The current sermon series at our church is from the New Testament book of James, and each week I’m more convinced that another book or topic would be more to my liking. Why not Psalm 23 with its pastoral scenes and emphasis on God-as-loving-shepherd? Or Proverbs with its pithy advice? (Although I admit that Solomon can also get a little preachy.)
Not only will I be hearing prickly sermons for the next several weeks, but the Sunday morning class in which I participate has decided to more deeply study James’ words. From past experience I know that could take months. And knowing this group of women, they’ll not pull punches or merely moralize the topics.
In just the past few sermons I’ve already heard:
(1) Trials are not to be avoided but are to be welcomed as friends because they produce perseverance. (How often have you put that on your prayer request list?) This must be important because James returns to the topic as he closes his disturbing letter.
(2) It’s not sufficient to just listen to Bible teaching; doing what it says—“continuing in it”—is what God looks for. (No more quickie morning devotions or forgetting the sermon on the way out to the car.)
(3) I can’t simply pass a granola bar out the car window to the person holding an out-of-work-need-food sign at the corner. I’m to invite that unbathed homeless woman to sit next to me in my favorite pew. James belabors this point and minces no words in describing my condition if I’m tempted to shirk: “If you show favoritism, you SIN and are CONVICTED as LAWBREAKERS.” Ouch.
And then came yesterday’s sermon:
My “Christian” tongue is small, boastful, fiery, corrupting, restlessly evil and poisonous. And that strangely shaped thing occupying my mouth can be hypocritical: “out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.” Equally disturbing was the preacher’s emphasis that all the ugly stuff my tongue dispenses finds its foundation in my heart.
As I contemplated what I’ve heard, and what I will very likely continue hearing, I was reminded of what a young woman wrote as she debriefed from a mission trip: I learned to live in the unexpected. Not just go in to it, but to live there… that is where God functions. Beyond the edges of what is feasible, into the unbelievable.
I think that’s where James is leading me. The question then becomes: do I really want to go into that space where God functions, beyond the edges of what is feasible, into the unbelievable? Do I so want God to transform, even revolutionize me, that I fall into his arms, abandon myself to him, lay all on the altar and simply say, “Here I am, use me. Reveal my sin. Fill me with your Spirit. Break me if necessary. I’m yours.” That seems to be where James is leading me.
So very disturbing.