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Becoming a Speech Master (Sermon September 13, 2015)

James 3:1–12 (NRSV)

Taming the Tongue

3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

 

What do people say about you? A simple question that depending on your age, or current circumstance may be something encouraging or devastating. It is ridiculous really how much weight many of place in the words that people speak to and about us. It is ridiculous but we cannot help ourselves. People talk, people listen, we are concerned that maybe what people are hearing might be untrue or even worse the truth we do not want others to see. The spoken word.

How we speak to others and how we speak of others can reveal a great deal about the character of an individual, and even the community in which individuals participate in. Yet do we really consider what the words we speak to those around us are doing?

James the brother of Jesus speaks a great deal about the words that we speak for a reason. The words that people spoke got someone very close to him killed. Have you ever considered that our words could be taken to that level? That concept struck me over the course of this past week. I spent a great deal of time contemplating speech, words, how words can be perceived and how they could be twisted. The spoken word.

All week I have scrolled though news feeds, viewing picture after picture, editorial after editorial of people urging us to remember a day fourteen years ago. It is a day most of us will never forget, a day where the foundations of a mighty nation of people were shaken, a day where we were faced with a very grim reality. How often have we considered what was spoken around that event?

I do not want us to brush this to the side but I want us to consider it fully. That day happened because people spoke words carefully strung together to drive emotional response that may or may not have been true, they spoke these words in such a manner that those who heard the words would not question the validity of what was being said but would believe. People were blamed for the situations that others found themselves in, guilt was professed, a solution was proposed, and promises were made. This was done over the course of a lifetime, and slowly through the use of carefully manipulated words people within a community were moved to such a degree that they felt it was not only permissible but a righteous requirement to kill.

Now on the flip side of the equation, words were also spoken, words that assessed blame, guilt was announced, sentences were carried out and promises were made. Carefully formulated words that were spoken in a tone, manner, and location to move people in such a way that they would feel that it was not only permissible but a righteous requirement to kill.

How many of us have considered how much power the spoken word has over people. The spoken word can encourage an individual to strive for greatness, or it can feed primal instincts of survival. Yet so often words are spoken with little regard. This is why James says that not many of you should become teachers. Last week I said that James was probably the most controversial book of the New Testament and this is just another example of why this controversy is there. For most Christians in the protestant branches of the faith we have an understanding that every person that is a disciple of Christ is a priest of a minister. That every man, woman, and child has the ability and directive to spread the Gospel of Jesus. Especially among the Friends traditions, of which for most of its history did not have an office for a position in the church meeting of Pastor. Because we have a strongly held belief that we are all called to be ministers.

Not all of you should become teachers. I have to admit that this statement does not set well with me, because I firmly believe that if God wants something to be said or done He will empower that person or group of people to act. Because the words did not set well with me, because they challenged my understanding of what I thought to be true, I studied what was going on. I must study because I might have missed something important and it is my responsibility to seek out answers. Does James just come right out and say that not everyone should preach the Gospel? Did James say that there is an ordained office of teacher that we must submit too? The short answer is yes, yes he really did say that, but that is not the total answer.

All too often we fail to fully hear when words are spoken. We catch a part and if the words do not fit well with our preconceived ideas we stop listening and often if we were just able to listen to the second half of a sentence we would have found an explanation for the perceived discrepancy. James says not all of you should be teachers. The word we translate as teacher in the ancient world does not only mean Pastor, even though it is often used in that sense. The word used is probably more clearly understood as skilled master.

In college I took a couple of semester of Taekwondo to fulfill a physical education requirement. I learned a great deal in these classes, I moved up in stature among the community of students, but I am not a skilled master. I should not be a teacher of Taekwondo, because if I were to claim to be a teacher of Taekwondo someone might get hurt because there is much more I would need to learn. I can however assist the master in teaching those that have not yet made it to the same level I am at. If you have ever hired skilled laborers, there are various levels of expertise: apprentice, journeyman, and master. A master plumber, is more skilled than the apprentice because they have spent many hours perfecting their trade and skills. The Master plumber is the one that trains those beneath them and the one that we feel the most confident with. The other levels we probably would not even call. With this in mind not everyone should be considered a skilled master. Does this mean that an apprentice plumber cannot fix a leak in your pipes? Does it mean that a yellow belted Taekwondo student is incapable to defend themselves in a fight? No it simply means that there is more that can be learned from others. Not all of us are master teachers, but we can assist people along their journey to the place where we are.

