Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Lectionary Reflection September 13, 2015
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens– wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. Isaiah 50:4
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1
In our part of the world, congregations often celebrate this coming Sunday as “Rally Day.” It’s that first Sunday after Labor Day, when school is back in session and when a new year of faith formation programs is celebrated. Chances are you’ve already blessed backpacks, students, and teachers. Perhaps you’ve even assembled and blessed school kits for local non-profits or global relief agencies. But today our scripture lessons fill our ears with words about teachers, about powerful tongues, and about tough teachings. In short, it seems as if the Lectionary is ripe with a diagnosis for “teacher’s tongue.”
Fortunately this is not some distant cousin of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Instead it’s a lesson in how to use a particular gift (in this case the tongue) for good rather than for ill. There are some wonderful words of caution and wisdom in this week’s lessons for those of us called to vocational church work, to ministries of teaching and faith formation, and to secular careers in the classroom or other aspects of education. A lot of responsibility comes with being given the “tongue of a teacher.” In fact, one might assert that to be called to teach is a lofty challenge, responsibility, and privilege. “Teachers tongue” might even be described as outright terrifying, albeit not terminal.
On one hand, the person called to teach is, according to Isaiah, equipped with the wisdom to “sustain the weary with a word.” Yet this wisdom comes at significant cost. James writes of the terrible power of the tongue and of the judgment to which those called to teach will be subjected. Finally, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus attempts to teach his disciples about the events that are to come–and he gets nowhere with them. Surely that’s a situation to which most teachers can relate at some point in their careers! So on this day, do take these lessons to heart if you are called to preach and teach in the church. Do reflect on how they apply to you personally. Take inventory of your tongue’s behavior. Be aware on how much time you use that tiny but powerful muscle to call on the name of the Lord to guide you and sustain you in your ministry. But don’t stop there.
All of us are called to be teachers of the gospel, to share the good news in action and in word. Resist the temptation to focus only on the power of the tongue to wreak havoc and speak woeful words. Instead, and in stark contrast to much of the rhetoric we hear flying across the airwaves or tapped out in tweets or Facebook posts, consider how in Christ we are given the power to harness our words for good. We have a powerful tool and a mighty muscle for lifting up the weary, for speaking on behalf of the marginalized, and for telling others what God has done.
No, we sure can’t tame that odd muscle and the thoughts that move and motivate it, but we can call upon God to sustain, strengthen, and equip us to use our tongue for good. God has given us voices to be used in service of the good news of Jesus. It’s up to us to exercise our tongue for far more than letting it idly flap between our gums. How will you use this gift of God, this mighty little muscle, for the building up of the Body of Christ? There’s a weary world out there waiting to hear from you.
Photos: Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dennis Hill, and Mark Gascogoine, Creative Commons. Thanks!