the evergreen community

James 1:19-27

James 1:19-27
Media- One Word
Welcome- Mike/Katie- Brian highlighting kids stuff
Reading: Psalm 119:169-176
We are working our way through the book of James- probably one of the earliest books in the New Testament, probably written by Jesus’ younger half-brother… a very practical book, and fairly straight-to-the-point, as we’ll see today.
One of the reasons we’re going through this book is that James is first and foremost about healthy communities… He’s writing to people, mostly Jewish Christ followers, who have been scattered across the Roman empire by persecution- and he tells them what so far?
Yeah- last week, we began and ended with what amounts to a healthy view of God- God is the one who gives us things. He gives us wisdom when we ask, He gives grace to the poor, to the humble, he blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation- James corrects us… when you are tempted, it is not God who is tempting you. That’s our own hearts, own desires that do that. And he circles back to a healthy view of God- God is the one who gives us good things. In fact, whatever good we find in this life finds its origin, its genesis is in God Himself.
Do you guys believe that a healthy view of God can lead to a healthy view of ourselves? How? What does one have to do with the other?
A healthy view of God may not necessarily lead to a healthy view of ourselves… but I think we’d be on pretty safe ground in saying that a distorted view of God most likely will lead to a distorted view of ourselves. So, James moves from giving us a healthy, balanced view of God to giving us a healthy, balanced view our lives, and specifically our interactions with others- and he even tells us how to get there.
VS 19
“Understand this”- literally “take note of this” or “know this.” “My dear brothers and sisters, you must all”… too often we read the word “you” in Scripture and we think “I, me” rather than “we.” This is a “we”- James is speaking to us- and he’s telling us that we need to think about how we treat each other. He says we should, actually he uses something stronger than “should”… “You must all be”- quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry.
James’ main issue here is that we avoid dialogues of the deaf- that we not find ourselves- whether person-to-person, friends, husbands and wives, or community-wide, always talking, never listening, simply spiraling further and further into alienation and anger.
“Be quick to listen”
He starts there, not with “slow to speak” because this should be our default setting, our basic stance in community- listening. Listening to God, listening to each other. Much easier said than done.
Slow to speak-
Both individually and in community- You never have to take back something you didn’t say.
Slow to get angry-
He doesn’t say never get angry- there’s a time for everything. But there’s also a way to get angry, and that way is slowly, carefully and we could probably say- rarely. Why? Why do all of this? Because…
VS 20-
As I said, there is a time and place for anger. Rarely is that time and place in the middle of a community that is interacting. Anger may occasionally serve as a good catalyst for action and change. But anger is a terrible ingredient in a conversation. And ultimately, in your life, it won’t get you where you need to be.
Why? Why would James warn us of anger?
It’s been said that depression is anger turned inward. Give reign to anger in your life and it will come out, and if it doesn’t come out, it will burrow in. Either way, it becomes destructive to you and those around you. It will not get you the life you want. So, he says…
VS 21-
Do you want goodness and righteousness in your life? Then get rid of the things our minds always turn to when we talk about “filth” or evil. But don’t stop just with the obvious things like porn… Don’t miss this- an inability to listen, a quickness to speak, a quickness to anger- these are, according to James- moral issues.  This is what James is talking about, in context, when he says “get rid of filth and evil.” If you are not careful, as you walk through this life, you will tend towards a quickness to anger- it gets some results. But James calls it evil. We tend towards a quickness to speak- trust me, I know- you want a blog that rises high on the Technorati listings- be quick to speak. But do you want to bring about the righteousness that God desires? Then anger and the resulting propensity to shoot off at the mouth must be dealt with, and decisively so. Be quick to listen…
To listen to what?
Listen to what? Not just to each other. He mentions something very important both directly before and directly after telling us to listen… God’s Word- The message, what God is telling us through the Gospel, through the Scriptures…
And more than just listen, he says… do it.
