Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity – September 19th 2021

Welcome

Opening Prayer

Affirmation of Faith

Do you believe and trust in God the Father,
source of all being and life,
the one for whom we exist?
We believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in God the Son,
who took our human nature,
died for us and rose again?
We believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in God the Holy Spirit,
who gives life to the people of God
and makes Christ known in the world?
We believe and trust in him.

This is the faith of the Church.

This is our faith.
We believe and trust in one God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Worship

Word

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.

James
3:13-4:3 and 4:7-8a

When I prepare for a talk in church I naturally read, and re-read many times the passage that we are starting with.  I pray of course, I read a lot around what others have said on the subject and then try and form my own opinions.  Sometimes those opinions change from what I initially thought as I go  through the process. 

The overriding thought I get from this passage is that I am a hypocrite. I don’t always practice what I preach.  If you remember last week when Claire talked to us about James 3 the first verse of that reading was this :

“ Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  He then goes on to say in V2

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

So I’m not sure any of us is worthy on that basis !

Lets face it -much of life involves hypocrisy of one kind  or another. How many of us don’t like doing things that we tell our children to do because we know its good for them… Eat your veg! or at the other end of the scale How many times during Covid has a politician told us to do one thing and then done another?  One mistake and a lifetime of service can be undone.  And yet Hypocrisy is what it is.  The difference between hypocrisy and a simple mistake is that hypocrisy occurs when someone actively does something they have told others not to do.  “Don’t leave your home, we are in Covid lockdown” from a Government minister who then subsequently goes to visit someone is hypocrisy.  It is not practising what you preach.  James’s point about anyone who “teaches” being judged more harshly is valid for anyone who professes to tell others what is right, what they should do.  Just look at the righteous indignation plastered all over our newspapers when a minister does get caught going against their official advice.

 In our Christian lives this cuts through to the heart of our evangelical selves – we are all preachers, we all seek to tell others about Christ and so we are all at risk of saying one thing and being caught doing another. if we have the audacity to even suggest to others that we should all love each other, that we should live a certain way then we are obliged to meet those standards, and those become very very high ones.

Today I’m not talking about the kind of hypocrisy where parents use that “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” approach – Where we say “no more McDonalds you need to eat healthy” and then open a bag of crisps once the kids are in bed.  I mean in the sense that James talks about in our passage today.

James discusses our actions in life here as he contrasts having Christian wisdom with worldly wisdom – being guided by Christian thoughts and principles  instead of human, personal wisdom. This message today drives a coach and horses through that phrase “Don’t do as I do, do as I say”  The idea that we can be both Christian and do whatever we want from a Worldly prospective is a problem – we cant say one thing and do another.

I tell my colleagues I’m a Christian.  But then I moan about other people at work.  I get upset when someone does something that causes me more work, I may criticise other people behind their backs, I am certainly impatient even with my own family. None of these things tie in with what I profess to be as a Christian. It is hypocritical of me and yet it happens.

In his book,the Ragamufin Gospel, Brennan Manning says this: The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

We are called to be different and as we shall see as we look at this passage , we are called to use God given wisdom not worldy wisdom to define who we are and what we do – to inform our interactions with those around us or else they will judge us harshly, but more importantly, they won’t see how good the good news is.

At the end of the day, on our frontlines, out there where we meet non Christians, they have enough of an idea of what a Christian should look like that we are likely to be judged just as harshly as the politician who breaks their own rules.  Our aim therefore has to be to avoid a lack of authenticity in this unbelieving world.  To make our Christian lives believable because they are real and driven by biblical wisdom, because we do practice what we preach..

As we know James was writing to a young church, some of who’s members had started to forget the central message of Jesus – they had started letting worldy wisdom drive them instead of spiritual wisdom. In 3:13 James starts with  2 questions.. Who is the wise person? And What is there to know?

One commentator I read has this to say on Wisdom: “Wisdom in the first century Greek culture was everything. If you were known as wise, you were a rock star. To the first century Greek, wisdom had everything to do with your learning and your skill of speech. Rhetoric was King.”

How many of us know people who sound wise.  But are they?  What is it that makes them “Wise” – maybe its someone with glasses, or grey hair, or is it someone who can prove a lot of academic study.  Is an 18 Year old with 3 grade A Alevels wise for example?  NO? well then if not is it someone with lots of life experience – someone who has seen the world?

Of course not –  James doesn’t mess about, the answer is simple and direct: Wisdom is more than a scholarly activity , more than “thinking” and more than being able to articulate complex thoughts. Good works are the mark of one who posesses true wisdom, or perhaps another way, if you really understand the Christian message then people will see that you understand it and receive it by your actions.  Its one of those classic If…then statements

– 3-13 IF you claim to be wise – prove it by the way you live – The way someone lives is a true indication of how they understand their faith.

3:14-16  James talks about what comes from false wisdom.  Notice that he doesn’t contrast Wisdom with stupidity – James is not talking about the contrast between a Wise man who knows how to build a house with firm foundations versus a stupid one who builds his house on sand only to see it washed away when the tide comes in.  He is talking about two different kinds of Wisdom.  One that is born out of a relationship with God and one which comes from our earthly , unspiritual and ultimately demonic desires and self absorption.  At best this false wisdom comes from our own selfishness and at worst is downright demonic – it comes from Satan himself. 

