Monday, April 27, 2015

Patience in the face of suffering (James 5:7-11)... Shedding Light on the Espistle of Straw: Finding a Faith That Works In The Book Of James (Part 12)

Much of peoples focus this week is on the centennial of the Gallipoli landings and ANZAC day. It’s important because it has been ingrained into us as part of the forging of our national identity. It’s right to stop and to remember people who served and suffered and died in wars and conflicts. We need to constantly remember the price paid by those who battled in the wars thrust upon them, so we may continually remember and be willing to pay the price to build the peace we have been entrusted with.
Providentially as we are working through the book of James we have come to a section which I think encapsulates the Christian response to conflict and suffering on a personal and community scale and speaks to a wider societal, systemic and global scale.  James calls his readers to face suffering and oppression and difficulty with patience; a patience that comes from having a sure future hope, a sure future hope founded in Jesus Christ and knowing the very character of God.

As we’ve been looking at over the past two weeks James had just finished talking in a more general way, a prophetic way, about injustice and oppression. Speaking to the rich merchants and landowners about the way in which they were oppressing the poor. Now he turns back to speak directly to his fellow believers; his brothers and sisters; to tell them how they should behave and live in the face of that injustice. He says they should be patient.

On a wider level, James had started his letter by telling his readers to consider it all joy when they faced all kinds of trials because as their faith was tested it was being refined. That testing built up perseverance and that perseverance had its end result it them growing to maturity lacking nothing.  Now as he draws his letter to a conclusion he comes back to calling his readers to exercise that patience and perseverance.

So in the section we are looking at today James gives three imperatives for his readers to be patient. In the first and last of the three he gives examples for people to follow… The first is from everyday life; the farmer patiently going about his work of growing a crop.  The last is from scripture; the prophets and Job are seen as people we should emulate. In the middle James tells his readers that this patience is to  be lived out in how we treat each other; not grumbling against each other.

I want to look this morning at two things the reason James gives for us to be patient and then what it means for us to be patient and wait on the lord.

Firstly the reason James gives. In the arid conditions of Palestine there were two reliable wet seasons.  Famers waited for, relied upon rain fall in late autumn and in early spring. These were known as the early and later rains. They were needed to insure a good crop. In the Old Testament they became a symbol to talk of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promise to care for and provide for his people. James is calling us to be patient in the time of trial because God can be trusted to provide and care for his people.  

In instructing us to be patient and not grumble, James is reminding us about not judging and writing others off, something that has been a theme all the way through the book. Grumbling has that idea of judging other people. The reason he gives not to do it is that the judge is at the door. That we don’t need to enact our own flawed justice because God is the one who brings his justice into the world that we can be patient because we can trust that God will judge rightly.

The prophets and job are given as examples of patience, and we are told that they have seen what the Lord finally bought about. In the story of Job, job is a man who is blessed with health and wealth and family and his faith is put to the test when those things are tragically and brutally taken away. He wrestles with God  but he keeps his faith and the story ends with Job being vindicated and his wealth and health and family being restored, he see God mercy and justice while he is alive. The end of verse 11 can also point to both the prophets and job longing to see God greater salvation and that coming and being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The prophets had continued to proclaim God’s word and Job had continued to be faithful both looking forward to what God would do and it points to Christ. We should be patient because God is going to and is able to bring his righteousness and mercy into the suffering and troubles we face. We can be patient because we know that God is full of compassion and mercy. Compassion and mercy ultimately shown In Jesus Christ.

You probably remember the many news reports leading up to the visit of Kate and William to New Zealand last year and we are going through them the same thing as Harry is about to come and spend some time here. There were reports on all the preparations that were going on for the visit,  reports of people’s excitement that we were having a royal visit. When James talks of the coming of the Lord he uses the Greek word Parousia which has the everyday meaning of a royal visit, he uses it as the other New Testament writers do, to say the ultimate reason we should be patient, is that Christ has promised to come again. Jesus Christ came into this world as a servant. In his life and death and resurrection he inaugurated the kingdom of God: the rule of God has broken into the realm of humanity. Christ will come again as sovereign, to consummate that kingdom. We live in the tension of the already and the not yet. Waiting for that day. We may see God’s justice in this life, know God’s provision, experience God’s compassion and mercy, but we live with the sure knowledge that even if we do not that there will be a time when those things will come because Christ is coming again. So be patient. Be patient be patient…

But what does it mean to be patient… something James commands us to be three times.

People often equate patience and waiting with passive things. But in the scriptures and in particular the gospels and here in James Patience is as active thing.  To wait patiently is active.

