Sermon: Pentecost 15, 2 September 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Disciples Hear and Do- James 1:19-27

-Communication is at the very core of our human experience.

-Humans are communicating animals par excellence.

-We are at the top of the communications food chain.

-Look at the world around us and you see that nothing communicates like we do.

-Masses and masses of information and messages,

-Pass by our eyes, ears and minds every second of the day.

-TV, radio, internet, newspapers, magazines.

-We’re constantly bombarded by communications.

-And we do the bombarding as well.

-We pick up the phone,

-We flick out an email,

-We argue around a coffee table.

-We even do such primitive stuff as wave to a neighbour,

-Smile at a friend,

-Pat the dog.

 

-And the reason communication is so important is because it’s at the heart of relationships.

-Communicating is the foundation of relationships.

-We humans communicate in such deep and complex ways,

-Because we were created by a communicating God,

-A God whose very essence and being is relational.

-You may not be able to understand logically, philosophically or even theologically,

-That three persons can be one God,

-But the significance of the Trinity lies in this incredible truth,

-That God from all eternity is Father, Son and Holy Spirit in relationship,

-Three persons in eternal communication,

-Knowing and speaking with each other.

-God is a communicating God,

-Who creates communicating beings,

-And continues to communicate with us.

 

-That’s at the heart of James’ letter to the Jewish Christians who’d been scattered out across the known world.

-His letter could be summed up by 1:22;

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” James 1:22

-It’s the word of God that James is referring to,

-God’s communication with his people.

-But the thing he warns against is a complacency about the word that causes us to fail to apply it.

-We can get a bit of an idea of how seriously James takes this by the illustration he uses, vv23-24;

“For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.  James 1:23-24

-Complacency is probably a gentle word,

-James is thinking more along the lines of the stupidity of such behaviour.

-Who in their right mind looks in the mirror and then forgets what they look like?

-Mirrors are there for a purpose aren’t they?

-Unless you’re a total narcissist,

-The only reason you look in a mirror is to make sure that everything is in order before you step out the door.

 

-I was at the gym on Monday and as I was looking in the mirror,

-I noticed the seam of my T-shirt seemed unusually bulky.

-So I stopped looking in the mirror,

-And looked closely at the seam to see what was wrong.

-I suddenly realised that there was nothing wrong with the seam,

-I’d actually put my t-shirt on inside out!!!

-I probably shouldn’t say this,

-But another time I was at the gym and doing a particular stretch which meant I was looking at my feet.

-I thought,

-‘That’s interesting, I’ve never noticed that these running shoes have an asymmetrical pattern.’

-Till it dawned on me that I was wearing odd shoes.

 

-Now being winter,

-It was no big deal because I put on a jumper before I left the gym.

-But what if I wasn’t planning to shower and change?

-What if I looked at that inside-out t-shirt or those mismatched shoes and just ignored them,

-Just continued the rest of the day as if nothing were wrong?

-Well James leaves that illustration hanging for us to come to our own conclusion.

-But he’s far more explicit with an example he gives of one of our more easily recognised day to day experiences;

“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” James 1:19-20

-Here I think we can see how practical James’ letter is.

-Who of us doesn’t get angry at some time?

-There may be times when anger is justified.

-If you see an injustice taking place and you get angry,

-That shows you care and have compassion.

-But there’s other times when anger is not so godly.

 

-When I was in college we had a Christian psychologist come,

-And he taught that anger is a response to blocked goals.

-That is a helpful insight.

-When I’m really angry about something I pause,

-Step back from the situation,

-And ask myself,

-‘Why are you so angry?

-‘What is it that you want that’s being blocked?’

-Once I’ve isolated the goal that’s being blocked,

-I more calmly and rationally deal with what’s taking place.

-Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all did that?

 

-Hey, it’d be a better place if I could do that!

-But that’s the reality of life isn’t it?

-That we hear how we can handle situations or circumstances,

-But we don’t put the solutions into practice.

-Here James is giving some good biblical advice which two thousand years later,

-A psychologist has translated into some good modern practice.

-If I’m quick to listen,

-I’m not trying to insert my views and ideas,

-I’m carefully taking on board what the other person is saying.

-If I’m slow to speak,

-I’m taking time to evaluate what the other person is saying,

-Why they’re saying it,

-What lies behind their words.

-If I’m slow to speak I’m also giving myself time to apply Paul’s advice to the Philippians;

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4: 8

-How angry do you think you’d be getting with someone,

-If you’re looking for what’s,

-True, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy,

-In the words of a person who’s making an accusation against you,

-Is challenging your authority,

-Or is asking you to do something you don’t want to do?

 

-James knows that anger that arises from some blocked personal goal,

-Is not going to bring about the righteous life God wants us to lead.(James 1: 20)

-Paul recognised the same thing so he said to the Ephesian church;

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4: 31

-That word righteous means right relationships.