Many of the Jewish readers of James’s writings were caught up in a zeal created by man, not one that comes from reacting to God and so jealousy and selfish ambition was rife among them – producing conflict.  James is making the point that this is evidence of a false wisdom – an earthly wisdom that comes more from man’s innate animal spirit, his desire to want something someone else has than it does from Christian values. V16 “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice”

James goes on to contrast this depressing version of Christian hypocrisy (which maybe if we are honest we can all recognise in ourselves a little) with what  true wisdom looks like

In v 17 James gives us an itemised list so we cant miss the message.  True wisdom is

Pure – true wisdom is not tainted by evil. It’s pure.

Peace-loving – true wisdom does not look for trouble but looks for peace.

Considerate –It looks to be helpful to others, not harmful.

Submissive – true wisdom does not try to start arguments but tries to be reasonable and compliant.

Full of mercy – true wisdom leads us to be people of mercy; quick to forgive; quick to overlook an offense.

Full of good fruits – true wisdom produces godliness in us.

impartial– true wisdom sticks to the truth and the correct way without wavering but more importantly without taking sides for the wrong reasons.

Sincere – true wisdom does not put on a false front but is genuine and real all of the time.

Most of all, it is guided, both in the beginning and throughout, by peace.

We are to be people of peace and we are to produce even more peace.

Peace should guide us in the wisdom process.

A person with true wisdom is a person who sows peace.

SO

Wisdom is not just learning; it’s not just knowledge; it’s behaviour and life change.

Does our wisdom possess these things?  If not, it’s not from God.

It’s not a surprise that these attributes of someone who has Christian wisdom sound very much like the qualities Paul identifies in his letter to the Galatians as the “fruit” of the spirit – love , joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22).  Paul of course also deals in many of his letters with Christian churches that have gone a bit off course in terms of following the message of Christ and he also deals essentially with the hypocrisy of humans.

James contrasts v 16 “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice) with v 18 “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness”.  This is the very basics of Christian teaching. Conflict is not just a problem in this day and age , it always has been.  But James suggests that one of the greatest gifts of Wisdom is its capacity to bring peaceful resolution to conflict – v18.

So we have seen so far how James has told us that Strife and conflict come from  a false wisdom – one that is from people themselves not God and that is therefore unspiritual and even Devilish. In Chapter 4 James states clearly that looking to earthly desires and wants causes all kinds of trouble for Christianity.

In 4v1 James asks what causes the fights between the people he is writing to – he answers his own question: its their own desires that have come from this earthly wisdom rather than Godly wisdom. It is in fact their desire to have more than others, their  desire for self gratification maybe their desire to get ahead – to be better than others, maybe to be richer, or have more stuff, or whatever.  Just as for them as for us Its when we listen to our own inbuilt human animalistic tendency rather than to remember the teachings of Jesus.  It is when we desire the wrong things rather than things of God.

James is writing to Christians some of whom who were so wrapped up in feuds and arguments that they had allowed their own wisdom to take the place of the Christian wisdom they professed to follow .  It may not have been true for the whole church but it was enough people that it was affecting the whole body. We don’t know the exact nature of the problems that led James to write this but its not hard to draw parallels from the dawn of the church to the present day when infighting and self interest – the Wisdom of Self rather than the true wisdom James describes – can, and does  destabilise our collective Christian effort to see the kingdom built on earth.

The problem here is one of being self centred, when we look to feed our own desires rather than those of others and the destruction that comes about when all that counts is what we want , rather than what everyone needs.  When we go after something without regard to the damage that may cause others. 

James identifies our difficulty in satisfying our insatiable wants and desires for things as the root cause of the inevitable coveting and craving that leads to conflict, disputes and eventually to outright war.

And there is more… in Chapter 4 v3 James acknowledges that these people were praying but they seem to have been praying for stuff for themselves, just things that would gratify themselves.  James says of course God isn’t going to give you what you ask for because all that does is gratify you, because all you will do is use whatever you are given to benefit only you.. 

For James the answer to these conflicts is to learn what the gift of wisdom has to offer in its taming of these excessive desires.  James argues that this learning has to do with our learning how to pray rightly.  Confidence in the good gifts of God means that we will pray with confidence for the expression of those gifts within ourselves – and then know with confidence that God through the spirit stands ready to grant our requests.

I think the message that James has for the people he was writing to is as valid now as it was then.. “Submit yourselves to God, Resist the Devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near you.” 

To be near to God is to have him in your corner – helping you fight the good fight.  We know that its much easier to get through our daily lives with friends who support us and encourage us.  Here James suggests we need to be near to God in the kind of relationship where he can help us exercise the right kind of wisdom, to make choices in our lives that are are driven by Christian wisdom and which lead to the kind of “harvest of righteousness” that James describes.

