Book of James: “Taming the Tongue”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “The Tongue”
A Message on James 3:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 20, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 3:1-12 (NRSV)

 

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 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. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 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. 5 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! 6 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. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 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.

 

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I thought about changing the scripture for today. I seriously gave consideration to changing it to something… Well… More gentle, kind, and not as much “hit-you-over-the-head.” Something that might have more to do with back-to-school.

 

But the more I thought about it the more I decided that this was indeed a good scripture to explore for the beginning of the school year.

 

This was the deciding factor for me: For those of us who no longer attend school, think about a negative memory you have about school. Think about something that happened to you that caused you pain or anguish.

 

The odds are that words were involved in that memory.

 

If you think about it, most fights, including fist fights, first start with words. Someone will say something, and then the other person will say something back, and the choice of words and the volume at which they are spoken get louder and louder. Then punches are thrown and it becomes physical.

 

So I think talking about words, talking about the power of the tongue, is an appropriate subject for the beginning of the school year.

 

Most of you are probably familiar with the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”

 

Well, that’s a lie. I think this saying is more factual: “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words can do permanent damage.” Broken bones heal, but words have the potential to damage the heart and soul so severely that the person never heals from the wounds.

 

James refers to the tongue as a fire. I think that’s an appropriate analogy.

 

Fire can be good. There’s nothing like a really nice steak that has been cooked over a good, hot fire, preferably charcoal with a little birth of fruit wood, like plum or peach or apple, added for a little extra flavor. Yum!

 

But fire can be bad as well. Fire can destroy homes, kill wildlife and humans, and leave a path of destruction.

 

Words are the same way. They can encourage and build up, or they can tear down and destroy. And both come from our mouths. Both come from our tongues.

 

Back when I was in high school I didn’t have a healthy self image. I was short, small, a “late bloomer” (I thought for a long time I was going to be a “no-bloomer.”), and a weird geeky kind of kid. I had friends, but not any very close friends.

 

There were several teachers that had a profound positive impact on my life. Why? Because of their words.

 

I remember one of them,  my high school English teacher, Ellene Oliver, who used to compliment me on my writing. She said I was good at it and offered me many words of encouragement to keep writing.

 

I can’t tell you how important that was to me at the time. I grabbed onto those words and held on to them the way a drowning person hangs on to a life jacket. Those words gave me purpose, they gave me confidence, they gave me hope.

 

So teachers, as you begin the school year remember not to undervalue the power of your words.

 

Blaise Paschal, the 17th century French mathematician, inventor, and theologian, once said “Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.” That was certainly the case for me.

 

Here’s another example. Benjamin West was a famous American painter in the 1700s. Here’s one of his paintings you might remember from school. This is “Treaty of Penn with Indians,” painted in 1772.

 

When West was a young boy he wanted to draw a picture of his sister. Back at that time they used quills and liquid ink so West got all those things out. Well, as kids often do, he made a mess. The ink was everywhere. When his mom got home and saw the mess she didn’t jump on him about it. Instead she looked at the drawing and said, “What a beautiful picture.” Then she kissed him. When he was older, he said this about that moment: “That kiss made me a painter.” [Source: http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-power-of-a-mothers-praise]

 

The book of Proverbs in the Bible has a lot to say about words. Here are some examples:

 

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24)

 

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

 

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.” (Proverbs 10:19)

 

Okay, since it’s back-to-school Sunday, here’s an example from US History that backs up that last proverb.

 

The date was March 4, 1841. William Harrison had been elected as the 9th President of the US and that day was Inauguration Day. President Harrison had prepared an inauguration speech that had lots of words in it. Lots of words. Like almost 9,000 words. (This sermon has about 1,800 words, as a comparison.)

 

It was rainy and cold on that day, but President Harrison was unfazed. He insisted on giving the entire speech, and he did.

 

Unfortunately he got pneumonia and then died one month later on April 4, 1841. He didn’t have much of an impact on history.

 

By comparison, Jesus only spoke 45 words on the cross, and yet look at the impact he had on history.

 

[Source: http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-length-of-a-speech-does-not-indicate-its-results]

 

The apostle Paul gives good advice on the use of words. “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

 

Jesus himself speaks directly about the power of words. In the 12th chapter of Matthew, he says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

 

Ouch.

