Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes 3.2.08

James 5v7-11

7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord's coming.

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.

9 Don't grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.


What is it about the Lord's coming that is to sustain the patience of these believers in the face of suffering?

They, and their friends and neighbors are helpless to cease the inexcusable injustices inflicted by the grossly rich. These humble believers cannot force the powerfully wealthy to pay the required wages. They cannot appeal to the Empire for justice, for the Empire is not interested in their plight. What are they to do?

Take up arms against their oppressors? (aka Bono - Rattle and Hum version of Silver and Gold...)

Harbor bitterness in their heart?

Quarrel and fight with one another?

Surrender to despair and cynicism?

What are your options for dealing with the terrible tragedies of the twentieth century? Regardless of whether you feel our country is responsible for any atrocities, as a fellow human, how do we cope with the inconceivable inhumanities of the last hundered, two hundred, two thousand, etc years of our existence?

Ignore it as long as possible?

Numb the pain?

Fight against it?

Rationalize it?

Join it?

This is where the genius of James comes to light: his wisdom on the age old problem is to be tranquil in the midst of one's personal suffering. This is not a denial of reality, nor about a stiff upper lip, not about gutting your way through the pain, nor about seeking to gain something through the pain. When suffering buffets your heart, mind and body, resist it with shalom, with peace, with hope.

But what fuels this kind of peace and hope?

James insistst that the Lord's coming is near, thus continue to endure the suffering with a strong heart, a heart feeding on the peace of Christ. first read, I wasn't sure how this fact of Christ's return was supposed to help dispel the despair that creeps into the corners of my heart.

Here's what I've got so far:

Another way to read the text is thus - "Continue holding up under the suffering, for the Royal Arrival of the King is closer than you think."

Taking up all that is in this text, here is the impact of that verse/passage as I understand it.

James is not telling them to hang in there because soon Jesus is going to take them out of this world into heaven. James is telling them to hang in there because Jesus is just around the corner, Jesus the Almighty King, the Judge of Justice and Compassion, the Farmer who Harvests Peace and Blessings.

As King, Jesus has an authoratative presence about him that changes people and situations - this was true of his life in Galilee.

As Judge, Jesus has a wise understanding of people, their motives, their faults, and their intentions. He also is completely committed to Justice for the oppressed, as well as Compassion for all who are hurting.

As Farmer, Jesus has a unwavering commitment to sowing peace into the hearts of all men who will trust him to do so; he is willing to cultivate our lives with his Teachings so that our obedience will bring forth the kind of fruitfulness that marked the life of Job.

James is telling his friends: hang in there, King Jesus the Farmer Judge is as close as the other side of that door; he hears everything, he sees all, he also is at work in everything - exerting his authority, justice, and peace NOW through us when we obey Him.

When Jesus returns, he is bringing Heaven down with Him to restore the earth; that means that our work, in the midst of suffering, is to continue the work that he started at his first Arrival, the kind of work he will bring to completion at his second arrival.

James indicates that there is no rapture; when Jesus comes as a King with his Royal Procession, he comes to clean up the good creation, to put an end to evil, to put in place the kind of justice we long for, and to complete his harvest of Peace.

The world will be as it ought when Jesus comes, so continue to do the work now that he will complete at the End of All Things.

Jesus is close enough, full of compassion and mercy, that he will not leave us, will not let us go through suffering unaided. He is close, he is coming, and we can have confidence that our obedient faith-works are part of a grander strategy to reconcile and renew all things to God. Why will our work succeed? Because it is rooted in, flowing from, and lead by our King Jesus the Farmer Judge.

Okay, so that is a very long post; but this kind of theology is new to me. But it is fascinating...and encouraging.

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