Cutting to the Chase

A sermon, based on James 3.1-12 and Mark 8.27-38, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 16, 2018

From the earliest days of cinema, the dénouement of many movies involved a chase scene; the protagonists resolving the narrative dramatic tension in a frantic madcap pursuit. It was considered unwise to lengthen the arc of the story’s development with unnecessary dialogue that ran the risk of boring the audience. Thus, the metaphor “cut to the chase.” Though a preacher, many of my friends being words with whom I enjoy spending time, often the more the merrier, that, cutting to the chase, getting to the point is what I intend to do this morning.

Through nearly thirty years of the world wide web, we, with a mere mouse click, can Ask, Bing, Google, and Yahoo a wealth of information, stories and histories, facts and factoids, news and fake news, about people, places, and things, and store them for our retrieval at our leisure at any time in a cloud. An inherent danger? That we mistake these bits of data for wisdom. For knowing something doesn’t mean necessarily that we have understanding; that capacity to apply what we know fruitfully for the benefit of ourselves and others.

And we, with the mere click of “Send” or “Post,” via email, Facebook, Messenger, text, Twitter, among a host of instant-messaging cyber-platforms, can communicate our observations and opinions. An inherent danger? In the emotional heat of the moment, when (not if!) something or someone hurts or disappoints us, inflames our visceral outrage, incites our righteous indignation, we, unwisely, can share too quickly our less than tactful judgments about people, places, and things.

And throughout the world, in great cities, small towns and villages, in homes, places of business, and on the street, in religious communities, legislative and judicial halls, school corridors, and in the highest office of this land, there are many of us who daily fall prey to this inherent risk.

So, how do we, none of us immune, all of us susceptible to these hazards, navigate successfully, wisely through these days and times so not to sully, indeed, shred the common fabric of human goodwill?

Our brother James speaks to us with ancient words of wisdom about who we are and how we are to be and to behave with one another. His especial emphasis? Our tongues, a metaphor for human speech, spoken or written, with which we can bless and curse.

James neither disavows anger nor that we can and will be angry. We are human with individual likes and dislikes. Therefore, it is not only likely, but inevitable that something or someone will provoke our anger. What James does counsel is that we take care how we express our anger. And the matter and manner of our communication is to be guided by this rule: Alway speak with one another remembering that we all “are made in the likeness of God.”

Cutting to the chase, speaking for myself, because I believe that we are made in the imago Dei, when you stir my anger and when I seek to speak to you of my grievance with you, when I see you, whether face to face or, if my fingers are posed at my computer keyboard or my iPhone is at hand, in my mind’s eye, I see not only you, but also me. For, regardless of race and ethnicity, culture and gender, we are made in the same likeness. Therefore, I will communicate with you in the way I want you to speak with me. Even and especially more, when I see you, I see God; the One in whose likeness we are made. Therefore, I will speak with you as I speak with God.

Neither James nor I says that this is easy, for it is difficult restrain our impulses to follow our natural human tendencies. But, after all, we are the disciples of the One who said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
carrying cross

3 thoughts on “Cutting to the Chase

  1. Hi Paul,

    Have been following your posts / prayers online before and during Hurricane Florence. I continue to pray for you, Pontheolla, Clevedale and everyone else impacted by his incredible storm. Following you on FB is really tied to your sermon. I can see, and feel your words! And YES I can feel your hurt or anger at times.

    To cut to the chase, my favorite part of the sermon is what’s most difficult!! It’s “Alway speak with one another remembering that we all “are made in the likeness of God.” Sooooo hard to do!! I’ve written very little on FB as of late…. not sharing my true feeling of hurt and anger about how I feel I was wronged, not wanting my words to hurt the person who hurt me. I’ve written several things but avoided hitting “send” because as I always tell my students, once you hit send you can’t get it back.

    These days I think it’s so hard to do what James wants us to do. There’s so much hate and discord in the world today that it’s hard to find positive words. The comments people write on FB and Twitter are unbelievable at times and so hurtful…. yet another reason why I’ve had to back away from FB for a minute.

    Sometimes cutting to the chase isn’t the right thing to do because without background (ie how we grew up, or the racial incidents we’ve been involved in), some people may not understand a particular comment we’ve made if we don’t provide THE WHY of why we feel the way we do.

    You know I’m long winded but as of late I have tried to give people the minimal amount of info before moving in, especially if it’s someone with whom I disagree….. so I’ll end by thanking you for this sermon and by promising to read it several more times this week and process it a little more.

    My prayers remain with you all and please continue to stay safe.

    Much love


  2. Thank you, dearest sister, for your care and prayers, especially in this last week as Hurricane Florence raged offshore, and then crossed the coastline and made an inexorable and slow march inland. It has been quite the week of dreaded waiting, for the storm was massive and, again, slow-moving. We largely were spared great damage. That, sadly, cannot be said for many nearer the coasts of NC (particularly) and SC. The losses of life and property are devastating.

    Thanks always for reading and commenting on my sermon texts. In this case, on this subject that the Apostle James addresses so forthrightly, I agree with you that sometimes it is difficult (very) to find something positive to say. Still, I believe that James (and certainly I!) might counsel that a positive word may not be the truest word, that is, the word that need be said/shared. Rather (and, trust me, I am focused on my experience of me when I am angry, that is, oft disrespectful of the humanity and dignity of the one with whom I am angry, which is to say that I heard James speaking to me!) I need to articulate my grievance (which, as a grievance is, almost necessarily, negative) in a graceful, gracious manner. (Lord knows I’ve got work to do on this!).

    I’ve noted, of course, that you’ve taken a step back from engaging social media. I have trusted and do trust that you have done so for your soul’s health, and, though I miss your “cyber-voice,” I’m happy about that for you.

    Love you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks PRA!!!!

    I think we all have to work on being more gracious and graceful when communicating with others. It’s definitely not just you!

    I’ll be back on social media… just trying to find my positive voice again.

    Love you back!!


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