Biblical Texts:Mark 1:8-15, Gen 22:1-18, James 1:12-18
Full Drafft of Sermon
The first Sunday in Lent. All the texts are about testing or temptation. And If you are listening it is hard to read the testing of Abraham and then read James right after it. There would seem to be a contradiction, and its about something as important as the nature of God. Does God test/tempt? James says don’t say that God does. Abraham is told by God to take Isaac. Jesus is thrown into the desert by the Spirit. Luther, he of calling James an epistle of straw, sides with James in the Catechism. “God tempts no one.”
I think that is something that gets held in tension. Its something we probably don’t see clearly right now. And the overwhelming feeling felt in the texts and often in out lives is of being alone or being abandoned. We might have to live in the tension in the difference between the words testing and temptation, or that awful dodge God allows but doesn’t cause, but the feeling of being alone can be resolved. God has been abundant in his mercy so that you are never alone. The specifics on that are in the sermon…
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Martin Luther once called James the “epistle of straw”. He thought is was a bunch of law and not much gospel. His antagonists in Rome also had a knack for using it to point out inconvienent scripture to Brother Martin. James deserves his voice and in the modern church he might be the more necessary epistle if for no other reason than he is just so darn practical. James does not get tied down in fancy theological arguments. He has no time for speculative thoughts and navel gazing. Don’t deceive yourself, we are sinners. Don’t blame God, we are sinful by nature. That sinful nature drags us along. We don’t need any push from God to sin. Be on your guard for those times and feelings and situation. But the good news is that God chose us. He saved us in Jesus (the word of truth) and made us to be the firstfruits – God’s rightful and chosen portion of creation. Don’t follow the path of sin, instead hold on to that election.
Reading James 4:13-5:6
That chart is the DJIA for the past two years. It reached an all time high on 10/9/07 at 14,164. Yesterday it closed at 7,997, a drop of 43.5% in just over 1 year. James writes about the merchant who says lets go to some town and spend a year there. We’ll make money. He upbraids this guy probably in the spirit of the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). You fool, directed not at the guy’s desire to make money, but at his arrogance. This guy has no God. He is the master of his own ship. The captain of his own fate. As much as American’s like the story of the self made man, ultimately it is a form of idol worship. We are all accountable to God. God has a way of reminding us of that at times – like 43% dives in the stock market and the anihilhation of Wall Street. The Masters of the Universe are begging for bailouts. And James goes further comparing the rich to cattle. Those cows keep eating as long as there is grass. The make themsleves fatter right up to the day of slaughter. Go look at the headlines from 10/9/07.
Bush Expands Pell Grants $20B – funded by cut in Bank Subsidies
FCC Holds Series of Workshops on Digital TV Conversion
A Bank Bets on Condos
Union Tells Chrysler Workers to Prepare for Strike
I think you get the point. Wealth while it can be a gift, it can also be an illusion. For ultimately what are our lives? We are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. It is only those things connected to Christ that last. Anything not connected to Christ will testify against us on that last day. If we know what is right and do not so it, we sin. High standard. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ who saves us from the evil we do to ourselves.
There were two other great readings today: Malachi 2:1-16 and Luke 17:20-37. The OT reading would be especially good for those who attended today’s morning bible study. It is God talking about the connection between himself and his people in the metaphor of marriage and adultery. As a church, we are awful at teaching about marriage and sexuality. There is a deep connection between chastity and marital faithfulness and faithfulness to GOD. Without one the other is near impossible. Read Rom 1:21-32. This needs more thought.
Reading: James 3:13-4:12
There is a Jewish tradition that lines up the first 5 commandments with the second 5 commandments. It essentially says that trouble in keeping the 1st commandment leads to sin in the sixth. When you stray from GOD you stray from your husband/wife. That theme actually gets played out explicitly in the prophets and the life of Israel. Israel went whoring after other Gods, or read Hosea. The rest I’ve pasted in below.
Have no other Gods —> No Adultery
Misuse the name of God—> Don Not Steal
Keep the Sabbath—>No False Testimony
Honor Your Father & Mother—>Don’t Covet your neighbor’s household (i.e. livelihood)
Do not Kill—>Don’t Covet your neighbor’s possesions
Some hold up better than others like the 2nd one. I can see a real strong connection when you are verbally stealing the glory from God and stealing things. Our James reading in James 4:2 seems to have something like this in mind, except in reverse. James makes a connection between killing and coveting stuff. He also acknowledges the first connection (submission to God alone and adultery) in James 4:4.
But this law at work in our bodies has a counter force – The Spirit that lives within us. Through that Spirit, we are able to submit ourselves to God. Through that Spirit we are able to resist the devil and draw near to God. That law at work in us works death, but that Spirit brings us life. That Spirit is what lifts us up. The OT wisdom liturature would sneak up to this. Job would proclaim he knew his redeemer lived. The teacher in Ecclesiastes would conclude that the body would go to dust and the spirit return to God who gave it. Job and the teacher were speculating. James knows. Job & the teacher hoped in God. We hope in God, but with the proof of Jesus Christ risen and the downpayment of the Spirit of Life.
Reading: James 3:1-12
James was not a book loved by Luther. He called it an epistle of straw. In Luther’s context that was probably a good call. God’s people did not need to hear James as loudly as they needed to hear Paul. Today though, almost 500 years after the reformation, James seems to need a much larger voice.
Modern scholars will often place James within the Jewish wisdom tradition (i.e. Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes). As Jewish Christian wisdom its emphasis is on wise acts which are revealed by the law. Paul’s emphasis was on Grace and Faith. James wanted to talk about Faithfulness-what Grace and Faith looked like in space and time. In a current documentary/movement, Call+Response, a Dr. Cornell West is featured or quoted. I would not endorse everything he says, but the tag line “Justice is what love looks like in public” gets at the idea we are talking about. Grace and faith and love are great concepts, but they have to be incarnated. Jesus incarnated them for us. And we incarnate them for our neighbor. James is what faith looks like in time.
And today’s reading, like Proverbs, touches on so many areas. It reminds us of truths that we need reminded of. That is part of the reason of the post title and my view that James needs a larger voice. Our culture, the US, largely believes that God is Love – one big all embracing warm fuzzy. We believe that God is love, but don’t remember what that looks like in time and space. We have faith, but don’t have faithfulness. James is relevant.
It is probably ironic for this to be on a blog by a parson, but the core of today’s reading is about the difficulty in controlling words, especially for a teacher. A teacher is held to a higher standard by God. We have more responsibility. And that tongue is tough to control. Blogs and websites and twitter and every other modern form of communication makes it even tougher. The distance between mind and tongue has been greatly reduced – and the potential audience for those firey remarks made all the more large and permanent. Nothing juicy on the internet ever dies. If you are living the faith, being watchful of what is said is necessary. James says blessings and curses come from the same mouth…this should not be so. Faith in action tames the tongue.