Why are most of us not able to be teachers? Discipline, or more accurately disciplined speech. I have just illustrated that the spoken word can be used to manipulate people, to move them to do things that they were incapable to do before, this can be either positive or negative depending on the will of those speaking. James says that the tongue can be like a small fire that consumes a forest, or a deadly poison that can become a curse to those that hear. Discipline is key. Fire is not always a threat to the environment, in many ways fire is a necessity for the health of an ecosystem. This is why ranchers and scientists have continued to utilize this primitive tool when managing range lands of the prairies. Fire is also a powerful tool that can be used as a method of controlling unwanted weeds within croplands as well. But we all know fire, when not controlled, is dangerous. At this moment there is currently 1.6 million acres of land being burned by 33 uncontrolled fires in the American west, communities are threatened, families are being displaced, and lives have been lost.

Now let us consider poisons. What is a poison? A poison is a compound that can cause illness or death. These poisons can be naturally occurring or they can be compounds manipulated by man to produce some sort of desired effect. Many things could be poisonous if they are used improperly but under disciplined care many poisons can actually be lifesaving elements. Something as simple as Visine which can be used to lubricate dry eyes if used improperly can cause severer illness, and something like rat poison if used properly can manage cardiovascular disease. So fires can promote or destroy the environment, and chemical compounds can promote or destroy life, how are you using your words?

Not all of us should be teachers, or more accurately not all of us should be considered speech masters. This does not mean that we cannot encourage those around us to follow Christ. It simply means that we should be very aware that we need to have discipline when we speak. One of the most recognizable traditions of Friends worship is that we utilize times of silence to encourage communion with God. During these periods of Silence we not only hope but expect that the Spirit of God will speak and move us as individuals and as communities. This can be a powerfully spiritual experience, but it can also be a place where people can cause great spiritual harm. During those periods of silence no one really knows what might happen, we just wait in spiritual limbo. It can be awkward at times, it can be enriching, it can be rest for your souls, or it can be convicting, and during this time anyone can speak. There is an old proverb that states, “Do not speak unless you can improve the silence.” I do not know where this comes from, or who originally said it, but it is profound. Just because words are not being spoken does not mean there is a void of concern or activity. But the idea that words should improve the silence points to the fact that what we say should be out of discipline. Or as James says earlier in his letter to the church, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Silence allows the words to settle before they are reacted to, it allows one to consider fully what has been said so that when we respond it is not out of anger but out of the desire to improve. When we are able to listen before we speak and to discipline our speech to improve those around us we can control the burns, instead of causing wild fires. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better equip to administer healing balms instead of poison.

Just as a Taekwondo master spends a lifetime in practice, just as a musician spends years practicing an instrument, just as a doctor spends time in study, and plumbers fine-tuning their skills we must practice the discipline of speech. Jesus taught us this through his life and his ministry. Throughout the scripture we are told that He made it his custom to worship in the synagogues, that he would withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and that he would go out to the community to minister though teaching and healing. This I have often called the Holy Rhythm, but it is simply a life of discipline and devotion. It is no different than a doctor learning their trade, or any other skill humanity has mastered. This holy rhythm is a life devoted to the Kingdom of God. We have incorporated this in our mission as a church to be a people loving God, Embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Christ with other. This is a call to a different life, a different life style, a lifestyle that does not look at personal gain but community improvement. It is a lifestyle where we listen first and speak only if we can improve those around us, by pointing them to the source of true hope.

As we enter into this time of Holy Expectancy consider the way you have used your words this week. Have they been used to improve those around you, or have they caused harm to the environment? You may also want to ask God how to help you in this area and just sit in the silence until you can improve it with your voice.

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Dead Faith or Living Communities (Sermon September 6, 2015)

James 2:1–17 (NRSV)

Lord, that I might see! Matyas Church Budapest, Hungary

Lord, that I might see!
Matyas Church
Budapest, Hungary

Warning against Partiality

2 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Faith without Works Is Dead

(Cp Gen 22; Josh 2)

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

 

Of all the books of the New Testament, James is probably the most controversial. I find that very odd because it is one of my favorites, following the Gospel of John. I should rephrase that as being it is the most controversial in the western church and particularly the ones from more protestant variations. The Eastern Church loves this letter mainly because the eastern cultures have a different perspective on many things. I mentioned last week that this book was written by James the Brother of Jesus, and many have argued that James and Paul might have been having a debate while they penned their letters to the churches, while other scholars simply believe that they were speaking to two very different cultural perspectives. I tend to lean more toward the latter. I say this because I have visited a more Eastern influenced culture and found that they think, speak, and act in different ways. Their culture is more community focused than what we have come to know as the west.