I came across this sign while I was waiting for an eye test at the hospital. I have to admit it didn’t give me much confidence. When I wait it is in an active way … I look at my wrist every few minutes, to see how long I’ve been waiting, then I realise I don’t wear a watch anymore.  So I have to dig into my pocket for my phone, to try and calm myself   I’ll nervously flick through a magazine, hopefully a blokey one, like a car mag or a boat mag, but anything will do. Then I’ll look at my wrist again, and sigh and dig into my pocket again. Now the health system is pretty good and getting better and better at being on time. But I think that as an out patient I’m being actively impatient not actively patient, it’s not just about filling in time hoping it won’t be to long.

We are to follow the example of the farmer. Patience for the farmer is going about his work every day, trusting that God will bring the rains, preparing the soil, ploughing, sowing the seeds, getting the irrigation, ditches ready, weeding, watching it grow, and harvesting the crops in season.  Being patient as Christians in the face of difficulty and suffering is going about the things we know God has called us to do. In the Olivette discourse, Jesus teaches about the end times and he finishes with a series of four parables which sum up how we are expected to wait on the Lord. They speak of not getting impatient and mistreating other believers, keeping our lamps full of oil, working on our spiritual health, investing our talents and resources in God’s kingdom and in showing love for Christ by caring for the least amongst us. Which sounds a lot like what James has been saying to the church? To be patient is to keep on doing what Christ has called us to do and live how Christ has called us to live.

The imperative not to grumble against one another is an outworking of that. It is easy as we face injustice and suffering and hardship to turn on one another. To want to blame another person, to want to acknowledge the hurts inflicted upon us, to talk each other down, to talk ourselves up. You can imagine the rich in James church grumbling about having to pay such high wages and the poor people in the church grumbling about the way they are treated. But to be patient is to show patience is the community of Christ, to be patient with each other. One of the things that Church does for the world is show the possibility of being a genuine vibrant community across racial boundaries, socio economic boundaries, gender boundaries... That we can be one in Christ, that we can work out difficulties and differences

Carl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. It kept them doped up so they would accept what was going on, in justice, and that thing could not change. Sadly that has been true. But that not what James is saying here… James calls us to be patient like the prophets. In Jewish thought the prophets came to epitomise suffering and martyrdom. But the reason they were persecuted was that they were willing to believe and to speak God’s word, that they called their society to a new way to live that reflected God’s justice and God’s compassion, they called Israel back to their covenant responsibilities, that Israel were God’s people so they should act like it, and through that show the rest of the world the goodness of God and the justice of God, so that all the nations might come and worship and be transformed.  In the face of injustice, suffering, on a personal and societal and global scale, we are not to passively accept, we are called like the prophets to speak and live in a different way. We await Christ return but we model for the world around us what it is like to be in the Kingdom of God.  That we care for the poor, we treat each other with equity, we love our neighbour, we see wealth as being a gift to help alleviate suffering and need, we look for ways to speak  and be peace to one another, not talk down or talk up at the others expense… both of which sadly the church has done.  But this kind of patience means that we are not willing to give up till we see change, even if that means we keep going until Christ returns.

Job is an interesting person to give as an example of patience particularly right after James had told people not to grumble.  Most of the book of Job is Job actually grumbling to God, actually grumbling at his friends as they bring the prevailing wisdom of the day in an effort to comfort him. But the patience of Job shows us the patience of faith. That the suffering and hardship Job faces and all the questions it brings up does not pull him away from God, but rather moves him to want to know God more. Patience in the face of trial is not passive acceptance it calls us to question and wrestle,  but it calls us to turn to God, and only to be satisfied in encountering the reality of Christ’s presence with us, as Job encounters God.

I love the way bible commentator David Noystrom sums up James teaching on facing all kinds of trials. He says ‘ Our characters are forged on the anvil of difficulties’  he goes on to say that often when faced with hardship the human response is to look for respite and a quick way out… Historically the Christian belief in Christ’s coming has been viewed simply a hope for respite. But instead of being a way out James says it is a call for us to weigh in. to patiently trust and continue to hope in, proclaim and live out God’s kingdom.  WE see God's preferred future so we can patiently work towards that reality.
So be patient because of the providence of God, God cares for and provides for his people.
 Be patient because of the justice of God, god sees and will right all injustice.
Be patient because of the compassion and mercy of God, God sees, God hears and in Christ God has acted.
Be patient because of the sovereignty of God, God is in Control, and will set all things right.
Be patient even in the face of suffering violence war oppression inequality because the Kingdom of God is near and we await its consummation when Christ returns.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Wealth... But At Whose Expense? (James 5:1-6)... Shedding Light on the epistle of Straw:Finding a Faith that works in the book of James (Part 11)

