This Sunday we will worship at a local park. If you are around, you should come and join us. You can find more information here. We do this every year and I enjoy it. We switch things up a bit. The whole thing is more casual and ends in a cookout. Agape meal, anyone? This is how we roll here in the bedroom communities of Chicago's north shore! Bring your friends. God will provide.
So, to keep things loose, I have chosen a single passage from the lectionary this Sunday. James 1:17-27.
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19 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. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 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. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who actâ€”they will be blessed in their doing. 26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
That's the New Revised Standard Version's attempt at the translation. For fun I have also read Peterson's The Message since I posted that video earlier this week. Here is his translation.
So, my very dear friends, don't get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.
Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God's righteousness doesn't grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of Godâ€”the free life!â€”even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
The warning to preachers here is manifold. First, listen! I find it very easy to let my pet peeves get in the way of what the Spirit is trying to tell me. Second, make sure you are preaching a Word that is of God, that leads people to a Christ-shaped life. There are a lot of ways to inspire people. Someone recently posted that we substitute inspiration for preaching the Word too often in our pulpits (I'm still looking for the reference.). I think I get that. Certainly, inspiration is a good thing. But if we look at James, the onus is upon the hearer of the Word to hear, to understand, to have no fear of Jesus and Jesus' life or message, and then act upon it. To only wish to be inspired and not transformed is problematic. Thus, we preachers need to be transformed ourselves. We need to share a transformative word.
Well, that's what is rattling around my head this morning.