Sunday Sermon 29th - August The letter of James : Practical Christianity 101
The chosen hymns for this week, Sent by the Lord am, As a fire is meant for burning and Fight the good fight can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
The letter of James : Practical Christianity 101
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 29nd August.
Over the next few weeks we will be looking at different excerpts from the Letter of James. To be honest this letter wasn’t regarded as all that important to the early protestant theologians. They tended to look down their noses a bit on it. They loved the letters of Paul, they were full of deep and meaningful theology that they could get their teeth into, they could write libraries of books based on all the nuances of Paul. They loved talking about things like
sanctification by faith,
But James, James was a letter that seemed too simple, it was a book of advice that you could just read and take to heart, you didn’t need screeds and screeds of explanation to make sense of it.
The truth is though, the Bible is not meant to be hard to understand, but just because we understand something, doesn’t mean we put it into practice.
In fact, I would suggest that passages like James are tougher books of the Bible to read. And they are tougher because we have no excuses when we don’t put them into practice.
But we will look into that more after Gil gives us our reading from James, and leads us in prayer
Hymn 250: Sent by the Lord am I
This reading is from the New Testament section of the Bible, a letter from James.
James, the writer of this letter, was not the apostle James, but he was most likely one of Jesus’, brothers. James became very prominent in the early church in Jerusalem.
His letter was intended for Jews who had become Christians, and he wrote to give them instruction, and also to encourage them to keep going, in spite of the difficulties and dangers that they faced. He stressed the importance of behaving as Christians should.
First let us ask for help to understand this reading, so let us pray:
Lord, you know that when we read your Word we do not always fully understand its meaning. Help us to open our minds to see what it means for us today.
Now reading from James, Chapter 1, and reading verses 19 to 27.
James 1: 19-27
Remember this, my dear friends! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.
20 Human anger does not achieve God's righteous purpose.
21 So get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you.
22 Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.
23 If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are.
24 They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like.
25 But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice - you will be blessed by God in what you do.
26 Do any of you think you are religious? If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourself.
27 What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.
Now let us all come before God in prayer.
Great and Everlasting God, we praise you. We know that you are all-powerful, and that with you nothing is impossible, but our human minds can never understand the magnitude of your power and wisdom. You have promised that your Spirit will always be with us, to help and comfort us, but we can easily become so involved in our daily lives that we forget that you are always ready to listen to us, and to help and guide us. We know that we don’t deserve your love, but Jesus has shown us that you are loving, generous, merciful, and compassionate, and that you want each one of us to be the best that we can be. Lord, without you we would have nothing, because everything that we have comes from the resources that you have given. We thank you for all that you provide for us, and we thank you that you have given us the desire to understand, and the ability to learn, about your creation.
Merciful God, forgive us for not always doing our best to follow your ways; for the times when we have forgotten about you, and for the times when we have deliberately ignored you. Too often we have forgotten that you are present in all our activities. You can be found everywhere; you are in our homes, our towns, our schools, our places of work, and you are with each of us now.
We confess that we often get things wrong, and we ask for your forgiveness for the times when we have done things that can hurt or damage others, and also for the times we have not said or done something that may have been helpful to others. Lord, forgive us for all our failures.
In our Bibles we have the benefit of the teaching and example of Jesus, and as his followers we should show love, compassion, and forgiveness to all people. May we be willing, not only to read about Jesus, but may we also be willing to copy his example, and act as his hands to show love to all. Lord, forgive our resistance to change. Prompt us to take heed of your message, and give us the strength to make the changes that we need in our lives.
Compassionate God, you know that many people feel overwhelmed by the pressures of everyday life. There are many who are finding life difficult because of loneliness, sadness, or worries about employment, housing or finance.
We remember too, that there are people all around the world whose lives have been affected by natural disasters, such as the recent disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Others are suffering as a result of man-made conflicts, as in the current situation in Afghanistan. Many people are afraid for their own safety, or the safety of family and friends, and many have lost relatives, friends, their homes, and all their possessions.
