 Kings 13 presents a bizarre story about a man of God. His name alone, “man of God” makes us realize he has big shoes to fill. When we hear the words, “man of God,” thoughts like righteousness and holiness may come to mind. Someone who is indicated as a man of God might be expected to conduct himself in the ways of God. This particular man of God in scripture started out how we would think a representation of God would look. At the beginning of chapter 13, we read he starts out on the right foot by voicing God’s displeasure with Jeroboam and even heals him by restoring the king’s arm. At this point, this man of God is being obedient to God’s requests. Then further along in scripture everything begins to go south just like in the garden when God told Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit. The man of God was to leave Bethel a different route and not eat or drink. However, he becomes compromised. He conceded and fell to the words of a false prophet. His disobedience led him to be killed by a lion. This is such a sad story and a horrible ending to this man of God.
We don’t even know this man of God’s name, maybe we should call him, “John Doe.” As I examine this man more closely, I could call him “Joshua” or maybe you could insert your name. The more I look at this man who compromised God, the more I see myself. Do you see yourself?
We are men and women of God. Through Christ, we have been adopted as children of God.
As God’s children, we are to imitate and take on the likeness of Christ. Being an image-bearer, Christians are called to live out the love of God and love of others. As Christ followers, God expects us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and be people of forgiveness.
At times, we are successful at living out the gospel of Christ in our lives. Then, there are times we do the opposite not seeking to love our enemies. We seek revenge, are unforgiving and unloving to people. Lacking compassion, empathy, and love for others, we compromise our faith. When we compromise our faith, we have allowed pride, self-righteousness, and hatred to rule our lives.
Let’s compare our spiritual walk to a basketball goal. It’s our goal as a player to shoot at the 10 foot goal as to be the best player we can be. However, when the 10 foot goal becomes too challenging, we lower the goal to 6 feet creating less effort for ourselves. Here, we have compromised ourselves to being what we planned on achieving. In our spiritual walk, God’s standard is comparable to the 10 foot goal. However , when we compromise our faith, we have lowered our standards (the 6 foot goal) and we are cheating the life God has called us to live by thinking such a life is ok.
It’s not ok for us as people of God to compromise the Gospel, to love God and love others. Hating anyone based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or religion is not ok. If we think hating certain people groups is acceptable, our Christian faith is being compromised. Hatred is a learned behavior. Either we learned this through our own experience or we have learned it from our society, such as family, friends, teachers, political leaders, or other Christians.
Prime examples of hate can be observed in Germany a century ago. The Nazi regime used anti Semitic propaganda to convince Christians to endorse the genocide of Jewish people. Hitler used Bible passages to justify his actions blaming the Jews for killing Jesus. Hitler said, “Thus I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the mighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jews, I am fighting for the work of the Lord (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampala).”
There is one instance when Hitler escaped a bomb explosion. After surviving the attack, Hilter was now even more convinced God was protecting him and his mission to kill Jews. His mission was to “rid the world of evil.” Christians began to believe Hitler was right. They supported the Nazi flags being draped inside churches. Christians in Germany compromised their faith by supporting a man and his mission to hate a particular group of people.
Christians throughout the centuries and even today have compromised the true message of God when they have supported such heinous acts of slavery, xenophobia, racism, ethnic cleansing, misogyny, and many other evils.
There is a growing divide in our country. This division can be seen by the growing number of hate groups popping up in our state. Research shows there are over 34 hate groups spreading their messages of hate. Some of these hate groups proclaim they are Christian. These Christians are promoting hate and have compromised the Christian faith.
The false prophet in 1 Kings who proclaimed he was under the banner of God speaking for God, fooled the man of God. Christians can be fooled. We need to be discerners of God’s truth and not be fooled. Ask yourself, are my actions loving? Would Jesus partake in this action?
When hate rules a life, one is far from God. If we have hate individuals or particular groups of people, we are furthering the divide between us and God. Whatever kind of hate that is growing and living in us, we have compromised our faith. We are showing disobedience to God.
The man of God in our text found a physical death by a lion because of his disobedience. Our compromised faith leads to a death within our spirit. Christ is not living in us. Christ can’t live in a heart with hate.
Unlike the man of God, we are not dead yet. We have the chance to change and follow the ways of Christ. We can erase hate and seek love, tolerance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In other words, be the true Christian we are created to be.Each day we are on this planet is an opportunity to grow in our love for people and show our obedience to God. Loving people can be hard. Love can be a process. Loving individuals or groups of people can take time, but with the Holy Spirit within us, love is possible and in the end, powerful!
A story about a Bible College professor, Yohanna Katanacho, demonstrates how it is possible to show love when it seems impossible. Not only is Yohanna a professor, he pastors a small church in the Israeli city of Jerusalem. As a Palestinian living in Israel, and a Christian, he faces a wide variety of persecution.
One of the more dangerous forms of harassment comes from the Israeli soldiers who patrol the city, looking for potential terrorists.
These soldiers routinely impose spontaneous curfews on Palestinians, and even have the legal right to shoot at a Palestinian if he or she does not respond quickly enough to their summons.
Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount to “love your enemies” seemed impossible to Yohanna. He said, “For me, love was an active and counter-cultural decision, because I was living in a culture that promoted hatred of the other…And not only did the context promote hate, but the circumstances fed it on a daily basis—the newspapers, television, media, neighbors, everything. One of the markers of the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs is alienating the other. To break that marker, I must have some other worldview.”
At first, Yohanna tried and failed in his attempts to feel love. Instead, the Israeli soldiers’ random, daily checks for Palestinian identification cards—sometimes stopping them for hours—fed Yohanna’s fear and anger. As he confessed his inability to God, Yohanna realized something significant.
The radical love of Christ is not an emotion, but a decision. He decided to show love, however reluctantly, by sharing the gospel message with the soldiers on the street. With new resolution, Yohanna began to carry copies of a flyer with him, written in Hebrew and English, with a quotation from Isaiah 53 and the words “Real Love” printed across the top. Every time a soldier stopped him, he handed him both his ID card and the flyer. Because the quote came from the Hebrew Scriptures, the soldier usually asked him about it before letting him go. After several months of this, Yohanna suddenly noticed his feelings toward the soldiers had changed. “I was surprised, you know?” he says. “It was a process, but I didn’t pay attention to that process. My older feelings were not there anymore. I would pass in the same street, see the same soldiers as before, but now find myself praying, ‘Lord, let them stop me, so that I can share with them the love of Christ.'” Yohanna’s decision to show love even before he felt it is a powerful story of changing from hate to a life of love.
This same love is in all of us, it just needs to be accessed. We can decide to love even before we feel it because of the power of God within us. The Bible says, “…for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).” What is in each of us is Jesus’ very own Spirit. There is old saying, “you are a spittin’ image.” It’s shorthand for spirit and image. The saying means more than just that you look like that person. It goes beyond just appearance to include character and temperament. It means that you remind people of that person, you do the same things they did.
As Christians we are called to be the spitting image of Jesus in this world. Our lives should be a reflection of Jesus’ love. Our lives can reflect love with the power within us! The less and less we compromise our faith, the more we show what we are meant to be – not people of hate but rather men and women of God! Thanks be to God, amen!