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First Fruits

Sermon - 8/30/09
April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

James 1:17-27

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 souls.

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 but deceive 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 the world.

 

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 Jesus’ brother. 

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 one!

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 inheritance. 

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 faith.

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 up, people! 

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 fruit! 

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, James says. 

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 mind! 

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.

 


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