By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 29, 2021
James 1:17–27 (ESV)
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
We have spent a great deal of time discussing the concepts surrounding bread over the past few weeks. For some of us this might have been slightly annoying because what can we really learn from bread. For others I hope it has given you a greater understanding of what the sacred meal, and every meal really means to us, both physically and spiritually.
The elements of communion are more than a ceremony but they are an invitation. An invitation from God, to sit at his table to discuss, among other things, peace and reconciliation. I love this image. It is such a real and tangible thing to grasp, but I think we have made it ritualistic, and in some ways emptied the symbol of all its real transformative power. Once something becomes routine, we often forget, why it is even there. This is why I gladly support the Friends view of things. Not because I reject the use of traditional elements, but because I want us to focus on the reality behind and within what is going on. And that reality is always available because the Spirit of God is ever present.
Last week, I mentioned that the eating of the flesh of Christ and the drinking of the blood has deep meaning. The blood of a living creature represents life, and it was sacred no matter what kind of animal it was. All blood belongs to God and was not to be eaten by those who were part of God’s people. They took this command seriously. Blood was collected from the animals that were being processed for food, and this blood was to be buried in the ground. This burial represents the giving back to God the things that are His. God gave all living creatures life, so that organ that represents life is returned to the earth from which God had called it from in creation.
The concept surrounding this giving of the flesh and blood to be consumed is deeper than just a meal. When we share a meal, we share life. This gathering together around a table is more than just maintaining the energy to survive, but it is a building of community. Those that share a table are at peace with each other. For a family to eat together at a table, is a testimony to each one present and anyone else that may observe that we are in this together. I share that which maintains and sustains life both within the food, but this also extends beyond the table. If we share a meal, if we are at peace with each other, we proclaim that we will support and encourage their continued wellbeing. A meal is to be shared. A meal should be a time of celebration and community. It should be a testimony of our dedication to the one that gives life and a statement that we will do what we can to support life together.
Bread is more than just bread. Bread is life, bread is the word of life, bread is the source or the beginning of wisdom. We do not and cannot be at our best without food in our bellies. When children come to school hungry, they are unable to concentrate and therefore are at a disadvantage to learn. There is a direct connection to hunger and the ability to process knowledge. When we feed our children, we support and maintain a brighter future. But what type of future do we desire?
Last week I mentioned a passage in James, and we are going to look deeper into this book for the next couple of weeks. I Like the letter of James. It is often regarded as the first of the catholic letters by scholars. Which is something that we might find as odd, but when scholars say catholic, they mean universal, or general. The protestant reformation caused many to reject the use of this word, so many evangelical scholars call the catholic letters the general epistles, meaning they are not written to one particular church, but were letters written for the general encouragement of all the churches. Even though James is the first in our list of general epistles, it was one of the last books of scripture to be generally accepted by the church as being part of the cannon. There are many reasons for this, mainly because of who is believed to have been the author. Tradition tells us that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the letter. But the reason this is called into question is because it is written so well. I find that funny. We question the validity of something because it is written too well. They have a point. James, the brother of Jesus, was not an educated man in the standards of the world, so when a letter attached to his name is written so well it does beg to question if he wrote it or someone else wrote it. This does not matter. Every book you buy today may be written by an author, but before it gets to your hands, the words written have gone through a collaborative editing process. This means that someone with language knowledge meets with the author in some manner and helps the author convey what they had written in a more coherent manner. James was regarded as a very important individual within the church of Jerusalem. If James was as important as scripture says he was in Jerusalem, there would be people working with him to make sure what was said and written clearly expresses what James wanted the churches to know.
There are other problems though. Martin Luther, one of the greatest theological minds within the church especially among protestants, did not like James. He felt that the words written with this letter contradicted the teachings of Paul. Especially the core tenet of reformed theology that a person is justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. This view, though not widely accepted since we still have James in our bibles, was taught really until recently. And the most recent scholarship has found that Paul and James simply had a different approach in speaking. James largely spoke from a community sense, where Paul spoke largely on an individuals place within the community.
