Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Gift of True Wisdom


September 23, 2012
Pentecost XVII
Fr. Philip Eberhart 

 
The Gift of True Wisdom
Click Here for Audio
 

Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

 
“If anyone lacks wisdom…”
Could we have a show of hands please?   Anyone who lacks wisdom?  Raise your hand!!!
Goooooood Company!!

 “If anyone lacks wisdom… he or she should ASK our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking.” (NLT)

Wisdom:  A Definition – The ability to discern what is true, right or lasting. “common sense”;  “good judgment”; “the sum of learning – knowledge”; “wise teachings of the ancients”; a wise outlook, plan or course of action.

 As described in the entry in this:  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language …  AND YET – When I went to look up “WISDOM” in this:  The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge – its not in the index!  Nowhere to be found.

Yet in here (Bible) it is EVERYWHERE TO BE FOUND!

 Hebrew word is used 153 times in the OT and the Greek word 51 times in the NT.
Over 200 appearances in the Holy Scriptures of the word for “wisdom”

 Interestingly, its first appearance is after the words “Spirit of”  -  Hmmmmm.

 
A Spirit of Wisdom

That seems in line with what James is claiming:  Wisdom is from ON HIGH!
Sometimes SKILL from ON HIGH – as in the case of Bezalel in EX 36 – the Spirit-filled craftsman who oversaw the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

Same word.

Moses instructions to Israel in DEUT 4:  “See, I have taught you statues and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me… Keep them and DO THEM, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples.”

As Moses passed on the mantle of leadership to Joshua, he prayed for him and once again we hear “Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom…”

When Solomon was made king, he asked God for a Heart of Wisdom (2 Chron 1:10) and “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.” (I Ki 4:29)

Job asks the question of the ages:  Where does wisdom come from? And he answers the question as well:  28:28  “Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;”

And rightly we hear in the voice of God, with his dialogue with Job:

38:36  Who has put wisdom in the innermost being or given understanding to the mind??  [ME!  OF COURSE.]

David in Psalm 51, the famous prayer of repentance: v 6 …  You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.

Ps 111:10 …  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all who DO HIS COMMANDMENTS; His praise endures forever.

And 35 times in Proverbs, the attributes of wisdom are outlined, in fact it is the stated purpose of the whole book
1:2  to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding!

Some exerpts:

The Lord gives wisdom
… with the humble is wisdom…
… wisdom is with those who receive counsel …
… wisdom … is to understand [your own] way
… wisdom rests in the heart of one who has understanding
… the rod and reproof give wisdom…

Isaiah describes the Messiah in these terms:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of wisdom, held in humility and with constant reference to His Father and obeying the dictates and directions of His Father, on a moment by moment basis.

He understood and said on two occasions the “wisdom is vindicated or shown by its actions.”  Wonder where James got it?  Perhaps he was listening or at least watching his older brother!  Even in his own hometown and among his family and friends they asked the question, “Where did this man [Jesus] get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? (Mt 13:54 & Mk 6:2)

Wisdom was a mark and necessary attribute of early church leadership.  Stephen, the first martyr was said to have irrefutable “wisdom” (Acts 6:10)

Wisdom was much sought after in the Greek culture – a kind of wisdom that flew in the face of the Wisdom given by God, so much so that Paul said, “I came to you not in wise speech, but in a demonstration of God’s power, that your faith might rest on God’s power not on the wisdom of men.”  And later (1 Cor 3:19) “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God.”

Later in the same letter, Paul aligns the true wisdom of God with the other Gifts of the Spirit to the body of Christ.  Wisdom as a word, given by the power of the Spirit; the application of knowledge to life’s issues and directions under the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If you remember, when we began to talk about the book of James, I said that it was a form of NT “wisdom” literature  - in the style of the books of Job, Psalms and Proverbs in the OT.

So here in our reading from James 3 this morning we have probably the clearest word picture of what Godly wisdom is about and how it is acquired!