Lord, we ask that you will send your Spirit to strengthen and comfort all those in need, and to prompt us to do our part to help them.
Hear our prayers which we offer in the name of Jesus, and we further pray in the words which he taught his followers.
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.
May God bless this reading of His Word, and may He lead us to a better understanding.
Hymn 541: As a fire is meant for burning
It helps a wee bit to understand the book of James if we understand how and why the books of the New Testament were written.
And the first thing we need to understand, and I know that this might be hard to accept, but none of the books were written for us. I know this might sound very basic, but none of the writers of the any of the New Testament books sat down one day and thought, ‘in 2,000 years time there will be a problem and this is the message they will need to hear to sort it out.’
Our world, our culture, would be completely alien and incomprehensible to them.
They wrote to the people of their time to sort out problems of their time.
So Paul wrote a lot about theology because he was talking to as church that was trying to make sense of a God that would sacrifice rather than demand sacrifices,
trying to work out how this was different from the Old Testament concepts of God,
how this Jesus different from the gods of the Romans and the Greeks,
and how did that then change how we treated people and thought about our place in the world..
By the end of Paul's life the persecutions of Christians were beginning to seriously take place and the original disciples were beginning to die out, also there fantasy stories about what Jesus had said and done to justify belief systems that were starting to grow so the Gospels were written so that people still had eye witness accounts of the life of Jesus.
By now the church is spreading and not only is the message influencing the lives of people,
the lives of people is influencing the church, and tension is being created.
Things that were taken as basic truth in Judaism like circumcision, food laws, Sabbath laws, only marrying within the faith, are being questioned by those who came into the faith from outside Judaism.
So Paul deals with all the deep theology stuff, the Gospels deal with the life and times and words of Jesus stuff.
And then comes the practical problems...
Like how do we worship?
And this was a huge problem.
The original Christians were all Jews, and the way they worshiped was in a Jewish way.
Jesus was a Jew and he worshipped in a Jewish way.
So when it came to worship the Jewish Christians felt that worship was very clear cut.
We do it in a Jewish way, the way Jesus worshipped.
If it isn’t broke then why fix it?
There were foods that you ate and there were foods that you didn’t eat.
That was the way Jesus did it, so why change?
If it isn’t broken then why fix it?
Women and men should be separated, the men should be the only ones with positions of leadership in the church, and only the Jewish hymns should be used.
That was the way Jesus did it, so why change?
If it isn’t broken then why fix it?
All the Jewish rituals and celebrations should be observed because that was the way Jesus did it, so why change?
If it isn’t broken then why fix it?
And the truth was that it was broken, and trying to hold onto the past was never going to work.
As it turns our very soon the temple would be destroyed and all those rituals and customs would have to change, the writing was already on the wall, the people just didn’t want to read it. They found comfort in the past ways of doing things, and they didn’t want to let go.
And non Jewish Christians were challenging all these presumptions, because they lived in a different world and they saw the way things were going and it wasn’t practical for them to do it the way it had been done in the past.
So James writes a very practical letter. Not a theological treatise, just a simple letter. Now when I say simple, I mean simple to understand, not necessarily simple to accept and put into practice.
In James’ eyes Christianity is about how we live our life.
It doesn’t matter what you believe in, it’s what you do that matters.
You can say the nicest of things, but if those words aren’t reflected in our actions then they are meaningless.
It’s not about talking the talk; it’s about walking the walk.
I want you give you a practical real life example which I have used in the next magazine because it is so powerful.
I was watching a seminar from Danielle Strickland, she had been in Rwanda where the government were trying to implement a policy of Transformational Change. Now that sounds very fancy but basically they wanted to make real changes for the better in people’s lives. And the change they wanted to sort out was domestic violence and physical abuse of children.
In one village they had managed to achieve a 60% reduction in child abuse and abuse to women.
When Danielle found out about this she wanted to find out how they had managed it.
And she discovered that it started with one elder of the church.
This one elder had gone on a course of transformational change. And all they had done was start by asking him where in his life things were good, and where he would want things to change.
