Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Making Friends with Whom? - September 20, 2015 - Seventeeth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20) - Text: James 3:13-4:10
There is the story of the new church which was meeting in a bar. The bar was not open on Sunday mornings so the church rented out the space for their morning service. At this bar there was a parrot. One morning while the church service was going on the parrot woke up. He looked up and saw the pastor preaching and said, “Hum, new bartender.” He looked over at the choir and said, “Hum, new floor show.” And finally, he looked out at the group of people at the service and said, “Same old crowd.” That story helps us to understand what is happening in many of our churches today as we become people not only in the world, but also of the world. James encourages us this morning to be zealous in being people of the Word and people in the Word, not people of the world.
James begins by defining wisdom, beginning at verse thirteen of chapter three, “3:13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:13-18). James differentiates between what is viewed as the wisdom of this world and what is true, Godly wisdom. True Godly wisdom shows itself in understanding and meekness. True Godly wisdom is a gift from God. We might be reminded that when God asked King Solomon to ask for any thing he desired as the new king, he asked for discernment, which is the wisdom to properly use understanding, in other words, he asked to be able to rule rightly. True Godly wisdom for us today is to live rightly, discerning the difference between living in the world and being of the world.
On the other hand, James tells us that bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are not wisdom. The way of the world is that this is a “dog eat dog” world and the way to get ahead in this world is through selfish ambition and stepping on others to get what you want, and what you think you deserve. Certainly through His own life, Jesus shows us that this is not Godly wisdom, but is sinful human nature wisdom.
Wisdom from above, that is true Godly wisdom is that wisdom that comes from a heart of faith. As the Holy Spirit gives, even strengthens and keeps us in faith, as a gift, given through the means of grace, so He guides us in all true wisdom, moving us to seek to be godly people, encouraging and building each other up as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
As Jesus has His way with us, through the means of grace, a fruit of the Spirit is this peace which is sown from wisdom. Going back to King Solomon, in his writings in the Proverbs, he reminds us of this fact that wisdom sows peace, as he tells us that a gentle answer turns away wrath. When we are provoked by someone, how well we know that an angry response escalates the battle, but a gentle response brings peace. Here again, we see the difference between the Christian who lives in the world but is not in the world and the way the person of the world lives.
As we have talked about with James, he insists that faith without works is dead, that is that our faith is shown through our actions, thus James asks, what does your life say? We pick up at verse one of chapter four, “4:1What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (4:1-10).
James begins by reminding us that quarrels and fights do not come from faith. Quarrels and fights are not the way of Jesus, but the way of the world, the way of power and might, or in the church perceived power and might. We are adapting to the ways of the world when our desire is, well, when our desire is a natural desire. And lest we think we might be exempt from such desire, our Gospel lesson for this morning reminded us that we are really no different from Jesus’ own disciples who desired to be first in the kingdom of God.
James wants us to know that we can either be friends of the world or friends of the Lord. We cannot be both. Are we friends with the world or with the Lord? We are friends with the world when we invest our lives in this world, that is when we invest our time, talents, and treasure in this world. When we spend more time with our own pet projects, interests and hobbies, when we use our talents more for advancing our own lives and careers, when we spend our treasures investing in the things of this world, then we are friends with this world.
On the other hand, are we friends with the Lord? We are friends of the Lord when we invest our lives in the world to come and we invest our lives in the world to come by investing our time, talents and treasure in the world to come. We invest in the world to come by spending time with the Lord, but reading our Bibles, everyday, by having personal and family devotions, by being in worship and Bible class whenever they are offered. We invest in the world to come by using our talents in service to the Lord and for extending His kingdom and certainly by investing our treasure, that is by giving our first fruits and tithes to our Lord who has given everything to us first, namely our time, our talents and our treasures.
Notice the imperatives James uses in our text, submit, resist, and draw near . . . (v. 7, 8). Certainly we understand that these are law words and in and of ourselves we cannot live according to what James here asks. So, maybe we need to go back and remind ourselves that James complements Paul. James and Paul both begin and end with Christ. Thus, these imperatives that James strings along for us are best understood as a response of faith and as being worked in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, otherwise, we would certainly be left with no hope.
Finally, James exhorts us to humble ourselves before the Lord and He will exalt us. Here again we begin and end with Jesus. We humble ourselves before the Lord as Jesus has His way with us and He has His way with us through the means of grace. By faith in Jesus, given through the means of grace, we have forgiveness, life and salvation and indeed we are exalted by God the Father.
What does this mean? Last week James reminded us that the power of the tongue reveals what is in one’s heart. This week James reminds us that we are in the world, yet we are not to be of the world. We are of the world when we imitate the world, when the priorities of the world become our priorities and when we fail to focus our attention and our lives on our eternal well-being understanding that our lives in this world are but a breath, but a moment compared to our lives in eternity, which is forever.
James gives us examples of how we know we are either of the world or not of the world. We know we are of the world when we claim to be Christians yet we imitate the world, and as James points out specifically when we quarrel with one another, seeking our own power and position in the world, rather than seeking to serve God and others. James tells us that the heart of such quarreling is the fact that we have our attention focused on this world instead of on the world to come.
Further, James reminds us that we are either friends of the world or friends of God. And yes, even for us Christians this is a tough choice. Daily we are faced with such tough choices and daily we know we fail and sin. Daily we fail to be friends with God. Daily we choose to be friends with the world. Daily we succumb to the temptations of the world and we act like the world and we look like the world.
James reminds us that we do fail. Thanks be to God that just as Paul begins and ends with Jesus, so James begins and ends with Jesus. We fail, but God succeeds. We cannot resist the temptations of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh, but God has. In Christ God had become flesh. Christ has faced every temptation we will face and more. Jesus never sinned. Jesus took our sins upon Himself and paid the price for our sins.
Thus, James further exhorts us to, and we would certainly understand that this is only with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit, submit ourselves to God. And the Holy Spirit stirs in us to do what He would have us to do.
As always we are reminded that we get it right when we get our focus right. We get it right when we begin and end with Jesus. God gives and we are given to. We fail and yet God does not give up on us. He is always there to give us even more, faith, forgiveness and life.
James brings us tough words for today. Very often we tend to be of the world. We tend to be like the disciples in our Gospel lesson. Remember the disciples, discussing who was the greatest? They were living in the world and they were being of the world. Living in the world makes it quite difficult to resist the temptation to be of the world. Daily we are tempted and lured to be of the world and daily we fail. Thanks be to God that our salvation does not depend on us. Thanks be to God that when we mess up God is there to clean up. Thanks be to God that Jesus took care of our sins and continues to take care of us. By faith in Jesus, faith given to us by the Holy Spirit, through the means of grace, faith strengthen by the Holy Spirit, by faith in Jesus we have forgiveness, life and salvation. By faith in Jesus, when God looks at us He sees Christ, He sees us as living in the world but not being of the world. By faith in Jesus our Lord looks at us and He exalts us. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.