Listen to The Message here:
13-16 Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

17-18 Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings,  not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

And from the NKJV:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. …
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Listen to all the descriptors:

Holy Life
Getting along
Gentle
Reasonable
Mercy
Blessings
Not two-faced
Meekness
Purity
Peaceable
Gentle
Willing to Yield
Full of Mercy
   and Good Fruits
Without partiality
Without hypocrisy


JB Phillips ends this way:
And the wise are peace-makers who go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness—in other people and in themselves.

These read like the lists in Galations of the Fruit of the Spirit!  Why?  Because it is!
Exactly!

 
The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Wisdom.

We get the Spirit of God by coming to Him in “fear and trembling.”  As the writer to the Hebrews has said,  Since then we have been given a kingdom that is “unshakeable”, let us serve God with thankfulness in the ways which please him, but always with reverence and holy fear. For it is perfectly true that our ‘God is a burning fire’.

Wisdom comes to us through discipline, by God.  Earlier in the same chapter, the writer of Hebrews reminds us,  10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”

And so we ask God to lead us into the way of HIS wisdom.  A life style that is lived in reference to Him and to His words and ways, in the “fear of the Lord.”   AMEN!

 
 
May we pray:

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Who Do YOU Say That I AM?

September 16, 2012
Pentecost XVI
Fr. Philip Eberhart
 
 

And who do YOU say that I AM?

 

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 116:1-8
James 3:1-12
Mark 8:27-38


There is a verse in the Bible, the book of Proverbs, where Solomon wrote, “Death and Life are in the Power of the Tongue.”  This morning I want to look into the truth of that statement in the light of our readings.

The “tongue” in our bible is a powerful force and a lot of ink is given to comment on its power and its force in our lives.  Just in the psalms and proverbs are nearly 70 references and in the NT another 50, most notably 1 Corinthians 14, where Paul is laying down the rules for those who “speak in a tongue” in church and James 3, our reading for this morning.  Almost half of the references in the NT are accounted for in these two chapters about two very different applications of the power of what we speak.

To set the stage I want to simply make reference to a single quote of Isaiah 45:23 that appears twice in the NT:

Rom 14:11  For it is written, "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD."

And Phil 2:10 actually 9-11

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Every tongue will confess – Every tongue will give praise!

What is the big deal about the tongue? 

Well James captures it I think in the two illustrations he uses in this reading this morning.

The BIT and the RUDDER. 

The tongues, he explains, is a small member in the overall scheme of things in the body, but it “boasts of great things.”  The bit and the rudder are small parts of the grand scheme but they enable a control far beyond their relative size.  Likewise the tongue, enables – it enkindles a flame, as James puts it, that sets the very world on fire.

Have you seen the news this week?  A world on fire, set by the tongue?!!  A video was the match, but the wind is driven by the tongues of thousands around the world, and flames are everywhere on our nightly news.  I’m not making a judgment here on who is right or wrong but just drawing attention to the power of our speaking.

James really pulls no punches here as he talks about the vile evil that is found in the power of our speech – listen:

   A fire

            The very world of iniquity

                        Defiles the entire body

                                    Sets on fire the course of our life

                                                Is itself set on fire by hell!

 

No one can tame the tongue

            It is restless evil

                        Full of deadly poison

                                    With it we both bless and curse

                                                We praise God and curse men!

Are you listening?

We must allow the Holy Spirit to change – to transform the power of our tongue!  To transform what is described above into something that He can use for the good of the Kingdom…  is that possible?
 

HOW? 

Step One:  Confession
 
It begins in our hearts, with the turning from slavery to self, to the acknowledgment of God and of His Christ, Jesus, as Lord!  Those verses from Isaiah are not an idle threat,

that God made one day – they are a promise to be fulfilled across all the earth – EVERY

How many is that?
 
EVERY TONGUE WILL CONFESS!

This is where it begins as our hearts turn to Jesus.  Paul reminds us in Romans 10:10

Actually lets read from verse 8

            But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

What does it mean to CONFESS?

If you take the word that Paul uses, that is translated “confess” – it means to “say the same thing as another, ie. To agree with.”  Paul actually uses a compound Greek word that literally means “SAME WORD.”
 
To confess is to speak the same word as Jesus;  To agree with Him – to come into obedience to Him. 

We confess with our mouth “Jesus is Lord!”  The most simple and the first Creed of the Church!  And the first creed of every believer must be those same words.
 