In the news this week is the story of Dan Price. Price founded and heads up a company called Gravity payments in Seattle Washington.  It processes credit card payments for its clients, last year it made 2.2 million dollars profit and it employs 120 people. It is trying to be a just player in a ruthless industry. Last Monday Price made an amazing announcement to his staff. The average wage of his workers was about $45,000-$48,000 and after doing some research into happiness indexes, that measure life in terms of well-being rather than wealth, he announced that over the next three years he was increasing everyone’s minimum wage to $70,000. He was aware of the financial hardships some of his employees were facing. He wanted to make a difference. He was also aware of the great disparity between the salaries of CEO’s and the people that work for them. So he announced he was taking a pay cut from over 900,000 p.a. to the $70,000 base salary to help fund the new minimum rate until such time as the company’s profit were back up to their present level.

AS you can imagine his staff were amazed and overwhelmed. One lady who was interviewed talked of the pressure of rising rents and scraping enough together for doctors’ appointments and how this would just change everything. I did hope that it would also impact the people who worked for the cleaning company that cleaned their offices at night… But as I read this story I couldn’t help but think of the passage in James we had read to us today. I couldn’t help but imagine James down through the ages nodding his head. And it is a positive way for us to approach what is a very hard passage for us this morning. A passage in which James sounding very much like an Old Testament prophet speaks to the rich land owners of his time and to people of all times about wealth and justice.

Last week we looked at James message to the merchants about focusing on building up their wealth with no thought of God. They talked themselves up, boasting of their plans and their wealth, James reminded them that such wealth and even life itself is fickle and short, like vapour or mist. Rather they needed to focus on things of eternal values, God’s purposes, God’s justice, God’s righteousness. James had reminded the merchants of their sins of omissions, knowing the good they should do and not doing it, but with this next group he is very blunt saying that they are actively oppressing the poor.

James starts with a general warning and call to the rich to realise that judgment is coming. It is a call to repentance… In the worlds eyes the rich are seen as those who are blessed, but James reminds them that in Jesus eyes it is the poor who are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of God, they know their need for God. In Luke’s 6:20 Jesus equally gives a warning which says woe to you who are rich, for you have had your fill now. They have focused on the things of this world at the expense of eternity. Now I need to reiterate that James is not anti-wealth, rather he is very aware of its dangers. RVG Tasker says it is a warning about the misuse of the gift of wealth, while David Nystrom comments “James does not condemn riches per sae, but rather the fact that the wealthy have not sought to use their wealth to alleviate the suffering of the poor”.

Then James list the ways the rich have oppressed the poor. In verse 2-3 he says that they have continued to hoard wealth in the last days. Wealth in James day was measured in produce, cloths and in gold and silver and James here gives the picture of all the things that had been stored and stock piled amounting to nothing. The wine turning to vinegar, grain and other produce stored in barns rotting. Having spare and fancy clothes was a sign of wealth, garments would be passed on as heirlooms. I guess it is like being able to invest in designer labels and high fashion today. But James says well even those will eventually end up mouldy and moth bitten. Gold and silver which is simply left unused will lose their luster. And while gold and silver do not rust James uses poetic license to say that in the end even that these will corrode. He uses the image of this wealth being like rusting iron chains eating into the flesh of a convicted criminal. The marks they leave bearing witness to their crimes.

The idea of the last days, does not mean that James has an expectation of a sudden judgement, but rather that we live in the tension between the already and the not yet. That the kingdom of God was inaugurated by the coming of Christ, but we await its consummation in the return of Christ. To hoard wealth in light of that is very much what Jesus warns us not to do , by saying do not store up treasures on earth where rust and moths destroy, rather store up your treasure in heaven.

 James Then points to is that the rich landowners had amassed their wealth by oppressing the poor, by withholding wages from the workers in their fields. The picture here is of those people being ripped off, underpaid or simply left unpaid. In the Old Testament, Israel was to be a place where workers were paid a just wage. It was a reflection of the generosity of God and a reaction to their time as slaves in Egypt. Amos had to point out to the people of his time that they were experiencing a time of prosperity not due to god’s favour but because they were enforcing disparity between the haves and the have not’s.  James points here that the rich in his time, both in the church and in society were doing the same.

