Doers of the World
B Revised Common Lectionary
This is second of a series of sermons on the book of James. You may recall the book of James was written to the Jewish Believers living outside of Israel. Many of the Jewish Believers were the descendants of slaves or freed slaves. Judaism and its emphasis on one God was not well received. Jewish Believers, living outside of Israel, faced persecution, from non-believing Jews and from secular society. The secular community and the spiritual community did not accept these Jewish Believers. Gay Christians are often rejected by their spiritual community and by the secular gay and straight communities. Early Jewish believers could relate gay Christians.
Most of this book is practical, rubber-meets-the-road spirituality. Practical advice about living can seem legalistic. James is not a book of dos and don'ts for salvation. This is a book of how to let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.(1) The light that shines for God in the intense darkness of persecution is very bright. Gay Christian congregations can be a very bright light to the world.
After James reminds people that good things, not temptation to sin, comes from God, James tell us how to live. That is where we pick up as we read James.
James 1:19 - 27 (KJV) Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. Difficult advice. When I was a kid, there were a few times my mother gave me a time out. I had to sit a few minutes and not talk. I could never make it!
Some First Nations' (aboriginal) people are slow to speak. They think first. I appreciate that. I need to do is to consider the impact my words might have, before I say them. And I need to slow down, so I let people have a chance to really say what is on their hearts, instead of trying to jump in and make a point.
Being slow to anger is not just the anger we feel through the ordinary frustrations of life. This includes how we debate the Word. In this passage, God may be asking us to not lose our tempers when discussing the Bible.(2) Yes, even when those people are homophobic.
We should be swift to hear the Word of God.(3) One way to feel swift to hear the Word is to remember who wrote the Word and why it was written. The Creator of this universe and the Redeemer of lost sinners wants to talk to you. And He does it, when we read and study His Word!
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. The older I get, the more I realize I have never regretted not speaking angry words, but I almost always regret speaking in anger. A few words, spoken in anger, can damage a relationship.
I do not get a feeling that James expects us to never get angry, to never speak harsh words, to never lose it. I think James encourages us to dig for reasons to build people up, even in the face of the overwhelming persecution of living for Jesus as a gay Christian.
James continues, telling us we are to replace the flesh with the Word of God that is grafted in our souls. As Christians, the Spirit resides in our hearts. The Spirit is grafted into our souls and that is how the Word is grafted in us.
Be ye doers of the word. The Bible is to be lived out in the world. When people see you at school, at work, at home and at worship, they are reading the Bible. Those words can be wonderful words, words that build up, that point people to Jesus. Or they can be devastating words, words that break people down and turn people away from Jesus. The reality is that we live in a post-Biblical society. Many people know a few Biblical catchwords and phrases, but they have never read the Bible. Our lives might be the only Bible people read.
My hope and prayer is that the Gospel we write today is John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
James 1, verse 27: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
Leo Buscaglia is a well-known educator. Years ago, I listened to him on an audiotape. I seem to recall that at the supper table, his father used to make the kids share one thing they learned that day. He described what sounded to me like a last-minute panic, as the kids tried to come up with something, anything they had learned that day. He said that as a mature man, when he is in bed, he can hear the question, "What did you learn today?" And if he cannot answer the question, he gets out of bed and reads until he learns something. Real students never stop learning.
Verse 27 is a reminder of what real religion involves. The commentator William Barclay states James is saying, "The finest ritual and liturgy you can offer to God is service of the poor and personal purity."(4) Pure religion touches lives. I can almost imagine God, sitting down with us at our supper table, asking the question, "And who did you touch today?" Being gay Christians means that even in the face of persecution from all sides, we are not happy until the Spirit confirms in our hearts that we touched somebody for the Lord today.
I wished I knew who wrote this, so I could give the person credit. You may have heard the poem:
The Gospel is written a chapter a day
By deeds that you do and by words that you say.
Men read what you say, whether faithless or true.
Say, what is the Gospel according to you?
(1) Matthew 5:16.
(2) J. Vernon McGee seems to feel it does. Refer to: Thru the Bible With J.Vernon McGee. (Pasadena, California: Thru the Bible Radio, 1983), 638.
(3) McGee, 639.
(4) William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible: The Letters of James and Peter. Revised Ed. (Burlington, Ontario: G.R. Welch, 1976), 61.