THE GREAT CONFESSION
 
Now let’s turn to Jesus question and Peter’s answer in the Gospel reading this morning.

"Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah.

Confession is to say WITH JESUS, what He has said about Himself.  That is what happened here with Peter.  He said with Jesus, what Jesus was saying about Himself.

Confession is the first step, but there are more steps!  Confession is a sacramental reality.

Do you remember last week’s sermon or the definition of a sacrament from you catechism?  A Sacrament is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  Confession is an outward and “audible” sign of our inward and spiritual faith in Jesus!  Paul says we are to confess with our mouths, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead.  Isaiah says that every tongue will confess AND ????   Every knee will bow!

Our confession leads us to greater and greater action, both inward in our heart and outward as we bow in worship of Jesus as Lord and Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God and God in the flesh, who has come to dwell among us!

In this action we come to know by our experience what Jesus has said about himself and about the Father, “I and the Father are ONE.” 

But there is more!!
 
Jesus goes on to explain the mission and ministry of the Son of Man to his disciples, and in almost the same breath, Peter denies all this, and he rebukes Jesus, for not doing it their way!!  Of course the disciples had something completely different than a Cross in mind for Jesus!  And again, almost in the same breath, Jesus, rebukes Peter with strong words,

“Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

How easy it is for us to get our vision off the ways and means of Jesus alone, and to begin adding in our own!!  So Jesus began to teach his own three point sermon, to the disciples and to all that were standing around him at that moment:

A.  Deny Themselves

B.  Take up their cross

C.  Follow Me.

 
Jesus here, challenges his disciples and those who were following him as Messiah – one of their own making, their own imagination and their own expectations –

In the synoptic Gospels, Matt, Mark and Luke, where these are paralleled, this story is the first mention by Jesus of His Cross to the disciples. 

Imagine, you think that you are following a great Rabbi, perhaps even, you let yourself believe for a moment, as Peter did, that he might be the Messiah, the Christ…

And then he asks you, WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?

Well? 

Well, we think you may be the one who we have been waiting for… but…

Peter said it though…  YOU ARE THE MESSIAH – THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD.

And Jesus did not correct him!  In fact Jesus blessed him and told him that such insight was not from him, but from the Father.

Then Jesus goes on to paint the full picture of who He is… and what He has come to do and how he has come to do it …

And Peter says, NO!  NOT THAT.
 
Have you ever?

You do know that the words NO and LORD don’t – can’t – go in the same sentence!

They are an oxymoron – words that don’t fit together

Let me end with just the quote from Mark 8:35

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Step One:   Confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord!”

Step Two:  Believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead 

Step Three:  Bow your knee in worship to Jesus, who is God and Lord of your life
 
Step Four:   Give your life to Him to do with as He chooses – you have His permission                        to “lose it.”     Lose it for HIM and for His Kingdom.

Amen!

 

May we pray…

 

Please repeat phrase by phrase:

 

Almighty and eternal God,

            So draw my heart to you

                        So guide my mind

                                    So fill my imagination

                                                So control my will

 

That I may be wholly Yours,

            Utterly dedicated to You

                        And then use me, I pray You,

                                    As You will

                                                And always for Your glory

                                                            And for the welfare of Your people.

 

Through the Name of Jesus Christ,

            My savior and My Lord.

 

Amen.

                        (Book of Common Prayer, P. 832:  A Prayer of Self-Dedication)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Astounded Beyond Measure at Jesus


September 9, 2012
Pentecost XV
Fr. Philip Eberhart

 
THEY WERE ASTOUNDED BEYOND MEASURE: HE DOES ALL THINGS WELL!
 


 

Have you ever looked at someone and said, “Man, would that person make a great Christian!” Because of their position or their gifts in the world, we have a tendency to “size people up” – in effect, to pre-judge them – as to their capabilities for the Kingdom of God!  Likewise the obverse is true, we see someone who is down on their luck and we “judge” that they are somehow unworthy of the Gospel of Jesus.

 This was the state of things in the early church as well, because its “human” nature; not the good kind of nature, by the way.  It’s the old nature and system of thinking that moves us to “size people up” – to classify them according to dress, or car, or talents, jobs or skills.