At the end of the day, out there  on our frontlines, if we wish to be authentic Christians, then we must evidence the wisdom we have about Jesus Christ by what we do and say. Non Christians are aware of what Jesus central message is – love one another – if we don’t do that and don’t show it then why should they be convinced that our wisdom – our knowledge of the redemption and forgiveness we have through Christ – is any better than their wisdom?

I know that when I get things wrong – when I am hypocritical and the wisdom of the world gets in the way I know I have a saviour who can and does forgive me.  The problem for us – out there on our frontlines is that other people are not so forgiving  – and those we would love to evangelise to are the quickest to see our failings, whether they are rare or not,  so we must strive for that Wisdom that James talks about that will then modify our actions.

I started by saying that I must be some sort of hypocrite.  I know I get things  wrong.  I am fortunate in that I have a saviour who has so much patience with me that he keeps putting his arms around me, he keeps faith with me even when sometimes I know I don’t deserve this.

I cannot pretend to others that being a Christian makes me somehow super human, although James says it must make me different, it is not always that easy. I pray that I would be powered by the Christian Wisdom that James talks about rather than earthly things but I know I do get it wrong sometimes.  It is important for me , on my frontlines therefore to explain that God loves us whatever, that God can forgive me when I mess up. 

When I stand up here I try not to preach, in the sense of telling people what to do, in the sense that James talked about people being Teachers. The act of being on the rota to talk in church does not , definitely not, make me any better than anyone else. And when I tell others that I speak in church this can often spark a chat on this subject where I explain I am definitely not a preacher. On our Front lines – out side this place, when we have those conversations about our faith rather than preach I think Brennan Manning has some good advice for us in the Ragamuffin Gospel.  He says this:

“To evangelize a person is to say to him or her: you, too, are loved by God in the Lord Jesus.”

From this love – this message of Grace – everything else, including the wisdom James talks about by which to govern our lives, will flow. I am not the finished article but the Wisdom James talks about is the goal and we are all somewhere on the road towards that wisdom. I may never get to the end of that road in my life time, but it is this grace, that we are Loved by God, that gives me hope against the times when my hypocrisy rears its head.

Amen

Witness

Confession

God our Father,
we come to you in sorrow for our sins.

For turning away from you,
and ignoring your will for our lives;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For behaving just as we wish,
without thinking of you;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.
For failing you by what we do,
and think and say;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For letting ourselves be drawn away from you
by temptations in the world about us;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

For living as if we were ashamed
to belong to your Son;
Father, forgive us:
save us and help us.

Absolution

May the God of love and power
forgive us and free us from our sins,
heal and strengthen us by his Spirit,
and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Response

Response:    Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer.

We pray for our Church – Your Church – around the world we think especially of our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in places where they are not free to worship openly and yet find ways to do so through their faith.

We pray for our Church here in the UK. We pray that it would be a force for good in this world, that it would follow your will and do your work;  We ask your forgiveness for the times our church hasn’t reflected your message of peace , love and compassion.

We pray for our church here in Totley, that we would be a beacon in this community, one that draws people to you.  Help us to be known as a place of love and compassion where your Spirit shines through.

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer.

We pray for our World – Your World …;Father we know there are so many places where people struggle, through natural disaster, conflict, disease and through poverty.  We pray for good governments to help make their people’s lives better – for public servants who think of others rather than their own benefit and we ask especially for peace where there is war.

We think especially of Afghanistan where the recent changes have  brought fear and Yemen where a war has raged for years.  We ask your blessing on all who suffer.

Also we continue to pray for countries struggling to contain Covid – we ask that leading nations would be generous in sharing with those who don’t have vaccines or treatments as we are not safe until we are all safe

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer.

We pray for the places you put us in, for our community, for our workplaces, for our schools;

We want to see God’s kingdom built on earth. Father help us to be always mindful that our thougths and actions reveal our love of you.  Help us to be shining examples wherever we are of why this world needs you and what loving you means for us.  Help us to build your church in all the places we find ourselves.

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer.

We pray for all who suffer, in body mind or spirit  …;

       Lets remember in your heart or out loud anyone known to us who is suffering today

       <silence to offer individual prayers>

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer.

Finally Lord we pray for ourselves. WE pray that we would be the people you want us to be.Help us to focus on you, to look past our own earthly selfishness and to see clearly what you want us to do and be.  Help us to represent you to the best of our ability each and every day so that others would see and hear your grace and love through us.

 

We say together:

 Merciful Father

Accept these prayers

For the sake of your Son,

Our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Amen

 

Common Worship: Daily Prayer, © The Archbishops’ Council 2005 and published by Church House Publishing

 

The Lords Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.

       Amen.

Blessing and dismissal

Grace

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and evermore. Amen.

Community

The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.

The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.

“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”

The Wardens of All Saints Totley have been producing regular newsletters with helpful links, thoughts and resources. The latest of these is here.

We have also started to add resources for the younger members of our church, to add to this virtual service. They can be found here, and here.

Reminder

If you have any feedback on this service or any other ideas, suggestions or contributions, for future services please do send these to comments@allsaintstotley.church