He then moves on to talk of an extravagant and self-indulgent life style. A life of excess and waste. James uses the image of a cattle beast being fattened for slaughter. The beast may think itself blessed to find itself in a barn surrounded by all the hay it can eat, instead of exposed to the elements searching for sparse grass in semi-arid regions, but they are not aware of what is to come.

Finally James talks of the rich condemning and murdering the poor. Maybe it is like the story of Ahab and Nabors in the book of Kings where king Ahab wants a vineyard and so has its owner killed. It maybe that James is pointing out that the way the rich focus on their own desires and appetites actually leads to death. In a book called the life of Appollonius, written in roman times it records a city being beset by riots over a lack of food while the rich landowners had locked away their grain to export it and make a greater profit. 

This last verse is hard to translate and interpret, but some scholars wonder if here James is pointing to the fact that in the way the rich are mistreating the poor they were mistreating Christ himself. In the parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus had said that as you treat or mistreat the least of them, the poor, the sick, the prisoner you do it to me. They kill the innocent and in doing so have contributed to the killing of the  innocent one.

This is pretty heavy stuff and a real challenge for Christians and our world today. Probably the best way to apply it to ourselves today is through the lens of three different purposes James has for speaking in this way.

While most of James’ sections are addressed to ‘brothers and sisters, this section and the previous one have started in a more general way… ‘Now listen’. James is addressing the wider society. He is acting as a prophet and bringing to the light matters of injustice and calling people to repent of these practices. We often think of a prophet as being someone who foretells the word of God, but in actual fact it is telling forth the word of God: Making the timeless word of God timely to the situation and context in which we live. As we’ve seen here James takes the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus and applies it to the world in which the church now finds itself a diaspora population.  Equally it speaks to our own world and time. We live in an age where there is growing disparity between the rich and the poor. We live in an age where there is a growing underclass; in our county we have a growing group of people who are the working poor… While the government has a minimum wage policy in place, it is not enough to make ends meet, part time work and zero hour contracts drive down actual working conditions and take home pay. We have a growing group of people who try and flaunt the law about pay and working conditions in the name of making themselves wealthy.  Globalisation has meant that cheap and even salve labour can be exploited in developing countries to ensure we get the cheap goods we demand and that the wealthy continue to collect and grow their assets. It is horrific to think that one of the slavery is alive and well in the twenty first century.  Is justice just the right of those who can pay for it in New Zealand as well? Recently two young men were sent home from their schools madii cup rowing team because they had pulled a stupid prank at an airport and broken the law. Their parents were able to get a high court in junction against the school, because it was going to disadvantage their son’s chances of getting into a national squad. They got their own way. I wonder if the school was in south Auckland, the game was rugby and the boys were Maori or Pacific Island, the families would not have been able to afford that redress. Well maybe the boys would have been more respectful and better behaved in the first place. Economic theorists talk of the trickledown effect of consumerism and capitalism, but scripture calls for justice to flow like a river and righteousness like a never ending stream.

Secondly, while James is issuing a general call to repentance, his audience are still the same Christian brothers and sisters that he has been addressing all along. The people struggling with being double minded, showing favouritism to the rich, sending the poor away empty handed. Being Christian in name but their desires being shaped by the society around them. A challenge we still face today, For example, just recently televangelist Creflo Dollar, who is said to be one of the richest pastors in the world worth millions of dollars, announced that God had told him it was time to believe for a new plane and he asked his faithful to donate to get a new multi million dollar Gulf stream for his ministry. He has had to back down after the uproar from within and outside Christian circles. People James’ warning calls for us to examine how we live.   James was the head of the church in Jerusalem and in Acts we see a very different understanding of wealth, people held things in common, if there was a need people sold their property to meet that need.

JV Taylor in the book enough is enough gives Christians two questions to use to respond to the mind altering amount of messages we receive about consumerism with its underlying narrative of seeking the life style of the rich. He says we should always ask “who are you trying to kid?” aware that we are being manipulated by people skilled in the art of communication.  The other question is simply “can we afford it?” not just from an economic point of view but from a justice point of view, an ecological point of view.  

Dave Price’s actions are a challenge to Christians in business about just wages. Others have been willing to settle for less so they can share their skills and abilities with those in need. Geoff Borckett shared with us last year about going as an engineer to Bangledesh and using his skills and imagination with alternative fuels to help the poor in that nation and have an impact on the environment. I have Christian  friends who as lawyers were involved in starting the Mangere community law centre, willing to give of their times so all could have access to high quality legal help.