 Jesus, on the other hand, was quite the opposite.  His story of the sower of the seed shows us just how liberally the sower did his work.  Seed fell on all kinds of soil!  As a farmer, or the son of a farmer, I know that you only put seed in the soil that has been properly prepared for it, not in rocky, thorny or shallow soil, but in soil that has been turned and weeded and has had the rocks taken out!  And you never sow seed on hard pack or concrete – its all the same.  But the sower in Jesus parable pays no never mind to the types of soil, he just scatters the Word liberally.

And so we see Jesus in our reading this morning healing those with faith, both the gentile woman and the deaf man who could not speak.  Both of those people were people who were “under judgement” by the regular religious establishment. The one because of her station in life and the other because of his particular disease.

 In the first case of the Gentile woman, Jesus is hesitant to heal.  Why?  Because He was mindful of his mission from the Father, to go to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.  To “give the children’s bread to the dogs” isn’t a remark about the woman, but about his mission and focus on Israel.  BUT… what turns his head?  FAITH – Faith that will not take NO for an answer.  And the argument that she mounts  accepts his mission as legitimate and her position as “outside” of it – but still clings to an unwavering faith in His love and power.  And her faith wins!  Is Jesus won over?  Did he change his mind.  I think not – what changed was his perception of her, not as one on the outside, but because of her faith, as one on the inside.

As we see in Paul’s writings in Romans, the scope of the Gospel extends to all those who “by faith” have come to God, and this is a case-in-point illustration from the very ministry and works of Jesus!

 
BY FAITH

 I want to look at the next section and then examine the issue of faith in these readings for a few moments.

In the man who was deaf, we don’t see any indication of his faith, but of those who brought him to Jesus.  Jesus didn’t question the man about his faith.  He simply took him into a private place – put his fingers in his ears, spat and touched his tongue and said a word that even deaf people can hear, because the word is very easily “lip read” – Eph-pha-tha, which is the word of command, “Be opened!” And it was so!  That simple!   Whose faith?  Not his faith, but their faith.  Those who brought him to Jesus.

Now let’s turn to James for a few minutes – the last paragraph of our reading:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

These words almost got the book of James thrown out of the canon!  Paul’s contention in Ephesians 2: 8ff is “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one can boast.”

For centuries these passages have been taken as being in opposition to one another, but I want to contend that they are saying exactly the same thing!  The point that Paul is making is not a point of relative importance, but of priority and order.  The key word here is the word “result” – in the Greek it is the simple preposition that denotes origins – “EK” =  out of, from, by, away from (a primary preposition denoting origin [the point whence action or motion proceeds]).  In other words, Paul says that faith is not “out of” works – that works cannot have the priority, faith does.  In fact, if you take James alongside Paul, what you have is this:

by grace you have been saved through faith;…not as a result of works, so that no one can boast.” [but] what good is it if you say you have faith, but do not have works? Can [that kind of] faith save you? [NO!] Faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead!”

Friends, its not a question of faith OR works, it is a question of which comes first!

It is always faith AND works, in every situation, - even the thief on the cross, did the “work” of repenting publicly and asking Jesus to remember Him in glory.  Our faith, our belief is internal – a matter of the heart – but it cannot simply remain there!  James later says that even the demons “believe” and tremble!  Our belief must take action – the matter of the heart must become the heart of the MATTER!  Its just sacramental theology.

What do we say about the sacraments?  That they are “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace!

So our work for the Lord is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that Paul calls “faith.”  Remember, he said “by grace, you have been saved through faith; and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God…”

In the sentence structure of Paul’s greek sentence in Ephesians, the words “not as a result of works” actually modify and refer back to the words “you have been saved.”

In other words, “you have been saved, not as a result of works, but through faith, and even that [faith] is a gift of God!”

 
WHAT WORKS?

 So let’s turn back to James for a moment and ask the question, “What works?”

 "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

Once again James is the ever practical pastor!  In the Jerusalem community this was a matter of community identity and common practice, but elsewhere in the “diaspora” – away from the central community in Jerusalem, it had become less a matter of community life.  The dispersed Jewish community had taken on more of the form of the world – “every man for himself.”

