Wednesday, 26 September 2018

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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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Wise Living In A Troubled World

September 2, 2018

WISE LIVING IN A TROUBLED WORLD

September 2, 2018 (Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Lakeshore Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Psalm 15

A Psalm of David.


1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
   Who may dwell on your holy hill? 


2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
   and speak the truth from their heart; 
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
   and do no evil to their friends,
   nor take up a reproach against their neighbours; 
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
   but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt; 
5 who do not lend money at interest,
   and do not take a bribe against the innocent. 

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

 

 

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.* 18In fulfilment 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; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore 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. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves* in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.25But 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.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion 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.

Blessed are you, O Lord and Lover,
source of beauty and depth of passion.
Strengthen and inspire us to do the word we hear
and live the faith we confess. Amen.

Anytime people who love God gather is special, yet today is historic.  Today, we gather and worship God for the first time as one fellowship henceforth known as New Millennium Lakeshore Church.  Before today, we worshipped in this sanctuary under different names, at different times, and with different histories.  Now, our separate names, histories, and worship sessions are joined together.  All that happened before in our separate identities now is the foundation for who we are before God and with each other together.

Providentially, today we are worshipping as one fellowship for the first time on the Sunday before the Labor Day holiday – the U.S. holiday to commemorate the importance of workers and workplace justice.  Remarkably, we do so on the first Lord’s Day after the President of the United States announced a decision to cancel pay raises for millions of federal workers following a federal court decision that blocked Trump administration attempts to restrict collective bargaining and workplace grievance rights for federal workers.

Today is, also, the first Sunday in this month.  So, we will partake of the Lord’s Supper together – as New Millennium Lakeshore Church – for the first time.  

These are reasons some of us may have lumps in our throats.  These are reasons some of us may be misty-eyed.  These are reasons some of us may worship God today with a heightened sense of reverence, adoration, wonder, and excitement.

In view of the historic perspective of worship today, the scripture lessons may seem underwhelming.  We aren’t pondering sayings by Jesus.  We aren’t studying lessons from the major prophetic books, the writings of St. Paul, or well-recognized and often quoted passages. 

However, Psalm 15 and James 1 are what can be termed wisdom passages.  Psalm 15 is attributed to David, the shepherd who eventually became the warrior champion and later the second king of the Hebrew people.  The Epistle of James is attributed to the brother of Jesus who eventually became leader of the early church at Jerusalem.  

These passages have something in common.  Each passage sets out instructions for wise living.  The instructions are presented as duties, not suggestions.  Psalm 15 and James 1 are straightforward messages about how to be wise people as we live in a troubled world.  

David and James had seen their share of trouble.  David’s early life as a shepherd involved protecting himself and his father’s sheep from threats presented by wandering sheep and stalking predators.  His life as a warrior carried the usual risks and temptations that come with warfare, including the morally troubling work of trying to do right while training and working to kill other people.  David’s life as head of his family included a failed first marriage (to a daughter of King Saul), a second marriage (to Bathsheba) clouded by moral compromise and the loss of their first child, and family violence that included the rape of a daughter (Tamar) by his son and crown prince (Amnon), the murder of that son by another son (Absalom), a later threat on his own life and rule by that son, and the grief of losing that son.

James knew about trouble too.  His brother, Jesus, seems to have gotten into trouble enough that at one point their mother, Mary, thought Jesus was mentally disturbed.  Jesus even got in trouble on his first trip back to Nazareth after he became a well-known preacher and healer.  We can only imagine what it was like for James to overhear what people in Nazareth said about Jesus.  

David and James knew about living with personal and public trouble.  What wisdom have they shared with us about how to do it well?

Wise living involves doing!  Psalm 15:2 calls us to walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from [the] heart.  Psalm 15:4 directs us to condemn wickedness in these words – in whose eyes the wicked are despised – and instructs us to keep our word when we read who stand by their oath even to their hurt.  

At Psalm 15:3, David tells us that wise living also involves not doing:  who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors. And at Psalm 15:5, we are told that wise living involves generosity and honesty when we read these words:  who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent.  

Notice the duties presented at James 1:  be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).  [R]id yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness (verse 20) is a call to avoid greed.  The rest of the passage can be summed up by the statement we find at verse 22:  But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.  

According to David and James, wise living involves knowing how to live right in a troubled world and doing it!  James emphasizes this wisdom with these words:  For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.  But 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 1:23-25).  

In every age, people have known that it is right to be generous and wrong to be greedy.  In every age, people have known that it is right to tell the truth – even at the risk of our self-interest – wrong to hide the truth or lie in order to obtain a benefit or advantage.  In every age, people have known that angry words are more likely to wound others than to win their trust.  In every age, people have known that it is right to welcome strangers and travelers, and wrong to mistreat them.  In every age, people have known that it is right to protect and defend those who are vulnerable, weak, and powerless – categories that have always included women and children.   

Greed isn’t practiced because people don’t know better.  Dishonesty and fraud don’t happen because people don’t know better.  Mean-spirited, hateful, cruel, vicious, and oppressive words and deeds don’t happen because people don’t know better.  These and other examples of wickedness – say wickedness  – happen because we refuse to do what we know is right!  According to David and James, refusal to do the right we know violates the duty we owe God and one another.  This is the wickedness that hurts others and stains God’s world!

David and James confront us with a painful truth:  much of the suffering and pain in our world is caused by calculated greed, deliberate dishonesty, and intentional cruelty in our words and deeds.  We know what is right, but refuse to do it.  But we are like people who look at themselves in a mirror and forget what they saw when they turn away.  

David and James were writing to instruct and encourage faithful people about how to live wisely for God in a troubled world!  They were writing, encouraging, instructing, and admonishing us to be God’s healing people in a hurtful world, God’s truthful people in a deceitful world, God’s compassionate people in a cruel world, and God’s bold and welcoming people in a fearful and tight-fisted world.  According to David and James, wise living involves loving, and loving always involves doing what is good, not merely talking about it.  

Loving others involves being generous, defending those who are being mistreated, and refusing to profit from the misfortunes and hardships of others.  At James 1:27, we learn this is the essence of genuine – as opposed to fake – religion:  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 thought is summed up quite plainly in these words from one of my favorite spirituals – I’ve Been ‘Buked.  

There is trouble all over this world, there is trouble all over this world, children.  There is trouble all over this world, there is trouble all over this world.

Ain’t gwine lay my ‘ligion down, ain’t gwine lay my ‘ligion down, children.  Ain’t gwine lay my ‘ligion down.  Ain’t gwine lay my ‘ligion down.

In Jesus Christ, God has presented us a model of what that kind of living looks like and how it behaves.  In Jesus, God has shown us how to talk without turning our words into weapons.  In Jesus, God has shown us how to share without worrying whether we will have enough.  In Jesus, God has shown us how to tell the truth even when others don’t want to hear it and when doing so will expose us to avoidable risks.  In Jesus, God has shown us how to care for others who are vulnerable, and how to do it without trying to profit from their situations.  

David and James have told us how to live wisely in a troubled world.  Jesus has shown us how to live wisely in a troubled world.  Let us renew our commitment do the wise living we know (thanks to David and James) and have been shown (thanks to Jesus), by the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God.

Amen. 

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018