I attended two memorials in two connective days this week…
The first was Friday, in Santa Rosa, for Ted Vogelaar’s mother Joan who was honored particularly for her strong faith which was expressed in how she lived her life. That’s something we can all hope for, that at the end of our life, people will point to how we put our faith into practice so that our faith becomes a living expression of something we know in our hearts to be true. That easier said than done.
And that's what this letter of James is so vehemently requiring us to do. Many people are not fans of James, including Luther who saw James call to do as a contradiction to Pauls declaration of justification by faith alone. But I humbly submit that Luther was wrong because of the two
And Ted’s mother did that. She did that is how she loved her family for sure, but this became especially clear to me at the end of the service when two younger women, who work at the retirement home that Ted’s mother and father lived, spoke through tears about how Joan would regularly visit the residents of the facility who were unable to leave their rooms. Those who couldn't speak or even acknowledge her presence, she would visit, with her bible, her prayers, and her hope that what she was doing was not for her, and not for them, but ultimately for Christ.
Which is what this letter of James is asking of us. Asking is a nice way to put it. The letter is filled with imperatives, demands. James is hard to read because it comes across as a highly moralistic kind of preaching. To listen to God in the book of James is synonymous with obedience. That’s a word we don’t throw around very often in the progressive church. To obey God’s commandments, to obey the law is to listen to God in a way that doesn’t leave us much choice. To preach obedience sounds like we've gone back in time, or flipped channels to an evangelical kind of preaching. To obey God, especially to younger folk who may not have grown up in the church sounds a bit archaic. But over the past few years, I’ve grown to understand this as something our culture is in deep need of. We are in need of being accountable to something greater than self, despite our feelings, despite our individual needs, despite our own ambitions.
This became especially clear at the second funeral I attended this week. This one I attended Saturday morning, from my couch in my pajamas in front of the TV. I'm sure many of you attended as well. John McCain’s memorial at the National Cathedral was something to behold. First of all the cathedral itself is incredible to look at and the choir and music almost as good as ours, but not quite.
John McCain, whether you agreed with him politically or not, understood the idea of being beholden to something greater than self. That line was repeated more often than any other sentiment by the people who eulogized him.
You have to ask yourself why was the death of this man made such a huge deal over? Not since Ronald Regan has there been so much attention paid to the death of political figure. Why is that? Because we’re hungry for decency, hungry for honor, hungry for a kind of code that requires people to put their political difference in its proper place, which is secondary to the decency and respect we should show one another as human beings, if we are to obey the greatest commandment; to love one another.
James said it this way…
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.
James draws a distinction that is so important. We cannot manufacture justice out of anger for our own sake. Our anger lives in God’s justice, which requires us to look past what we think is right and just and look instead to what God tells us is right and just. Which is always for a cause.
So all those times, you yell at the guy tailgating you, you’re not participating in God’s Justice, so you can go ahead and quit that. You can also stop emailing me complaints about your neighbor in righteous indignation, and instead be quick to listen, slow to speak, and maybe rethink the way you want to write that email.
Therefore 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.
That’s a mouthful…Welcome with meekness the word, To welcome the values of Christ in meekness, to first recognize our own place, our own importance, which is small in comparison to Christ, who is implanted within you…so I hope this allows you all to laugh at yourselves from time to time because there are not one among us who is doing any of this perfectly. Except Mary Hill who is always perfect in my eyes.
But be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
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.
Scott Hozee says this is like looking in a mirror and seeing chocolate all over your mouth, and then walking away and pretending you never saw it, to begin with. We have a responsibility to recognize where we come up short and work on it.
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
I've been thinking about that phrase, to deceive your heart…and it reminded me of being a child, and in order to get your playmate to do what you wanted- you’d promise them something in return…and say this phrase; “Cross my heart”….but it didn’t really mean anything….
So if you’re going to cross your heart, as a religious person, it best be pure in motivation and undefiled before God…..because for James, and for Christ, if you take any of this seriously, you have an obligation to do what’s right even though those around you, including leaders around you, maybe doing something else.
James names the widow and the orphan but he might as well of
I was watching a show with Morgan and his friend last night on HBO. I love to watch what people in their 20s watch because it gives me insight as to where we’re headed. And this was said; we are all living in a time of tribal identity when the only things that would truly unite us would be if a bunch of aliens showed up, then it would be a fight for all human beings.
But we don't have to wait for aliens to show up. If we’re to take what we’re given as sacred,
McCain’s favorite book was quoted a lot this week, For Whom the Bell Tolls….
The book's title is taken from the metaphysical poet John Donne's series of meditations and prayers on health, pain, and sickness (written while Donne was convalescing from a nearly fatal illness) published in 1624
'No Man is an Island'
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
... any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
We are hungry for this. In a world filled with selfies, and Facebook and Instagram we are hungry to be part of something beyond self. To be part of a larger humanity that means more than our own happiness.
To be part of this human race is to be inherently born into something greater than self. And our responsibility is to allow our lives to be a reflection of that honor, that privilege, that gift.
So what are you going to do with this life you’ve been given? Each day, each moment brings with it a choice…
You don’t have to be a great senator from Arizona. You don't have to be eulogized by presidents, or have a full choir sing in memory of you… We just have to be as decent a human being as God is calling us to be…
Two memorials in one week are enough for any one of us to ask, how will I be remembered? Will it be by what I say? Probably not so much. By what I believe? I doubt it. By what I hear the preacher say on Sunday? Definitely not. By what you do? By how you make others feel? Most certainly. I cross my heart, and hope to die, in this promise….that if your life is born for a cause greater than self. No man/woman is an island and the bell tolls for thee.