Every generous act of
giving, with every perfect gift, is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights, with whom
there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In
fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by
the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of
first fruits of his creatures.
19 You must
understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick
to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your
anger does not produce God’s righteousness.
21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and
rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness
the implanted word that has the power to save your
22 But be doers of
the word, and not merely hearers who deceive
themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and
not doers, they are like those who look at
themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at
themselves and, on going away, immediately forget
what they were like. 25But those who look into the
perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere,
being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they
will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think
they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues
their hearts, their religion is worthless.
27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God,
the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows
in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by
This is but a summary
of the experiences and wisdom in the letter of James. These are the
opening remarks of a letter from a man who knew Jesus well – he was
James was moved by
his brother’s own inspiring life, knew intimately the benefits and
consequences of using your voice for the betterment of others and your
community. Going against the grain. Witnessed large crowds and mixed
heritages eating, sleeping, laughing, and crying together. In the
gospel he’s only mentioned in passing in Mark 6:3 as one of the siblings
of Jesus. But there are 2 other James’s listed as among the first
disciples. Paul met James, and writes about him in Galatians. But the
chroniclers of history from the first 3 centuries of writers following
Jesus’ death also speak well of James. Some documents speak more of
James than they do of Jesus.
More than Jesus?
Amazing to think
about a context in Jerusalem where James gets the lead. This morning We
can only glimpse back into history and know a few things about him and
his influence after Jesus was crucified.
James is a first
fruit of the word of God brought through Jesus. And what he taught of
God did echo the stories and moral teachings of his brother and in doing
so exposed Jews and Gentiles a new way of living together, by respecting
the Jewish Law, but not requiring strict adherence to all the Laws; what
was more important was respecting one another, practicing worship
together. He was teaching a community to find balance by having faith
in one another. He speaks to those that share the faith of Abraham, not
only those that confess J.C. as Lord, which makes it one of the most
ecumenical writings in the NT canon.
It is a short letter
and you could read it this afternoon. This writer’s message is
egalitarian, not hierarchal, though he is addressing an intentional
community it can be read today by a general audience. He says God calls
us to solidarity, mercy, and compassion, and calls us to turn away from
corruption, violence, war. James was an authoritative leader of the
Jerusalem church. He valued the Jewish Law and the teachings of Jesus –
he was a Christian Jew.
And what were the
Christian Jews doing in Jerusalem in this first century? The Jerusalem
church was a share community with a shared meal as its center of
community. This is straight out of Acts (a canon source I know) but
also documented in non-canonical texts. They believed the apocalypse was
imminent and would be in Jerusalem. And they developed a spirit that
shared itself equally for all in the community, and encouraged all
members to do the same. Not only share the produce, tools, etc for
daily living, but in helping one another to stay focused on the gifts of
God and to not be distracted by the world.
This, from the
brother of Jesus.
I love this book of
the Bible because he is completely genuine with the reader and it
doesn’t really matter to me when it was written, 62 or 162, to know that
the book is written in the name of James – that his influence on others
of his time was a felt reality. It is significant that the brother of
Jesus was also celebrated for his words and the example he set in his
community. God called him too. And the good news? He’s not the only
There were other
voices in James’ time – Peter, Paul, Timothy, Stephen – names we’ve
heard before, names included in the canon we call the NT. But these
were not the only fruits of the harvest in those days. Those writings
that made it into the Bible were intensely debated and scrutinized for
years before it was all said and done. Jesus’ life and teachings
touched those lives but also moved others. God called others.
There is the gospel
of the Nazarenes, The Ebionites, The Egyptians, The gospel of Thomas,
Mary, Phillip, and The unknown gospel. There’s Seth, Thecla, Seneca,
Clement, Barnabus, Eusebius, Athanasius. Names we’ve never heard
before! I’m not making this up, these people also have a story, and
experiences, and wisdom they uncovered within themselves through loving
God. And they wrote it down, or shared it with others and they wrote it
down. These voices also spoke to the world and were left out of the
canon and yet they are still significant, still moving. And I’m always
talking about our legacy, they are a part of the legacy, our
And these are the
ones uncovered in the Dead Sea or Nag Hammadi caves! There had to be
others in that time.
For certain there
have been others since! God is still calling. There have been so many
others, throughout time Writing on the inspiration and wisdom from a
life of loving God and serving others. Now think about this – some real
good news - those are only the writers – what about all the people who
read these writings and responded in a different way, but still in good
God’s call just keeps
expanding, including more and more. There are a lot of voices out
there, too many to name, too awesome to think about.
But the point I am
trying to make, the one voice I want you to listen to you is the one
inside you. The word of God inside YOU. You are called to be a light
in this world. This is your chance. Do not just hear the call and hang
Listen deeply. Look
closer. Listen longer. Use the word of God planted in you and use it
in everything you do!
YOU are a first
I think often we
compare our worth to another’s – oh I’m not Jesus. No, it’s true. And
I’m not James’ – maybe not – but that does not mean that they are the
only ones with gifts to share, with wisdom to impart, with valid life
experience that could change another person’s life.
You too are called!
How do we know what
God is calling us to do? How do we know that it’s God calling and not
just me deluding myself? Best example I can give: Think of a time in
your life when what was really important in life became crystal clear in
your mind – and you knew course you had to take. Maybe you were faced
with a critical illness or you were grieving a change in your life, or
the loss of someone you loved. Or you may have faced a difficult
situation and suddenly what you truly value shines through you and you
know what you are going to do – this writer speaks directly to the
matter at hand. Humbly accept the word planted in you.
When you catch a
glimpse of God in your life, pouring from your mind, crying from your
eyes you hold onto that, look deeply into that moment, live richly and
fully in that moment, listening for more insight.
It can save you,
Those moments may be
few and far between in life right now but to set your mind to listen and
look that deeply everyday – that is when your life is transformed by the
word planted in you.
This is a message for
anyone in this age! Faith in yourself, faith in a higher power, an
energy, a God, faith in your neighbor these things actually build upon
one another if you will abide by them! It was originally a calling to
Jews and Gentiles, who were doing their best to live together. But now
this letter can be received by anyone who wants to hear!
“Faith matures by
what it endures” could be another summary of James’ letter. You need
not hide your faith in the corner or be embarrassed by it.
Live it. Take a
class to learn more, start a prayer group to practice with others, get
involved in your community, attend worship in as many styles as you can,
learn from your neighbors and teach a neighbor or two. If you are
grieving then grieve, knowing that God is planted in you. and if you
are celebrating then celebrate! Be thankful with your whole heart and
And for some faith
may be new – you may have but only a seed planted inside you, that’s ok!
That’s where you start. You start from where you are – if it’s small
you work on growing it, if it’s overgrown you get to prune and shape
your faith, if it’s blossoming we get to celebrate with you and learn
from you. If you’ve only a seed planted in you maybe it’s time to take
the spiritual gifts inventory, or join a discernment class, take a few
spiritual direction sessions with Elaine.
This is the day! Now
is the time! Listen closely, for you are called, Listen and do.