This is important. We are individuals but we are also a community. We do not exist in isolation. We cannot exist in isolation. Our mental and physical health requires that we maintain some contact with other human beings. Everything about our human existence requires community to exist. I have mentioned that there is a myth that we often perpetuate in our American culture, of the self-made individual. This is a myth because no one is self-made. Your education was community based, even if you did not attend school, the knowledge you have was passed on to you by others, and you have built on that knowledge that was given to you. Your financial success was not made in isolation, even if you manufacture or provide a service yourself, you make those products and provide serves to someone. Your community has made you who you are. And what you contribute to others can either encourage or discourage the growth of the community.
James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
You are here for a reason. God wants you here. Though the generations of history that has gone before and the generations that will come after, God has worked everything out for you to be in this place at this time. This might sound a bit like predestination, but here me out. God began something in creation that he has not given up on. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and on the sixth day of creation God created mankind. He placed them in a garden and walked with them in the cool of the evening. God created us to participate with him in the joy of his creation. But mankind in that perfect place, within that communion with God, listened to another voice, the voice of the serpent. This serpent convinced them that maybe they could gain something they wanted, even needed by taking what was not given to them. This is what we call the fall. I want us to think about this for a moment. Could it be that the knowledge that Adam and Eve so desperately desired, was the knowledge that God wanted them to possess? Could it be that the knowledge was not the sin but the sin was that they sought to obtain the knowledge outside of God’s original plan?
This is what James is suggesting. The term Father of Lights is only used in this letter, and most scholars believe that by using this term James is speaking about creation. But the phrase speaks not about the creation of humanity but the creation of celestial bodies, or heavenly beings. These heavenly beings were created as part of God’s family or community. God has always wanted a community. And when creation occurred God spoke with these heavenly bodies to collaborate with how to continue creation. Let us make man in our image. And God placed them in a garden, in the garden. He placed them in that place where heaven and Earth met. God placed Adam and Eve within the place where God lives.
The beginning of creation begins with light, and God created that light with a word. Words are the vessels of wisdom. We use words to transmit knowledge from one to another. And the beginning of this transmission of wisdom was the utterance of the words to create light. Light, word, and wisdom have always been connected. And light, words, and wisdom have always been connected within the ancient world with the gods.
It was God’s desire that we would have the knowledge he created us to obtain. James says that every good gift is from the Father of Lights. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” We were created to be God’s ambassadors over all of creation. We were created to be the administrators, the carriers of God’s wisdom to all creatures. We were God’s final creation. The greatest creature. Over the angels, created to be God’s voice and the transmitters of God’s truth. But the fall of humanity occurred when we desired to obtain that knowledge outside of God, we listened to the creatures instead of the creator. The serpent in that story, could be one of those heavenly bodies created by God. They had knowledge but were giving it out in a way that was not approved by the Father of Lights.
Even though our first parents fell, God did not change his plans. He continued to encourage us and guide us in the knowledge of the world. But our relationship was changed. We no longer had communion with God in the way that we once did. Death had entered the world and the Father of Lights the creator of life cannot be approached unless the stain of death is alleviated.
This is our rightful place. We were created to walk with God. We were created to attend to creation as God’s voice and instruments. But we in our desire for immediate gratification listened to other voices and the fruit we were created to bear became bitter.
“Knowing this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
We were created to be in relationship with God. We were created to have all the knowledge of creation so that we could move forth from the Garden and bear the light of truth to the world. But we got in a rush. We misused that which God gave us and were banished from the Garden because within that Garden was another tree, the tree of life. We could not have access to that tree, because we did not know how to use the knowledge, we now had access to.
Everything we have access to is a good and perfect gift from God. This world is filled with great wonders. Every single day we discover new uses for things that at one point we considered to be useless. Every day we discover and uncover more knowledge, but how do we use it? Humanity discovered fire. An amazingly wild energy source. We used it to make food more palatable. It provided protection from predators, and it illuminated the darkness. But it did not take us long to use that amazing source of energy against those we regarded as enemies.
