Many years ago when I was in sixth grade, my mom made a costume for me to wear in the school play. The play was The Pied Piper of Hamlet and I was given the part of the Town Miller – kind of a bit part, with only one line line . . . a line that to this day I cannot remember. But what I do remember about the day after the play was an incident that happened to me that has haunted me my whole life.
You see, being a twelve year old is like being between a child and an adult . . a child who has yet to fit in with the teens in his life but desperately wanting to. The costume that my mother made me was that of an alpine worker with a hat, a white shirt, shorts with colored suspenders and green knee socks. In the eyes of a twelve year old, this – at least at the time was – for me the ‘cat’s meow’ and I decided to wear the costume the next day, a Saturday, and to show all my friends how I looked in the play.
Now there was a girl, the older sister of my best friend, Jeffrey, who I particularly liked at the time but was much to shy to talk to. If you can think of Charlie Brown and his nemesis, the little red haired girl, then you’ll get the picture. This girl also had red hair and was probably about sixteen at the time and quite beautiful, especially in the mind of twelve year old boy – if you get my drift.
So it was with a bit of courage, I guess, that I decided to walk over to Jeffrey’s house to show him my costume, with the actual intent of running into Debbie, his sister to see what she thought. And much to my surprise she was there and told me exactly what she thought because she started laughing uncontrollably about my silly little get up and especially about “my little knobby knees” hanging out of my pants that were way to short.
Well, like anyone who has just been verbally skewered, I was pretty much mortified by this and ran home crying. I took off the costume and threw it into the waste can. Then I promised myself that I would never again wear shorts for as long as I lived . . . and I didn’t (except for an occasional swim in the pool) ever show my ‘little knobby knees’ ever again.
Now fast forward thirty years from that time and I was now a happily married adult with a wife and child, Becky, age 6 and I was accepted as an intern into the process of becoming a deacon. I was assigned to Trinity Church on Delaware Avenue and my sponsor there was a wonderful woman named Nan Clarkson. Nan was also in charge of the annual Christmas Pageant at Trinity and asked if I would take on one of the roles in the play – one that had no lines fortunately, because if was a pantomime sketch. But little did I know that their pageant would be an almost Hollywood production . .. with stage lights, costumes and scenery.
So when it came to hand out parts . . . as always it went to the leaders of the church to take on the primary parts of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and all. And it was left to the draw of straws for the other supporting parts. And the part I picked was for one of two Roman soldiers . . . and my costume was . . . you guessed it a Roman Soldier helmet, spear, sandals and a short orange pleated skirt . . . at which I froze . . . thinking back to those words that still haunted me from thirty years ago.
As I sat there looking at this costume and panicking as to what to do . . . should I decline? . . . should I quit the program? . . . should I go home and forget everything about becoming a deacon? . . . that a voice in my head told me straight out “This will be the hardest thing I will ever ask you to do . . . but you need to do it” And so I did. And when the spot light came on, I stood there holding my spear awaiting the Holy Family to enter Bethlehem . . . it was the first of many times I have had to overcome my fear in thirty-odd years in ministry.
And as my wife Barbara, can attest, I still to this day will never wear shorts . . . all because of some careless words spoken to a little kid of 12 over fifty years ago.
Today in the epistle, James warns us about the use of our tongue and how it can cause great calamity if it is not controlled . . . How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 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. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
And so it is that from the heart and by way of tongue “that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. As Jesus warned us a few weeks back . . . All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Growing up, my family drilled into me a proverb that you probably were taught as well . . . that being. . . “If you cannot find something nice to say, you are better off saying nothing at all” Too often today though, we see just the opposite happening, especially in social media where people are able to hide behind pseudo-names and spill out all kinds of evil against everyone and everything. And once out . . . there is no way to retract it or hide it and so people are publicly humiliated and skewered verbally which continues to escalate until tempers become so unmanageable that killings and murders are planned and executed . . . all because someone somewhere could not control their tongue.
As much as the internet has become the cradle of human knowledge, it has its flaws, and its biggest flaws are in the hearts of those who use it in the wrong way. God gave us each free will and that will extends from the very best of intentions to the very worse pit to where a human can sink. In the end of course he will give up on those who cannot control there lives or their tongues. This is written, no less in the proverb that we read this morning . . .
Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
It is a simple rule that all should know and follow . . . that those who turn to God and accept his commandments as a rule of life, will live in the gracious presence of the Lord forever. Those who cannot accept the commandments of God and would rather to live by their own rules are given the freedom to live without God and without hope forever.
This is such a frightening prospect that how do we know it to be true? It is written everywhere in the scripture for eyes to see if they have a mind to see . . . that we must strive to set our mind on Christ and the life he offers us and not on our lives in this world, for they will all come to end . . .
Today, Jesus asks his disciples . . . “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Amen