Finally, the passage is given as encouragement and hope for those who face injustice and oppression. Their voice is not often heard, and when it is it is usually attached to some political position, used to gather votes. But here James let the poor the oppressed those suffering and struggling know that God hears and God sees that their voices have been heard in heaven. That God stands alongside and with them. That justice will come; that they matter; that they are of value. That God is in the process of answering their cries. What concerns James so much about seeing the attitudes and action of the society round them reflected in the church is that we are supposed to be a place that represents the Kingdom of God answer to the world around us: A place where all are treated equally. A Place where injustice and inequality are meet with compassion, generosity, a prophetic voice and sacrificial giving.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

being verboast: talking it up when in reality it is God who has our times in his hands(James 4:13-17) : Shedding light on the epsitle of straw: finding a faith that wirks in the book of James (part 10)


In April 2012 Eike Baptista stood at the top of his wealth and power, as he started work on  his super port, Acu, the biggest in the Americas, He was an oil and minerals tycoon. This project meant he was going to have control over production, transportation and use of the oil he found.  He was the richest man in Brazil. He was said to be the eighth richest man in the world.  He hosted parties for the worlds rich and famous His super yacht The Spirit of Brazil VII’. He had mountain top estates overlooking the plush beaches of Rio. He drove the most exclusive and expensive of cars. He was the epitome of a self-made man.   He was not shy on talking himself up. He boasted that by 2015 he would be the richest man in the world. He predicted that by 2020 he would be worth over a trillion dollars.

Well it is 2015 and Bloomberg’s business news are trying to decide if he is the world record holder, not as the world’s richest man, but for being the world’s fastest destroyer of wealth, he had gone from companies with equity of over 34 billion in 2012 to debts of over a billion dollars a mere eighteen months later . He defaulted on loan payments. The police confiscated his fleet of luxury cars and cash. His super yacht was sold for scrap. He was a salesman who talked up the possibilities of his companies and yet in the eighteen months between 2012 and 2015 he was hit by the perfect storm of difficulties. His boasts came to nothing. His life acts as a cautionary tale. It is a great example of what James says in the passage we had read out to us today… that wealth and life are transitory, like vapour and mist, and we should not boast about our own plans and quest for wealth but put our trust in God because we do not know what tomorrow will bring.

We’ve taken a break from our journey through the book of James, for the past two weeks, to journey together through Easter, but today we come back to it. We come back to the first of two passages where James addresses richer elements in the church. In the one we had read to us today it is the merchants, then next week we will look at what James has to say to landowner.

It’s helpful in understanding this passage and to give ourselves a quick refresher of what James has been about to look at this passage first of all in the context of the wider book.

You may remember that in chapter 3 James introduced us tothat most dangerous of animals the Glossa. While we were able to tame all other kinds of wild animals said James no one had been able to tame the Glossa. Glossa by the way is the greek word for the tongue.

 Right before the reading we had today he had talked about a specific Glossa… the back bitingGlossa… warning the church about the destructive and unchristian way in which people in the church were talking each other down. Writing each other off and judging them.

Here in this passage James deals with an equally dangerous type of Glossa… The boasting Glossa; which tries and assert dominance over others by talking itself up.  It makes them feel small by making itself seem bigger and more important that they are. It can equally destroy community.

Merchants bought good in one place and sold them in another for profit. The merchant class in the roman world wasn’t the ultra-rich group, they were more like the  middle class of today.  We know that there were many such merchants in the Church and in leadership: Lydia who hosted the first Church in Europe was a merchant in purple cloth, and Paul heard of troubles in the Church in Corinth because Cloe’s people had meet with him in Ephesus, probably on a trade trip. In wider society merchants did not have the status of Imperial officials or the older landed gentry, maybe in the church they found a place where they could talk themselves up and find the status and importance they desired.

Which lead on to a bigger issue that James is addressing in the churches he is writing to. The church like the society round it was made up of a small group of wealthy people and a large group of poor people. A small group who were doing very well and a group struggling to eek out a living. The church was to reflect the Kingdom of God where all were considered equally important and loved by God, But James had seen the thinking of the world very much infiltrate the life of the church. The rich were shown favouritism; Christianity was being seen as simply believing a set of doctrines and saying the right things rather than being expressed in genuine compassion and love for the poor.  In that most troubling of passages in James 2 he says that faith without works is dead. People give a warm blessing at the end of their worship times but send people in need away empty.  Here the focus of the merchants was on how they were going to make more and more wealth, increase their profit margins and prosperity, they were living and planning without reference to God or God’s will for the Christian community…

Which was a symptom of a larger issue that James was addressing… at the start of his book he had talked of the double minded people, people, people he would later describe as trying to have friendship with the world, rather than God: People whose thought patterns and lives and desires reflected the world around them rather than the teachings of Christ and the values of the Kingdom of God. Here in the attitude and words and plans of the merchants this double mindedness and desire for friendship with the world is being expressed. They had a spiritual part of their lives a part where they worshipped with and lived with the community of faith, but that faith seems to have had very little to do with their business life. That faith seemed to have very little to do with the plans for their lives. That faith seemed to have little to do with what they wanted out of life and how they were going to achieve them.