We can use the knowledge we have for good or evil. And at times we cannot even distinguish between the two. James tells us to be quick to hear. What does it mean to hear? Light and Word are often used in reference to knowledge and wisdom. Sight and hearing are the sensory devices our bodies use to process light and sound. These are the processes we gain wisdom.
James tells us to be quick to hear. We should have a desire to gain knowledge. We should seek it out, devour it in many cases. Because that is what we were created to do. We need the knowledge so that we can take our place at God’s side over creation, but what do we do with that knowledge? Slow down. Our fall was a result of our desire to act before we processed knowledge. We wanted the fullness before God had a chance to reveal what we needed to know.
One of the greatest aspects of being a pastor is when I see, during a conversation, when something clicks into place within someone’s mind. I am sure this happens with many teachers in other fields as well. But when that single piece of information clicks into place, suddenly there is a rush of understanding. When I first became a pastor there was one student in the church’s youth group. I spent a great deal of time with this student. We would have bible studies that would often last three hours. He was home schooled and his parents worked nights so they were glad that he was with me instead of somewhere else. We would have these discussions and we would call them Bunny trail bible studies. One thing would lead to another and that would lead to something else and then at the end of three hours we would try to come back to the point and figure out how or why all of this was important. We must do that last part or we have failed.
“Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Anger is the use of knowledge, or the misuse of knowledge. I want you to think of a time you were angry. What were you angry about? What prompted the anger? When I have an argument nearly every time it is because of a lack of communication. Somewhere along the line either I did not hear or convey the knowledge and as a result I reacted without full knowledge. I know this is true. We make assumptions as humans. We assume that someone knows, what we have not confirmed. We assume that our spouse knows that we need something but we have failed to confirm that. When they go to the store and fail to purchase the item, we assume they knew we needed, we get angry. Why? We did not take the time to confirm that the knowledge was transmitted. We like to say that finances are the number one cause of divorce. The truth is that assumptions are the number one cause.
Be slow to anger. Process the knowledge we have and ask questions. Do your best to not act until you have a clear way forward and that those around you also possess the same knowledge. Be slow to react, so that we have time to process the situation. Be slow because our actions have consequences that affect more than we might be aware of. We need to slow down because we do not exist in isolation. We live within communities, every action we enact ripples through the community in some way. And that action can either encourage or discourage someone in their lives. James encourages us, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” These are the actions that we do that are done without regard for those around you. These are our selfish desires. When we pursue these things without considering others, we risk causing harm. Is it wrong to fulfill the desires of our body? No but when we satisfy those desires without considering others around us, we can cause harm. Is it wrong to protect my family with force? No, but there is a line where protection can cross over into revenge and revenge can start a cycle of hatred and disregard for human life which is war. Be slow to anger, be disciplined in our actions and reactions and focus on what is most important.
The most important thing is to participate in what God initiated. The Father of Lights created all things and gave them to us as gifts to be used for his pleasure. We as humans in our rush to obtain and to move things along listened to the voices of lesser beings and took was not ours to be had at that moment and we caused our own destruction. From that moment on God has tried to rebuild and reverse the injury we have caused and has called out to us to join him in that process. But all too often we misunderstand and are quick to act without full knowledge. So, God became the offering of peace for us. He sent His unique son to dwell with us. And Jesus, the incarnate word, reveals to us what God really wants. Jesus, the incarnate word, provided the means and the way to restore us to our rightful places among the community of Lights, through his death and resurrection. God, incarnate, defeated death for us and through him we can be restored to life. But why? Why did Christ do this? He did this because we were created to care for world that God created.
James concludes this section by saying, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” I want that to soak into our minds and spirits. This is a call for holiness yes, but it is more. It is a call to communion and peace with God. It is a call to turn away from the selfish pursuit of knowledge that causes harm and a return to the slowness of community where we walk together in truth. It is a call to return to God, and to participate with Christ in the restoration of humanity, where we can once again manage creation in the light and truth of the Father of Lights. This is a difficult task set before us. It is also a necessary task. There is pain and brokenness all around us, but we cannot be instruments of healing until we are quick to hear, and slowly process how to move forward together.
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.