We are a small church which means we have to have all hands on deck for everything we do. This is obvious – right. If we have a fundraiser – everyone needs to show up. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hot dog sale, a chicken pie sale or a yard sale. We all have to be on board. If we are having a BBQ chicken sale we all have to get out there to sell tickets. These are do-ing things; but what about the things we say? Anyone who has joined the Methodist Church since 2012 has promised to support the life and ministries of the church through, “their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness.” When we promise to support the church through our witness it means we will support our church by the way we live our lives and by what comes out of our mouths.
Proverbs 13:3 says
“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life;
He who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”
Let’s think about this. In general churches are terrible about this. We run our mouths about everything and everyone who has rubbed us the wrong way. And the result is new people do not want to come and join the good things we have going on. I heard about a church one time who couldn’t pay people to come to their small groups. It was found out later the reason no one wanted to come was the people in those small groups spent their time either, bickering and complaining or minimizing their own responsibility for the negativity they were producing. The result was the people in the church felt like they either had to choose sides or avoid these people all together. The church shrunk. New people ran away from the negativity. Many of the existing members started looking for new churches to attend. Is rampant gossip and negativity the kind of witness we are called to offer? What kind of witness to the glory of God is a Negative Nellie? What does living and breathing negativity do to us?
Jesus discovered the price of negativity first hand. Throughout the Gospels the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees had complained about Jesus. Now Jesus has been arrested and drug before the Jewish Sanhedrin in the middle of the night. There Jesus is, standing before a court filled with scribes and elders, and chaired by the high priest Caiaphas. Jesus has been charged with threatening to destroy the temple, and to rebuild it in three days. Witness after witness is brought in to try and corroborate the story. However, no two witnesses tell the story the same way. According to Jewish Law to deliver a punishment the testimony of two witnesses must agree exactly (Deut 19:15). On that night they couldn’t agree on anything. Caiaphas tries to bait Jesus to testify against Himself, making Jesus the second witness to confirm the story.
Caiaphas tries to test Jesus, “Have you no answer to make?” but Jesus remains silent. By doing so Jesus has kept Himself alive and safe from a verdict of condemnation. Jesus has guarded His life. Then the High Priest does something rash. In his contempt for this wandering rabbi named Jesus, Caiaphas calls upon the authority of God. “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (v 63). It is hard to say why Jesus responds to Caiaphas’ question. Did Caiaphas actually make the Son of God answer by calling on Jesus’ Daddy, the Lord God of Almighty? Did Jesus answer because Caiaphas finally asked a question that really mattered? After all, the temple is no where near as important God. Scripture does not tell us why Jesus responded. Scripture only tells us how Jesus responded.
“Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” The Sanhedrin’s response is swift. Caiaphas tears his robes, and immediately accuses Jesus of blasphemy. A human being claiming to be the Son of Man is blasphemy – unless, of course, Jesus is the Son of Man; both fully God and fully human; God’s annointed. The problem was this was not the charge levied against Jesus. Jesus was arrested for threatening to destroy the temple. Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin convicted Jesus of blasphemy; two very different charges. However, the negativity and hatred of the scribes, elders and Caiaphas toward Jesus was so great they broke their own law; the Law God handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Sanhedrin broke the Law of Moses to convict Jesus and condemn Him to death. And you know what? If Jesus had only kept His mouth shut, Jesus would have probably walked away from the situation the way Jesus had before (Luke 4:29-30). Instead Jesus was slapped, spat upon, struck, mocked, and sent off to Pontius Pilate to be crucified. If only Jesus had kept His mouth shut. <Pause> If only Jesus had kept his mouth shut then we wouldn’t have been saved…
Here lately my kids have been watching that old Disney movie Robin Hood. I’m sure y’all remember the one with the animals. As I was preparing this morning’s message the scene where Friar Tuck gets arrested came to mind. Picture it. It’s a rainy day. Pretty much everybody is in jail because they cannot pay their taxes. Now the Honorable Sheriff of Nottingham has come into the church and taken the last coin in the poor box as a tax for Prince John. When the Sheriff defends himself by saying he is, “just doin my duty,”
Friar Tuck’s angry response comes quick, “Collecting taxes for that arrogant, greedy, ruthless, no good, Prince John!”
The Sheriff replies, “Listen Friar. You’re mighty preachy, and you’re gonna preach your neck right into a hangman’s noose!” Isn’t that just what Jesus did? As I consider the consequences of opening my mouth too wide a question comes to mind. What am I opening my mouth about? Am I willing to die for it? Perhaps the warning from Proverbs is not simply about protecting our lives. Perhaps the warning from Proverbs is about making a conscious choice about what we’re willing to die for. How many times have we been cutting up or joking around with friends and found our mouths running away with us? (raise my hand) I know I have. I think Proverbs 13:3 points us to think about what we say; when we say it; and how we say it. How does what we say protect our witness? How does what we say give glory and honor to God? Are we willing to pay the price for our witness?
In the cartoon Friar Tuck was arrested and carted off to jail. Friar Tuck was sentenced to be hung for treason to the crown. Jesus was sentenced to be killed for committing blasphemy. Jesus was then tried, beaten, mocked, scourged and crucified by the Romans because Jesus did not keep His mouth shut. On the surface this looks like failure. Jesus died. Jesus was defeated. But before Jesus died Jesus gave us this message. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Now in the short terms opening our mouths wide to stand up for what’s right often does not feel very good. Most of us do not like conflict and we do not want to add to the negativity. For sure, we all carry a certain amount of fear about what will happen to us if we speak the truth too loudly. However, there is something to be said for standing up for our church. There is something to be said for speaking out against rampant negativity and injustice. There is something to be said for not being afraid to share the good news of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone. The question for us is how will we best protect our witness? Will we guard our lives and our reputations by keeping our mouths shut? Will we keep the good news of Jesus Christ to ourselves? Or will we fling wide the gates of our lips to share the Gospel with all who have ears to hear? Are we willing to risk our lives and reputations? Are we willing to let those things die? It seems to me if our reputations can be killed by sharing the Gospel then our reputations wheren’t all that great to begin with. Have a hope church, the death of our fears about sharing the Good News with others bears the fruit of hope, joy and peace to those in desperate need. Sharing the Gospel brings hope into our community and new life into our church. It’s time to prayerfully consider what comes out of our mouths, and to stand with Christ to speak the truth of life.
In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.