Epistle: James 3:13 – 4:8
Dear Spirit, inspire the hearts of all gathered here this day with your presence and your wisdom; may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.
Last week I mentioned that Mark Douglas calls the letter of James a “homiletical mural” where the author gives readers “an overview of what true wisdom looks like: taking care in how we speak, giving care to those in distress, and being careful about what we let into our lives.” His succinct summary of the whole of James bears some thought. Calling it a book of Jewish Wisdom literature, Douglas describes true wisdom as not so much being “about actions so much as the integration of thought, will, action, and context. Not faith or works; [but] faith and works made coherent in wisdom.”
A colleague of mine at Columbia Theological Seminary, in writing about today’s passage, tells us today’s “portion of James offers three questions for the Christian community: 1. Who is wise and understanding among you? 2. From what do conflicts and disputes arise? 3. What does God want?” Kathy’s insights cause me to ask, what are we called to do and be while faithfully living out the way of God in the world today? In my own search for wisdom on this passage, I encountered another thought-provoking paraphrase.
In Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” he paraphrases the intent of the second sentence of verse 3:13 to say, “Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.”
Last week I spoke on the importance of words, and especially for those for whom “words of affirmation” is their primary love language. The intent of this phrase, I think, targets people with a different primary love language; those for whom, perhaps, the primary love language is “acts of service.”
From my perspective, simply put, if all faithful people ruminated deeply on living well, living wisely, and living humbly, the world might be a better place. Or, perhaps I speak for myself; I often feel that my own attempt to live well, wisely, and humbly and be deeply enriched by an inner Shalom eludes me in our hectic capitalistic and technologically-driven world.
Similarly, if all faithful people would speak to one another with words of love, would not the world be a better place? Or, perhaps, again I am speaking for myself. Heaven help us if attempts to speak and receive such words are met with an inability to speak and receive them. On a positive note, I would find it difficult indeed to be unmoved if words and actions matched in the realm of loving, humble living. …
What if ALL faiths and ALL peoples practiced this deeply central core of humility and love? I wonder, if all faiths were to strip away the trappings of their diverse traditions and simply live out the true wisdom their unique mouthpiece of God teaches, would not the world be that much closer to the true kingdom of heaven on earth for which we pray? Again, Peterson’s The Message provides a thought-provoking interpretation of verses 17-18 from today’s text:
“17-18 Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next…. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
That is a true calling, a true calling of our faith and, I submit, for many others. We would be less true to our own faith if we practiced anything less, no matter to whom we practice it.
So, who is wise and understanding among you? Look around you in this community: day in and day out, look to those with whom you live and move and have your being.
The letter of James tells us some of the attributes to look for: gentleness, humbleness, pure, peaceable, wiling to yield, full of mercy, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And if these attributes sound counter-cultural to you, they are, as was the movement of the early Jewish Christian believers. When individuals who have these attributes live them out in a specific community, that community can take on those same attributes together as a whole. Wouldn’t it be a fine thing if all Christian churches practiced such a beautiful living faith? Together, such faith can move mountains. I would challenge us to become that church.
We do know with human nature the way we are taught it is, any time there gathers a community of people, disagreements arise. At the heart of disagreements, then, is what? James identifies a few things, namely envy, self-ambition, cravings or coveting, but it really comes back to one thing: He or she has something that I want and don’t have. James calls these things unspiritual or devilish. How might we guard against these things? By way of a final question, let me try to answer that: What does God want?
True wisdom speaks to this as well: “God has shown you, my friends, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you? But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 paraphrased)
My friends, the world gives us many different messages, even conflicting ones throughout our lives; about who we are, who we can be, who we might aspire to become – and why. The world may even suggest to us by various means the steps needed to achieve the ends it envisions for us. But we are children of God, children of the Light, and that is our primary calling. Wisdom tells us to remind ourselves daily not who the world says we are, but who we truly are – and – to whom we belong.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Douglas, Mark. Commentary on James 3:1-12, Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
 Dawson, Kathy. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
 Rf. Chapman, Gary. The Five Love Languages, Northfield Publishing, an imprint of Moody Publihsing, Chicago, IL. Copyright 1996.