Let us Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I don’t often quote Eugene Peterson’s “The Message,” since in my opinion his work with the scriptures often plays a little freely with the original language. However, in a documentary on his life and work, he explained that “The Message” was his attempt to transliterate the Holy Scriptures into more of a vernacular to the specific congregation he was serving at the time. I was impressed. With that preamble, I would like to review verse 3:13 from today’s reading in the Epistle of James using Peterson’s transliteration.
“Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.”
I will speak frankly. You all have an advantage over me in that you live and work, play and worship together here in this community everyday. For all intensive purposes, just like my Methodist ancestor Robert Booth, I am a circuit rider preacher that only shows up on Sundays and Mondays. Therefore, you do not know much about how I live the daily challenges I face in my life in Portland. To be fair and vulnerable, I will reveal some of that to you in a moment, for I am far from perfect.
First, Kathy Dawson, Professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, poses three questions for each of us to answer concerning today’s text: 1. Who is wise and understanding among you? 2. From what do conflicts and disputes arise? And 3. What does God want?
Commentator Mark Douglas offers, in his treatment of James, “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.” He further describes wisdom to be about “the integration of thought, will, action, and context. Not faith or works; [but] faith and works….”
This last two week’s reading for my doctoral studies also provided some very real examples to me about being careful what we let into our lives. The authors and texts that challenged me were, Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy, a 20-year-old text with a decidedly evangelical bent, and Christine Pohl’s Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, published in 2011. What each of them did was raise my awareness of personal challenges that I face in my life as I try to walk in the way of Christ.
You wouldn’t know it by meeting me in this context, but my biggest personal challenge and first reminder lesson is anger at home; I may have alluded now and again to my short fuse with the antics of my three children. Luckily, I am learning how to constructively redirect this while at the same time implementing some parenting tricks from Love and Logic instead of letting my anger get the better of me; but it is an uphill battle. My reading indicates there may be more going on for me to work on than mere parenting skills. I’m listening.
My second lesson came this week. After reading portions of Christine Pohl’s Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, I was struck by how pervasively envy tends to work its way into my life. Envy leads to comparison, coveting, and entitlement, which can lead to frustration and then on to anger. Writes Pohl,
“In fact, envy strikes most powerfully in those “intimate relations where love is supposed to rule.” Oh-oh; my mind recognizes a connection between the two lessons. Pohl goes on to write, “…ethicist William May has noted that when envy gets hold of our lives, it “secretly” governs much of what we do; it can send us into a downward spiral of dejection, avarice, and malice.” As Pohl referenced the early theologian Basil of Caesaraea, it ultimately consumes a person.
“Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts,” writes Peterson. For me, I have to say this is immanently practical this week. Barbara Brown Taylor, editor for the commentary series Feasting on the Word which I routinely utilize, writes that both James and Paul “arrive at the same proclamation: Those who truly love God cannot fail to live in peace with one another.”
Oh. If that’s the case, then who doesn’t truly love God in my household? Could it possibly be me? If I even think of starting to point a finger, then I condemn myself! Do I not love you enough, Lord? Do I fail to take you into my life more fully, more completely, and submit myself to your Lordship over my life? How, Lord, can I move you into my heart and soul space, so that my life is a seamless “integration of thought, will, action, and context,” as Douglas claims it should be? Dear Jesus, I am a broken man! Come to me and make me whole, I pray!
I wonder… let’s just say Jesus actually comes in answer to my prayer, what then? Am I man enough to lay my brokenness at his feet? Are any of us, men or women, vulnerable enough to admit how broken we truly are? But unless we do lay our life before God in Christ with the Holy Spirit’s help, can we ever change? A haunting question that just may be the beginning of wisdom itself.
When Jesus arrived in Capernaum and entered the house, “he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down…” (Mark 9:33-35a). Unlike Christian preachers who mount the steps to the pulpit to preach and teach the Word, when a Rabbi sits down, that is the signal that teaching is about to take place. Here a very important lesson in wisdom is about to be given. Listen again:
“He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” (Mark 9:35-37)
Wesleyan pastor and writer Richard Kavanaugh, wrote about the end of Mark chapter 9,
“To be the greatest, one must be the least. Children were considered least in that culture, so the statement was about much more than a child. It was about those on the margins, the least in society. … [Jesus] said if someone causes a child to stumble it would be better to hang a millstone around their neck and cast them into the sea. Then he spoke about cutting off hands and poking out eyes instead of going to hell–all hyperbolic language to make a point. The child represents the least in society. … The disciples could cause them or others like them to stumble by creating categories of people and judging them. He used the extreme language to make his point of how serious this is.”
So I pray, “O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned.” And I ask for prayers on behalf of those of our country’s leaders who continue to vilify and incarcerate the least of these. Kavanaugh goes on:
“When we judge others and treat them as outsiders, we do damage to their very core. We attack their identity. If we, representing God, judge others and attack their identity, then they will feel rejected by God and will in typical human fashion, reject God. That is the “stumble” Jesus is talking about in this context. Jesus then said that we were called to be salt, but if we lose our saltiness we are no longer useful. Salt is to make one thirsty, but if we compare ourselves to others and judge them as “less than,” then we cause them to stumble and we are no longer salty, and thus, good for nothing.”
Again, I pray, “O Lord, forgive me for I have sinned. Let me be salt, let me be light. Let each of us here lift up one another in forgiveness and support, that we might, as a community of faith practitioners, be a Christ-centered, other-centric body of believers who witness to our reality and God’s goodness. May we all grow into more wholeness in our own lives and in the life of our communities, and may our communities become more whole by our witness; for this reflects the soul of extending Christ’s radical hospitality to all others who need so desperately to receive it.
Let us pray: Help us examine ourselves, O Lord, before we ever point fingers to implicate others. You are our light and life, may we reflect you in all that we do and say, for the furtherance of your heavenly reign on Earth. Amen? May it be so.
Question for Reflection
What can you do to discern between good advice and advice that will lead you on the wrong path?
Household Prayer: Morning
As we rise, we have so much to do! We work without realizing that all we do can be a song of love to you and to the ones with whom you have surrounded us. Lead me, O God, so that everything that I do in my life can be done in praise to you. Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
As this day ends, I hope I have done my work with a gentleness born out of your wisdom. Thank you, triune God, for the rest that you will provide and for the strength for a new morning. Amen.
 Kathy Dawson, “Pastoral Perspective, James 3:13-4:3,7-8a” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Mark Douglas, “Theological Reflection, James 3:13-4:3,7-8a” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Foster Cline and Jim Fay, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility (Colorado Springs, CO: Pinion Press,1990)
 Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, 11/20/11 edition. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2011).
 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Homiletical Perspective, James 3:13-4:3,7-8a” in Feasting on the Word – Year B, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0