East and West, I do not want you to think that I am speaking of current events when I say this. In ancient times we all know that the kingdoms of Israel were conquered by the empires of Assyria and Babylon, and were later assimilated by Persia when it conquered Babylon. All of these empires came in from the East. Then Greece from the west began to push from the west across the Persian Empire, pushing the Persian Empire to their farthest Eastern boarders known today as India. After a time Israel gained their independence from Greece forming the Hasmonian Dynasty which ruled for 123 years until Rome was asked to assist the nation in a civil war becoming a puppet kingdom under the leadership of Herod. Under the Greek and Roman leadership Israel began gaining more Westernized ideas, these ideas were what prompted the revolution from which they gained their independence for a short time. But for most of its existence, Israel has had a very eastern perspective, this is not surprising since Abraham was called out of the city of Ur, which was a prominent city of the Sumerian Empire the first major empire of the Middle East from which Babylon and Assyria emerged.

So we have these Eastern and Western ideologies working among the people of Israel, James was a leader of the Church in Jerusalem while Paul was writing to a cultural perspective that did not have the Eastern influence and was strongly influenced by the Greco-Roman philosophies. When Paul writes his letters to the people in the west they think and speak differently than the people James writes to in the East. This is important to consider because as we contemplate and study scripture the cultural perspective is important. Jesus was born and lived in a timeframe when the East and West were both influencing the area Rome called Palestine, much of the struggles that Jesus mentioned were issues revolving around ideologies that clashed between the two perspectives, and James writes to the people that continued to live where the East met the West. Of these influences the role of the individual within a community were the greatest struggle, mainly which is more important the community or the individual.

This has been a struggle within the church from the very beginning. As Paul moved west taking the Gospel of Jesus to the courts of the Roman Emperor, he was taking along with him a very eastern minded religious perspective, where the community took on a greater importance than the individual. Which was very contrary to the ideas of the west. And as the western ideas of individualism pushed East James was reminding the believers that they could not neglect their community. This struggle is most vividly seen in the passage we read today.

“My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” Israel was founded on equality. No one tribe was seen as greater than the other in respect to their inheritance. Each tribe was given land in accordance to their numbers. There was no favor was given. It remained this way until the people began to desire a king to fight for them. Favoritism is not from God, favoritism deems that one individual is greater than another. God warned Israel about this saying that a king will demand your sons and daughters, your produce and your flocks. Why because the king has the right do to their position of ruler over the people. Now once they had a king, your position in respect to the king gave people status over others. No longer were the people equal but they were guided by the rules of favoritism and hierarchy. People begin to strive to find favor with the king, to rise in favor, where does this leave everyone else? There can only be one king, the community begins to take a back seat when the king is not God.

The Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of men. In God’s eyes we are all equal, no one person is greater than another. It is the kingdoms of men that cause oppression, it is the kingdoms of men that rule over other and demand allegiance. But the kingdom of God calls us to love Him with all we have and to love our neighbor. This is what James calls the royal law.

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” The concept of mercy comes out of justice, which come from the concept of equality. Mercy or justice does not take into account favoritism, it does not put one person higher than another but all members of the community are held at the same level. To live merciful lives we must look outside of ourselves and treat those around us as equals. Mercy and justice build the community where judgement based on favoritism cuts it away. James urges us to become a people not just of faith but of mercy.

This is where the controversy comes. Most Evangelicals hold very tight to the premise that we are saved by faith through grace, not by works. This is a concept that was strongly held at the time of the reformation and continues today. James says, “What good is it.” And people like Martin Luther tense because he goes on to say, “Can faith save you?” This is not so much about theology but theology in action. Remember James is writing from a perspective that the community of great importance. He gives an example that faithful looking at those in need and saying to them have faith and stay warm and fed. Yet these people need clothing and food. Can God provide? Absolutely! But what are we as a community telling them? If only you had enough faith then all your needs would be provided for. Our faith is not magic, we cannot command God to grant our wishes and call receipts down from heaven. No salvation happens when the community of faithful live lives of mercy. When we see those in need we as a community pull together and help them.  

James speaks of this from observation. He saw this lifestyle lived out before him and at first he totally rejected it. Yet something changed. He saw his brother make it his custom to worship, he saw Him withdraw to the isolated places to pray, and he observed Jesus minister to the needs of those around him. He saw all of this, he saw it move people that once lived on the fringe of society back into life. He saw people once left for dead in the leper colonies restored to the community fully cleansed from all that society rejected. He saw blind eye restored, withered limbs refreshed, and the dead come to life. He saw this and it scared him, it scared him because he thought he was better than these people. If Jesus his own brother is restoring those people where does that leave him? It scared him because he had worked so diligently to be seen as righteous, yet to his own brother these beggar were equals. He also saw that as Jesus’ followers grew in number things began to change the oppressed were no longer living as oppressed because the community took care of them. Each person as they followed Jesus added to the community.

