Pentecost 17  Year B

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 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. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 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. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Prayer:  In the  name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sermon:

 There are 27 books in the New Testament. 21 of them are letters.

St. Paul never met Jesus face-to-face.

But some scholars say he wrote 13 or 14[i] of those letters.

Everyone agrees that he wrote at least 7.

 

We read from Paul’s letters all the time.

Poor old St. James gets lost in the crowd.

He only wrote one letter. And we read from it today.

 

We think that St. James was Jesus’s brother.

They woke up in the same little house, a million times.

Paul never met Jesus, face-to-face on Planet Earth.

But Jesus knew James[ii],  and James knew Jesus.

 

We know who Paul wrote his letters to because his letters tell us.[iii]

But James’s letter isn’t so clear.

It’s like he wrote it to the whole Judeo-Christian world.[iv]

 

James’ letter speaks as well to our scattered and broken world, as it

did to the fractured Judeo-Christian world he called home.

James[v] wrote to very small communities,

scattered amongst a huge population that was, at best,

indifferent, and at worst hostile to them and to the Lord.

 

I mean really hostile. Like Hang ‘em High hostile!

James was Jesus’s brother, and

the leader of the new church in Jerusalem.

But in the mid 60’s CE, he was martyred. [vi]

Life as a Christian was very dangerous back then.

 

Sitting here in our comfortable pews, in an air-conditioned room,

Protected by our 1st Amendment, our bank accounts and

our inflated sense of self-importance,

we really have no clue what it’s like to risk,

everything in service to the Lord.

And that includes me.

 

As I read in a joke about sermons, 20 years ago,

If being a Christian was a criminal offense,

is their enough evidence to convict me?

Faith without works James told us, is dead.” [vii]

 

He urged them to resist the devil, Submit to God…

“Draw near to God” he said, “and he will draw near to you.”

 

James was concerned that the early Christian groups,

Both isolated and vulnerable, might fall into their  old habits,

confusing the Roman way of the World,

for the Way of living to which Christ called them.

 

More than 2,000 years, the challenge remains the same.

 

What kind of car should a priest or a bishop drive?

I knew one Bishop who insisted on a big old American car.

I know a priest who once drove a really nice F150.

That was me.

 

When Jesus wasn’t walking 27 miles to Caesarea Philippi,

Like he did in our readings last week,

he rode a borrowed donkey.  Just saying.

I can do better. We all can.

Faith without works, is dead.[viii] 

 

Today we live in a sort of crisis of faith.

Many don’t trust our government,

While others don’t trust anyone.  Even themselves!

 

Peace is elusive.

Riots and bitter arguments burn, on-line and on the streets.

Even in the church, or maybe especially in the church,

tension rises and anger flows.

Calm hearts and light tongues are rare curiosities.

Where is all this coming from?

 

James wrote that this bitterness comes from pain in our heart.

 

It’s the utterly predictable outcome of far too much focus,

on getting our own ways, and nowhere near enough focus,

on loving Christ, and serving his Kingdom.

 

“You don’t have peace, because you don’t ask”

James wisely wrote.   “You ask, but don’t receive,

because you’ve  asked with wrong motives….”

 

St. James really pokes us in the eye.[ix]

At least that’s how it feels to me.

I’d be inclined to be pretty ticked off with James,

except I know that he’s right. Mea culpa.

 

James winds up his letter with words that still strike home:

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”

 

Feeling lonely? Feeling mad at the world?

Need someone to take it all out on?   Jesus has broad shoulders.

Let him know how you feel. Lean on Jesus.

“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”

 

When we draw near to our Lord,

our Lord will draw us near to one another.

And they know we are Christians by our Love.

 

A long time ago, a man was marooned on a deserted island.

Years and years later, he was rescued.

The captain of that ship came ashore, and noticed three huts.

He asked the man about them.

 

The man pointed to the best looking one and said,

“That’s where I’ve been living, all this time.”

He pointed to another hut and said, “That’s where I go to church”.

So the caption said,  “What about that third hut?”.

 

And the man replied,  “Oh, that’s where I used to go to church.”

 

Let’s  not be that guy.

“Draw near to Jesus. And Jesus will draw near to you.

– AMEN

 

[i]  Of the 14 letters traditionally attributed to Paul, scholars tend to accept only  7 as actually written, or dictated,  by him. It was common on those days for people, who were inspired by the authentic writings of a person, to write in their name, to lend credence to their claims. This was not considered either  forgery, as it is not intended to profit the writer, but rather, it is  “pseudepigrapha”, used with the intent of adding credibility to the letter in question. The former is criminal, in many locales, while the latter is thought be Divinely inspired.

 

[ii] James, in koine Greek,  Ἰάκωβος i.e, Iakōbos.

 

[iii] He wrote so much, and some of his letters are lost, I wonder if St. Paul was paid by the word?

 

[iv]  “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. (James 1:1)

 

[v] Some scholars suggest that the Letter of James is pseudepigraphical, but no one really knows.  Nor does it matter, ultimately. The question is whether the author speaks words that God intends for us to hear and to honor. I say the answer is “Yes”.

 

[vi]  St. James, the author of the Epistle we’ve read, was, according to Catholic tradition,  the son of Alphaeus of Cleophas. His mother, Mary, was either a sister or a close relative of the Blessed Virgin, herself a consecrated Virgin into perpetuity. Because of the close familial link, according to Jewish custom, James is sometimes called the “brother of the Lord”. Protestant traditions, far less encumbered by the perceived theological necessity of establishing Mary’s perennial virginity, accept James as Jesus’ literal brother.  Both approaches accept, as we do, that the conception of Jesus was by virtue of a a supernatural union between God and Mary, who was a virgin at the time Jesus was conceived.

 

In the opening chapter of Matthew, after Joseph had discovered that Mary was going to have a child, he decided to secretly divorce her. He had not had sexual relations with her and knew the child was not his. But an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that his wife’s pregnancy was through God, the Holy Spirit. So they were married, “And he did not know her until she gave birth to a Son; and he named him Jesus.”  (see, Matthew 1:25). This suggests that Joseph had normal sexual relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus. Other Bible texts seem to support this position: “While he was still talking to the multitudes, . . . one said to him, ‘Look, Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to you.’ But he answered and said to the one who told him, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ And he stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’”. Matthew 12:46-50.

 

On another occasion we are told that the people in His hometown, said, “ Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Mark 6:3.

 

Claims that the brothers and sister referenced were, for example, children of Joseph from a previous marriage (stepbrothers and sisters). See, where, in the upper room “Mary the mother of Jesus, and . . . his brothers” were mentioned rather than Mary and her sons.  Such readings seem to stretch the text, as a result of rather desperate searches to justify pre-existing notions.   See, John 7:5: “even His brothers did not believe in Him”.

 

This sort of scriptural hermeneutic is  sometimes called “proof texting”, is not considered legitimate scholarship, becaue it lacks detachment from preconceived notions.

 

Most scholars will agree however, that the author of James’s Epistle was, indeed, James. The language, style, and teaching of the Epistle reflect a Jew who was familiar with the Old Testament, but grounded in Jesus’ teachings, as they are reflected in the NT, as a whole. It is suggested that James,  the first Bishop of Jerusalem, was martyred in  62 CE.  See, https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/jesus-had-brothers, and Don Stewart,  Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?

 

[vii]  See, James 2:17

 

[viii]  See, 2:17 supra, and 2:26.

 

[ix] “Who is wise and understanding amongst us”, James asks.  Me? As if.  You?