 

I’ve said before the popular adage that words are kind of like toothpaste: once they are out you can’t get them back in.

 

There’s another adage to think before speaking. Or as I like to think of it, put your brain in gear before you let off the clutch with your mouth.

 

Okay, confession time. Raise your hand if you have ever said something to someone that you regret ever saying. I know I have.

 

Emotion usually plays a role in those situations. Sometimes we say those things because you have been hurt, and your response to that hurt is to try to verbally hurt the other person.

 

And it is amazing how much power those words have, and how much pain they can inflict.

 

Sometimes we say things just to go along with the crowd, succumbing to peer pressure.

 

Back when I was in Junior High School my dad wouldn’t let me play football. As a doctor he had seen so many young people injured while playing football, especially severe knee injuries. He didn’t want that to happen to me, so he told me I couldn’t play football.

 

As a parent now I can understand why, but at the time it was devastating on my life. Cooper was like many small Texas towns in that football was king. It was the biggest most important thing in town. It was almost a religion (but that’s another sermon for another day).

 

Almost everyone played football. It was a really big deal. If you didn’t, well, there was something wrong with you.

 

I got called lots of names because of that. Friends that I had been friends with for life said things to me that really hurt. Those words made me feel worthless.

 

That’s the power of words.

 

Now it took quite a while but I got over that and learned some good life lessons from those experiences. And experience, while being a great teacher, is often a painful one.

 

So my challenge to you this week, and especially for the students who are beginning a new school year, is to think about your words before you use them. Remember what James says about how powerful the tongue is and how our words make a difference.

 

Remember not to bless God and Jesus with your tongue and then say mean and hurtful words to a fellow student, who is made in the image of God, regardless of what they look like or what they do. And that includes teachers and administrators as well.

 

Let us use our words to lift up and build. It all starts in our hearts. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

 

Therefore, let us change our hearts, remembering the love Jesus had for us on the cross, and that he has that same love for every single person on earth. We are all equal in the eyes of God.

 

We have given each student a tag to put on their backpack. I hope that in looking at that tag they will remember the love Jesus has for them, and for everyone.

 

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

Book of James: “Faith and Works”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Faith and Works”
A Message on James 2:14-26

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 20, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 2:14-26 (NRSV)

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.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

 

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Today we continue our sermon series on the epistle of James by looking at one of its more controversial parts, the section that deals with faith and works.

 

James, written by the brother of Jesus if you recall, believes that if one is a follower of Jesus Christ, then that person will perform works that are evidence of their faith. He sums it up well: “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

 

So, what’s the big deal about that?

 

Well, some people think that what James is saying implies what is called “works righteousness.” This is the thought that doing works, doing good things for others, gains points with God, and that when  you get enough points then you get to go to heaven.

 

How many of you remember S&H Green Stamps? It was an early forerunner of today’s “Plenti” program or credit card points or miles that can be redeemed for things.

 

The way it worked was that when you made purchases at stores that participated, they gave you these little green stamps. You collected those stamps, pasted them into little books, and then when to a S&H Green Stamps store or ordered from their catalog and used those stamps to pay for your purchase. Their catalogs and stores priced items by how many “books” they cost, and each book contained 1,200 “points.” There were even different denominations of stamps, worth one, ten, or 50 points.

 

I can remember when I was about 10 my mom bought me a sleeping bag with S&H Green Stamps. Man, I was so proud of that sleeping bag!

 

There are some folks who believe that salvation is like a loyalty program, a spiritual equivalent of S&H Green Stamps. If you did good and followed the 10 commandments, if you went to church and prayed before meals, and didn’t talk back to your parents, and washed behind your ears, then God would keep a record and if your get enough “points” then you could redeem them for a trip to heaven.

 

I thought that was as a kid. I had this image of God as a bookkeeper of my life and when I did something good I got a mark in my “good” column, and when I did something bad I got a mark in my “bad” column, and then whenever I died the column that had the most points determined whether I went to heaven or “h-e-double hockey sticks.” (I got in trouble if I said “Hell.”)\

 

As I got older and my faith started maturing spiritually my perception of God changed away from such a “works-righteousness” process to one based on faith and grace. We are saved by God’s grace, freely offered to us which we accept by faith.

 

Our works do not save us, our faith does. We cannot work our way to heaven.

