Draw Near to God!

“Draw Near to God!”

James 3:13-4:8 (4:8) – September 19, 2021

            Do you know people who quarrel a lot? I mean, a lot? Some people are not satisfied with anything. I am sure you recognize these people. They regularly moan and kvetch and sometimes outright quarrel about what they have or about what they don’t have. James tells us about these dissatisfied, disgruntled people in our Scripture reading today, among other things.

            We see two kinds of attitudes in our reading today. Two kinds of wisdom, and two kinds of people. One comes from earth, and is grasping, envious, with selfish ambition. The other comes from God, and is peace-loving, full of mercy, and considerate above all things! How do we come to terms with such a stark, black-and-white difference in wisdom? And in people?

            It might be repetitious to read these words from the end of chapter 3 again, but we really need to listen. Again. “if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” I know how seductive the features, things and practices of the world can be. God forgive us for being so distracted and fooled by the world’s wisdom!

            Who is brave enough to admit that they have envy in their hearts, sometimes? Again, who is forthright enough to admit they have selfishness in their character, sometimes? These worldly traits or features are sadly prevalent in this world. Every person alive feels these worldly emotions from time to time. I have, and I suspect you have, too. The problems these negative emotions can cause! They bring a lot of misery in the lives of many, many people, too.

            Let’s consider the worldly, flawed way of thinking and being, for a moment. (Actually, we all fall into this way of thinking and being, more often than not.) Carolyn Brown, retired Children’s Ministry Director, has written a prayer for this reading. Listen, if you would, and see whether these words from Ms. Brown do not resonate in our hearts.

Dear God, we want to look amazing.  

We want great clothes, cool shoes, a great haircut. We want our homes filled with our stuff.

We want all the best people to be our friends. We want to be the first, the best, the most, the greatest. So we grab and hold and demand. We even kick and punch to get what we want.

Forgive us.

Teach us to let go, to open our hands and hearts to others. Teach us to be content with what we have and to share it.

Teach us to think as much about what OTHERS want as what WE want. Teach us to be as loving as Jesus. Amen. [1]

In this reading, James also presents us a much more positive way of wisdom: Godly wisdom. We hear James describe this attitude, this way of acting and thinking, with God’s help. Let’s read the attributes James lists: “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Who would not want to display these kinds of positive, caring, loving attributes? Living God’s way is a sure-fire way to show these kinds of character traits! At least, according to James.

What are the operative words that James tells us are essential? Even, imperative? Peace, mercy and gentleness. That’s what this short list of positive, caring, Godly attributes come down to. I know in this letter, this basic manual of how to live the Christian life, James talks a great deal about doing. How to do, what to do, and why we ought to do it, please God! Except – here James concentrates on the inner person. How do we live this way? What motivates us? What is the fuel that keeps us going? Peace. God’s peace. James says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” An internal reservoir of peace within each one of us that translates to an external harvest of righteousness. (THAT sounds like practical James!)

In the Gospel of John, in the Upper Room discourse on that last night before He was betrayed, Jesus gives us a great gift. He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives, but as I give it to you.” Maybe, just maybe, you and I just don’t understand the concept of peace. At least, the kind of peace Jesus – and James – talk about here.

“Maybe we’ve defined peace as the absence of something, of conflict, or worry, of trouble, of doubt; but Jesus wants us to define peace as a presence. Peace is not what we’ve emptied from ourselves, but what we’ve filled ourselves with. And what we’ve not filled ourselves with is ourselves – at least according to James.” [2]

            What – practically – can we take away from this reading today? Peace is the way OF God. Peace is the how-to of living a life pleasing to God. Peace is being filled with the presence of God.

            In this practical letter, this how-to manual, James advises his friends on how to live in a way pleasing to God. “Peace is possible, even while [you and I] are works in process. This isn’t about completion and the satisfaction of a job well done; it is about a journey of discovery and transformation. But peace can be our companion in the journey to keep our feet on the path.” [3]

            Practical James would wholeheartedly agree! Keep on keeping on. Live in God’s peaceful presence. It’s a sure-fire way to have God draw near to each one of us.  

Alleluia, amen!  


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2012/08/year-b-proper-20-25th-sunday-in_30.html

Worshiping with Children, Proper 20B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/seventeenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Taming the Tongue

“Taming the Tongue”

James 3:1-12 (3:8) – September 12, 2021

            Who remembers the schoolyard saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” There’s a problem with that saying. We all know that words can hurt. And sometimes, people remember mean words, nasty words or harsh words years after they heard them. Sometimes even decades later. Words can come back to haunt us – either words we have said, or words we have heard. Internalized. Taken to heart.