All these concerns of James focus here on a very real and practical issue within the lives of the community of faith. An issue which I think actually challenges us today in our western church as much if not more than it did to James first hearers.

Firstly, can I say that James is not speaking against having wealth, nor doing well in business  nor planning for the future. These things are good. Wealth creates jobs and helps provide for other people. In 1 Timothy 5:8 Paul says that it is foolish is someone is not able to provide for their families and households. It needs to be something that we do. It is right and proper to have and plan for financial security; however James here is pointing to the fact that the merchants whole goal is to increase their wealth, there whole planning is around having more and more, without reference to God. Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool who keeps building a bigger and bigger barn. Then after he spent his whole life amassing wealth he decides to retire and relax and enjoy it, and on that very night he dies. He and the merchants here were not focusing on the important things of life. They were not focusing on the God things of life. James warns them that in reality life is like human breath on a cold day… It’s there and visible for a brief moment then it gone.

It is easy for us to simply think of life and our goals and our future in the way in which the world and society around us thinks of them. To have our plans our energies, the time and resources we have invested in a dream sculpted by media and consumerism rather than by Christ and the kingdom of God.

How the word Boasting is used in the New Testament helps us to understand what James means. To boast about something is to put one confidence in it, to trust in it. Paul in Philippians talks of his things he could boast of, his Jewish heritage, his top class education, his political position, he could even boast of all the things he had suffered and done as a Christian leader, but in the end he says they are just a pile of rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of Knowing Jesus Christ. In Corinthians he says he could boast in wisdom and understanding but rather choses to boast in the cross of Jesus Christ, not what he knows but what Christ has done for him.  To boast in what we have and what we plan to get is futile because in the end we don’t know what tomorrow will bring it cannot be trusted in. Rather we are called says James to live and plan in an attitude of trusting in the providence of God. All good things come from above says James. He exhorts his readers to speak and to plan with the attitude ‘God willing”, or “if God wills it” realising that our times are in God’s hands. That in God we live and move and have our being, wealth and prosperity maybe fleeting but the steadfast love of the lord never ceases.

When I did a lot of church based youth work, God’s will was something that often came up, what does God what me to do with my life? What job does God want me to do? Does God really have someone all lined up for me? It’s easy to simply think of God’s will and God willing in terms of fate and future possibilities and plans. But James does not let us do that. He finishes this brief section with a proverb… “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”  We call these sins of omission, that we have left undone the good God calls us to do.  

When we think of God’s will we need to realise that God has in actual fact revealed his will to us. His moral will, the ethical way in which he wants us to live. So when James says that we should say God willing it is more than trusting in the providence of God it is also acknowledging the righteousness of God. When we plan and look to the future, we need to have at our foremost God’s goodness and the things that please him. We often think of God’s will as being a personal individual thing as well and can forget that it is more God’s will for his people and we are to view our plans in those terms as well… God’s plan is to bless so we can be a blessing, to provide for all his people.

Business plans need to ask questions like these… Buying from a sweet shop in the third world may make business sense but is it right? As we will see next week what we pay workers is something James and God is concerned about. Do we pay them just enough to be legal or pay a just wage? When we plan financially is it all about wealth and comfort, or do well-being and compassion have a say? Do we need more than enough to live well or do we settle for enough so that more can… well live? How do I balance work demands family life and investing in church and mission?  Is it about God’s will or what I can leave in my will when it’s all over.

The bible is not anti-wealth, James is not anti-wealth, his concern is the concern we wrestle with all the time in the church in the west, getting caught in two minds, the mind of Christ and the mind-set of our consumer wealth obsessed western world.  The bible is not against planning, James is not against planning but rather calls us to boast and have confidence in God’s purposes and plans. Wealth, health and life itself is transitory… here today gone tomorrow… God’s plans for us are for good not for harm… he holds our times in his hands and calls us to trust and follow him.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Recognising the Risen Jesus (Luke 24:13-36) Easter Sunday 2015

NT Wright says the journey on the Emmaus road is the finest scene Luke ever sketched… On the dramatic level, he says, it has everything… "Sorrow, suspense , puzzlement, gradual dawning of light, unexpected actions, astonished recognition, a flurry of excitement and activity". I think when you throw in elements of mystery and irony and you have a memorable and amazing story. He also says in "this encounter with the risen Jesus you have a model for what being a Christian, from that day to this, is all about…"

“the slow sad dismay at the failure of human hope; the turning to someone who might or might not help; the discovery that in scripture, all unexpected, there lay keys, which might unlock the central mysteries and enable us to find the truth; the sudden recognition of Jesus himself, present with us, warming our hearts with his truth, showing us himself as bread is broken.”

