Church of England Diocese of Exeter Witheridge with Creacombe and Romansleigh

An homily for the 15th Sunday after Trinity

12 Sep 2021, 9:45 a.m.

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

James 3.1–12 Mark 8.27–end

Do you remember your days at school? At one of my primary schools we had a teacher who was a great advocate of capital punishment, or do I mean corporal punishment. Either way he was a teacher who struck fear into every one of his pupils. His cane was always on display in a prominent position ready at hand to be grabbed and wielded at a moments notice. Just as terrifying was his ruler which he used frequently and with great precision on the hand. At the start of each new year group he would announce that it was his intention to cane every pupil at least once before they left the school.

He would have done well to have read the epistle from James, chapter 3, which is today’s reading. It gives a warning to all who feel that to be a teacher is their calling. In many ways to be a teacher is like walking on eggshells all of your teaching life. The teacher has to ensure that he only teaches the truth. In some of the subjects that are taught it can be very easy to distort the truth.

James, in his letter, is concerned with those who teach the faith. His concern is that it is so easy to be prejudiced and that this will distort the truth. They must be on their guard not to allow their own prejudices to interfere with their teaching. Do as I say, not as I do. James is urging the teachers to be especially careful, after all, they became teachers by their own choice.

To become a teacher is their own choice. Their instrument is speech and the tool at their disposal is the tongue. The tongue can be a major source of danger. The written word, whilst also capable of being as dangerous, has some options attached to it. They can be filed away or posted to a recipient, they can be published or they can be burnt.

The spoken word, once uttered cannot be un-uttered. It is of no use saying, “Oh! I didn’t mean that” or some such expression. It has been said and cannot be unheard. In a trial for a judge to say, “The jury will disregard that ….” places the jury, and everyone else, in a very difficult position. The words have been spoken, they have been heard.

In Marks Gospel, chapter 7, Mark writes that, “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” The words that you form and utter are what will defile you. That which you speak must be the truth.

In the early Church, after the apostles and prophets had encouraged new converts and then moved on to encourage others, their further learning was passed on to the teachers who remained in the community. Working within the congregation they would pass on the facts of the Christian Gospel and promote the Christian faith. It was the responsibility of the teacher not to put his own thoughts, beliefs and interpretations on what he taught the new converts. As we continue to read the Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles, we get brief peeks of those who tried to turn Christianity into a form of Judaism by the use of circumcision and the keeping of the Law. Again, as James puts it, to be a teacher is a dangerous profession.

In the early Church teachers were of high importance. Only the Apostles and Prophets ranked above them. They carried respect from the people. It was a respect earned by responsibility, not as in my school days, a respect earned through terrorism.

Collect for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit

upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:

grant that your people may be fervent

in the fellowship of the gospel

that, always abiding in you,

they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.