Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sermon, Proper 20B, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Why did Jesus come into the world?
He came into the world to save sinners.
He came to bring light into the darkness.
He came to bring all people back into relationship with God.
And he came to fulfill God's consistent action of turning our perceptions and our ways of doing things upside down.

In traditional human societies, it is often the first-born son who receives the blessings and inheritance of the family. But the Bible consistently shows God's favor being bestowed on those whom society would overlook: Jacob, Joseph and David come immediately to mind. Society would have us push aside the weak, the foreigner, and the poor. But God consistently commands his followers to care for the weak, welcome the foreigner and help the poor; all without asking whether or not they deserve it. We offer aide, hospitality and comfort because God demands it of us.

As followers of God in general, and Christians in particular, we are called to exhibit this behavior that the world sees as foolish. We are called to strive for the reversal of the powers of this world and work towards the inclusion of all people in God's kingdom. And we are called to use the wisdom from above to see that this happens.

And what is that wisdom from above? It is pure, peaceable, gentle, yielding and merciful with no trace of partiality or hypocrisy; as well as being foolish to the world. The problem, though, is that living into and following this wisdom from above is hard. It is hard to be gentle. It is hard to work for peace. It is much easier to tear down and fight than it is to build up and create.

A quick glance around will bear that out. It is easier to blow up your enemy than it is to sit down and work toward peace. It is easier to proclaim gays as sinful and keep them out of church than it is to do the hard theological work to learn how they might be included in God's kingdom. It is easier to use scare tactics to tear down a discussion on health care than it is to work towards figuring out how we can insure every American citizen. It is easier to maintain a rivalry with a town eight miles away than it is to see how a combined school district would benefit our children. It is easier to live in fear and scarcity than it is to live with boldness and abundance.

But that is precisely what we are called to do -- to live boldly, without fear, into a life of abundance; not worrying about what we might lose but focusing on what we might gain. The world tells us to horde what's ours. It tells us to be afraid of the Other. It tells us we must eliminate the enemy and take what's theirs if we are to survive. The wisdom of the world tells us we must be great. But that worldly wisdom is at odds with the wisdom of God. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his life?

And on their way to Capernaum the disciples were arguing about which of them was the greatest.

Matthew says that they were arguing about who was the greatest in heaven. James is right on target when he says, "You covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts." What they wanted was to have the exalted places in heaven. They were applying worldly wisdom to the heavenly realm and failing miserably. In this world, if you aren't one of the powerful, you are one of the subjects.

But again, God and Jesus turn that notion upside down. Heaven isn't about power and greatness -- heaven is about seeing to it that all people are included in God's kingdom. God chose people outside the norm to accomplish his purpose. And when I say, "outside the norm," I'm not talking only about Jacob, Joseph and David, the youngest sons in the family line, but I'm talking about people like Ruth, Rahab and Tamar -- foreigners, prostitutes and people willing to use illegal relationships to accomplish their purposes. People and actions we would certainly call less than honorable.

So heavenly wisdom and God's kingdom isn't about power and greatness or fear and scarcity. God's kingdom is about servitude and mercy and boldness and abundance. In serving others we become great. In giving away, we become rich. In being merciful, we are given mercy. And in living boldly foolish, or foolishly bold, we access the wisdom of heaven.

We can get so caught up in what we might be losing that we fail to see how we all gain. We only see losing traditional family values but fail to see what we might gain by holding others to standards and accountability. We only see losing our freedom to choose our own healthcare but fail to see how we all benefit by having a healthier population. We only see losing our independence but fail to see how a unified school district makes our community and our children better.

If we are to help make disciples of all people, if we are to lead people to Christ, if we are go help build up the kingdom of God, if we are to shine a light in the darkness, then we must be willing to give up worldly wisdom for heavenly wisdom. We must be willing to strive for a reversal of the system. We must be willing to become servants. And we must be willing to submit to God, not the world.

God's ways are not our ways.
Jesus wasn't crucified because he fought to maintain the status quo.
James admonishes us to work for a different way.
Jesus reminds us that we are to be servants first.

What wisdom are you pursuing?


MadameOvary | 8:54 AM, September 21, 2009  

Wonderful, wonderful message! Thank you!

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