 

James emphasizing works so much really raised the dander of the protestant reformer Martin Luther back in Germany in the early to mid 1500s.

 

Luther called James “an epistle of straw” and expressed his dislike for it by saying “…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”

 

Now he does have a point. Even though James is Jesus’ brother, Jesus is mentioned only twice in the whole letter. It has nothing about Jesus being crucified on the cross, about his resurrection from the dead, his ascension to heaven, or anything like what we find in the gospels.

 

But the main reason Luther didn’t like it was because he believed that one is saved by faith alone, and that James’ emphasis on works implied a works righteousness that conflicted with the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

 

Here are a couple of scriptures from Paul that talk about faith alone:

 

“…yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.” (Galatians 2:16)

 

Here’s another:

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)

 

And yet another:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

Now if you read those you can see where Luther might see how James could conflict with Paul’s writings.

 

Here’s how I resolve it.

 

I believe that it is by faith we are saved. Salvation is offered to us by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is offered free of charge, the very definition of grace, and all we have to do is accept that gift through faith. We believe Jesus is the Christ, that he died for our sins, and accept him as our savior.

 

That being said, the result of our salvation should be works. If we comprehend even just a small part of how great a gift God’s grace is then our hearts will burst at the seams with a way to respond. To not have works after experiencing God’s grace is, well, it just ain’t right.

 

We should be kind of be like Snoopy in the Peanuts cartoon in that we will want to do the “Happy Dance” to express our joy, and in that joy perform works.

 

The group MercyMe has a song on their new album (or whatever you call them now) that is actually named “Happy Dance.” It’s a catchy tune with some great rhythms. The bridge of the song is:

 

We’ve got reason to get up
Reason to get down
He done traded our sin for joy
And now, that joy wants out
Happy dance

 

Our joy does want out. And I think the best way to express those is with our works, the things we do as an expression of our love for God and love for others.

 

As one author puts it, “Works are not the cause of salvation, but rather works are the evidence of salvation.” [Source: https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-15-salvation-and-good-works-ephesians-210]

 

Now a note of caution: our attitude about these works is very important. We live in a quid pro quo type of world where we are willing to scratch someone’s back only if they in turn will scratch ours. We give only to expect something in return.

 

That’s worldly thinking, and that’s a sin. We should have good works with no expectation of getting anything in return. We should give them as a gift, freely and with no strings attached, the way God has given grace to us..

 

So what exactly are “good works?” Here’s a good definition: “loving acts of service to others.” It’s not just feeling love for others, but actually doing something. [Source: https://cccb.edu/blog/tag/good-works/]

 

Another article I read said that good works are things we do “…not to please ourselves, but to please Christ.”  [Source: http://www.teachingtheword.org/apps/articles/default.asp?blogid=6432&articleid=71821]

I like to think of it as using love as a verb and not as a noun. Verbs are action words, and our good deeds are actions as well. If we say we love God and love others, but our actions don’t back that up, then we’re talking the talk without walking the walk.

 

So my challenge for you this week is to “do something.” Consciously engage in good works as a response to God’s love for you.

 

Help out a neighbor by mowing their lawn.

 

Bring a smile to someone’s day by baking them a cake or cupcakes or cookies.

 

Volunteer to work in our mini-Methodist program which will be starting soon.

 

Call the elementary schools and spend some time each week with a child to help them learn how to read, or do basic math, or just have lunch with them to let them know that someone cares about them.

 

Help Juliana Travis out with her fundraiser for The Water Project by helping deliver whales to people’s yards.

 

Volunteer to help with our food pantry.

 

If your health limits your physical activity, find other ways to do something. Write notes of thank you and encouragement to people going through a difficult time. Call some shut ins (even those who aren’t church members here) and visit with them.

 

There are many, many good works to do. Prayerfully ask God to help you discern how and where to serve but be ready for the results, because they will probably move you out of your comfort zone. That’s okay. Step out on faith. Don’t be an angel of apathy. Do something.

 

I want to end today with a music video by Matthew West that emphasizes James’ words that faith without works is dead. It’s a song called, “Do Something.”