Let me remind you of the norm in Jerusalem – from our target passage for our life together:  Acts 2:42-47:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 Let’s look at the “works” that followed their faith in Acts 2:

Continual devotion to

            Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer

 Wonders and signs performed
      (did you note the lists in our readings from Isaiah and our psalm for today?) 

            The eyes of the blind shall see
            The ears of the deaf unstopped
            Lame shall leap like a deer
            Tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
            Gives justice to those who are oppressed
            And food to those who hunger.
            Sets the prisoners free
            (again) opens the eyes of the blind
            Lifts up those who are bowed down
            Loves the righteous
            Cares for the stranger
            Sustains the orphan and widow!

 Back to ACTS:

Living together with all things held in common, selling property & possessions

Sharing them with all, according to need

Daily fellowship in the temple and from house to house

Eating together

Praising God & enjoying His favor!

And what was the result:
             “The Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved!”

 
What are the “works” that God is calling you to, you who believe and who say with the psalmist:

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!  Whose hope is in the Lord their God; who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever;

If that is your confession, your “boast”, as it should be, then what are you DOING
about it?

What is the issue – what is coming forth “out of” your faith?  If someone says, “show me your faith” what will they see?  Can people see our faith, without the work that comes from it?  NO.  In the very next verse, after our reading stops, James goes on to say, “… I will show you my faith by my works.”

Faith and work are two sides of the same coin, my friends.  To see the complete image of salvation we must look at both sides.  Faith first and then the work which comes from it.

We’ve talked about the list already – the list of needs is long and the opportunities for ministry come to us every day.  The question is one of willingness and of availability and of obedience.

“Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Shall we pray…

O Lord Jesus Christ, you became poor for our sake, so that we might be made rich through your poverty: Guide and sanctify, we pray, all those whom you call to follow you.  Uphold us with a willing spirit, help us to see your hand at work and to be available to you every moment of every day and obedient to your voice when you speak to us, that by our prayers and works of service we may enrich your Church, and by our life and worship we may glorify your Name before the world; for you reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

No Shadow of Turning: James and US


September 2, 2012
Fr. Philip Eberhart
Pentecost XIV
 

No Shadow of Turning

 
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The next five weeks, the Sunday’s of September we will be working our way in the readings through the book of James. And the themes that we discover here are the themes that God is very much speaking to our church and to our nation in these days!

So, to set the stage I want to take a few minutes to explore the person and the setting of the letter as we begin.

James, the writer of this book, scholars agree, was the head of the church at Jerusalem and the brother of our Lord, Jesus.  The book was written, most likely, within a decade of Pentecost, sometime around 40 AD or shortly afterward. There is no mention of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, which would have gotten some ink if it had already happened. The Council happened in 48-49 AD.

James writes as a chief pastor, but to a specific group of people, as he is the pastor of the Jerusalem church, the letter is to the Jews who have been dispersed.  In the first verse of the first chapter:  to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.”  In his writing, James is a man of action, not words.  Though the book takes the form of a collection of proverbs, in the form of the ancient wisdom literature of Israel, it is, nearly half the time, in the imperative mood.  There is an urgency in James that is strongly persuasive – a bent towards action, not words.  He is commanding the troops at home and abroad, as the church has been born in and dispersed by the persecution that came after Pentecost (see Acts, chapter 3-8).  James has been in Jerusalem under Peter and under James and John’s leadership.  He has seen the conversion of Saul, but there is likely no Gentile Church in his mind yet.  So he writes to the Jewish Christians of the dispersion – house churches scattered by persecution or by the Diaspora itself, who have been away from Jerusalem for some time and are hearing of this “through the grapevine” as those from Jerusalem are visiting the synagogues of the dispersed Jewish community and “gossiping the Gospel.”

So James, called “the Just”, by historians, to distinguish him from James, the Apostle and brother of John, is concerned with moving his hearers to action.  His theme is living out the faith, “being a doer of the word, not a hearer only!  He is very concerned, as we will see, about self-deception and its poison in the life of the believer and in the church.  James is crystal clear about the role of faith and the necessity of acting on that faith.  He is crystal clear about the relationship of the poor and the rich in the church and their mutual need for one another! He is clear about the power of the tongue and the effects of dissention in the church.  James is a
“wisdom” writer in the Jewish tradition.  His tone is urgent and energetic and it stings us at times with its scolding satire.

