A word about the Word

by susan on August 31, 2015

walking the wayThis Sunday, we shared new Bibles with our elementary school children. The Bibles were a gift from our community as a way of encouraging our children to read, study and ask lots of questions as they seek to grow in their faith.  We also began moving through the book of James together. It’s one of the most practical books in the Bible and gives followers of Jesus a deeper understanding of what it means to walk the Way. Here is the message that was shared during our worship gathering.

A Word about the Word
James 1:17-27

17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore 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. 22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:17-27, NRSV

James, we are told from the start, was writing to “those who were dispersed”. He was addressing the larger Christian community of Jews who were becoming followers of the way of Jesus, but were doing so separate from the center of religious life.

In short, they had been re-located. It was like they were moving to a new neighborhood or starting at a new school and at the same time, trying to live in a whole new way.

The writer of James is traditionally believed to be James the brother of Jesus. I don’t know how that sounds to you, but that sounds like a lot of pressure to me! Maybe that explains his passion. James gets straight to the point and from the beginning gives urgent advice to these displaced disciples. By the time we get to our scripture reading for today, he has already addressed prayer, perseverance, the false prosperity gospel and lust. James is not playing around.

He wants those who are serious about following the way of Jesus to be serious about it. In fact, James would likely tell us that you can’t be a half-hearted follower – that’s like being a surgeon who never performs surgery or a student who never shows up for class. Being a follower of Jesus means following the Way or at least attempting to follow.

Just like in our day, those living in Greek society in James’ day had many possible paths. The dominant way was mapped out by Greek philosophy.

Greek philosophers taught that all beings are arranged in a hierarchy. All life came from the highest Being. The highest being was referred to as the Light, the Truth or the Good. Other beings (including humans) were either closer to the highest Being or further away. The further away they were, the less light they received.

Imagine how this worked itself out. People were constantly trying to move themselves up the chain, to get closer to the source, to be seen as higher and better than others, to be more connected to the light. And, who do you think was looked upon as closer to the source? Not those who did not follow along with cultural norms, not those who were poor, not those who lived on the margins of society.

So in a very clever way, James begins talking to followers of the Way by referring to God as “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”. This God gives gifts to all beings. Those who are rich & poor, young & old, healthy & unhealthy, religious & not religious, those who are in Jerusalem and those who are now far from it.

According to our initial reading of James, the unconditional gift that God, the source of all light gives is not a special talent or ability. It’s not material wealth or possessions – the gift is the word of truth.

Now, I know we just gave out Bibles to our children and some might say that they now possess THE word of truth. James would say they had the word long before they received these Bibles. Let me explain.

The word “word” or logos in Greek is tricky in James. We hear it and we automatically think it means “God’s Word”, a common way of talking about the Bible. Well, guess what? There was no Bible back then. So, the word “word” had other meanings.

According to James, the word is something like a seed that is planted in us. Like an inner voice, it tries to stop us from doing something destructive. Like a stirring in our hearts and minds, it tells us to speak up, to listen, to forgive and to love. This word is a gift that has been planted and is being planted in us by Creator God.

It’s more than that though. The “word” also refers to the Law, the stories and the teachings that were being passed down through generations of people following the Lord. The logos was the “word” that was shaping people into a community of faith.

Just to complicate things, the word “word” is used other ways in scripture. In the gospel of John, it even refers to Jesus, God’s most complete “word” to us.

So, yes, the word of truth is found in Scripture, but it is bigger than scripture and is being planted in and around us all day long.

God is still speaking.

Perhaps that is why James advises Christ followers to be quick to listen, slow to speak & slow to anger. We need to slow down and make space so we can notice the word of truth.

I find that we often listen or pay attention best when we are at the end of our ropes. I’ve been somewhat at the end of my rope about something lately. For those who are tired of hearing about it, I apologize. I’ve been at the end of my rope trying to figure out what to do with the house that we bought at the wrong time. Despite leasing it out for five years and trying to sell for the past few months, we are making no progress.

I’ve been asking God for wisdom. I got animals instead, and LOTS of them.

It started last Saturday on our retreat. We were meeting at a church space in front of a heavily wooded area and a pack or raccoons were coming right up to the wisdom.  Then, the next morning on the way to school there were three bunny rabbits hopping down the sidewalk in our neighborhood, something I’ve never seen before.  A couple of says later a flock of geese were trying to cross the street Atlantic Blvd. And, then on Thursday I was finishing my run on the riverwalk and there were dolphins swimming right beside me in the river. It was like they were coming right up to me.
Finally, I stopped. It was like a divine message to notice that there is something beautiful unfolding all around me. Then I started to think about all of the conversations I have had with people lately & the good things that are happening. Yes, there are plenty of hard things, but there are also a ton of good things, too.

God is still speaking.

The invitation from James according to The Message translation, is to “In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape us with the Word, making a salvation-garden of our lives.”

How are you & I in need of a word from God today?

And, how will we allow that word to transform us –
to lead us not to merely be hearers, but doers of the word God …
which according to James will compel us to extend love & care to our neighbors in need.

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