St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-16-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 09-16-2018

Not Without Control

Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I would think that most of you are familiar with Martin Luther’s difficulty in dealing with the Epistle of James. In particular how he once, in comparing it to most other New Testament writings, referred to it as “a perfect straw-epistle compared with them.”

For Luther, the major part of the problem with the Epistle of James was that, in his eyes, it contradicted Paul’s writing on justification. Where Paul writes, for example, in Romans

“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. (3:28 NRSV)

Or in Galatians “yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. (Galatians2:16)

Yet James tells us, as you heard in last week’s reading

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (2:17 NRSV)

 

Luther was a worthy interpreter of Scripture, I do not challenge that, but for the life of me I cannot figure out how he missed the two different kinds of “works” being talked about. Where Paul, confirmed by context and the words written, is talking about “works of theLaw” as the requirements to be a Jew (specifically in Romans it is circumcision) while James, also confirmed by context and the words written, is talking about works of kindness, mercy, and justice, even mentioning the need to care for “a brother or sister [who] is naked and lacks daily food…” and how we have failed them, and our Lord, if we don’t offer them food and clothing. (2:15 NRSV)

To me, the beauty of the Epistle of James is in its brief, direct, simplistic teaching of what it means to be a Christian; the actions required of us to faithfully live out our belief in Jesus Christ.

Not by coincidence, I’m sure, the part of the Epistle I just spoke of is followed with an equally brief, direct, and simplistic teaching on how to speak as a Christian.

I don’t know how it comes across to you, as a congregation, but one of the more attention-getting parts to me, as a preacher, is where we read, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”.

I knew it as I answered the call to ministry and I know it now even more so; as a teacher, preacher, shepherd of this flock, I am more vulnerable to harsh judgment. If I teach anything to anyone that is contrary to the Word of God and Christ, it is I who will suffer the consequences in the end, not those I have led astray.

That being said, James does not tell us (not you or me) not to speak, rather, he tells us how we (both you and me) should speak.

With his metaphors of a bridled horse and the rudder of a ship, James is, in both cases, bringing in thoughts of, not only control, but movement in a desired direction as well. With his later reference to fire, especially in his words, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire”, we can also see a loss of control, undirected movement, and the destruction the two can cause.

Unlike the steering of a ship or the control of an animal which not everyone has experienced, we can all relate well to the fire. We enjoy brewed beverages heated over a controlled fire, we appreciate a hot meal and a warm home made possible by controlled fire. Yet, we have also witnessed the destruction of forests, fields, and homes when the same element, fire, is not controlled and properly directed.

And so it is with our speech. Words of love, encouragement, compassion, and assurance can warm the hearts and souls of our fellow human beings. But words of hate, oppression, disregard, and damnation can scorch the very soul and cause deadly destruction to others who are equally created in the image of God.

 

I have been frustrated over the years by the problem of such uncontrolled speech that comes from the very source that should be the first to recognize its devastation; the Church itself.

Please mind, I am talking in general terms here, the Church of Christ has many members; some are doing all they can to use the fire of the Gospel to warm hearts and homes. But there are others, without bridle or rudder, that have lost control and are burning down the Church and her Good News. These are those who “With [their words] bless the Lord and Father, and with [their words] curse those who are made in the likeness of God, [from whose] same mouth come blessing and cursing”.

“’My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so’”.

 

Sadly, as indicated by James’ need to write what he did, this is not a new situation; it was present even in his time just as it persists today. Yet at great risk to his very soul he did, indeed, speak and teach; calling on the Church to regain control and realign her direction.

Luther, at great risk to his life and his soul also spoke out about this very same problem when he saw the Catholic Church veering off course. The results, at first, were devastating; splitting the Church and creating a precedence that caused even more division. Yet, in the end, even the Catholic Church was forced to consider her faults, regain control, and change her course away from corruption and deadly abuse, back toward the mission Christ set for her in the beginning; the mission of spreading the Good News.

 

I am not James nor am I Luther, but like them I know that I must speak-up, even knowing the risks, when I hear and see unchristian things being said and done in the name of Christ and when I hear curses coming from the Church that should be offering nothing but blessings.

Therefore, as I’ve been announcing, I will spend my time next Sunday explaining the need for, what I am calling a “Not That Kind of Christian” initiative and proposing how we, in St. Matthew’s, can be a part of this much needed mission of getting the Church back on course.

In preparation for that, I ask you to spend time this week meditating on the words you heard today from James; I repeat them now…

“With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

Amen.

Proverbs 1:20-33
1:20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.
1:21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
1:22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
1:23 Give heed to my reproof; I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you.
1:24 Because I have called and you refused, have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
1:25 and because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
1:26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you,
1:27 when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
1:28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
1:29 Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
1:30 would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof,
1:31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices.
1:32 For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
1:33 but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

 

James 3:1-12
3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
3:2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.
3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies.
3:4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.
3:5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
3:6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
3:7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species,
3:8 but no one can tame the tongue–a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
3:9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
3:10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
3:11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?
3:12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Mark 8:27-38
8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”
8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”