Tag Archives: James

Inoculations

Hypo_needleAt least since college I have received a flu shot every fall. When I was in college and while in the Navy, I had lined up with my peers waiting for a technician to grab my arm and shoot in a small dose of serum. In those years I rationalized those few seconds of pain would help me avoid a week of illness or worse.

Reading a few verses of the Bible every morning provides a similar inoculation, that helps me get through each day.

Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
— Psalm 119:104 (NRSV)

But sometime, perhaps after our children were born, I began getting my annual flu shot for other people. By avoiding bringing the flu home my children would be more likely to escape the flu. According to the Center for Disease Control about a hundred children die each flu season; some years less and others more. Now as a pastor, getting my flu shot each year helps me protect people I visit in hospitals and nursing homes from influenza.

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.
— James 1:27 (NRSV)

With all the concerns about viruses in the media, getting a flu shot is a small step most people can take to protect themselves, their families, and the people they meet each day.

Triangles

As Valentine’s Day approaches merchants entice lovers with sparkly trinkets, luscious chocolates, and bright red flowers all designed to prove their love. But to draw closer to the one you love, come closer to God.

Basic human relationships form in triangles. A gift can form a third corner of a triangle with the lovers forming the other two. But since the gift cannot pull back, it forms a weak triangle. A mutual friend or family member might form the third corner, but people often  alter the shape of the triangle, pulling themselves in closer to one side or the other to distancing the remaining corner.

God - Lover - BelovedWhen God is at the apex of a relationship triangle, strengthening one’s relationship with God strengthens one’s relationship with those we love. The closer we draw near to God, the closer we can draw to others, for as we draw closer to God we appreciate God’s reconciliation with us despite our short comings, encouraging us to let go of past difficulties with those we love.

Interestingly, as one side draws closer to God, the other side also draws nearer to God, reducing the distance between the couple.

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
James 4:8 (NRSV)

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

September 30th: “Powered by Prayer”

This Week’s Passage: Second Reading James 5:13-20

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope:

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, September 30thin Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

13-14 – Are not all people in trouble? Do not all have reasons to be happy? Do not all people have some illness?

15a – Danger: God is not a slot machine. Don’t expect to insert one prayer and receive healing. See 2 Cor 12:7-9. God may choose to raise us up in ways that we don’t anticipate. Thus I typically end the prayers for the people: “May God work wonders in them and in us beyond what we dream and hope.”

14 – I give Ruling Elders upon completion of active service a small vial of oil to carry with them to remind them of this healing ministry.

15b – Have not all people sinned (see 1 John 1:8 & Romans 3:23-24)?
Forgiving of sins is the beginning of healing.

16 – Since all have sinned and all need healing, all should confess their sins and all will receive healing in the forgiveness of their sins. This is 2nd person plural, thus should not be perceived as applying only to the person who has sinned (3rd person singular in 15b).

17-18 – What limitations have we set for the possibilities of God working in our lives?

19-20 – Not only should we pray for one another, we should be receptive to those who seek to correct the error in our lives. Yet correcting the error of another needs to be done with humility and respect (see Luke 6:41-42).

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The book and particularly this and the preceding chapter contain exhortations towards appropriate moral behaviors.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Early Christian tradition assigns authorship to James the brother of Jesus. However the impeccable Greek and familiarity with Wisdom literature suggests a Hellenistic Jewish Christian rather than a Galilean. The socio-economic community addressed suggests a period late in the first century, after James martyrdom (AD 62). James’ Jewish heritage shows through his use of Old Testament Scripture rather than Jesus’ teachings. The author may be writing as a student of James of Jerusalem.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

1 Kings 17:1 is the prayer of Elijah that precedes the cessation of rain.

1 Kings 18:1 indicates that the cessation of the drought was preceded by the Word of the Lord coming to Elijah, rather than the words of Elijah coming to the Lord. But such is prayer. Although 1 Ki 18:42 implies Elijah praying at the cessation of the drought.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

15 & 20 /swsei/ can be translated as either “to heal” or “to save.” In 16 James uses /iathete/ which is only used to mean “to heal.” The ambiguity of /swsei/ used in parallel with /iaqhte/ encourages us to hear salvation from sins as physical and spiritual healing.

17 – The Greek is /anthropos/ not /andros/. Thus the proper translation is “human” (NRSV) or “person” not “man” (NIV).

