Boasting About Tomorrow

If the links don’t work for you, here is 10 Silver Coins and The Panda Song

Todays reading is James 4Open Link in New Window: 13-17

Here is today’s reflection by Helen.

We’re moving on this morning through the letter of James. It was most likely written to members of the early Jewish Christian church who had been scattered throughout the region after the stoning of Stephen. We know from the book of Acts that James was a leader in the Jerusalem Council. And the historian Josephus records that in AD 62, he was martyred.

For those of you who have been following the talks on this letter, we know that it challenges us to walk the walk in the Christian life. Persevere in your faith, be slow to anger, watch your tongue, help the needy, be a peace-maker, seek the true wisdom which comes from God. Today we’re talking about plans. A topical issue as I am sure that over the last 3 months we have experienced the frustration of many cancelled plans.

Today’s passage is addressed to travelling merchants who travelled round the region, their camels laden with goods to buy and sell. And the letter implies that they are doing pretty well, financially.

Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. We have to make plans. It’s good to make plans.

But James points to the problem in verses 15-16. “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will do this or that’ As it is, you boast and brag”. James is rebuking the kind of heart which lives and makes its plans apart from an awareness and acknowledge God. And an arrogance of heart which says ‘I’m in control, I do it my way’

In Luke 12Open Link in New Window Jesus tell us about a rich man with a great retirement plan. In verse 18, we read: “This is what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy—eat, drink and be merry”. But God said to him: “You fool. This very night your soul will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself. This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves, but is not rich toward God”.

What a contrast to Abraham and Moses who were ready to listen and let their plans be changed by God, for his purpose and glory.

I’m not Moses and I don’t think I will be called to lead 2 million people out of oppression. Sometimes in my life, I have not been sure what God’s plans are for me. And sometimes I slip into wanting to leave God out of the equation. I am tempted to set my plans in the concrete of my won strength rather than in the more rubbery openness to the Holy Spirit. So I’m being reminded here to bring my day with its plans before God, to acknowledge his sovereignty in my life and to be willing to be used for his glory and not my own. To pray each day that I would be a faithful servant of Christ even if that means disruption of my plans. Brother Andrew said this: The real calling is not to a certain place or career, but to everyday obedience, and that call is extended to every Christian, not a select few.

So back to 14. A reminder that life is 100% terminal. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. We don’t like to think about death, so we? The author Ernest Becker wrote a book called The Denial of Death. His thesis was that the idea of death , the fear of it haunts the human animal like nothing else. He said that we arrange our lives around ignoring or avoiding or repressing the most irrefutable fact in the world, which is that we are going to die. The desire to deny death is the reason for our workaholism and obsession with security. Becker’s book was published in 1974 to great acclaim. That year he won the Pulitzer prize and became famous. That year he also found out he had cancer and that year he turned to God. That year he died.

One day, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died, Jesus showed up at Mary and Martha’s request, but he was 4 days late. And Mary through her tears said what is so often said when death has come ’If only…’ ‘if only you had come sooner my brother would not have died. Jesus said to her ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… Do you believe this? A staggering claim—I think it has lost some of it’s shock value through being intoned meaninglessly at gravesides in TV dramas when someone has died, well usually been murdered. I am the resurrection and the life. No religious leader has ever made such a claim—ever. Jesus insisted that death would be have the last word. He stood at Lazarus’ tomb, and he said ‘take away the stone… Lazarus, come out—and Lazarus did’.

A short while afterwards Jesus went to Jerusalem. The authorities tried him, whipped him beat him, mocked him, hung him on a cross to die and threw him into a tomb to rot like every other dead body. And they said—OK folks, that’s all, show over, time to go home. But they were so wrong.

I am the resurrection and the life… do you believe this? It’s a question for all of us. My answer is yes. It’s a glorious truth. The truth that a man who claimed to be god walked out of a tomb 2,000 years ago, proving that he was who he claimed to be. Many years ago, after a lot of soul searching and examining the evidence, I knelt by my bed in my university hall of residence a long time ago, and the truth of it hit me like wave in a way it never had before. And through life’s ups and downs and through my walk with Jesus which is sometimes a hesitant and stumbling one, I know that He has been with me ever since and I have an assurance that one day I will go home and spend eternity with him. Let’s end with a prayer.

