Wash Us Off. Cool Us Down.

James 3:13-18
Lauren J. McFeaters
April 23, 2017

James picks us up after a long thorny winter and blows a cool spring breeze across our furrowed brows. He scrapes the mud off our boots and tells us quite frankly we have some serious choices to make concerning how we will live Purely. Peaceably. Gently. Enthusiastically yielding our wills to the One who expects and deserves our mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

Beginning today and reaching out across the weeks ahead, James testifies that if we are to live as people of the Risen Lord then:

  • enough of our endless inclination to say one thing and do another;
  • our never-ending preference to profess faith and live without honor;
  • our selective obedience;
  • our faith without works;
  • our ceaseless need to create drama and crisis and spectacle;
  • our perpetual need to go it alone.

James doesn’t understand how we can worship on Sunday, surrounded by the Living Word, and Living friends, only to return home and hole up, lonely and isolated and without wisdom.

It’s been said that if we face warring political factions, James faces more. If we have had it up to here with partisan backbiting, James feels our pain. He’s sick and tired of hearing what people think about faith in God. He’s unimpressed by so-called wisdom that’s used to pound on one another.[i] The only wisdom that interests James is the wisdom that puts hands to work and hearts to God.

For James, who knows Christians need an intensely practical way to live, he sets before us the standards to which we’ve been called:

  • Do you want to be counted wise? Learn from your mistakes.
  • How do we do that?
  • Live modestly because it’s the way you live that counts.
  • Do you find yourself being passive, unreceptive, hard-hearted? There’s no wisdom there.
  • How about twisting the truth, living arrogantly and unpleasantly? That’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s cunning, devilish, conniving. [ii]

Here’s wisdom: the Tibetan monk who after 18 years of imprisonment by the Chinese was asked what he experienced as the biggest threat during his imprisonment and he answered, “Losing… compassion for the Chinese.”

There’s Abby McAlister who fasted for Ramadan so that she might better understand her Muslim neighbors.

There’s the Masai warriors, who 15 years ago gave a herd of cattle, their most precious gift, to the people of the United States, so that they we might find healing from the attacks of 9/11.

There’s Cynthia Ngewu, the mother of a young man murdered in South Africa, who at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings said, “this thing called reconciliation…if it means the perpetrator, this man who killed my son, if it means he becomes human again…so that I, so that all of us, get our humanity back…then I agree, then I support it all.” [iii]

Or from our prophet-poet Wendell Berry:

“So, friends, every day, do something that won’t compute. Ask the questions that have no answers.
Put your faith in two inches of soil that will build under the trees every thousand years. Laugh.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
Practice resurrection.” [iv]

Now here’s where many of us will nod off, or start making a grocery list, or work on our car-pool schedule for the week. We just give up and think: “Yada. Yada. Yada.” Or if you’re from New Jersey: “Bada Bing, Bada Bong.” “What’s the use? It’s just too hard.” “Godly wisdom is for saints, not sinners.” “Wisdom is granted to those few really good people who have some special capacity for it, who are naturally virtuous and decent.” [v]  I’m a hawk. I’ll leave this for the doves. Mmm. I’m a dove. I’ll leave this for the hawks. Mmm.

Do we believe an Easter Life full of mercy and wisdom is dispensed from on high like medication from God the pharmacist? Does God only allot particular doses to some and write out scripts to those worthy and valuable?[vi]

No. That’s the lie we tell ourselves when we believe God doesn’t mean this for me. That’s the lie we tell ourselves when we leave the faith-stuff for those who can do better. We are a stiff-necked people, aren’t we? I know I am. Stubborn as all get out. Proud beyond measure. Utterly resistant. Foolish. Thoughtless. Unteachable.

And perfect – perfectly in need of God’s mercy and wisdom, perfectly created to depend on our Maker. So James washes us off, cools us down, stands us on our feet, and preaches the best good news to those who just last week experienced our own betrayal in Gethsemane. Were nourished at the table of mercy. Stood at the cross and looked up into the eyes of love. And then gathered to shout our alleluias with our Resurrected Lord.

God is not expecting perfectly wise people.

What God is expecting is for us fall into the arms of the One full of mercy, who loves us perfectly, who makes us bold, and who gets us off our duffs to love and serve.

And how? How? Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life characterized by getting along with others. It is oh so gentle and reasonable. Overflowing with mercy and blessings. We’re not to live hot one day and cold the next. We’re called to joy. And we’re not lone rangers who go it alone but people who can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God especially when we do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

What on earth does that look like? When people in our lives are unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you’re honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. [vii]

Wise living is the best model of the Christian life. Living as Christ’s Easter people means we’re honest enough to know truth is not painless, brave enough not to sing our songs in private, courageous enough to live out what we pray and profess.

Living as Christ’s wise people means we’re humble enough to be teachable, flexible enough to be merciful, pure enough to be peaceable, agreeable enough to bear really fine fruit. [viii]

This is God’s Word given to James.

It’s given to you and for you in all your days ahead.

Thanks be to God.

[i] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Editors David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, Year B, Vol. 4, Season after Pentecost 2, 2009, 87-91.

[ii] Adapted from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English. James 3: 13-18. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 1993.

[iii] Kaethe Weingarten, Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day:  How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal. New York: E.P. Dutton, 2003. As told by Pam Houston, O Magazine, September 2003, 200.

[iv] Wendell Berry. The Country of Marriage: Poems. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 1971.

[v] Frances Taylor Gench, Hebrews and James. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, 113.

[vi] J. Philip Newell, Sounds of the Eternal. London: Canterbury Press, 2002.

[vii] Kent M. Keith. “The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council.” Harvard Student Agencies, Harvard University, 1968.

[viii] Images from Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, Inc., 1984, 70-71, 82-83, 96-97.

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