Then he saw something even greater. The leaders were losing favor so they began to plot. James then was fearful for other reasons, if they kill his brother would they then seek me out? He began to openly rebuke Jesus, calling him a mad man because he was afraid that if he did not speak out judgement would then hit him. But Jesus did not cower. He looked out to the crowds and said that they were his family. Jesus died on a cross, he was buried, and then he rose again. He even spoke with him. James like the others did not know what to do or to think, but on the day of Pentecost Peter spoke up and thousands believed, and so did he. They began to live the lifestyle of Jesus and greater numbers were added daily. They lived that holy rhythm of worship, prayer, and ministry. Faith did not save James, it was the community of faithful living by the royal law, that brought him to the feet of Jesus the author and perfecter of faith, not just faith but mercy. 

Friends we can live by faith or mercy, we can live by judgment or grace. We can claim to have the right answers or we can help others take steps toward Christ by helping them see beyond their current circumstances. James does not say faith is out of place, he merely says faith without action, faith without movement, is dead. He is saying that often God is calling us to be the answer to the prayers of the naked and hungry, we are called to be the answers to the prayers of the hurting and the broken. We become those answers if we become people of mercy, when we become people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.

As we enter this time of open worship, I encourage us to consider and examine our lives with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Ask ourselves if we are bringing glory to Jesus through our lifestyles, and actions? Are we becoming answers to prayer or are we simply pushing people away? And are we willing to change direction as James did?

True Religion (Sermon August 30, 2015)

James 1:17–27 (NRSV)

Ten Commandments, unnumbered Haring, Keith painting,1985 New York, NY, United States

Ten Commandments, unnumbered
Haring, Keith
painting,1985
New York, NY, United States

17 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. 18 In 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.

Hearing and Doing the Word

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore 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. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But 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. 27 Religion 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.

 

There are many thing going on in the world around us. Things that make us question the very fabric of our being. Many of us feel as if everything we have ever stood for is being ripped out from under us and we stand alone, we stand with no support, and no direction. We feel as if we must grasp ahold of what every is left of the life se have known and hold on tightly, we grasp because we are afraid. Why do we fear? Why are we afraid of our future? Why do we look at the world around us and not see the hand of God but only chaos?

Perspective. A few weeks ago I mentioned that perspective is a very important. The ability to look at things from a different point of view can bring a different understanding and maybe even deepen our faith. The past month of so I presented a different perspective on the interpretation of the letter to the Ephesians that many of us had not considered before. I did this because it is necessary at times to be challenged so that we can grow, some might consider that perspective a novelty or an action to raise the eyebrows. That is not the intention. It was necessary to show this perspective so that we might see more, understand more, and be able to take steps of faith beyond where we have been. Last week I wanted us to consider the emotions of a church divided and the base emotional reaction that we have when we think, perceive, or assume actions of other. What base reaction occurs? We prepare for a fight, we begin to choose sides and garner support against the perceived enemy, and we misunderstand or are blinded to the reality of what God is doing all around us.

This week we begin to look at the letter of James. Although scholars debate who wrote this letter, because I guess scholars just like to debate, the general consensus is that this letter was written by James the brother of Jesus. I want us to consider this just for a brief amount of time because James was not always the largest supporter of the activities of Jesus. In many cases he opposed the ministry of Jesus and deemed His actions as a threat to the family. James had a perspective about things, he had an assumption as to what reality was, and his conclusion was to oppose his brother. But something happened to this once hostel sibling, his perspective was changed. At one time James was known as James the judge, but we now know him as James the just. He was once geared up to battle his own brother but that changed and he became a servant of the very one he once opposed. Everything changed when he encountered the reality of what God was doing around him. He encountered the living Christ.

James experienced something that he could not really explain, he experienced something that caused him to reconsider everything he once knew, and because of this he started down a different path. James was always a devout individual, even when scripture depicts him in the worst light his devotion to God was never questioned. Yet after James saw the broken body of Jesus that was buried in a tomb restored to life, the course of his life was altered. He became an outspoken supporter of the ministry of the apostles to the point that he became the leader of what we now call the church of Jerusalem.

