The message for September 19 2021
Our reading for today comes from the letter of James 3 and it goes like this; 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for[a] those who make peace.4 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; you covet[b] something and cannot obtain it; so, you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Back in the 70’s I was a big “Queen” fan. I had all of their 8-track tapes, as 8-tracks were the future for playing music. Sadly, I still have the 8-tracks and an 8-tracks player. Anyways, there are two of Queen’s songs played together that are still popular to this day. They are, “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions”. As it was back in the 70’s, we still hear these two songs at many sporting events. You could say they are songs that motivated the various sports teams to achieve the ultimate goal of being the greatest. That motivation is the same motivation that many people take into the working world. In fact, to be successful in the world we need to be ambitious. It is a requirement. If you don’t have ambition, you will rarely get ahead. As the saying goes,if “money makes the world go around,” ambition is the engine that turns it. In our world, “climbing the ladder” is a way of life for so many of us. Sadly, many who achieve the goal of getting to the top find themselves not any happier. Now don’t get me wrong, having some ambition, isa good thing. Ambition only becomes a problem when it consumes our every thought and does not consider whether we are harming others for our own gain. When this occurs, our ambitions are essentially selfish, and we tend to adopt an “any means to the end” approach. I think we can agree that when selfish interest dominates our ambitions, our principles seem to go right out the window. I have seen this way too many times. I also know that selfish ambition did not just occur in our time and age. It happened back in Jesus’ time too.
When we look at our reading from James, we hear how he is very concerned about this type of ambition. That’s why he wrote the letter to warn First-Century Christians about the effects of what he called “selfish ambition” that can affect thecommunities that they belonged to. He says, “Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things”. I feel James said it perfectly. James also has an alternative to selfish ambition. He tells us to use the wisdom that comes from above.” He says that this wisdom “leads us to be pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere”. For James, the real goal for anyone seeking the meaning of life is in the “fear of the Lord,” and “walking humbly with your God”.This is wisdom. Wisdom that is a way of life defined by walking in God’s ways, humility, meekness, gentleness, along with integrity, peace, and justice! For James, “wisdom” is about taking our faith and making it real in our daily life.
Many of us struggle with looking at “the meaning of life” this way. We see the meaning of life in terms of what we can achieve (success), who knows our name (fame), and what we have acquired (wealth). We see the meaning of life in terms of what it takes to get there. James of course is simple telling the people this is the path that Jesus was showing us.You might remember the interaction Jesus had with the disciples when they were arguing over who would be greatest amongst them. Jesus turned their goals upside down and told them if they wanted to be “the best” in the Kingdom, then they should become the servant of everybody else.
As an example, Jesus took a child and said that the way they treated that child determined the quality of their commitment to the Kingdom. For some, this kind of approach to life and the world might seem weak, but this kind of wisdom is not a matter of weakness. For there is meekness in wisdom and there is gentleness in wisdom. It is a way of life that is born of walking humbly with God.
You see, when we live in the ways that James speaks of, we develop a kind of confidence about how to live. However, this confidence is always a humble confidence. This kind of wisdom is a way of life that is inspired by the presence of God’s Spirit. When we live in this way, where we are consciously aware of God’s presence, it tends to create a sense of inner strength. A strength that manifests itself in gentleness, in humility, in self-sacrifice, and in kindness.
What does this mean for us today? I think it is simple, James tries to remind us what is truly important in life. It is not how big our house is, or how much money we have or how many people we know or don’t know. Life is not about who has the most toys when we finish our time on earth. It is about how we use the tools, the gifts and the talents that God has given us in a way that is pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere.
Jesus showed this by going to the cross for each and everyone one of us. Let us then do our best to follow in his ways of love.
Praise be to the wisdom of God that comes to us from above!