James 1:17-27; Mark 7:21
As a Pastor I never know exactly what a person is going to say
about my sermon. Sometimes folks say things they mean to be a
compliment, but the way they express it often changes it. I
remember a time I was preaching about a subject of which I was
very passionate and my sermon went a little longer than usual. As
folks were leaving I asked an older member of the congregation how
he liked the sermon. He was very enthusiastic in his reply: "It
was refreshing…absolutely wonderful!" the man said. I was very
pleased with his response until he added, "I felt like a new man
when I woke up."
The title of my sermon today is "Just Waiting for a Chance to
Get Out." It's based in part of the Epistle lesson today from
James, and from one line of the Gospel lesson. In part the lesson
from James talks about the tongue and how it can reveal what's in
our heart. It speaks of how we can deceive ourselves, thinking
because we SAY something, that is how we actually feel, when our
actions reveal how we truly feel.
And in the Gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus says that what we do
outwardly comes from how we feel about something inwardly-our
intentions come from within, from the human heart.
Both James and Jesus focus on the negative thoughts that get
expressed because they want to show us how easily we can deceive
ourselves with what comes out of our mouths. James warns us that a
person who claims to be religious is not that at all if the person
cannot bridle their tongue, who just speaks without listening,
without thinking. And Jesus says that it isn't a matter of keeping
religious law that keeps one in a right relationship with God;
it's not a matter of what one piously says, but what is in one's
heart that matters. That is, we say one thing, but do another. We
say one thing but believe another.
A couple of sayings speak to these points: "Actions speak
louder than words" and "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but
words can never hurt me." Ah, this second one, if folks would
really believe that. Words can't hurt you unless you let them. But
for most of us, we DO let words hurt us. What someone says about
us DOES hurt us at times. Even though we aren't who they say we
are with their hurtful words; and even though we know they are
incorrect in their thinking and in their assumptions, we let what
others say about us, hurt us.
And we also say things that hurt others. Sometimes we actually
intend to have what we say hurt others, and other times, we don't
mean it, but nevertheless the person is hurt by what we've said.
Sometimes it's as though something is just sitting there within
us, just waiting for a chance to get out and we say something we
regret saying. Those hurtful words were sitting there waiting, but
it is the intention of our heart that releases those thoughts into
Now, at the same time, there are WONDERFUL words just sitting
there waiting for a chance to get out. God has implanted wonderful
things within our hearts. Often they have to fight their way past
the junk we have sitting waiting to be spoken or acted upon. In
Deuteronomy we are told that God has written his Word upon our
It's a constant battle that goes on within us-to speak words
that build up or words that tear down. The thoughts we harbor in
our hearts become the intentions of our words and actions. So if
you harbor negativity and grudges and fears in your heart, then
your good thoughts, your good intentions, the beautiful promises
that Jesus has planted in your heart in order to save your soul,
get pushed aside by your negative attitude and outlook. So, what
comes out of your mouth is not beneficial, and your good actions
get suppressed or turned into something negative.
Scripture tells us we need to be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to anger. But just the opposite happens over and over. We
get angry; we speak too soon; we don't listen. Parents so often
say that to their children, "You never listen!" but the irony is
that parents don't listen either. Parents often do not listen to
what their children are trying to tell them.
And often people don't listen to what Jesus is trying to tell
them. They listen to the world and not the Word of God. So often
they confuse what the world is saying with what God is intending.
Suddenly they make what the world is saying into what GOD is
saying. Suddenly human tradition becomes the Word of God.
We have to really focus on the good that is within each one of
us just waiting for a chance to get out. When we focus on all the
negativity in life, especially as we hear or read in the news, we
suppress all the good intentions that God has planted within us.
I love the bumper sticker phrase that reads, "Practice Random
Acts of Kindness." Acts of kindness, words of encouragement and
praise, they're all just waiting for a chance to get out. When my
mother would get angry she'd say, "You're full of what makes the
grass grow green." Of course she meant a certain word which she
wasn't saying, but by the same token she was also speaking the
truth. That is, we ARE, each of us, full of what makes the grass
grown green. What makes the 'grass grow green' are things that
nourish it. We are full of nourishing words to speak to others. We
are full of the SON who nourishes our spirits.
For every unkind word or action on our part, there are hundreds
and hundreds of positive, uplifting words and actions within us
just waiting for a chance to get out. Each one of us is equipped
by God-created by the Father, taught, save, freed by the Son, and
strengthened by the Holy Spirit-to be a positive force in this
It just takes a bit of work on our part not to be overtaken by
the world and the devil working within it. It means we have to
listen before we speak. It means think twice before we speak. It
means consider carefully before we act. It takes a bit of work on
our part to block out what the devil is trying to brainwash us
with in his having us look at the world negatively and have us
approach life with a negative attitude. The devil wants us to
speak those negative things just sitting waiting for a chance to
get out. He wants us to forget about acts of kindness. He wants us
to adopt negative attitudes he has implanted in the world that
tempt us to be greedy instead of sharing; that tempt us to be
stingy and withholding rather than generous; that tempt us to tear
down others rather than build them up; that tempt us to complain
about His church rather than work positively for it.
Focus on the good intentions planted in your heart by God.
Focus on the good thoughts and words that Jesus nourishes us with
through his teachings and saving grace. Focus on the strength and
guidance given to you by the Holy Spirit. It's all there-we just
need to focus on that, rather than focus on the negativity that is
there. There is so much good just waiting for a chance to get out.
Start now, before the worship service is ended to focus on that
good, especially every time a negative thought pops into your
mind. And don't only THINK positive; practice it in your actions.
Say positive, uplifting, encouraging things, and do positive,
uplifting, encouraging things. Don't let the devil have his way
with you. Don't give the devil an opportunity to suppress all that
good within you that is just waiting for a chance to get out. The
devil can only stop you if you think he can. Listen: God is