He speaks of generosity as being a perfect gift from God, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. I want us to consider this for a moment because many people will argue that there is a distinct difference between God revealed in the Old Testament and the New, yet James is saying that there is no variation or change. Remember this is a devout man of faith that at one time opposed his very own brother believing that Jesus was expressing something contrary to the truth, and he is now speaking in support. There is no variation or change in the Father of Light, God has not changed but what humanity sees does. Perspective is important, not because it changes God, but because it might allow us to see God more fully.

James then encourages the readers and listeners of this letter to understand something very important. “[Let] everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” Let us allow that to just percolate in our hearts and minds for a moment. Let everyone be quick to listen. The first thing about this statement is that to be quick to listen there is a requirement for another personality to be present, a person that is speaking. James is encouraging us to place a high value on relationships. That a true servant of God listens. To listen to the stories of another we affirm that of Christ in them, we are telling them that they are worthy of our attention and are valued as a human being.

The desire to be heard is powerful. It is a base desire of all humanity, it is one that is deeply rooted in our very genes, we are a species that thrives in community. Science is proving that our brains can not function to their highest potential unless there are other brains around us to communicate with. When people feel as if they are not being heard it devastates the individual and the community as a whole because it devalues their and our humanity. Those that are unheard are pushed off to the fringe of society, and when this continues it breeds anger and revolt. The media right now is filled with the protests of a segment of our population that feels that they have not been heard, that is the root of the Black lives matter campaign.

This idea of listening, of building a relationship with those around us goes beyond humanity. It also applies to listening to God, and recognizing His place in the community. The most recognizable aspect of our Friends tradition of faith is our practice of listening worship. From the very origin of our movement leaders and worshipers would meet together to simply listen in silence. James and our spiritual ancestors of the Friends tradition recognized the importance of allowing space to listen to God by observing the lifestyle that Jesus lived. He made it His custom to worship, and he would withdraw often to pray in isolated places, and then he would minister to the community. Listening is not a passive task but the most important aspect of a relationship with humanity and with the divine.

“Slow to speak,” is the second part of James’ advices to the followers of Jesus. When we look more deeply into the usage of the words that James penned this has deep meaning. On the surface we might say that we should allow some time to pass between listening and responding vocally, but that is not the full depth of what James is saying. To be slow to speak is to mind what we say and not mock, judge, speak falsely, or accuse. So when we speak we should make every effort to encourage a deepening relationship, our words should be considerate and uplifting, building up the community with love and grace which flows from the father of light.

Next is slow to anger. This anger is not the initial emotional response of being upset but refers to wrath or inciting deeds of anger. To be slow to anger means we should actively seek the opposite of wrath which is forgiveness and reconciliation if a relationship is strained.

So when James says, “Let us be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” he is encouraging us to build relationships between humanity and God, encourage a deepening and more meaningful conversation that is focused on grace, forgiveness and reconciliation instead of condemnation. And if we are willing to listen and strive to encourage and reconcile relationships we should be moved to participate in that relationship through action.

James says be doers not just hearers. Again this is a reflection of the life of Jesus, he would move out of the isolated places of prayer and would enter into the community ministering to all of those in need. He would heal the sick of diverse illnesses, and he would listen to the words spoken to him. He would not just stand and preach but often he would allow the conversation to flow. Consider the woman at the well, he asked her for a drink of water, which immediately entered into a political debate over the validity of the heritage and faith of the people of Samaria. Jesus did not condemn the woman but was slow of speech, moving the conversation away from who is right to something deeper as he explained that a time will come that true worship will not be done on the mountain or in the temple. He then moved the conversation to grace.

James is telling us that God has not changed but our perception has, it has become cloudy and we need to step out of the clouds to see the truth. He is saying that we can be completely right and completely wrong at the same time if we are not actively participating in honoring and restoring the humanity of our community to a right relationship with God. James was a devout man of faith yet he realized that all his religious devotion was not helping anyone. Jesus does not call us to participate in ritual but in live. He is calling us to reflect the light of the Father to the world that is trapped in darkness. And to reflect that light we must listen to those around us, we must speak words of encouragement and restore their relationships with the community. This is true worship, the true religion. It is not about what we are getting out of the church services, or sermons, but listening to the voice of God and the voices of those around us. It is about being moved into action and living the love of Christ with others.

As we enter this most sacred time of our meeting for worship, the time where we listen to the voice of God, I pray that we will be quick to listen, and respond accordingly to what he has to say. Let us also consider how well we follow the advice of Jesus’ brother and be willing to help those that could use the encouraging word or deed.

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