God’s Word- both the hearing of it and the doing of it, must be central to our lives as individuals and our life as a community. We must understand the Gospel, its implications for this world, the comforts it offers and the challenges, to constantly be asking- “What does the Gospel look like in this situation- what does it call us to here? What does it say to this person in front of me?… and to know that, to really understand the Gospel, we must understand the story- the Grand Narrative of God’s Word to us…
Because when we know it, listen to it, obey it, it changes us. The working of the Spirit of God along with the Word of God- that brings about the righteousness, the right life we want- that life of harmony with others, harmony with God. This story detailing the rescue and renewal of all creation through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf will not let us remain the same… it implicates us. It implicates us in the problem of evil in the world, telling us we are all, each of us culpable and it invites us into the solution- the work of Jesus on our behalf and a life spent following Him.
And what James tells us is that hearing is followed by doing, by obedience… or it’s not really hearing. See, I get that when it’s something I’ve said to my son Jack. I don’t know why I have such a hard time getting it when it’s something God says to me. Truly accepting the Gospel, the Good News of God’s Kingdom, means doing it- living it out. When we say “our goal is to ‘live life in the way of Jesus’” we could easily, easily substitute these words- ‘not just listening to God’s Word, but doing what it says”
Part of coming to God’s word with a listening attitude is coming with an attitude of coming under it. In some traditions, as the priest walks down the center aisle, after him comes someone carrying the Scripture, above the heads of all the people- as a visual reminder that when we come together as a people, we come under the Word of God- He speaks, we listen.
And that is a hard attitude to take towards Scripture, believe me, I know. I generally use the One Year Bible thing- so reading through the whole thing every year- I’ve done it off and on for almost 20 years and consistently, consecutively for about 6 now.  And can I tell you that there are certain parts of the year when it gets hard? And no, I’m not talking about the genealogies and all that. I’m talking about parts like I’m in now- When God’s people move into the promised land and conquer it and begin dealing with the people already living there. It’s hard for me to understand all that is said there- I mean, I understand it…. But I don’t understand it.
But my basic attitude is that I do not judge it- it judges me. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with it and wrestle with it, and bang my head against it sometimes… but I do so, in a sense, already knowing the outcome, already knowing that ultimately God’s Word wins. I read some of these things and don’t understand… but I take comfort in knowing that the more I read it, the more I catch the flow of the narrative and the arc of the story, the more I understand not just the what but the why, the more it makes sense to me- something that would never happen if I read it once or twice, judged it as somehow out-of-date or beneath a “civilized” person such as myself and walked away. I come back to it again and again and again and do my best to listen. And I understand so much more of it now than I did 10, 20 years ago. And maybe, in 20 years, I’ll understand even more. But only if I am quick to listen and slow to speak…
And more than just understand it… I come to realize that it explains me.
VS 23-24
He uses the word “man” specifically- Why do you think that is?
We look in mirrors because they give us information about us that we want to know, and because they let us know what needs to change, to be adjusted, where we’re fine and where we’re not. And God’s word does the same thing for us- but instead of the area of our appearance it does so in the area of our character, our relationships, our entire world.
When we focus on the Gospel, we see ourselves as we really are, and perhaps it's only when we focus on the Gospel that we see ourselves as we really are. 
When we stare intently at God’s word, when we read this narrative, we see ourselves. We read the story of Adam and Eve, and we realize it’s true. It’s not just that it happened. It’s that it happens. That was them, that has been everyone since them… and it’s me. I constantly hear God tell me- be careful with that- stay away from it- look at all the good you can participate in and partake of- you don’t need that one- it will only hurt you- and of course, like them, we walk straight towards it, hands outstretched.
With a mirror, the longer you look, the more you notice about yourself. We read God’s Word, I mean read it- over the course of a lifetime, and it shows us who we really are. We read stories like the prodigal son and we begin to understand just how far from home we are… and how much the love of God, like a father, longs to fold us back into the family.
We read this and it tells us who we are, and who God is…
