Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost | September 2, 2018
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 • Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 • James 1:17-27 • Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
James 1:17-27 New Living Translation (NLT)
For the next several weeks, the lectionary will be taking us into the Book of James. This is one of my favorite of the letters and yet it is quite convicting. Martin Luther once called it an “epistle of straw” because he felt it emphasized good deeds and minimized faith and yet if you look at the writings of James and compare them to the teachings of Jesus and also compare them to the writings of Paul, and even the apostle John, you will find some very similar teachings. Our faith is always worked out in our actions. Paul said that we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling. John said that our faith is shown in our love for each other.
We start out this passage today with a reminder that God is faithful – that his gifts are good and perfect. This is a response to those who say that God tempts us. I think it could be a rebuttal to those who say God doesn’t give us more than we can handle or everything happens for a reason. God’s gifts are good and perfect. God does not change. God’s best gift was his true Word which is Jesus and we are the prized possession of all his creation. God loves us and desires the best for us.
Speaking of God’s word, James then reminds us that we must be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. This is so hard in our humanness. Most times when we listen, we are simply listening so that we can jump into the conversation. James will have more to say about the tongue and talking too much later. But God did give us two ears and one mouth for a reason. We are told that human anger doesn’t not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Here’s where James tells us that we need to gaze upon the perfect word. While many of us would reference the Bible that is called God’s Word. I believe that James is instructing us to look to Jesus. Jesus is the perfect word – Jesus is the perfect example for us to live. What good is it to listen to the word and not obey it? What good it is to listen to Jesus and not obey him?
James gives us a great example. Most of us when we get up in the morning go to the mirror look at what we look like and how we need to get ready for the day. James says imagine going to the mirror, look at it and make no changes – none of us are that good. We all wake up with bed head. The same is true in our spiritual life. Every morning we need to get up and take care of our spiritual bed head and look into the perfect gift and word. We are told that if we look into the perfect word and do what it says that God will bless us for it.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from James 1:27:
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
This is what I desire – to look into the perfect word of Jesus and obey him. I believe that this is the life of righteousness that James refers to earlier. Just imagine if every believer in the world, followed these words – the world would be quite the different place.