I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this? Yes, Lord we believe. We ask that we may commit all our plans to you day by day and live in the light of your glorious eternity.

Helen

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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Two Kinds of Wisdom

If the links don’t work for you, here is Ruth’s video presentation Wisdom, Coming Alive and Feels Good

Todays reading is James 3:13-18Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

What is wisdom?

The Oxford English Dictionary says, ‘The capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to, life and conduct; soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends.’ Interestingly, before it says this, it frames the definition by saying, ‘The quality or character of being wise’.

Who have you known, or who do you know, who you would think of as a wise person? What sort of picture do you have in your mind of ‘Wisdom’?

As James continues with his practical teaching about the Christian life, character is right at the heart of this—and in how we are to live a life of faith.

Our passage today follows straight on from the verses in chapter 3 last week, when we looked at James’ teaching about how we use the tongue—how our character and our heart is reflected in the words we use. Are the words we use wise words, and what does this mean for the follower of Jesus?

The Bible has lots to share about wisdom. The Book of Proverbs again gives us plenty to think about. Right at the beginning in Proverbs 1Open Link in New Window, it says, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline’. And much of Proverbs chapter 1 is about embracing wisdom together with warnings about the consequences of rejecting it.

Jesus speaks about wisdom—remember the story of the wise and the foolish builders—one who built his house on the rock, and it stood firm against the storms, and the other who built his house on the sand—and of course it came crashing down.

All these bible verses show us that Wisdom is highly regarded. But is it any old wisdom?

In these verses, James compares the difference between wisdom that comes from God against what the world thinks of as wisdom. And, as ever, James speaks about the importance of the practical outworking in our lives. It’s not just talk. It’s about how we actually live this out by what we say and do.

‘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.’ (James 3:13Open Link in New Window)

I may have said this at St Matthews in another context, I can’t remember. But among different memories from my childhood, this one has always stayed crystal clear for me.

I have a brother Andrew who is two years older than me, and we get on extremely well and love each other very much. But when we were young boys, we knew like most boys, how to have a good scrap together. Some of the doors in our home had large glass panels in. One day, during a particularly good scrap, one of us slammed the door on the other—and we then both stood there in horror and stunned silence, as the large glass panel shattered into hundreds of pieces while making a terrible noise! Our father came upstairs, and very fairly I think, we were both expecting a bit of a roasting. But Dad just looked at us, and then quietly said, ‘Let’s all clear this up, and I’ll ask Brian to come and sort this out tomorrow and mend it.’ He said no more than that. He didn’t need to. I shall leave you to think about that as we draw together our thoughts on this bible passage about wisdom.

James says there are two kinds of wisdom—wisdom from above and wisdom from below.

Wisdom from below, says James is earthly wisdom, measured in worldly terms, usually controlled by emotions. This sort of ‘wisdom’ (even James puts it inverted commas around it!) is motivated by selfishness, our own agendas motives—Selfish ambition as James puts it. ‘This is what you should do….’ etc. And it is corrosive and damaging, as what we want eats into our opinions and words, bringing division and discord.

This contrasts with wisdom from above, and James makes clear that this wisdom is firmly rooted in God. It is heavenly wisdom—which produces godly fruit. Remember that verse from Proverbs 1Open Link in New Window? ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’. Rooting ourselves in God, in is ways, in His understanding—this is the source of true wisdom.

Proverbs chapter 2 says, ‘For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.’ (Proverbs 2:6Open Link in New Window)

As I think again about the words I use, the opinions I have, about the suggestions I make, the advice I give, I am asking myself, is this all about me? Is this based on my reason? Or is it rooted in the revelation of God’s grace and love in my life?

With such wisdom comes great fruit, with purity of motive, and where peacemakers hold a special place in God’s Kingdom.

When my dad calmly spoke into the tension of my and my brother’s situation, he spoke words of experience, rooted in love and understanding, with the heart of a merciful Father and a peacemaker. We were chastened, reconciled, and thankful—and we grew in wisdom and understanding as a result.

‘…the wisdom that comes from heaven’, says James, ‘is first of all pure’; (in other words not about ourselves). ‘Then it is peace-making, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.’ (James 3:17-18Open Link in New Window)

Jesus himself said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God’.