-If you’re looking for what’s true, noble, right and pure as you’re listening to someone,

-Then that’ll lead to a right relationship,

-There’ll be peace, respect, grace.

-But how good do you think a relationship will be if bitterness, rage and anger are at its root?

-What’s at the root of the problems we have in this world is we ignore God’s word,

-Or if we do acknowledge it,

-We just fail to do what it says.

 

-See how harshly James judges that in v26;

“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” James 1:26

-When we see that word ‘religious’ we bristle a bit and think of it in negative terms.

-But James’ audience wouldn’t have thought that.

-They were Jewish converts who didn’t carry our suspicion of religion.

-They would have seen religion as one of the good and perfect gifts that God gives to human beings.

-They would have especially been thinking of their own Jewish history,

-And how when Israel was obedient to God,

-That was when things went best for them.

-They would have recalled the giving of the Ten Commandments not as a list of rules to keep,

-But as a response to the knowledge,

-That they were the people of God who’d been rescued by him from slavery in Egypt.

 

-Religion was not the problem,

-It was religious people who knew what was expected of them but didn’t do it.

-And so James draws this perspective in to his teaching about keeping your tongue under control.

-If you think of yourself as religious,

-That is a follower of God,

-A disciple of Jesus,

-If you’re letting your tongue roam free in gossip, slander, bickering and the like,

-Then you’re deceiving yourself,

-Your religion is a sham.

-You’re like a person looking in the mirror who forgets the dirt on their cheek the moment they walk away.

 

-So what’s the solution to this universal problem?

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” James 1:22

-Do what it says!

-Just look at how James describes the way we go about putting the word into practise;

“. . . those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” James 1: 25

-Notice how James has shifted the senses that are used to appropriate God’s word.

-In verse 19 he’s talking about listening,

-But in v25 he’s changed it to looking.

-And this is not just a quick glance,

-The idea James has in mind is of someone looking so closely at a subject,

-That almost everything but what’s under their gaze is blocked out.

-It’s not just looking,

-It’s deeply reflecting upon the subject under investigation to the point where nothing else distracts you.

 

-For James, the perfect law is not the old Jewish law,

-But rather the old Jewish law that’s been brought to completion and fullness by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

-Paul would call it the Law of Christ.

-And here’s another departure from our modern way of thinking.

-Just as we might think religion is a bad thing,

-So we think law is a bad thing.

-We hate having our freedom curtailed by anyone or anything.

-But James, Paul and all the biblical writers know that perfect freedom always carries limits.

-Freedom is actually contingent upon who we are.

-Even children recognise this point when someone cheats in a game.

-It’s the rules and boundaries that create the enjoyment of play,

-But when those rules are breached,

-It damages the relationship that all within the game had been enjoying.

 

-When you look intently into God’s word you’ll see that it promises freedom not hardship.

-And that will encourage you to the ongoing step that James tells us we need to follow if we’re to do what God’s word says.

-We’re not to just glance and run like spiritual window shoppers,

-We’re to continue looking intently into God’s word.

-This means an intentional immersing of ourselves in God’s word.

-And that will mean creating space in our busy lives for that to take place.

-Do you do that?

-Do you regularly set aside time to immerse yourself in God’s word?

-Because it will pay off;

“. . . those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” James 1: 25

 

-When Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower he said there were four types of soil that the word of God lands on.

-The first is like a path where the birds swoop down on the seed,

-And swallow it up before it has a chance of taking root.

-That’s the devil’s work,

-Snatching the word from a person’s hardened heart even before it’s had time to sink in.

-The second soil is that rocky ground where a person hears the word of God and believes it,

-But when the tough times come they fall away.

-They’re like the person James speaks of in 1:13-14 who doesn’t persevere through trials,

-But gives in to the temptation to give up.

-The third soil is the thorny ground that strangles the word of God in the disciple’s heart,

-Because they succumb to the temptations of wealth and the good life.

-Jesus says that all three of these types of people have heard the word,

-They’ve been listening to God communicating with them.

-Where they’ve failed isn’t in not listening,

-It’s in not doing.

 

-But here’s the good news;

“. . . the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke 8: 15

-The one with the noble and good heart is the disciple of Jesus who’s learning from the master.

-This person doesn’t just hear the word,

-Doesn’t just listen to the word,

-They retain it,

-They look intently into the perfect law,

-And by persevering they apply the word to their own lives,

-They allow the word of God to seep deeply into their lives,

-And let it transform them.

-They become doers of the word bearing the fruit of obedience in their lives,

-And they’re blessed in what they do.

 

-Through listening to God’s word and doing what it says,

-These disciples become mature and complete, not lacking anything.

-Does that describe your life?

-Do you want it to describe your life?

-Then all you have to do is follow James instructions for perseverance and maturity;

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22