Summary: Looking at some of the things we can create with our mouths.
Out of the mouth
When is a parable not a parable? That question always comes to my mind when I read today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel. We are told that Peter said to Jesus “Explain the parable to us”. But it does not matter how many times I read the passage, I cannot find a parable. Instead, I find Jesus talking about something that can at times be one of the most wonderful parts of a human body, and at other times, it can be the most destructive. It is of course the mouth, and when I read my Bible, I find more said about this part of the human body than any other part. Just listen to some of them:
“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Jesus spoke those words earlier in His ministry.
“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” That was what Paul wrote to the Romans, our mouths reveal our salvation.
Then we have the words of the Apostle James “Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”
What is it that makes a mouth so important, and so dangerous as to deserve so many instructions and warnings in scripture? For me, the answer can be found in the very first chapters of our Bibles. If you remember the story of the Creation, you may remember that the words “And God said” are used repeatedly in the creation account. “And God said “Let there be light”, And God said “Let there be an expanse, And God said “Let there be dry ground and so on.” From this we see that the words that come from God’s mouth are words of power, words that bring something out of nothing. And shortly after this we are told that God said "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” Each one of us is made in the image of the God whose mouth and words created the world. Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that our mouths and words can be so dangerous because they too can be instruments of creation for we are made in God’s image or likeness.
I probably could have chosen from many different Bible passages to give you examples of how our mouths work like this. But when I was preparing for this morning, I came across a daily reading in the book ‘Day by Day’ written by the Scottish preacher George Duncan that used our first reading from Nehemiah. I don’t know how well you know Nehemiah’s story, but he was a great man of God who lived in a time when Jerusalem; God’s Holy City; had no protection. Nehemiah was a man who knew how to use his mouth properly. He used it to pray to God several times in the first couple of chapters of his book. He used it to gain the support of a man who did not even believe in God, and that must have taken some doing. And in our reading today, we find Nehemiah and others using their mouths to speak words of creation to those around them. The first time we see this is in Nehemiah 4:10:
“Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, "The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall."