Book of James: “Perseverance”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Perseverance”
A Message on James 1:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 6, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 1:1-12 (NRSV)

 

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings. 2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. 6 But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10 and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

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Today we begin a six-week sermon series on the book of James.

 

Now if the scripture I just read sounds somewhat familiar to you it’s because I have already preached on it earlier this year when we were doing the sermon series on “What We Believe” that went along with what the confirmation class was learning. Back then we were talking about “Spiritual Life,” but today I want to look at this scripture from the perspective of “Perseverance.”

 

Now the book of James in the Bible is actually an “epistle,” which is a fancy word for “letter.” James was a common name back then, as it is now, and scholars don’t exactly agree on who the author is. (Actually, when you think about it, scholars rarely agree about anything, right?)

 

The general consensus is that it was written by James the brother of Jesus  sometime before AD 70. During the 50s and 60s things got tough to be a Christian Jew as they were persecuted not only by the ruling Roman authorities but also by the Jews who consider this group of Jesus followers as a heretic cult.

 

James writes this letter to be circulated among the different groups of Christian Jews. I guess a modern equivalent might be a group email. It was meant to not only give support and encouragement, but also to offer correction to behaviors and to avoid reacting to violence with violence that was prevalent at the time.

 

James starts off talking about perseverance: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

Now I don’t know about you, but when I face trials it’s really hard for me to “consider it nothing but joy.” When I look for a word to describe tough times, “joyous” doesn’t jump to the top of my mind.

 

Back in January 2005 my appendix burst early on a Sunday morning. Pam rushed me to the hospital where I had to have emergency surgery and then had several post-op complications. I was in bad shape. I spent 10 days in the hospital. It was not a happy time.

 

Looking back on that time I can’t imagine using the word “joy” to describe it. There was joy when I rode that wheelchair out of the hospital, but that was about it.

 

And yet James writes to us that we should consider it “joy” when we “face trials of any kind.” Those “trials” might be health related. For example, a young fisherman that I follow on YouTube, Lake Fork Guy, (whose real name is Justin Rackley),  just this last week found out he has a brain tumor only to find out that the insurance he had been paying for was bogus and didn’t cover anything.

 

He posted a “vlog” (video blog) about it on Youtube (https://youtu.be/HScTKx-2Kps). Here’s part of what he says:

 

“It has been what most would consider to be a nightmare of a day, especially for a family, finding out you have a brain tumor, and then also finding out you’ve been scammed by an insurance coverage. You have a brain tumor, you really don’t have insurance, that’s a bad day.”

 

He then goes on to say this: “Unfortunately in some cases when you put your faith in man, that ends up failing you. And you can put your faith in money, and that will eventually fail you, too. I think the only thing you can put 100 percent rock solid faith in is the Lord and your best friends and family.”

 

Later he says, “I know some of you get a little cringey around the whole God talk and everything, and I’m sorry about it. But that’s just the way it is. That’s what’s going to get me through this thing.”

 

Our “trials” might be the loss of a job, it might be a financial crisis, it might be a relationship that has become strained and damaged seemingly beyond repair. It might be one or more of the many types of addiction. It could be the death of a loved one.

 

Our lives are not immune from trials. It is just a part of the reality of life, evidence that sin and brokenness do exist in the world.

 

So why in the world would we consider it “joy” when we face these trials?

 

James says it is because “the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

This sounds very similar to what Paul wrote in the 5th chapter of Romans, which was our first reading today. Paul goes even further, though: “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

 

When I talk with people going through tough times I often will use this metaphor: How many of you have been to the mountains, real high mountains, like the Rocky Mountains? What grows on the top of those mountains? Not much of anything. There is something called the “timber line” in which even trees don’t grow above.

 

But what about the valleys? The valleys usually have a lot of trees and things growing in them. Things grow in the valley, but not on the mountaintops.

 

Our faith is kind of like that. When things are going well, when life has few or no trials, we are on the mountain top. Things are great, but our faith doesn’t grow. We develop the mindset that we did all of this ourselves and that we don’t need God. We start to worship ourselves. We push God into the background of our lives.

 

When the trials of life bring us to the valleys, however, we turn to God in our time of need. Our difficulties seem beyond our control, when we feel overwhelmed by our troubles and difficulties, we start praying to God fervently, asking for his help and power to help us overcome the problems or at least persevere through them. Our faith grows during these times, even though they are painful. We recognize that we can’t get through them on our own, that we are in need of a higher power, we are in need of a savior.

 

Our faith doesn’t grow when we are on the mountain top. Our faith grows in the valleys of our life.

 

I think that’s what James is telling us in the scripture we read today. I think that’s what he means when he writes, “and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

Jesus Christ is our savior because we need a savior. That’s why we have the Lord’s Supper, to remind us that we are in need of a savior. No matter how tough times get, no matter what trials we face or will face during our earthly lives, we have hope because of Jesus Christ. We have a savior that cleanses us from our sin and reconciles us to God, not because we deserve it or because we earn it, but because he loves us. We have a savior that intercedes for us in ways that are so holy we can’t even comprehend it.

 

So my challenge to you this week is to face those trials head on. No, they are not pleasant, but in fact are very painful, but in facing and living through these trials our faith is grows and is strengthened. We persevere, and in doing so our endurance “have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.