You’ve heard it said before that meaning is all in how the text is read. The law is often like that One reading may convince someone the law means one thing and another something else entirely. It takes courts to sort the various possible readings out and even then the meaning is bound up in the way the Judge thought the law should be read.
I think everyone who goes to church routinely, as a matter of conviction about the existence of the God of the Bible believes that the Bible has something important to say. I wouldn’t think that any of them think it’s a bad idea to read the Bible. But how it’s read is the important thing.
James (Ole Camel Knees) concludes his epistle with a discussion of patience and prayer in the face of adversity. Patience is not a well regarded virtue these days. Just about the only time you’ll see it lauded is during a football game (that’s real football not some ersatz game with grown men in short pants playing kickball). You’ve heard the announcer on TV talking about the quarterback being patient waiting for the receiver to open up or the running back being patient waiting for his blockers. Its ironic that this patience takes so little time that its occurrence may be easily overlooked by the casual observer.
Mostly, as Americans, we don’t want to be patient. It is certainly in short supply in my life. I’m looking for the shortest line in the grocery store. I don’t want to wait for anything (not even for football season, I’m seriously Jonesin’ for some football right now). Service is always too slow. The internet is too slow. Traffic is too slow. I want what I want and I want it right now. It took a month and a half for the bank to approve and close my fast track mortgage refinance and I spent at least a month of that time yelling at them to go faster.
Have you ever presumed things and in doing that been embarrassed or worse? Jesus had plenty to say about presumptuousness, most famous was his advice regarding seating at banquets. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus says:
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In 4:6 James says the thrust of scripture is that “God opposes the proud but He gives grace to the humble.” Now he continues to further inveigh against presumption and hubris on our part. If you don’t know the word hubris Webster defines it as “a great or foolish amount of pride or confidence.” It comes from a Greek word and Greek tragedy, hubris lead to nemesis or destruction by the Gods or by some other invincible force. Its the pride that comes before the fall.
The title sounds like a soap opera, and correctly so. Have you ever watched a soap opera? I must confess that during my senior year in college I (and many others) were so hooked on General Hospital we scheduled our classes around it so we could catch the latest in the trials of Luke and Laura.
Remember that? Hall and Oates playing on the radio, Luke and Laura on TV, I had hair, those were the days.
With whom do you wish to be seen? In what contexts are you comfortable and with whom? That’s pretty easy generally, we like to be with people with the same outlook on life we have and who are generally of our same our higher socioeconomic status. Especially the part about socioeconomic status. Here is one of my favorite movie scenes, its not Monty Python per se because its from the movie Time Bandits, but it does feature John Cleese as Robin Hood.
The video accuses the charitable (that would be us in case you’re missing the point) of giving to the poor outside of our own cozy community while laughing at them and punching them in the face (all in the politest possible terms of course). Now James is being a little more oblique than John Cleese’s slapstick (litterally) broadside, but he makes the same sorts of accusations none the less.
Not content with the notion that we should welcome trials, (not because they make us happy or we enjoy them, but because they represent opportunities to be tested, and tested faith leads to completness) James lays into us about how we speak. As Americans we like to say things, a lot. We almost worship our 1st amendment right to free speech and say things like,”I disagree with what you say, but I would fight for your right to say it.” We have whole shows on radio and TV about nothing but speaking, Talk Shows. We like to talk and we like to hear ourselves talk and the more we talk the more we like to hear ourselves. Its an endless circle. I feel certain that this propensity to speak, even with nothing to say, is part of the human condition, as applicable to the 1st century Christians as to 21st Century Americans.
As usual he presents his thoughts in pairs, quick hearing/slow speaking, anger of man/righteousness of God, wickedness/meekness, hearing/doing, looking at your self and forgetting/looking at the law of liberty and forgetting.
He starts this strand by urging Christians to shut up and listen. To listen quickly, listen first and speak slow, speak last. Why? Well one commentary suggests its related to the trials he talks about in the first part of the chapter. That these trials may cause friction among Christians or families that are undergoing them and that, as a result, they may lash out at those around them. As James says “…the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”. He urges us, instead, to put away “filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive meekness”. The meekness is commended to us because of its ability to save our souls.
Since Bruce was brave enough to lead us through Ecclesiastes, with serendipitous results, I though I would try something challenging as well. I have told you before that James is my least favorite book of the Bible, mainly because it steps on my toes, and does so badly. I fear that I may be one of those who tries to show his faith without works, or at least with woefully insufficient works. Where do you stand on the Book of James? Have you ever considered that question?
NOTA BENE: I have lifted a lot of the following information about James from a very nice study by Bob Utley from East Texas Baptist University which can be found in its entirety here: http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/pdf/VOL11.pd
It’s an important question, and one asked early and often by the church as a whole. Traditionally, authorship of this book has been ascribed to James the half brother of Jesus, called “James the Just”. According to one of the patristic writers, Esuebius, who quotes another writer named Hegesippus, James was also nicknamed “camel knees” because he prayed so much on his knees (we’ll be referring to “Ole Camel Knees” or OCK through this study because I like the idea of a Biblical author with a nickname). Jerome says that James was Jesus’
Cousin and Catholic tradition has James as a half-brother by a prior wife of Joseph. Most protestant theologians believe James was the son of Mary and Joseph and that the Catholic Tradition was developed so that Catholics could continue to assert the perpetual virginity of Mary.
While is an interesting concept, have you every though about it? Its an abstract concept, like zero , that probably wasn’t formally enunciated until well after the invention of written language, even though everybody sort of knew about it. While means that when certain conditions exist other stuff is happening. It gets even more complicated to think about when you realize that the two elements (the certain conditions and the other stuff) may be dependent or independent of each other
While is very important in computer programming. Here is an example of a while loop in the C language.
int x = 0;
while (x < 5)
printf ("x = %dn", x);
This week I’d like for our discussion to be a little more reflective than usual, a little more devotional if you will. What I’d like us to consider is how to thankfully pray. We all know the old aphorism that “life is not about thanksgiving, it’s about thanksliving”. That is we should not be giving thanks at specific times but our entire attitude, our entire way of life should reflect our thankfulness to God for the great gifts he has given us. This was sort of the topic last week, that we should live, out of thankfulness to God, in such a way that others give thanks to God for what we have done.
But there are also times when specific, active thanks are in order. No other time is more fitting to give thanks than when we are at prayer. So the first question that comes to mind is when do we pray? This is another one like the thanksliving thing. Scripture is pretty clear that we are always to be prayerful. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing”. We are to pray in the ordinary moments of our lives as well as the extraordinary. But some times are more focused than others, sometimes our internal dialog with God is more overt, more intentional. What then, how are we to pray with thanksgiving?
The bible is replete with examples of weddings and references to weddings or marriage. And when there are no actual weddings under discussion they seem to be a favorite form of reference, particularly when used by Jesus, to describe the relationship between God and his people. This week we are going back in Matthew, prior to the Olivet Discourse we discussed last week to a parable told by Jesus regarding a royal wedding. This is another in my series of highly unpopular and disquieting parables (at least for me).
This particular parable in Matthew 22:1-14 and is sort of the darker, more sinister and brooding twin of the parable in Luke 14:15-24. It seems to me, like all good preachers, Jesus had a set of preacher stories that he told when he talked and modified them each time to fit his audience and/or make a particular point. In the text from Matthew, the story is pointed indeed.