A Horse without a Bridle
16 Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
James, called by the Apostle Paul as, “James, the Lord’s brother” [Gal. 1:19] also known as “James the Just”, became leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem after the departure of St. Peter. It is his letter that is one of our readings for today and it is his belief that the tongue is the most powerful muscle in the body.
How powerful is the tongue? One does not have to think very hard to recall instances in our lives where this small muscle caused hurt and harm. Other memories may be of when this same muscle brought love and healing. As James says, “The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.” [James 3:5]
James gives us more than one example of how the tongue is the strongest member of the body. It can control the whole body as a rudder steers a ship, it is like a bit that controls a horse, and how it can set ablaze a world of unrighteousness by its fiery words.
The tongue speaks the words that come from the heart and, unfortunately, our hearts are not pure. Every muscle of our bodies is tainted with sin; more than that, it is evil throughout every fiber of our being.
Our Father in heaven came to earth to give us a bridle to control our tongues. He gave us a rudder to steer the ship that is our lives. The bit he placed in our mouths is the Ten Commandments, the very Law of God.
One day, when I was about 12 years old, I went out into the field behind the industrial buildings where my father worked. The business where my father worked was outside the rural areas surrounding the city.
A handful of employees, all avid hunters and outdoorsmen, kept their horses on the acreage there. I wanted to ride that day but my father had lent my horse to a friend for a few days. I decided that a horse was a horse and it didn’t matter which one I rode.
I took a bridle and some oats in a bucket out into the field, thinking that the first horse that came to me would be the horse I would ride. Sure enough, a short whistle and a shake of the oats in the plastic bucket caught the attention of the five horses grazing about 50 yards away.
As the horses trotted up to me, one big quarter-horse named ‘Gus’, pushed his way past the others to stick his nose into the bucket and started munching away. I set the bucket on the ground and began to put the bridle on old Gus.
No sooner had I put the top strap behind his ears, Gus reared up on his hind legs letting out a loud whinny. Standing on all fours, this horse was already taller than me at his shoulders. When he reared up, he was 3 times my height. All I could see were hoofs pawing the air and the whites of Gus’ angry eyes looking down on me as if I were a bug to be squashed. I was so frightened that I ran out of that field as fast as my little legs could carry me.
The law of God was to control our tongues, hearts and minds, but we fight the bit. We do not like someone else having control over our lives so we rebel. We rear up and strike out against that which would guide and control our actions. We wish to be free to go where and when want to do what we like. We do not want to be tamed as we tame the beasts and birds of this creation.
God could have cast us away from His presence; after all, we are worthless to him if we are not perfect. Instead, God decided to use his power of creation, the power of His very word, to rescue us. He decided to heal us instead of kill us.
Jesus Christ, born into our flesh and blood, became His living Word. His Word in the form of our Savior walked this earth in all holiness and righteousness. He followed the Law of His father, steered by the commands to which we could never abide. James says in verse 8, “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Yet Jesus did just that. He lived in perfect accordance to the will of our Father. Isaiah spoke of Christ’s obedience:
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth. [Is. 53:7]
He was taken from prison and from judgment…
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.” [Is 53:8-9]
Our Savior died with no deceit in his mouth. He rose again on the third day in the glory of heaven to once and for all heal an unbelieving generation. He spoke the word of God to heal and to bless so that we would not be cursed.
We have been saved. Like the young boy who was possessed by a demon, we continuously throw ourselves into fire or water to kill ourselves, but Jesus rebukes the evil which has entered us with his death and resurrection. With our baptism, our Lord says to the devil, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” [Mark 9:25b]
On the last day, though we are dead, Jesus will take us by the hand and lift us to our feet. We are made alive through his word, his promise of life through his death, because Jesus is the true believer and he is the true life. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” [Mark 9:23]
It is important that we understand that it is not our works that save us but the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. If we try to cast away our sin to win our life, we will fail. In the end, we will be asking Jesus what his disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” [Mark 9:28b]
Christ’s answer to them is the same answer we hold close, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” [Mark 9:29] We may use our tongues to curse, but this will not save us. Our help is in the name of the Lord. We use our tongues to repent, to forgive and to pray.
If you think you need not repent – pray. If you think you cannot be forgiven your sin – pray. If you think you do not know the right thing to say – pray. Remember that the Holy Spirit dwells within your heart. It is now he who guides you so that your tongue will speak your words in prayer without deceit.
James the Just gives us this advice,
…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. [James 1:20b]
…be doers of the word, and not hearers only [James 1:22]
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise... And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [James 5:13, 15]
James was known as a man of prayer and he urges us to be people of prayer, just as Jesus taught us. Our prayer begins in the heart and comes out through our tongue. We need not worry about our tongue when the Holy Spirit is in our hearts. For with the guidance of the Spirit our tongues can only bless and praise. With our tongues, we pray and where our tongue leads the body follows.