Some of these things we will see, as we dive into our readings for today.

This morning we hear a specific theme that runs throughout our readings, not just in the book of James:

From the command of Moses:

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.

 

From David, the Psalmist:

LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

2

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.

 

From Jesus, quoting Isaiah:

Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

'This people honors me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching human precepts as doctrines.'

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

And from James, the Just, the pastor of Jerusalem:

Reading from the JB Phillips translation:

19-20 In view of what he has made us then, dear brothers, let every man be quick to listen but slow to use his tongue, and slow to lose his temper.

… humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. Don’t I beg you, only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves.

27 Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

The message is clear from many perspectives:  We are our own greatest problem!  We have seen the enemy, and he is US!  The call to obedience – the command of obedience, is clear from the earliest writings of Moses to the wisdom that we see here from James.  Jesus captures the problem in the words of Isaiah:

   These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”

From earliest times the people of God have been given the clear imperative of obedience.  Obedience to God’s law, to His Word, both written and spoken to the nation of Israel and through the N.T. to the people of God, is the single most consistent theme of Holy Scripture.  Jesus likened it to choosing which kind of foundation you were to build your house on!  Rock or Sand?  Storms will come, Jesus said, - and the foundation you have built on will make all the difference!

Friends, I’ve talked many times about the necessity of obedience as the third leg of our REZ stool – Willingness, Availability & Obedience.  But it seems that we get to the point of hearing, of perhaps understanding what God wants, and then we stop short.  We stop short of implementation – of execution.  When it comes to walking in God’s ways, we seem to want to have our cake and eat it too! 

We live in a land of blessing from on high – I don’t think many will argue that point – and yet we have disavowed God a role in the public square, just as we have minimized His role in our private lives as well.  I’m struck by a sense of urgency, having just come through ½ of  the political convention season last week, and anticipating the second ½ this next week.  What is so urgent is that we seem to think that politics can save our country.  NOT!

What will save our country is what will save its people, one by one, -- obedience to the God of the Universe and His son, Jesus Christ!!  The same urgency that James displays in his writing – the same imperatives, are imperative for US – individually and corporately today!  No matter what side of the aisle you fall on, it is more needful that we fall on our knees – on our faces – before the Living God.  We must return to Him, as individuals, as churches, as states and as a nation!

Just imagine some of James’ imperatives being spoken to you and to the whole of the United States of America:

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
 

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God


16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change
 

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
 

…be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (leading yourselves astray!)


the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Do you think that these ring true for you?   For us at REZ?  How about for us as a nation?

Then I suggest that we pray, friends;  that we pray for ourselves along these lines; that we pray for our state and nation along these lines, especially in this run up to the next election in November.

Friends it is time.  The urgency that James expresses is our urgency.  The imperatives he commands must be our imperatives:

 

·         Be joyful in the testing of your faith – it makes you steadfast!

·         Where you lack wisdom, ask God! (not if!)

·         Every good gift you enjoy is from Him!

·         Be a quick hearer, a slow speaker and slower to get angry.

·         Do the Word.  Don’t lead yourself astray by listening only!

·         Persevere in the Perfect Law of Liberty, being a doer who acts, and                  you will be blessed by God in your doing.

 

These are the imperatives of our day, because we are on the brink.  The urgency of James must be our urgency.  God is calling us personally and as a nation to return to Him! 

From another piece of wisdom literature that we are familiar with:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean NOT on your own understanding!
In ALL your ways, ACKNOWLEDGE HIM, and He will direct (make straight) your paths!”

Let us pray:

Almighty God, You have given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech You that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Your favor and glad to do Your will.  Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Your law, we may show forth Your praise among the nations of the earth.  In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in You to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Heavenly Father, in your Word you have given us a vision of that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth. Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and able leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what You would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in Your light we may see light, and in Your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of Your Spirit lift us, we pray, to Your presence, where we may be still and know that You are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.