 

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now, thought
How’d we ever get so far down, and
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, yeah, I created you”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something, yeah
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
Oh, it’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

I’m so tired of talking about
How we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire and
I wanna be the one who stands up and says
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something, yes it is, come on
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
Oh oh, it’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

We are the salt of the earth
We are a city on a hill
We’re never gonna change the world
By standing still
No, we won’t stand still
No, we won’t stand still
No, we won’t stand still
No

 

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

 

Book of James: “Favorites”

Sermon Series on the Book of James: “Favorites”
A Message on James 2:1-12

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
August 13, 2017
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

James 2:1-12 (NRSV)

 

1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 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, 3 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,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 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? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8 You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 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.

 

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This past Friday our oldest daughter, Sarah, graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galeston with her doctorate in physical therapy.  It took three years full time of hard work but she did it, and we are very proud of her.

 

To celebrate this accomplishment Sarah had made reservations at a nice restaurant in Galveston for all the family members who attended her graduation ceremony. She called the place a couple of times to confirm everything and updated them on the number of people in our party.

 

Well we get to the restaurant right on time and it’s a nice restaurant.  I walk up to the the maitre’d stand and tell them our name and that we have reservations. He looks up at me kind of funny and said, “Oh, Wintermute? We’ve been trying to get in touch with you. There was some question as to whether your party would have 8 or 10 people.”

 

I replied, “We were at a graduation service so our phones were off. But, there are nine of us.”

 

I look across and I see a table set for about that many people. It’s really nice looking with cloth napkins and fancy glasses, the kind of setting that I don’t frequent very often.

 

He then looks at me and says, “Well because we didn’t know we might be able to seat your party outside on the patio. Would that be okay?”

 

“My daughter specifically requested inside seating. Her grandfather just had a pacemaker implanted and we want to keep him cool and comfortable.”

 

“I’m sorry, but we can’t seat you inside.”

 

“What about that table?” I ask him, pointing to the fancy lay-tee-dah table.

 

“I”m sorry, but that’s reserved for another party. We can seat you outside on the patio, though. And we have some fans…”

 

Sarah was very upset about the situation, and frankly I wasn’t too happy about it, either. And I thought we might have to physically restrain Pam.

 

The patio had shades, and it did have fans, and there was a nice breeze blowing, but there was also a excessive heat advisory in effect from the National Weather Service.

 

We ended up going out to the patio, but on one side of the long table there was a metal bench, not chairs. Pam told the hostess, “Uh-uh, we’re not sitting on a French bench. (She didn’t say “French,” but something I can’t repeat here in the pulpit that kind of sounded like it might be French.). So we moved the bench out of the way and the staff found us some chairs.

 

We ended up have a very good dinner and the temperature wasn’t intolerable as the sun went down.

 

We got the check, which, by the way, had no discounts for being moved outside, we paid and left.

 

As we were leaving Pam’s sister, Chris, asked our waiter who owned the restaurant. He pointed out a guy inside (in the air condition) who was sitting at a table with about 8 or 9 people around it. There was food on the table, drinks in the glasses, and they were laughing and having a great time. The manager, we were informed, was sitting there with them.

 

Now I have to tell you, I don’t think I will ever eat at that restaurant again. The food was great, mind you. It was really delicious. The service was good as well. But I couldn’t help but feel that we had gotten bumped outside so the owner and his friends could have the table originally reserved for us. It left a bad taste in my mouth (pun intended). I felt as if we were second class people.

 

I think there is a lesson that we, as the church, can  learn from this experience and from the scripture we read from the epistle of James today.

 

Do we show partiality in regards to who we want to attend our church? Do we view some people as second-class citizens? Do we play “favorites” when it comes to the work of God and making disciples of Jesus Christ?

 

James, in the second chapter of his power-packed, toe-bruising letter, warns the churches of his day to be careful of showing favoritism.

 

Here is The Message paraphrase of verses 1-4: “My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted.”

 

Ouch!

 

Part of our challenge of treating everyone equally and viewing them through God’s eyes (instead of the world’s) is that it runs counter to our culture.

 

Our culture segregates and puts people in boxes and categories. It happens everyday in front of our eyes.

 

We flew to Florida for our vacation a few weeks ago. It was the first time that all four of us flew on a plane together. We flew on a particular airline whose name will not be uttered [cough while saying “American”] and I was surprised by all the ways they kept trying to get me to “upgrade.” (I got the feeling that the word comes from the Latin root which means, “spend more money.”) If I would get their credit card then my first bag would fly for free, instead of charging me $25. While looking at the seating arrangement online I could select seats more toward the front of the plane, but of course it would cost additional fees.