We read the life of Jesus, we see how he treated others in spite of how He was treated, we read His words, what He told us to do, and we see not only who we are, and who God is, but who we are to be…
VS 25
“The perfect law- God’s way of doing things- as opposed to the laws we create, imperfect, unfair, our best attempts at justice that seem in many ways to consistently come up short. God’s way- different- when He says “live this way” He speaks with authority as the one who designed life, who has watched literally billions of lives from start to finish- so when he makes a statement about anger, or how we treat each other, about our morality, our sexual ethics, He does so from a perspective of understanding us, of wisdom… and from a standpoint of wanting something in particular for us- “perfect law that sets you free”… A paradox, a contrast. Sarah will talk more about this next week, from chapter 2- the law that sets you free… but for now, notice the “how.” “Intently”- purposefully, in a sustained way.
“Oh God- speak to me… You have 60 seconds.” No. That will never get us where we want to be.
Take some time in quiet, think about the space you are allotting in your life to just listen. Is it adequate? Is it bringing change in your life, bringing you closer to God and where you want and need to be? We’ll spend some time in silence considering, we’ll sing, and we’ll finish the passage.
Worship- 1 song
James has a way of being blunt- to the point. Receptivity to God and to God’s Word works itself out in tangible ways in one’s life- and is proven by certain things (a reoccurring theme for James)
Specifically here, he mentions two things-Controlling your tongue and caring for the poor. He says-
VS 26- if you don’t control your tongue, you are “fooling yourself”- literally you deceive or seduce your own heart and your religion is worthless. Why would James say that- how in the world does one follow the other?
“worthless”- man, that is a serious statement. In other words, if your religion doesn’t even change this very tiny piece of who you are, your tongue… if it doesn’t change your mind and move you in the direction of self-control in how you speak to one another, then what good is it?
Or maybe it’s not just that the tongue is such a little piece of us, but that our words are such a huge piece of every relationship we have- and if we won’t let Jesus impact how we speak, how we treat each other, these foundational pieces of our lives- then we really don’t have Jesus, we’ve just got a fire-insurance policy… and as it turns out, according to James, a worthless one.
VS 27-
Caring for the poor- we talk a lot about this. And can I tell you that it’s my worst nightmare that we would continue to talk a lot about this? Not that we don’t do anything- I know we do a lot, both as individuals and as a community… And what we do in feeding the homeless is excellent. I’m glad Athena and Nancy have stepped up to make that happen, and all those who regularly go with them… In fact, we need a lot more like them- because the fact is, I know that in this community there’s a lot of will to do good things for the poor- a lot of desire. It’s seeing that desire translated into action…
As I said when we started this morning- James is a book that points us toward healthy, balanced community. And in his mind, a healthy church is full of people who take great care with what they say to others and also take great care of those in need. How we treat each other and how we treat the poor matter.
James begins this section with what we say and how we act. And He ends the section the same way- our words and our deeds. And right in the middle, the crux of it all, the determining factor- God’s word.
On my own, I do not want to take care of the poor. I want to buy more consumer electronics… more stuff. And I certainly don’t want to hold my tongue. I’m pretty good at putting people in their place. It feels good. But God’s Word, when I come to it, changes me, it moves me- the Holy Spirit uses it to change me in ways I need to be changed, uses it to move me to places I would never choose to go.
So let me ask you- are you quick to listen, or quick to speak? Slow to get angry? I can ask those same questions another way: Is your, is my religion worth anything at all? Let us take a minute to do what James tells us to do- to listen... to listen to the word of God here and the Spirit of God as He speaks to us. Consider- Where are you, where would you like to be?
And then let’s ask God to move us, to change us. Let’s worship and cry out to God to make us the people, the community He needs us to be- the kind of people whose religion is worth something- both to them and to all around them. 

Wrap Up- Bob

Prepare when you come to God’s word- both individually and as a community. Practically- I don’t listen to the radio on my way here

Don’t rest on what others are doing- don’t try to get credit for their work.

Blessing:Prayer of St Fursa
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