My pastor friend, Mark Almlie, posted a Facebook thread that included a great quote from St Ireneaus, “The glory of God is humankind fully alive.”
Throughout James, there is that kind of appeal to the person of faith. That God is waking us to his original calling. It includes a re-unification with our stewardship to the earth, with our own reconciliation of personal identity and to the political enterprise we’ve been given with the rest of humankind.
As I visited Lee J in her hospice bed yesterday, I asked her what was on her mind. She practically called out the verses found in James 5: 7-8, when she stated her anxiety about an inevitable end. She hoped that her patience would pay off. That the faith she had in a loving Lord and her dedication to His precepts would hold up in such a difficult hour.
During our day, we get glimpses that we are in the process of being brought fully alive and that the aging process is like the death of that planted seed. That we are being renewed into a life of promise, abundance and glory. That is faith. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6”
This week’s sermon passage: James 5
Dante’s seventh circle of hell is a vast plain of hot, sterile sand. Raining down on that sand are flakes of fire. It portrays the sterility of a life, a world lived in chaos and violence. As John Ciardi has noted, instead of rain refreshing the land and replenishing its beauty, this rain further destroys the vitality of any living thing.
Among the citizens of this punishing landscape are the usurers. They sit squatted on the edge of this inferno avoiding everyone else. It is a private damnation. As they squat, their purses dangle each from the neck as if it is too hot to handle. The family crest emblazoned on the purse indicates the family wealth and prominence. Their fixation and pride in the family wealth has created an idolatry that not only robs them of their God-given stewardship but their isolation further destroys the possibility of community building.
James reminds us that violence against God’s plan to revive the world is a damnable offense. In that, it has no preferred political party.. It is oppression against the weak. It also isolates us from the very beauty that God created for us to enjoy; in His presence, with his people.
This week’s sermon passage: James 4: 13-17.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Outliers” makes a convincing case that no talent will rise to the top without a long, arduous effort. He estimates that about 10,000 hours is the effort necessary to separate the excellent away from the also-ran. The idea of a child prodigy who can, for example, play the piano without the grueling hours of solitary practice, is really just an urban legend.
Nevertheless, Gladwell also points out that there is a whole series of extraneous influences that are outside the worker’s control which also contribute to what we call success. To that degree not everyone has a promise of success based upon dedication alone. Prevailing influences like economic cycles, dates of birth and geographical upbringing can all contribute to success beyond the “bootstrap” effort.
Rationalists and people of faith alike fall prey to the thinking that we are blessed because of some special giftedness that makes us worthy. God knows, there are plenty of television preachers who will tell you that you deserve more than you are getting and that God is anxious to bless your life with wealth and favor.
James, on the other hand, says a true believer is someone who humbly receives the gifts that God gives and avoids the arrogance of presumption, boasting and the sins of omission. We, because we are lovers, respond with dedication but we do not take favor for granted. Neither do we place the burden of our own judgment upon others. That is for God to work out.
This week’s sermon reference: James 4: 12-17.
The beautiful village of Vernazza, part of the Cinque Terre in Italy, was ravaged by a freak downpour last October. The confluence of the rainstorm and other circumstances conspired to create a massive mudslide which wiped out the center of town. It has taken almost all year to rid the city center of the mud and debris. The small, family- run businesses are still trying to recover economically.
It seems that the reason for the mudslide was a simple one. Over the years, Vernazza has succumbed to the allure of the tourist dollars that flow into the region. As a poor man’s part of the Italian Riviera, flocks of visitors come to soak up the sun and seas surrounding this beautiful collection of five towns. The beauty of the Mediterranean and the ancient village streets dangle on cliffs that are terraced for grape vines. These vines have been tended for centuries by village farmers.
In the last twenty years, however, the easy money of tourism has prompted a younger generation of villagers to ignore their family vineyards and the hard work of tending the vines. As a result, erosion has set in and undermined the delicate structure of the village ecosystem. The disaster could have been easily avoided if they had done what they had always done well.
This week’s Scripture reminds the disciple in faith to not take our faith for granted. Leaning on the Jealous Longing that God has for us can make us lazy. Too easily we can give a casual nod to the grace visiting our lives and ignore the response that true lovers require. And love, in order to grow, must have a response.
God does not love us less when we are cashing in on His grace, but our ability to enjoy that grace can become diluted when we are casual about it. That’s what it means when James says; “Faith without works is dead.”