“Ears Opened, Tongue Loosed: Now What?” (James 3:1-12; Isaiah 50:4-10)

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 16, 2018

“Ears Opened, Tongue Loosed: Now What?” (James 3:1-12; Isaiah 50:4-10)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus heals a boy who was deaf and mute. In last week’s Gospel, Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute. The man’s ears were opened and his tongue was loosed. And the crowd said about Jesus, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Now not one of us here is either deaf or mute. Some of us may be a little hard of hearing, but at least we can hear. And none of us is mute. We all can speak. Our ears and our tongue are working. But the question is: What are we doing with them? What are we using our ears and our tongue for? How are we using them?

And besides having functional ears and tongues physically, we also have had our ears and our tongue opened spiritually. In our baptism, God has given us ears to hear his word and tongues to praise his name. How are we using these ears and this tongue? To God’s glory? For our neighbor’s good? Or for different purposes? And so our theme this morning: “Ears Opened, Tongue Loosed: Now What?”

Yes, indeed, now what? What are we doing with this tongue and these ears? Let’s look first at the Epistle for today, from James 3. There we read: “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.”

This is talking about how we use our tongue. St. James compares the tongue to a horse. We put a bit into the mouth of a horse in order to guide the whole horse, this way or that. But how well are we doing at bridling our tongue? If we don’t get control of our tongue, the whole course of our life can get fouled up. We say things we shouldn’t say, and the result can be bad for ourselves and for other people.

We steer a horse with a bit. We steer a ship with a rudder. Both small things, compared to the size of what they steer. So James continues: “Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.”

The little tongue–so small a member of our body, yet what great effect it can have, whether for good or for ill. And a lot of it is for ill! What great damage the little tongue can do!

Here James uses another metaphor for the tongue. He compares it to a fire: “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” A little fire can set a whole forest ablaze! That’s what happened recently in California, wasn’t it? Think of all the hundreds of square miles where those fires raged! Think of all the many homes completely destroyed! And all starting from just a small fire. That’s the kind of devastating damage our tongues can do.

James continues: “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” An untamed beast, a deadly poison. How hard it is to control our tongues! How easy it is to let the poison loose!

But this should not be, dear friends. We are Christians. We are baptized. We have been given a new nature in Christ. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Is this how we are supposed to use our tongues? James says of the tongue: “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

“My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” But do you recognize these things in yourself? Can you see how you have used your tongue the wrong way? Have you spoken ill of your brother or sister in Christ? Look around this room. Take a look at all the faces and the people here, your brothers and sisters in this family called the church. How have you spoken about them? Have you passed on gossip? Have you damaged that person’s reputation? Have you let your ears believe the gossip that others have said, and then have you used your tongue to pass it on? This is sin, dear friends.

Think of what you learned in the Eighth Commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” Do we do this? Do we put the best construction on our neighbor’s actions or do we assume the worst? Are we eager to spread the dirt, even if it’s true? Or do we put a bit in our mouth and bridle our tongue? Are we more likely to speak well of our brother or sister in Christ or to speak critically? Let each of us examine his or her own heart.

And what about our congregation? Do we speak well of our church to one another and to the people we meet? Are we grateful for the gifts of Word and Sacrament we receive here every week? Or are we eager to nitpick and find fault? Again, how are we using our tongues? For that will reveal what is in our hearts. The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Dear friends, I know I have not used my tongue as I should. And I think if you’re honest with yourself, you will see how you have sinned also. We need to repent. We need to confess our sins of the tongue to God and beg for his forgiveness.

And the good news is, God has that forgiveness for you! Yes, for you! And it comes through, and for the sake of, his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus won that forgiveness for you by his sacrificial death on the cross. He died in your place, taking the punishment for all your sins, including your sins of the tongue.

Jesus lived the righteous life, always doing the right thing. He used his tongue and his ears the way they’re supposed to be used. Jesus is the righteous Servant of the Lord we hear speaking in Isaiah: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.”

Now that is someone using his ear and his tongue the right way! Jesus always had his ear attuned to the will of the Father. He heard it, and he did it! Jesus used his tongue to bring comfort to those who need it. Jesus’ words are Spirit and they are life! Jesus has the words of eternal life! And he speaks them to you today. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “Son, daughter, your sins are forgiven you!” “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance!” Jesus is using his tongue today to strengthen and sustain you.

Now you are forgiven. Now you are restored. Now your ears have been opened and your tongue loosed. Now what? Now the Lord God would awaken your ear to hear as those who are taught. How are you using your ears? You are here today listening to the Word being preached. That’s great! May the Lord help you to keep that up. To keep coming here to God’s house regularly, every week, to hear the sweet sound of the gospel.

And have you thought about how your ears could hear even more? To hear as those who are taught? That can happen as you come to Bible class also. There’s no reason you can’t do that too. God’s Word has so much to teach us! We never stop learning and growing. So consider using your ears to hear God’s Word in our Bible classes also.

And as you are taught, then your tongue will speak what your ears have heard. You will have a word to sustain and uplift your brother or sister who needs it. You will have a word to invite your unchurched neighbor to join you here at this oasis of life in the midst of the desert that is this world. There are people you know who could use this word. And you, dear Christian, you have the ears to hear the gospel word and the tongue to pass it along.

And finally, we use our tongues to praise our good and gracious God. We sing the hymns that express our joy in the Lord. We use our tongues to confess the Christian faith, the faith into which we are baptized. This is the right use of our tongues. In so doing, we give all glory to God and we build up our brothers and sisters in the faith.

Ears opened, tongue loosed. Now what? Now we are just beginning an eternity of hearing the songs of Zion and singing the praises of our God! “Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace!”

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Published in: on September 15, 2018 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  
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