            Our letter-writer James would whole-heartedly agree. Remember, in this letter the apostle James writes a manual of Christian living. A how-to book on how to live a life pleasing to God. This is the point in the letter where he talks about the tongue, and how powerful it is. James begins by comparing the small tongue to other small but powerful items. “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.” James does want to help us behave in a way pleasing to God. However, the tongue gets in the way of that, big time!      

            I am sure you and I know this, from long experience. Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of a nasty argument, or angry words? We can use our tongues for positive words and kind comments, or for negative, hurtful sniping. This use of the tongue causes all kinds of bitter feelings and sometimes can escalate arguments and even cause fighting.   

            Who hasn’t experienced this negative use of the tongue? It’s no wonder that many people hesitate to jump in the middle of quarreling, arguing people. And, bullies? Gossips? Those who misdirect or misrepresent themselves or others? People who use particularly nasty or hurtful speech? Not positive ways to win friends or influence people.

Our commentator Dr. Derek Weber tells us that James wants to help us tame the tongue. It’s true that many Christians don’t take this recommendation of James all that seriously. However, “we’ve all experienced the sting of the tongue as we were growing up, and even as adults. We all know what it is to bear the brunt of rumors or misrepresentations or words spoken in anger. And just as likely we know what it is to watch our words bring pain to another, intentional or not. How can we get worshipers to take this text seriously?” [1]

I remember when I went to the circus with my children, when they were small. Watching the wild animals and their circus acts was truly amazing! Lions, tigers, other large animals – the oohs and ahhs coming from the audience were real, let me tell you! As often is said in YouTube videos and on reality television, “do not try this at home!” Wild animals are dangerous! It is so similar with the tongue! Trying to tame the tongue is often as difficult as trying to tame wild animals! (That’s why James uses this example in verse 7.)

We have talked about how dangerous the tongue is. Yet – is gossip THAT bad? Surely, a little gossip can’t hurt. Just letting people know the whole story. Just filling in the gaps. Surely, gossip isn’t as bad as murder, or stealing, or lying, is it? Is it? But, what would James say?

Instead of spreading gossip about people, how could we turn that around? How can you and I spread a good report about people? Sometimes, about the same people we gossiped about? Instead of saying something cutting or annoying, how can we say positive things? Have good, helpful words come out of our mouths? That would be kind, be caring, and even be forgiving!

I know it takes some time to correct bad habits. Perhaps our sometimes-bad, sometimes-mean, sometimes-thoughtless words are habits that many people need lots of help with.

Let’s face it, some do not want to start correcting negative words, malicious gossip, and rude comments. I can just hear some say, “Pastor, don’t we have bigger fish to fry? More serious sins to be concerned with?” Ahh, yes. But, a little thing like the tongue can be poisonous, hurtful, even mistakenly cruel and thoughtlessly punishing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

I do not want this sermon to be all negative! So, “let’s talk about the good we can do with our words. Let’s talk about what it means to bless. The internet is full of lists of ways to praise a child [or young person], for example – the words we can use for encouragement and for building up.”[2]  How did you feel, deep down inside, when you recall how you felt when someone said good, positive things to you or about you? Just think hard about the impact of these words! What kind of words were they? How were the words said to you? A compliment, a kind, caring word, an encouraging comment – all these are positive uses of the tongue! We then understand how powerful words are!

Speak positive, kind, encouraging words. (Think those caring, kind thoughts about others, too!) Just like with toothpaste, after you squeeze it out, it is impossible to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. Just like our hurtful or thoughtless words. Once they’ve come out of our mouths, they’re so hard to take back. That is why we need to be super careful about how we use our words.[3]

With God’s help, we can tame our tongues. With God’s help, we can speak kind, helpful, encouraging words. Words that build up, rather than tear down. Positive words, instead of negative snipes or hurtful jabs. What would James say? More important, what would Jesus do?

Remember, in this letter the apostle James writes a manual of Christian living. A how-to book on how to live a life pleasing to God.

How would Jesus speak? Would Jesus speak kind, helpful, encouraging, positive words? Do that. And, God will be so pleased!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/sixteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-youth-lessons

Faith in Action!

“Faith in Action!”