Let’s claim these verses for ourselves in the coming days, and be people in the places where we live and work, who share godly wisdom from above, bring peace—and glorify God in our world today.
Rev Ian Tomkins

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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Taming the Tongue

If the links don’t work for you, here is Nick’s video presentation Taming the Tongue, I Give You My Hallelujah, Raise a Hallelujah and May the Words of My Mouth.

Todays reading is James 3:1-12Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Today we return to our short series, looking at passages in the Letter of James.

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!’

I’m sure you’ve all heard that, but how many of you think its tosh? I do. I may be sensitive, but I don’t think I’m that different from most of us. The Bible has lots to say about the words we use. In the Book of Proverbs it says, ‘Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal’. And other cultures reflect this sentiment. There is an African proverb that says, ‘There is no venom to that of the tongue’.

My school days are many, many years past. But even now, I remember the things that some teachers said to me which encouraged me, and I also still remember—with feeing, things that others said to be which crushed me. Our memories remind us of the power of words.

Nick set the scene well for our bible passage from James 3Open Link in New Window today is all about the power of the tongue—for good and for evil. I have to say that I have been hugely convicted personally by this passage, and feel deep regret about how casually sometimes I have used words, either spoken out loud, or written down in emails, which have hurt people. I am deeply sorry for that, and I thank God for the loving guiding and correcting of his Holy Word.

Let’s just briefly recap a bit. James was a leader of the first church in Jerusalem, very probably a brother of our Lord. He had a pastoral heart and felt great responsibility for the spiritual growth of followers of Jesus, wherever they were.

James‘s letter is full of really practical advice about living a Christian life. In the previous two talks on James, we have looked at coping with trials, and that favouritism is forbidden. Now James address the knotty, but oh so human issue of how we use our tongues.

James says that the tongue is extremely powerful. Like many powerful things, it can be used for great good, but also be the cause of great destruction. And Jesus himself said that what is in a person’s heart, inevitably comes out of their mouth. This passage is not just about one small part of our physical bodies, but about our hearts, minds, habits and choices as well. This speaks deeply to our inner character, and what is reflected by what we say or don’t say.

James says a bad tongue is condemning. This doesn’t just refer to church leaders and teachers. We are all teachers in life, and people pay attention to how we speak and the words we use. Do our words point to Jesus or away from him?

A bad tongue is controlling. How well Nick illustrated this in our all age section, looking at James description of a horse’s bit and a ship’s rudder. The smallest action can produce a large consequence. We are not here to control each other and pursue what we want. We seek Jesus’ ways, where God’s priority of loving and serving those most in need comes first. James says a careless tongue can consume us, like fire. From a small spark, or a few words, a huge blaze of hurt and damage can result.

And James also says that a bad tongue compromises. It can compromise our relationship with other people, as we wriggle away from personal responsibility, and it compromises our own integrity, as we try to compromise others in turn. Remember Adam in the Garden of Eden? God had given him and Eve all that was beautiful and perfect to enjoy. He had been asked just one thing by God, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam did his own thing, and then afterwards, tried not only to blame Eve for his actions, but also to blame God for giving her to him! It was everyone else’s fault.

I know I am not alone in thinking that at the beginning of this awful pandemic, we experienced something deeply encouraging, and which we don’t see enough of. We tasted a broad and wide generosity of spirit, which was reflected in how people spoke about and to each other. (Remember, in today’s culture, our tongues work through our emails, Twitter accounts and other social media, as well as the spoken voice.)

There was a coming together, right from the highest reaches of government and media, down to the streets where we lived, when, as one bishop put it so well, selfishness no longer became socially acceptable. Rather than the judgemental, opinionated and accusatory narrative we have become so used to, we heard something different—and it was beautiful and uplifting.

I am speaking as much to myself as to you when I say, please don’t be tempted to ascribe the downsides of contemporary discourse to others and not to ourselves. There is not one of us who doesn’t fall into the trap of using our tongue in the wrong way.

James finally challenges us – what are we doing and teaching with our tongues? Are we helping move people towards God, and glorifying God in what we say?

These are hard questions, but God’s grace is sufficient to give us the help we need. If we are struggling, it doesn’t mean we have failed, but that we are allowing God to work in us and help us.

Another proverb in the Bible says, ‘Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.’

The times we are living in give us a new opportunity to model and teach a kinder, godly way of using our tongues to build something beautiful.

Rev Ian Tomkins

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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