 

When it came time to board they called for all the first class passengers first, then business class, then by boarding group numbers. We were group 6, by the way. When they finally call us peasants to board we get the honor of walking through the first class cabin with the privileged ones enjoying their complimentary drinks, larger chairs, and lots of legroom. We go through business class, whose chairs are not as big and which don’t have as much legroom. The further back in the plane we go, the smaller the seats get and the less legroom there is.

 

I barely fit in the seat, and my knees were up against the seat in front of me.

 

I know the airline is in the business of making money. I know they want me to upgrade and spend a lot more money for the nicer seats.

 

But what they ended up doing is to make me feel that I wasn’t as important as those in first or business class. I was a lower class, therefore I had to ride in the back of the plane where the ride is bumpier and where it takes longer to get off of the plane after we land.

 

God doesn’t view people through the world’s eyes, though. To God, everyone is precious, everyone is valuable. What the world labels and categorizes and separates into groups God unites and loves.

 

The scripture from James is evidence that even the early church had problems in terms of who should be members and who shouldn’t. It isn’t anything new.

 

But James’ response also provides guidance for us today as we seek to fulfill the great commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to show favorites.

 

A few years ago there was a story of a successful church that was located in an urban area. One Sunday as people began to arrive there was a homeless man asleep on the porch of the main entrance. He was dirty, his clothing was tattered, and he smelled of alcohol.

 

Most people avoided the man. Some ignored him completely and wouldn’t even look at him. Others started whispering to each other as they went inside after passing him. A few people actually talked to the man, some compassionately, but others telling him “You shouldn’t be here,” or worse.

 

When the worship service began the homeless man appeared at the front of the congregation. The homeless man had actually been the pastor of the church in disguise, and he had a few things he wanted to preach about.

 

It reminds me of a story about a man who showed up to a small church in a rural area for the first time. The man was wearing worn overalls and work boots and took a seat toward the back of the church. Nobody knew who he was, and prior to the service beginning he got more than a few looks. A murmur went through the congregation as collective whispers talked about the new visitor.

 

After the service one congregation member came up to the man, looked him up and down, and said, “Sir, before you attend here again I suggest you read the Bible and listen to what God says about how a person should dress to attend this church.”

 

The man, somewhat taken aback, said, “Oh. Well, okay, I’ll do that.”

 

The next week the man shows up again, again wearing overalls and work boots.

 

After the service, the same congregation member comes up to him and says, “I thought I told you to read the Bible and listen to what God says about how a person should dress to attend this church.”

 

“I did,” replied the stranger.

 

“Well what did God say, because you obviously did’t get the message,” said the congregation member very condescendingly.

 

“No, I got the message alright,” said the stranger. “I did what you asked me to and read my Bible and asked God how I should dress to attend this church. His reply was that he didn’t know because he hadn’t been here.”

 

Folks, don’t believe the lies the world, through the work of the deceiver, wants us to believe. Don’t place value on people the way the world does, but instead the way God does.

 

Here are a few scriptures about this subject:

 

“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

 

In Matthew 25, toward the end, we find Jesus talking about the Judgement of the Nations and separating sheep from goats. He tells the disciples, and us, this:

 

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

 

In the second chapter of Mark the Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating and hanging out with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus’ response?  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

 

Get the picture? Jesus tells us to shine the light of love on everyone, not just those we like or that look like us or that are in our social sphere.

 

I have a flashlight that has I can focus into a narrow beam. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means broadening that beam out all the way, not shining it like a spotlight on only those we like.

 

We are not to play favorites. We are not to treat people differently the way society does but to extend the love of Christ to everyone equally.

 

That is my challenge to you this week. I want you to meet someone beyond your normal social sphere, someone who is beyond your comfort zone, and invite them to church. And if they come, I want you to be a gracious host and invite them to attend Sunday School with you, to have coffee and donuts with you, to sit with you in worship, and maybe even take them to lunch.

 

And do it with an attitude of equality, not condescension. Remember that God loves them just as much as he loves you.

 

And tell them if that it’s even okay if they want to wear overalls.

 

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

 

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.