And this elder said that his church was great, his work was great, but the home life wasn’t good, if he could sort out his wife and children then that would be great.
Knowing he had a problem there he could now go through a process to change that.
So they got him to imagine his life as tree.
When we look at a tree what we see first of all is the fruits.
In this man’s life there was fruit that he wasn’t happy with; the relationship he had with his wife and children.
Now there are various temptation in dealing with the fruit;
maybe get rid of them, divorce his wife and find a better one, have better children,
there is the temptation to pretend that we are stuck with that fruit and just had to put up with it, but bitter fruit is hard to swallow and put up with, that just makes us more and more angry and frustrated, there is the temptation of ignoring the fruit, pretending that they just aren’t there, spend all your time playing golf, or maybe just wishing God will produce other fruit on his tree. .
So the first part of change was realising that he wouldn’t achieve anything by ignoring the problem or pretending hat there isn’t a problem.
The trick of dealing with the fruit is to go back a stage.
Fruit don’t just appear, they come from somewhere.
The elder was told that he needed to look at the branch that produced that fruit...what actions was he doing that were creating that fruit?
But then he had to go further, he needed to look at the trunk of the tree...what values were creating those actions?
But then he was told he couldn’t stop there, he needed to look at the roots of the tree...what beliefs were creating the values that were creating the actions that were creating the fruit?
So the elder then broke it down...
His fruit was a home of tension and fear.
It was caused by his actions of anger and violence...that was the branch.
That was caused by the values of respect that he demanded because he was the head of the house....that was the trunk of the tree.
That was caused by the roots of a conversation he had with his father just before he was married when his father told him that he was going to be the head of a new house. As head of the house he had to look after and control it and he could only do that if his wife and children were obedient to him, and that obedience could only be created by fear.
That was the root that had to be challenged, the area that had to change, and it did. Instead of demanding obedience, he sought out vulnerability because love can only be created where there are no barriers or walls or fears.
Soon his church was challenging that elder to tell them how his family had changed so much for the better. And that elder went through the whole process with the men of his church and then the church men went through the same process with men in the local community.
And that area of the country then went through a 60% decrease in domestic abuse.
That is what James is getting it.
Don’t complain that you are angry, look at why you are angry.
Don’t look at people as problems, you will never help anyone if they are a series of inconveniences and problems that you are trying to solve. People are the beloved of God, once we accept that in the core of our being, once we believe that of ourselves and of others, then things will change.
What comes out of us is just the fruit, but if the heart is not right, the fruit can never be right. So we need to sort out our heart, then the rest will follow.
If we are honest with God, with ourselves, about our fears and worries and ambitions and hopes, then amazing things can happen.
A decrease of domestic violence by 60% because one man was honest.
What could we do if we followed the same process in our lives?
Let us pray
Maybe you listen too well.
Our prayers can be monologues of how you could make our lives better.
Monologues of all the things that are wrong in the world that we hope you can sort out.
Monologues of how others have made our life harder or expect too much of us or how they should sort out their lives.
If we are honest most of the time our prayers are just ramblings that we give and when we stop rambling we stop praying.
We don’t wait to hear your word of reply.
We don’t wait to see if you want us to act in a situation.
We don’t wait to see if maybe you want us to change.
Help us to reflect...not just on the outside of our lives, what we and others see.
And not just to accept that the way we have been is the way we always have to be.
Help us to look at the actions we have done that have caused those reactions on others.
Help us to reflect on what we believe about ourselves, and about others, and about our church, that have caused those actions.
What are our expectations and why do we have those expectations?
Do we feel entitled, our used?
Do we feel ignored, inconsequential, or that our responsibilities are too much of a burden to carry?
And what in our heart has caused us to feel these ways?
More than anything else; help us to see that if we want change in our life, then we need to start a journey of change.
And may we see the true wonder of your grace and love, is that you don’t make us walk that journey alone.
This we ask in Jesus name
Hymn 517: Fight the good fight