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!

Be a Do-er!

“Be a Do-er!”

James 1:16-25 (1:22) – August 29, 2021

            When my children were small, they sometimes used to bicker and argue. And not only with each other, but with me and my husband, too. We would correct them about certain common-sense things, and a typical response would be, “I know that!” It didn’t matter whether it was “Don’t touch that hot stove!” or “Don’t run out into the middle of the street!” Their response would often be, “I know that!” Complete with an eye roll and an ornery attitude.

            So often, parents, grandparents, teachers and other adults are put in an awkward situation. We may question if our children really know what they just did! Time after time, we adults agree with this chapter from James that our actions need to match what we know and say. And, face it. This is not only true of children. It can be true of adults, as well. I suspect we are all familiar with the phrase “Don’t just talk the talk – walk the walk!”

            James wrote this letter to a bunch of believers scattered all over a large area of what is now the Middle East. They were living in small groups, and the letter was copied and passed around from group to group, sent or mailed for encouragement and instruction. In other words, James sent out a manual for Christian living! A how-to book: how to LIVE the Word.

            The great theologian Martin Luther did not like the letter James wrote. “Martin Luther thought James was dangerous stuff. He thought that James was an “epistle of straw” because of all this hearing and doing stuff. See, Luther was afraid that we would read the Letter of James and come away with the feeling that it was all about doing.”[1] I understand where Luther was coming from, because he came out of a Christian tradition where people had to earn their salvation. People in his time and place had little certainty of their salvation, and constantly needed to be doing more and more just to placate some mean, vengeful God in heaven, as well as some judgmental, nasty-spirited church leadership here on earth.

            Thank God, we know the grace and mercy of God! And, so did Martin Luther! Yet, we are faced with this challenging letter from the apostle James! What ARE we going to do with these hard-hitting verses of his? How are we to respond to that talk about doing the Word? Walking the walk? Living a life of Christian action?

            Some people love to get into discussions about the Bible. About what exactly the words “salvation” or “justification” or “sanctification” mean. We love to dive deep into the Bible, “but find it a lot more difficult to do what it says. Of course, our problem is even more complex than that. Theological knowledge can easily become a good work in itself. We can easily make theology our religion.”[2]

Such philosophical, esoteric discussions can go on and on and on. I love theological discussion, don’t get me wrong! However, several hundred years ago, some Christian writers put their finger on these endless, almost frivolous discussions: they called those involved in them theologians arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

            Again, I greatly enjoy discussing theology! Yet, something within me wants to be up and doing, too. What about the Bible, anyway? Is there any application here? Anything for me to do? Any way for us to honor God through action, through doing what these verses say?

             James does give us some excellent examples in his how-to manual of Christian living. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” Plain-speaking from James, and hard-hitting, too! He does not sugarcoat his words. And sometimes, these words are hard for us to hear, and even harder to put into practice, like James is telling us to.

            And yet, as our commentator David Lose says, “All of these things are within our reach. What parent doesn’t want to be slower to anger with his or her children? What friend doesn’t want to be a better listener? Aren’t all of us in a position to offer help and support to those in need? James encourages us not just to think the faith, but to do it.” [3]

            Now, is James only talking to pastors? To church leaders? No, he is not. James is addressing the whole congregation. That means all of us – all of you. Everyone in the pew, no matter what, no matter who. James considers each one of us as believers. Each one of us is important, with our daily lives and activities and responsibilities. It does not matter if we serve in a large arena or a small circle: we all have the opportunity to serve, to be doers of the Word.  

As David Lose suggests, I invite you all to write down one place you will be in the coming week where God could use you to listen, to be patient, or to care for those in need. Or maybe we could have folks stand and actually commission them as God’s co-workers and partners in making this world a more trustworthy, safe, and healthy place.[4]

Remember, James gives us a how-to manual. How to live the Christian life! Listen to James: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!” However we are gifted or moved by the Spirit to carry them out, we all have our marching orders. Do what the Word of God says! Love, care, encourage, help, serve. And love some more. Amen, alleluia!   

@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/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-lectionary-planning-notes/fourteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-b-preaching-notes

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/sunday22be.html   “Be Doers of the Word,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.  

[3] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/ordinary-saints David Lose

[4] Ibid.