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.

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