Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes… The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. – James 3:1-2, 5-6
Throughout all of September the lectionary has called for us to read from the book of James. Though James is famous for its emphasis on a lived and expressed religion (“works righteousness”?) in the debate with the “justification by faith” side, the passage above is the one that often comes to my mind when I turn to James.
Many of you shouldn’t become teachers! Those who teach will be judged more strictly! Watch what you say! Be careful how you guide people! Careless or misguided words can lead people down a path of great destruction! Those who teach bear a great responsibility!
I’ve preached almost 800 sermons in my life. According to James, people like me need to be a little worried. Certainly, we need to be careful with the messages that we put out there. The stakes are high because offering a false God to people, even unintentionally, deprives them of the greatest good they’ve ever been given.
So, I do try to be careful. I do my best to preach, “the truth in love,” because with God I believe the two always go together. The latest truth I’m reminded of comes from Carlyle Marney’s book, Priests to Each Other. The gist is this: Christianity is not something we possess. It is not something we own, as in a set of beliefs and right ways of understanding. Neither is it something we do, as in following rules, fulfilling obligations, and reaping rewards. Christianity – or being a Christian – is about whom we are and whom we are becoming. It is about receiving a love that is greater than any love we can otherwise possibly know. It is about growing in that love and learning to see ourselves and others in its light. It is about becoming more than just ourselves by becoming something more with God.
When this is our Christianity, says both Marney and James, the “faith” and the “works” come together. Our doing is rooted in our becoming. Our actions become lived expressions of the divine love that fills and shapes us.
This is the Christianity I am proposing. This is the faith I would like for us to pursue together. What do you think? Are all these words worth the risk?