Tumbling in the Sand
Ah, the book of James…
the sermon every angry pastor is tempted to preach
and the letter we’re most apt to misquote.
We’ve been hearing it for a number of weeks now
And we’ll hear from this epistle
one more time next week, too.
It’s an epistle that is heavy on the law
— on our need to do something —
and light on grace.
Actually, it is so light on grace,
it doesn’t really mention Jesus at all
… except in the opening greeting …
and there are only fleeting references of God made throughout.
Which is why Luther called this an epistle of straw
—not to say Luther was entirely opposed to straw—
he did say that the entirety of scripture was the manger in which the Christ child is laid.**
We need straw, too … in it’s place.
Indeed, the emphasis should be on Jesus
and on the work of God.
The gospel is that we are all broken, needy,
and can’t get it right —
so, we should all feel personally convicted by James’ words.
I know that I am.
I hope that you are willing to be as well.
But, the good news is that God extends grace and healing
Often through hidden means —
like the cross
and an empty tomb
and the wounded hands of God in the flesh
and in people in community
— the living body of Christ.
So, I guess this is where James come in
— somewhere at the end
— but also, maybe somewhere at the beginning
— at least for each of us individually —
for how can our souls cling to the words of God’s love
and grace and mercy
unless we at least on the rarest of occasions catch glimpses
of love and grace and mercy
in each other?
How can we recognize a God who hides
unless we experience and practice
the characteristics of that God
amongst each other?
We need each other to put flesh to God’s love and grace
if we are to learn to trust
a mercy and love greater than we can understand.
I think the letter of James is not so much about individual righteousness
— you are made near to God by God’s good works
not your own.
Instead, this is about communal righteousness
what it means to live together
what it means to embody together
the love and mercy and grace of God.
It’s worth a read through James — it’s a short letter —
with this in mind
But, if I were to give a summary for you
it would go something like this:
Jealousy, selfishness, pride, envy, greed and struggle for
control and ownership are at the heart of community conflict.
The answer is to care for one another
to quit worrying about the stuff — it fades to dust and ash anyway
to stop being deferential to some — particularly the well to do
to start caring for the most vulnerable in our midst and beyond
to be cautious in how we speak to and about each other
to stop judging each other
to choose mercy
and, to submit to God — “humble yourself before God”
to say God’s will be done
to pray in trust — not that our desires will be met
but that grace and mercy and love will prevail.
Because your life is God’s
and your future is not your own— but given through grace —
abundant, merciful, grace.
… and this is God’s grace —
that while we were
we are sinners
who fall short again and again and again
God came in flesh
to love us
to become vulnerable
to draw near
so that we might be healed
that we might be made alive
that we might never be operated from God — from love and mercy and grace.
Why would we wait to live into that grace?
Knowing, indeed, that we’ll fall
we won’t always get it right
we’ll hurt each other
but, the vulnerability of God — the wounded hands welcoming the least of us
—invites us to stumble and die and live
again and again
in love and grace. Amen.
** Yes, I am aware that the manger would probably been full of hay and not straw — Hay being good for eating and straw being completely lacking in nutrition and therefore only good for sleeping on. That was kind of Luther’s point in calling the book “straw” it wasn’t even worthy of being “hay.” But, such distinctions don’t really matter for this: straw would be effective bedding for the Christ child, none the less …