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • This book is addressed universally to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion,” presumably this means refers spiritually to the whole Church. Beyond this introductory verse, the book has no resemblance to a letter. The book is a collection of proverbs. Other than a few references to his audience as “Christians,” there is little in the book that makes this document uniquely Christian.
  • James principly describes works that demonstrate the faith of the Christian. In doing so it provides a corrective of a misinterpretation of Paul’s theology as salvation through faith alone and as a corrective to Gnosticism. James’ insistence that good works are an essential sign of faith is consistent with Matthew 7:15-24 and Luke 43-47.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: In all things, pray for the forgiveness of sins, and you will be healed.
  • Emotional Center: Why should a person pray?
  • Music: “Sweet Hour of Prayer” HB #398

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Verses 13- 15 suggest that those who sin or are sick should pray, but 16 jumps to the point that we should pray for each other. That is everyone should pray, therefore everyone has some sin/illness to pray for healing.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • The opening verses invite hearers to say, “Yes, that’s me.” And then ask, who is praying for me.
  • Although modern medicine can treat the root cause of disease (microbial infections, cancer, …), the ritual of communal prayer for forgiveness continues to heal from sin, which aggravates disease.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

R.A. Martin (Augsburg Commentary: James. 1982.) suggests “that James did not hold the general rabbinical view that all sickness was the result of a person’s sins …” although “Jesus and/or his disciples held the view that in some cases sin and sickness may be related …” He concludes: “yet a truth is reflected in this ancient view – there cannot be complete health of body and mind until a person is in a right relationship with God.”

Luke T. Johnson (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Letter of James”. 1998.) contrasts James empowering the sick to call for the Elders to pray over them with the natural order that would isolate the sick to reserve resources for the healthy, to preserve the community.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Communal prayer provides physical and spiritual healing.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Pray for one another that we might save and heal each other.

September 23rd: “Two Cities”

How do our cravings for things we can see, touch, smell, or taste interfere with placing complete trust in God alone as our Lord and Savior?

This Week’s Passage: James 4:1-10

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, September 23rdin Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 – – Our external conflicts reflect our internal issues. Consider the preceding passage about how envy and selfishness spark disorder.

2 – – How do we commit murder over our possessions? Does poverty wages from third world countries count? Does ignoring the economic impact of finding the low price leader count? How do current geopolitical cravings result in war? What do Hezbollah and Al-Queda crave? What do we crave? To simply say “Oil” seems too easy and war only decreases the supply.

3 – – How then are we to ask? [This is another weakness in James. He is quick to find fault but slow to offer solutions.] The John passage suggests that we need to be concerned more about what to ask for (the bread of heaven and cup of salvation).

4 – – Those who worship at the grand temple to materialism (a.k.a. the Mall) are friends of the world. Compare the size of the Mall with the size of the area churches. Compare the traffic on Sunday morning going to Wal-Mart with those going to church.

5 – – The in-dwelling-spirit, of which God yearns, separates people from mere animals. Yet where do we invest it? With whom do we entrust its care? The temple of materialism or the fellowship with God?

7 – – c.f. Opportunity knocks, but temptation pounds on the door until you answer. I have experienced the devil not as a roaring lion, but as a snake that lurks in the shadows, waiting to find a human flaw in which to drive its fangs, until I cry out that nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

8 –10 – Each day we must ask anew, how can I best serve God in this time and in this place? And in doing so, we will receive what we truly need to be satisfied, and our cravings will abate, and conflicts and disputes will cease.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • In chapter 3, James built from our works matter, to our words matter, to our thoughts matter. Here he points that our cravings matter.
  • The remainder of chapter 4 reprises the spirituality of our speech with respect to judging others and concludes by recommending how to plan future actions.

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

V. 1 – “members” may infer either internal conflicts or interpersonal conflicts.

V. 2 – R.A. Martin suggests that “you kill” may be a scribal error for “you are envious.”

V. 5 – Luke T. Johnson (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “James”) argues that this verse should be translated: “Does the scripture speak in vain? Is the spirit God made to dwell in us for envy?”

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: What we desire matters not only to God, but it affects our neighbors and all of life.
  • Music: “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • Cravings at war within.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Luke T. Johnson (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “James”) notes that this passage “reminds us that conversion is a continual process and an essential element in spiritual transformation.” He notes that this passage is singularly “pertinent to contemporary North American culture, which is virtually based on the logic of envy.” He notes “how the language of advertising creates a world of values in which “to be” means “to have,” and to have more means to be more, a mechanism that is aimed directly at generating ‘a certain sorrow’ when someone has something that one does not, together with the desire to do anything to acquire that which is sought.” He illustrates James indictment of murder derived from envy with school yard murders committed over sport shoes or an athletic jacket.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Materialism v. trusting God alone as the author and giver of life.

