Monday, September 14, 2009

Simple Wisdom

I've been enjoying preaching from the Epistle of James over the last few weeks. I've really come to appreciate James' simple but profound wisdom. Much of his writing resembles the wisdom literature of the Old Testament such as the book of Proverbs. Its a kind of wisdom that is not especially difficult to understand and yet it captures so much truth about life that if we could just manage to live it out then the world (and the Church, for that matter) would be a much better place. Some of James' wise aphorisms that we've looked at so far include (in my own words):

"Our anger doesn't acheive God's righteousness."

"A faith that doesn't include works, especially works on behalf of the poor, isn't faith."

"We can't be wreckless with our words because they have enormous power."

On the other hand, I have to admit that I find James a bit difficult to preach from precisely because of this simplicity. James often seems to be so straight-forward and to the point that it doesn't seem like there is much on which to elaborate. So as I begin to work on my sermon from James 3:13-4:3 for this coming Sunday it's tempting for my sermon to look something like this:

"James says that if we are living by God's wisdom then we won't allow selfish ambition to lead to quarrelling among us. Amen. Have a good week everyone and enjoy getting home early to watch football."

Of course, I don't think we come to church each week just to hear something new. After all, what can be said that hasn't already been said? We come each week expecting to hear those same old words we've heard many times before believing that they can still breath new life into us. James' own letter is a perfect example of that. He doesn't say much that wasn't already stated in the Old Testament or in one Rabbi or another's comments on that Scripture. In fact, some commentators accuse him of not saying anything that is distinctly Christian in his letter. Nevertheless, James carries out the task of a preacher; he elucidates the words of Scripture for the life of his congregation so that those words might come alive in them and that they might become more Christ-like in their life together.

So, while James's wisdom maybe be relatively plain and simple, it is still wisdom nonethless. It is still a word that the Church must hear. There are still too many of us who consider ourselves wise but have not yet learned the wisdom of God. There are still too many fights among us because we play by the world's rules of selfish ambition instead of God's rules of service, gentleness, peace-making, and the foolishness of a crucified messiah. And we still too often desire the wrong things or the right things for the wrong reasons instead of desiring and seeking what God has for us. The wisdom of God is not practical knowledge for better living or abstract philosophical sepculation. It is learning to live with humility and trust in the God who has drawn near to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

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