That may seem a bit of an academic way of starting off, but my hope this morning is that we like the two on the road to Emmaus will come to recognise the risen Christ, through scripture and his very real presence with us. We might walk our own Emmaus road.

Luke starts this narrative with a temporal link to what has gone before… on the same day… it is later in the day after the women had been to the tomb and discovered it empty. It is the same day the angels had told them he is not here. It is the same day that Peter had gone and seen that it was true. It is on the same day and we have an empty tomb and people are wrestling with what that means.

Luke starts by putting in a geographical setting, saying that this is on the road from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus.  Two of them, that is followers of Jesus, are leaving Jerusalem, are walking and as they walk are discussing what has gone on. We are introduced to one of the two as Cleopas, the other one we are not introduced to by name. Traditionally it was thought to be another of the male disciples, but some biblical scholars wonder if it wasn’t Cleopas’ wife. It could explain why they are not named, it also explains why this is only mentioned in Luke’s gospel, of all the gospel writers Luke is the one who because of his Greek background uses women as sources for his writing, he does not have the Jewish bias against women as witnesses.

  We are told someone else joins them and it is Jesus and they do not recognise him.

How can this be? Well we are told that their faces were down cast. Here are two people, lost in grief and confusion, unwilling to look up at another person, Unwilling to make eye contact, perhaps suffering from deep depression. Also as they answer Jesus question “what are you discussing together?’ We see that they have no expectation of meeting Jesus raised from the dead. Their understanding of Jesus is that he was a prophet, mighty in word and deed.  They talk of their hope that Jesus was the messiah being destroyed when Jesus was nailed to the cross. They talk of the fact that it was the third day after this had happened. Yes…there is some expectation because Jesus had talked about being raised to life again on the third day, but they seem confused by what the women who had gone to the tomb were saying …that the body was not there. There is reluctance for them to believe what the women had seen and been told in an angelic vision.

AS modern people we find it hard to comprehend how a dead person could be raised to life again. We might be surprised to find that those first disciples were in the same boat as we are. The fact that these two were leaving Jerusalem maybe a sign that they were leaving the group, walking away, that the group of followers round Jesus  were at odds as to what to make of what had happened.  We may be like them we may believe that Jesus was a great teacher, a prophet, we may believe that the tomb is empty, I mean even Matthew’s gospel tells us that the authorities couldn’t deny the tomb was empty, they had to spin a yarn to explain it… they said his disciples stole the body.  For us and the disciples to recognise the risen Jesus they had to understand and know who Jesus is. The Emmaus road acts as that link in Luke’s gospel.

I love the irony in the interchange between Cleopas and Jesus. Cleopas says ‘you must be the only one in Jerusalem who does not know what has been going on.’ Yet as the conversation goes on, it seems that Jesus is the only one who really knows what had been going on. Not only had he experienced it, it had happened to him. He is the only one who understands what his life and death means in the plans and purposes of God.  While Cleopas is amazed that Jesus didn’t know what was going on...Jesus is equally amazed that Cleopas and his complain don’t understand and believe. 

Jesus begins to open up the scriptures to the two of them. He shows them how the messiah had to come and suffer and die. That his death was not the end of the hope that Jesus would save his people, but rather the means by which he would save them.  I’d love to have a full transcript of Jesus teaching here, you wonder what scriptures and texts he would have used. We know a lot of them because as the gospel writers and Luke himself had written in their accounts how what Jesus said and did was a fulfilment of scripture. He starts will Moses, maybe because that is where Cleopas had started, Moses was called a prophet great in deed and word. That was Cleopas’ understanding of Jesus. And the expectation of the messiah was they would be a prophet like Moses. But it also means that Jesus starts by looking back at the Torah the first five books of the Old Testament and shows how right from the beginning God’s purposes and plans were to redeem his people through Christ’s suffering and death.  We could imagine him moving on to the passages that speak of the son of David, Israel’s true king. At our Good Friday service we started by reading out together the servant song in Isaiah 53, about the righteous man suffering for the sins of many, from an early time Christians have seen that fulfilled in Christ. 

