Transcribed from the sermon preached November 6, 2016
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Leviticus 19:9-18, James 5:7-16
We have a tangerine tree in our front yard within reach of the sidewalk. One day some of the middle school kids were passing by and a kid picked one. When they saw me on the porch they got nervous, thinking I would bust them for stealing fruit. I was annoyed, but not because they are taking the fruit. “Wait until they are ripe” I said. “Tangerines are fun to throw, they are funner to eat, especially when they are juicy ripe orange.”
James is laying out what makes for a healthy church and healthy Christians while we wait for heaven. Have patience, let the fruit of the spirit ripen. Let the rain come. There is a lot that has to happen that we do not necessarily have control over.
In his letter, James talks both of endurance and of patience. Endurance is toughing it through. I first learned endurance when I joined a swim team at seven years old. I had been through all the YMCA classes and thought I was a pretty awesome swimmer. I could swim two lengths of the pool. Then within ten minutes of my first swim practice I thought I was going to die. I wanted to quit and cried. But my mom convinced me to try it for a month. In that month I learned that I could put up with way more punishment and hard work than I ever imagined. Every child should be put into something that requires hard work to succeed so they can stretch and expand what they think they are capable of. Our parents need the patience to endure the pain of watching their children suffer while they learn endurance. If we jump in and rescue them every time they struggle and complain, they don’t learn they can survive. Enduring hardship makes us tough. We endure and develop endurance.
But patience is more about waiting for something to develop, waiting for the right time. There may not be much we can do about making whatever it is happen, or happen sooner, so we just have to wait.
James combines patience with steadfastness. Steadfast is waiting with toughness – staying the course, holding to your values even when it is hard.
So James lays out several things the Church is to be about while we wait. Don’t swear and make big promises you may or may not keep. Just let your yes be yes and your no, no. You may have noticed, several of these ethical stances are relevant in this political season. Don’t promise more than you can do but do what you promise and agree to. We can’t be all things to all people so we are entitled to say no; we are supposed to have the courage to say no if yes is not possible. Have the courage to say no when yes is not right.
Are we suffering, pray; Cheerful? Sing praise. As a community we are going to hold all of life under God’s sovereignty. Not everyone is going to be in the same place spiritually. Life has its ups and downs so on any given year, month or hour, some people will be struggling and others celebrating – so as a church community we will do both, pray for the suffering and sing praise.
Is someone sick, then we will lay on hands and pray for healing. Physical life is a series of ups and downs. Christian prayer has led to hospitals and doctors, to medicine and technology. Still there is a lot we don’t know and much that is not in our hands. Prayer keeps us focused outward, beyond our disease and connects us with positive healing energy and spirit of the beloved community and God. We all eventually get to die of something, and there will be much that we have to suffer along the way. In our prayer God will help us change what can be changed; accept with grace what cannot be changed, and grant the wisdom to know the difference.
The same goes for the sickness of sin. We come together in this community called Church to encourage one another. It is inevitable that if we deal with one another long enough, we will learn each others’ weaknesses and sometimes hurt each other. James says to forgive. Now sometimes our sins happen outside the community and we come to church because we want to find the strength to repent and find new life. And the first step in addressing a problem is to acknowledge it as a problem. We have to confess.
Now a word about confession. In our prayer of confession during worship, we confess sins which are, for the most part, common to all of us. Then we have a time for silent confession. There may be times when we reach a major transition or transformation and we confess something at the prayer time. Like, “I finally decided to go to rehab, and I want to thank God for seeing me to this point. But generally worship is not a time to spill gossip about yourself and those you are in relationships with. I remember one time a wife said during the prayer time, “We have been having a tough time in our marriage, I am not sure we can make it. Please pray for us.” Now this was more than appropriate because, for one, her husband was sitting right next to her with a look that said, “Thanks honey for confessing my sins and letting everyone know you lack confidence in me!”
What James is talking about is that we should have a pastor, a friend or a small group to whom we can keep ourselves accountable. We want to help each other grow, to love more and sin less. So we need and provide safe space for confession and forgiveness. Part of forgiveness is loving people where they are at right now. Now it may be that there are consequences to our sin which we will need to suffer. The devil tells us sin widens our options but in reality it narrows them. But God always leaves us choices to follow him and improve our lives. But given the context of where you are now, with what is possible given the options and tools you have before you in this moment, we want to love you in such a way that it will help you make the choice God would have you make. The prayer of a righteous person has great power in its effects.
Leviticus is also talking about the long term modes of behavior that make for good and strong community over time. Leave a little fruit for the poor and the sojourner – for those traveling from one land to another. Don’t steal, don’t lie, again don’t swear – let your yes be yes and your no, no. Don’t oppress people, pay them fair wages on time. Don’t make fun of people or bully people. Don’t take advantage of the weakness of others. Don’t curse the deaf or trip the blind. Treat all with the same honest judgment, showing no partiality one way or the other. Try to resolve conflict rather than stoking the flames of conflict. Love your neighbor as yourself.
These are simple lessons in ethics for the community that is the church, for our own individual lives, and for our nation. They are meant for the patience necessary for long term relationship is community. This is why we come together to affirm our efforts to grow ever more loving and holy, ever more peaceful and prosperous.
In our patience, may the fruit of the Spirit ripen into sweet divine peace within and among us. Amen.