Friday, September 11, 2015

Teachers, Students, and Tongues

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

This Sunday’s lectionary (September 13, 2015) has scripture lessons from Isaiah and the letter of James. Both lessons speak about teachers.

The Life Together program claims that it is a learning community in which we are all teachers and we are all students. Isaiah tells us that we are given the tongues of teachers in order to sustain the weary and that God will help us. And yet, in order to be good teachers, Isaiah reminds us that we must first listen. We must be good students before we can become good teachers. We must open our ears to those who are suffering, sick, weary, oppressed, and imprisoned so that we might stand together in community and speak with the tongues of teachers.

As a listening student and a prophetic and pastoral teacher, as a new member to this particular learning community called Life Together, I especially loved certain parts of the intensive orientation. I liked listening to the public narratives of staff members and some of the fellows; they taught me alot! They spoke of painful experiences and moments of personal decision. They taught me how they became students of human Life and godly Love despite beard-pulling, spitting, and insults. They taught me how they chose not to turn their backs but rather how they set their faces like flint in order to become teachers in prophetic and pastoral ways.

I found the conversations on Mattering and Marginalizing, taught by Lori Lobenstine, helpful. We reflected upon times when we felt that we mattered to God, our family, our friends, our Church, and to our society. Similarly, we shared experiences when we felt marginalized, pushed out, excluded, isolated, judged, even condemned. The wounds of our pain mingled with the salt of our tears. We learned how we had even marginalized others. We felt the ocean of God’s love in those people who reminded us that we mattered. God reminded us that we all matter.

St. James reminds us that no one is perfect, that we all need bits for our mouths and bridles for our bodies, which contain both fresh and brackish water. The letter of James also reminds us that from our mouths come both blessing and cursing. Our tongues can become “restless evils, full of deadly poisons.” So too, our tongues can bless God, uphold others, and provide comfort.They can set communities and souls on fire with blazes both large and small, for good and for evil. With the Lord’s help, our tongues will guide our ships and boast of great exploits. Especially, when they are joined together, our tongues become prophetic voices, standing against people and systems that are oppressive, marginalizing, and unjust. At Life Together, we made some covenants about non violent communication because Life Together is a mattering community called to work with the marginalized.

The Rev. Alexia Salvatierra taught us about this “prophetic way.” People from Life Together, the Leadership Development Initiative, Episcopal City Mission, Episcopal Divinity School, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and the Mission Initiative came to listen because this is what the Church is made for: faith-rooted organizing through partnerships, collaborations, networking, and Life Together as learning communities who matter and are called to work with the marginalized.

Individually and together we reflected on some questions. How does the world break our hearts because of unjust and unnecessary suffering? How are our hearts broken because of tongues that have wagged maliciously or carelessly, and waged war on God’s people and God’s creation? What are the lies, told by human tongues, that fuel and feed these forest fires? “Never forgetting that a broken heart may be the greatest gift that God gives to you” how has God’s Holy Spirit been kindled and set blazes of righteous anger burning in your own heart?

Where are the springs of fresh water that can cool the flames of adversity, turn the salty waters of our tears into living springs of new life? How can we, united by Love, stand together in prophetic ways to give fish to those who are hungry, teach people how to fish for themselves, fish together as a community, and break down those firewalls that prevent God’s Spirit from burning brightly, justly, and mercifully to all of God’s Creation?

As good students, we are called to listen to the voices of the marginalized, within ourselves and within others. As good teachers, we are called to walk in the prophetic way, humbly with our God, lifting up the lowly by speaking words of comfort to the weary, and words of power both to the oppressors and the oppressed. As disciplined wagging tongues, we can be a blessing to all of God’s creatures and creation. For, by God’s grace, we are in this Life Together.

Isaiah 50:4-9a

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. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.


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. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.