It is only through the witness of scripture can we realise who Jesus is. It’s interesting when I reflected on Jesus opening the scriptures to the two on the road, I couldn’t help but think of the word become flesh that John uses to explain Jesus in his prologue. I couldn’t help but see how starting with Moses and creation wouldn’t lead to the possibility of new creation in Christ’s death and resurrection. Joel Green puts it like this ‘What has happened with Jesus can only be understood in light of the scriptures,” he goes on to say, “the scriptures themselves can be understood only in light of what has happened to Jesus.”  Here on the road to Emmaus Jesus ties the two together.

It is only when we understand who Jesus Christ is, that we can make sense of the resurrection:  That we see Christ through the scriptural lens. It moves the resurrection from the realm of the impossible to the reality of the person. It’s only when we understand Jesus is the son of God, totally human and totally divine, It is only when we understand in Christ God was not simply wanting to save Israel from roman occupation, but all of humanity from slavery to sin and death, do we understand the resurrection. It is only when we see the cross as God’s plan for our redemption are we ready to see the risen Jesus.   

They reach their destination, they still don’t recognise Jesus, I don’t know about you but maybe they are now have so much to think on and wonder at that they are focusing on that not on the one who is with them,  but they invite Jesus to come and stay with them. They sit down for a meal, and Jesus breaks bread with them. And it tells us their eyes were open and they recognised him. Maybe it was something in the familiar way Jesus broke the bread that made them recognise him. There words their eyes were open, speaks of the fact that the spirit had something to do with it. They now had a framework from scripture to comprehend and recognise the risen Jesus. There is also the fact that they were now sharing that most intimate of Middle Eastern rituals, eating together, sharing a meal. There is a sense of hospitality, and it is in that willingness to welcome Jesus and to sit down with him and have him sit down with them that they and we are able to recognise the risen Jesus.

At that stage the two on the Emmaus road were willing to be open to the reality of Jesus being present with them. Scripture had given them the frame work to understand that. Jesus had literally opened their eyes through the scriptures and now they can see who he is. But also because the risen Jesus Christ can present himself with his people: He was there with them in a way they knew his presence, he is here with us. When we celebrate communion together, it is not just a meal of remembrance, a meal to remind us of Christ’s death on the cross, it is like it was for the two on the road to Emmaus, a way we can recognise Christ’s presence with us on our journey through life. It is the way we can recognise the risen Jesus with us: That we can recognise how as we’ve been led by the spirit of Christ he has opened up the scriptures to us and shown himself to us through them.    It causes us to want to go back excited to join other believers like the two at Emmaus did and tell what we know to be true Christ is alive. He is with us.

Modern people find Jesus disappearance hard to comprehend. Maybe the two at the table did as well… While Luke grounds his narrative very much in time and space, we see that the risen Jesus somehow is different and transcends those things that hold us prisoner. The resurrection is not just a reanimation of a dead body, Jesus isn’t some super zombie. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talks about the resurrection body no longer being subject to death and decay, about it being an incorruptible immortal body. This is the body of the risen Jesus, he is not a ghost; he breaks bread and walks with them. But is no longer limited as we are. AS we move on in Luke we see he suddenly appears again with the disciples, yet as in John’s gospel he Is able to be touched and felt. The gospel finishes with and Luke starts his story of what Jesus Christ does through the church with the narrative of Jesus ascent into heaven. So while he is bodily not with us, the risen Jesus is still able to presence himself with his people, to share table fellowship with us: No longer constrained by time or place, but present by his spirit with us.

We can know his presence; we can know his forgiveness and new life through his death and resurrection.  

This morning I want to finish by asking a question… Where are you on the Emmaus Road? My prayer is where ever you are you may meet and recognise the risen Jesus.
Maybe you are about to walk away... May you meet the risen Jesus.
May be you don't know about what has been going in in Jerusalem over that Easter weekend... May you know the risen Jesus drawing you to know himself.
Maybe you are wrestling to comprehend what  all means... may you know the presence of the risen Jesus opening the scriptures to you open your eyes to the truth of who he is and what he has dome for us.
Maybe you have got to the point where  you are wanting to welcome in the risen Jesus... I know he will stay with you if he is asked and you will know his presence in intimate fellowship.
Maybe you have recognised and come to know the risen Jesus and I invite you again this Easter to join with his followers in knowing recognising his presence with us and witnessing in our words and deeds that 'He is risen.'