September 16th: “Tongue Lashing”

[Highlights:]

This Week’s Passage: Second Reading James 3:1-12

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope:

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday September 9th

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1 – – Scriptural basis for demanding exemplary behavior from those called to service.

2 – – This is a contradiction. Stumble in many ways, but speech controls the whole being? Does failed speech precede all sins?

3 – – A bit is used for dialog with the animal. The animal may still decide to go elsewhere (c.f. Balaam’s Ass).

4 – – But the set of the sail, or a strong current can over take the rudder. A good pilot knows how to use all of the surfaces of the ship. Even a canoe is easier to moor when the wind is pushing it towards the dock.

5a – – The tongue also leads the soul by its silence, when it should boast. Today, the finger that clicks a mouse is as powerful, perhaps more so in sparking fires.

5b – – A small spark will not set a forest on fire if the forest is not dry and littered with dead wood. How do we keep dry dead wood from littering our soul, thus reducing the potential for moral fires?

6 – – Might a 20th century person say the imagination is dry kindling ready to ignite by the evil of the world, and by hell itself. Dry kindling laid to ignite a fire that would consume the whole person.

8 – – Calvin wrote: Even within the hearts of the saints there smolders an ember of sin. [or words to that effect]

9 – – And when we curse people made in God’s image, we must surely be cursing God.

10 – – So what alternative does James suggest? 3:17-18 does not seem sufficient.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This passage continues theme from 2:14-26 that faith exudes good works demonstrating faith. Here faith controls the tongue to emit good words that demonstrate faith.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

Proverbs 18:20 From the fruit of the mouth, one’s stomach is satisfied; the yield of the lips brings satisfaction. 21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Mark 7:20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The bit in a horses mouth or a boat’s rudder might be more relevant to 1st century hearers than to us. We might talk about the ease of steering a car or ???

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of gravity: If we can control our tongues, we can turn our behaviors towards God.

E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?

  • The rhetoric of this passage shows that salt and fresh water does stream from human mouths. Did he intend to only convict hearers that we are unfit for God’s kingdom and need to amend our ways, or to emphasize reliance on grace through Christ.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Luke Timothy Johnson (The New Interpreters Bible, “James”) describes how James has used Hellenistic rhetoric to demonstrate the double-mindedness of all people, or in this case, that people are double-tongued, in fact producing both salt water and fresh.

R.A. Martin, (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: James) notes that verse 1 applies to both professional teachers and to those who might have occasion to instruct someone else. He sees the fire sparked by a careless tongue as starting a conflagration that spreads far and wide; What we say and do affects many people.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

A loose tongue disorients one’s soul.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

If we can control our tongues, we might turn our behaviors towards God.

September 9th: “Show Me”

James prompts us to examine our works and see how they demonstrate our faith. What have you done this week to demonstrate your faith?

This Week’s Passage: James 2:1-10 (11-13) 14-17

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, September 9th, in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

14a – If our faith does not affect how we live our lives Monday – Saturday, is it worth anything?

14b – c.f. those who call on the Lord, but are not saved, for they only have words.

15 & 16 – What if God responded to our prayers with empty platitudes?

18 – Does American society encourage faith apart from works? And works that show no faith. What works would set us apart as faithful Christians?

19 – Believing in God is not sufficient?

21 – Genesis 22 describes the sacrifice of Isaac as a testing of Abraham. This is the last act of Abraham. After this Sara dies then Abraham must entrust the selection of a wife for Isaac to a servant.

22 – Faith was active with Abraham’s works, but the illustration does not show how faith apart from works was barren.

25 – Rahab’s works (Joshua 2) appear to arise apart from faith. Rahab appears to be motivated by fear, and her works only to avoid the fate of her country rather than conversion. This passage enforces concept that one may be justified by works apart from faith; that one might give alms or pay penance and thus earn one’s way into heaven.

26 – Faith is corporeal. Works are spiritual.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Preceded by exhortation to speak and act with mercy, since all are transgressors of the law.
  • Followed by exhortation to control one’s tongue, as it guides one’s whole being.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

V. 14 c.f. Luke 6:46 — ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you?

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of gravity: Faith exudes works that demonstrate faith.
  • Emotional Center: Faith that does not produce works is faithless.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • This passage is central to the faith/works controversy of the Reformation. Excess emphasis on and abuse of works, as indicative of saving faith, resulted in a theology of salvation by faith alone.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • This passage encourages self-justification. Encourages the faithful to ask: “What have I done to show my faith?”