James 2:1-10, 14-17 (2:14) – September 5, 2021

            I watched a lot of movies and television series in the past – usually with my children, when they were children and teenagers. A lot of these shows were about young people on a high school campus, complete with all the groups and cliques, exclusion and favoritism. All the “popular” kids were beautiful people, and all the “nerds” and “dorks” were unpopular. Heaven help you if you were really poor and came from the wrong side of the tracks!

            Does this sound familiar? Is this favoritism similar to what James talks about here, in our reading today? James mentions one person coming to worship in fancy clothes, with expensive jewelry. He follows that up with a description of a poor person, in ragged, threadbare clothes, coming to that same worship service. You and I need to ask: who would James exclude from worship service? Who would James exclude from fellowship in the church?

            When we consider the typical high school campus and the typical high school kids, we may give them a pass. Some say they don’t fully understand how damaging and how hurtful their actions are, to many people. Others say that only weak, socially-awkward people get hurt from the rough-and-tumble world of high school…that is just something everyone has to put up with, and to live with. Suck it up, people! Get on with life!

            Except, this rough-and-tumble, catty, mean way of carrying on is not the way that Christians are supposed to be! Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are supposed to be better than that! Believers are not supposed to play favorites! Aren’t they? James says so! Doesn’t he?

Who would James exclude? “If we’re honest, we have to squirm a little bit as he describes the scene. Of course, we’ve all done this; we’ve all shown partiality in this. We hope we’re overcoming it; we hope we’re countering it; we hope we’re better than that. But our society has drilled into us to value people on outward appearances more than essential being.”[1]

            This letter from James is so practical! Yes, he does refer to theological concepts now and then, but he wants to give us a manual of Christian living: living the way we as believers are called to live! The description in this reading today is a pertinent, hard-hitting example.  

            The Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary today also has some difficult, hard-hitting points. Jesus and the disciples are in the racially-mixed area of the Decapolis, near the Sea of Galilee in the far north of Israel. A Gentile woman approaches the Rabbi Jesus while He is at dinner, and asks Him to please heal her daughter. Jesus says some challenging words to her about being a Gentile. She convinces Jesus to help her and heal her daughter, which He does.

            This Gospel reading deals with favoritism and being partial to one group while excluding another group. Who would Jesus exclude? Would He exclude me and my family? Would favoritism include you? How about your children, or grandchildren?  

            These are difficult issues raised by both the apostle James and the Gospel-writer Mark.

            Perhaps the world does things like this, almost all the time. Perhaps the common, sinful people in the world act and speak and think like this, almost all the time. But, we as believers are not to act like the world!

            As commentator Dr. Derek Weber says, “James points out the economic distinctions that we are all too likely to make in our hospitality ministry. But it wouldn’t be too big a leap to talk about racial and immigrant and gender and orientation distinctions at the same time. This is not, however, a recommendation to avoid the issues We are called to speak up, to follow the boldness of James and talk about the lines of respectability that we too often draw, consciously or unconsciously. It is better to enter into these delicate subjects knowingly than to be surprised.”[2]

            Today, we often use the word “believe” to mean intellectual assent, or understanding. The New Testament agrees – except the full understanding of the word “believe” is deeper and richer than simply the intellect. “When John 3:16 declares that “whosoever believes,” it is asking for a life that reflects that core belief. It isn’t really asking “do you believe” but “are you willing to put your life on it?”

“Does your life and your witness, do your actions and your words tell us that you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of your life?” That’s what it means to believe in New Testament terms. For James, then, at the heart of believing is how we view and then treat others.” [3] Listen again to the hard-hitting words of James: “My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you?”

            Who would you exclude? Who would I? Do we act like we prefer someone who wears fancy clothes and expensive jewelry to someone who wears ripped, patched blue jeans and shoes with holes? But, it’s more than that. No one deserves favoritism, or a fancier place to sit, or more attention, or more service. Does God choose favorites? What if you are one of those excluded high school kids, sitting at the heavenly loser lunch table, with no way to even get close to God? Shut out from God’s loving, caring, nurturing presence?

            Thank God we are always God’s beloved children! We are always the favorites – all of us! Here is a quote by Max Lucado. See if it resonates with you. “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photo would be in it. God sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning Face it, friend – God is crazy about you!“

            Does God choose favorites? No! That is the way God feels about each one of us! Please, remember that as you go into the world. Treat every single person you meet as a very beloved child of God – because, they are! No matter what, no matter who!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/doers-of-the-word/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes