Is your blood boiling yet?
If you've watched any news in the last month, then I imagine that a very specific flood of emotional images comes to mind for you as they do for me upon hearing those phrases. Yelling and screaming. Guns and crowds of protestors. Lies, rumors, deceptions, mistrust. Fear. Anger.
As I've watched this flood of angry images pass across my TV and computer screens over the last few weeks, I've also been contemplating James 1:19-20 which stands at the heart of our sermon text this week.
"Everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger for the anger of man does not acheive the righteousness of God."
I'm not saying people don't have a right to voice their opinions, even angrily if they want to, or that the health care debate isn't important. In fact, I don't even offer these verses of scripture as a criticism of those who have made their voices heard in these town hall meetings. After all, James wasn't speaking to the American political process. James was speaking to the Church.
What concerns me is how often the Church follows this same model. We angrily shout and clamor for our voice to be heard above all others fearing that if its not then the whole world will just go to hell. Sometimes it seems like we almost wear our anger about certain issues as a badge of spirituality as if our passion about that subject shows just how spiritual we really are. "You're face doesn't turn red with righteous indignation at the first mention of helpless babies being aborted? And you call yourself a Christian? You don't launch into a passionate tirade or roll your eyes in disgust and disdain every single time someone forgets the countless starving children around the world? How could you possibly be a follower of Jesus?" But James puts it simply; our anger does not acheive God's redemptive purposes in our world.
Of course, I'm also not suggesting that we just not care; that we not have any passion about anything. There's a third way that is an alternative to apathy and anger. It's the way of sacrifice; the way of the cross, Christ, and His Church. It's caring enough to actually do something about it while also recognizing that the fate of the world does not rest squarely on your shoulders but on God's.
This passage in James is bookended by the language of sacrifice. In 1:18, James says that God has "brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among his creatures." The "first fruits" were the very beginning of the harvest brought as a sacrifice to God in anticipation of the rest of the harvest to come. The imagery here indicates that the Church is a sacrifice in anticipation of God's harvest, that is, the coming of God's kingdom and the renewal of creation. Likewise, James closes the chapter by saying in v.29 that "Pure and undefiled religion... is this; to visit orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained by the world." "Unstained" is again the language of sacrifice, indicating that the Church is to be a sacrifice to God without spot or blemish.
In between these verses, James makes it clear that the only way that the Church can be this kind of unstained, first fruits sacrifice is to be people who not only hear the Word but people who live it. If we hear the truth, shout angrily about how miserably our culture fails to live up to it, but then are not willing to make any sacrifices to live out the gospel, then we are like a person who looks into a mirror but fails to actually see ourselves for who we are. In contrast, we must be a people who look deeply into God's law, allowing it to reveal to us our need for radical tranformation so that we might not live by a politics of wrath but by a politics of sacrifice.