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

R.A. Martin (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: James. 1982.) notes James is not contrasting faith and works, but “actually contrasting two types of faith, only one of which is really faith at all.” He perfects the translation of v. 26 by noting the parallel with body and spirit and /pneumatos/ and works. While nearly all translations opt for spirit, Martin shows how “breath” optimally conveys James’ parallel to show that just as breath demonstrates a living body, so works demonstrate a living faith.

Eugene March (“Faith and Action,” The Presbyterian Outlook, May 20, 1996.) notes that this passage is often contrasted with the Apostle Paul who might have answered James’ rhetorical question: “Can faith save you?”

Michelle Bartel (The Present Word: Fall 2003, Faith Faces the World. PC(USA), 2003.) “The point in this letter is not that works are more important than faith, but that faith and works can never be separated. … to say we have faith without changing our lives … is not really faith.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Works are the manifestation of our faith.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Faith alone may be sufficient for salvation, but trust in the one true God inevitably changes how we act, resulting in works.

September 2: “Do It Justly”

What does your anger say about the sincerity of your Christian faith?

This Week’s Passage: James 1:17-27

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year B for Sunday, September 2nd in Ordinary Time

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

19 – Listen patiently like the Quakers or the Navajo. Count to ten before you speak.

20 – We must be careful how our anger is released.

22 – Our faith must affect who we are and how we act Monday – Saturday!

23 – Our familiarity with having looked into a mirror and forgotten what we look like, or looking at ones watch and having to look a second time when someone asks for the time, shows how we are also familiar with having heard but not acted.

25 – The Communion table is an Alter Table, because we come to this table and are changed by God.

26 – Consider the “Christians” who protest at funerals. Any validity in their message is lost with the anger that carries the message.

27 – Can anyone really keep oneself unstained by the world? And if one could, why would we need Jesus?

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

“Anger” appears 253 times in the Bible.

  • God gets angry: Exo 4:14; Num 11:1; Num 11:33; Num 12:9; Num 22:22; Num 25:3&4; Num 32:10, 13, &14; Deut 4:25; Deut 6:15;
  • God is slow to anger: Exo 34:6; Num 14:18;
  • When humans get angry, they miss an opportunity to serve God: Num 24:10,
  • Prov 14:29 – Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
  • Eph 4:26 – “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

The letter of James is more like Wisdom Literature than a typical Greek epistle.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Worship must have an impact on the hearer!
  • Emotional Center: Exhortation and Excoriation
  • Music: “Called as Partners in Christ’s Service”

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

R.A. Martin (Augsburg Commentary: James. 1982) notes: “The law is not the tyrannical force we Christians often consider it to be.”

Luke T. Johnson (“Letter of James,” The New Interpreter’s Bible. Abingdon, 1998) reflects that readers “now occupy the place of the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” and should feel challenged by James to discern if the reality he presents is one they know and seek to live by, or if they have been self deceived.

Michelle Bartel (The Present Word: Fall 2003, Faith Faces the World. PC(USA).) “Even though this word is rooted, or implanted, in us, it is powerless to save our souls until we become rooted in it.”

Laurie Wheeler (“Active Listening,” The Presbyterian Outlook, July 21/28, 2008.) asks: “Would your interaction with Scripture over the past two weeks classify you as a passive passenger or active crew member in faith?

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Exhortation to truly hear and act accordingly in response to the implanted word and there by receive God’s blessing.

The story in Mark 7 similarly condemns religiously following the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

These passages should prompt a hearer to examine their own practice of religion. How do my beliefs affect my actions every day? Has my conduct of worship become a shallow ritual rather than a life altering experience?

July 3rd: “Serving the world by reaching into the community being the hands and feet of Christ”

This week, the last two weeks, and next week, the sermon will consider one of the four facets of the congregation’s vision statement. The notes below lift up exemplifying passages from the Bible and the Book of Confessions.

Exemplifying Scripture

Micah 6:3-8

Matthew 25:31-46 – In as much as you have done to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.

Acts 2:44-45 – All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-21 – But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

James 1:27 – 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.

The Second Helvetic Confession

5.120 – GOOD WORKS PLEASE GOD. Now the works which we do by faith are pleasing to God and are approved by him. Because of faith in Christ, those who do good works which, moreover, are done from God’s grace through the Holy Spirit, are pleasing to God. For St. Peter said: “In every nation any one who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:35). And Paul said: “We have not ceased to pray for you . . . that you may walk worthily of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work” (Col. 1:9 f.).