So, these three paragraphs, at first glance, seem to be about 3 different things. Slander, making plans, and the evil rich. But if you do like we do at Bible study…and read it through slowly and deliberately a second time…you can pick out the thread that weaves through these three paragraphs:
It’s all about keeping the perspective that it is God who has set up a way for us to be complete and whole. James points us to the fact that it is God’s Law that gives us insight into this way.
So, we’ve spent a few weeks on this stuff of speaking harshly against people. We looked last week at how, when we take our eyes of Jesus, and we allow envy and arrogance to creep in…things get pretty dark and conflict becomes the ground upon which we walk.
So here, James tells us that slandering others is a symptom of that arrogance.
When James talks about slander, he’s not talking about making up rumors or anything like that. You can say something that’s absolutely true about someone and use that truth to berate and belittle. You all know that I have a hard time not micromanaging things. You could very well take that truth and use it to tell everyone you know that I am a control monger who wants everything to go his way and is a big bully and a jerk. That’s slander…even though it’s based in a truth. The point of talking about someone like that isn’t to help…it’s to harm in order to feel superior.
When we do that, James says we forget that the law of God is the great equalizer. The law of God puts us all firmly on the same level pavement. You can’t look below the pavement…meaning you can’t look down at someone below the pavement. So we are all on the same level. The law of God puts us there. And the law of God says in Leviticus 19:16 you shall not go around as a slanderer. And quickly after that in Leviticus 19:18, God says You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
So, here’s the truth…I have the tendency to be a micromanager. Micromanagers can be really annoying. But we are called to recognize that we are all on the same level in the eyes of God…who is, as James says, the ONLY one who is above us…and the only one who can make judgments on someones eternal destiny…recognizing that, we should all be using the truth as a way to love each other. So, how do you love a micromanager? Well, you’ve all done a really good job of that…but I’ll tell you about that in a minute.
The point is that James wants us to keep close to our hearts and minds the fact that it is only God who gives us these laws that show us how to love. When we forget that, and we bring each other down, we are basically making the judgment call that we know better than God. But James says it right there: that’s not our place. Our place is to follow the path God has forged for us to be people of love and peace and hope. We do the law. We love. We don’t pretend we’re not on the same pavement as everyone else…we’re all looking upwards to God. Forgetting that only breeds trouble.
And James brings that in when he’s talking to the rich. You hoard all this wealth. You keep your gold stored up…doing nothing but sitting there giving you some sense of worth that in the end doesn’t really mean anything. The gold gathers dust. The moths eat up the fine clothes that you wore once to a party and never again. And you’re letting all this make you feel like you’re not on the same pavement as everyone else when it comes to God.
And since you let all that stuff give you some false sense of worth. And since you put your faith in your own ability to gather up all this stuff…you do what you can do to keep it to yourself. So you oppress your workers. You defraud people and don’t give them their just pay. Basically, you have forgotten you are on the pavement…and you have put yourself in the place of God over these people.
James says the rich are fattening themselves up…and leading themselves to the slaughter where all the stuff they have hoarded will just sit there to rot.
Both these paragraphs are about forgetting that God is the only one who makes the path for our true satisfaction and peace.
Both these paragraphs remind us that we are not God. And because of that, our duty is to follow God and pour out love on those around us.
And the middle paragraph is about that too. And it’s the middle paragraph that we’re going to spend the rest of our time on. Because it’s the middle paragraph that we all likely deal with every single day.
Now James puts this in terms of business at first. He says in verse 13, Come now you who say “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.”
James points out the fact that we can tend to make all these plans…forgetting that we really don’t know what the future holds. I mean, we see all the time how life is like the smoke off a campfire…it’s there for a minute and then floats off into the air never to be seen again.
And here James is calling us to wonder if we make plans in our life forgetting that ultimately our lives are in God’s hands. It’s not that we don’t plan for the future…it’s how we plan for the future. We have to choose schools for our kids. We have to figure out what grad school to go to. We have to find jobs. The question is: What is our connection to God when we make plans? Do we try to micromanage every last detail calling upon only our own strength and gumption? Or do we look at our plans and put our trust in God that no matter how things go…it’s the path of God that will lead us to true peace and security?
So James says, we should make our plans saying “If God wishes, I’ll be doing this.” He couches it in terms of arrogance. You’re arrogance leads you to make plans without considering the fact that your plans are ultimately in God’s hands. And here’s how I think it applies to us…arrogance leads to worry
How do you do with all of this? Is your life fraught with worry? Are you looking to Christ for wisdom and direction? Are you breathing in and asking God’s Holy Spirit to comfort you? Are you looking to God and with the same energy you are making our plans also saying “Lord, lead me in the way you want me to go?”
Or are we forgetting God in the process?
We are people who have been saved by the grace of Jesus
We are people who are firmly held in the arms of a loving God
Our lives are not separated from that. In anything.
So how are you dealing with the question of what school to send your kids to?
How are you dealing with the plans you’re making to get out of debt?
How are you approaching where to go to grad school?
How are you praying through the unbelievably daunting schedule of grad school?
Who are you looking to when you are at home wondering what job you’re going to get?
Are you taking it all on yourself? Or are you bringing God into the conversation…into the plans. Are you on the pavement with everyone else, or are you thinking our are somehow on the mountain…strong enough to breathe the thin air with your own overworked lungs?
We need to ask ourselves this. And we need to practice seeking God in all of this. And that’s what we’re going to do right now. Because we could wrap up this message and receive Eucharist and eat the LoveFeast and then go home and continue taking it all on ourselves. Sometimes, we just need to pray together. And we need to allow our community the opportunity to love us and help us, in the name of Jesus, carry each others burdens.