Words and Deeds

Words and Deeds

How many of you have facebook?

How many of you have no clue what facebook is?

One of the great things about facebook is that you can connect with people from various parts of your life all at once.  And my friends span the spectrum from extreme liberals to die hard conservatives.

I don’t have to watch one second of campaign coverage and I can tell you who was speaking, where and when and what lots of different types of people thought about it.

Today, we find ourselves on the Sunday between our two major political party conventions.

And on facebook and in person, I have seen people laugh and cry, jest and jeer, shout praises and mutter criticisms… folks have been angry or excited and rarely anything in between.  Some are accused of lying.  Others of ignorance.  Some people are called stupid. Wealthy has become a bad word – as has the term poor. We point fingers. We refuse to accept blame. We pass around the buck. And rarely are we making these arguments in logical, coherent, calm conversations.

Politics sure brings out the worst in us… doesn’t it?

Or is it just that politics takes all of those pent up feelings we carry around with us every day and it crystallizes our differences, our frustrations, our anxieties?

I started out by asking about how many of you have facebook, because the nasty behavior I see in politics is an every day occurrence in social media.

But it’s also an everyday occurrence in our school hallways.

And in our bars and restaurants.

And around our dinner tables.

And in our private conversations with other people.

The truth of the matter is… we have forgotten how to talk to one another.

This isn’t simply a secular problem.  The same thing is seen in our churches as well.

I had more than my share of church politicking this year, as I had the honor of representing our conference of the UnitedMethodistChurch at our quadrennial global gathering.

One thousand United Methodists from all across the globe gathered in Tampa to make decisions about the future of our church and our mission… and a lot of what we did was stand up and make speeches and refuse to listen… which in turn led to a failure to act. We talked our problems to death and in the end have little to show for it.

Each of our denominations has similar meetings – from session and presbytery meetings, to district events and conferences.  And it doesn’t matter if you are Methodist or Nazarene or Congregationalist or answer to a pastor or a pope – we don’t always agree and it isn’t always a pretty conversation.

I wonder if that kind of contentious debate about what it means to “be the church” is what led James to write his letter to the people of God.

I think he looked around at the arguments, and the infighting, and the trials people were going through and he felt called to say something… to refocus our attention on what really matters: the word of God that transforms us all.

The passage that Morrie read for us this morning comes from the first chapter of this letter.

A huge problem James discerns is favoritism and conflict between different classes of people in the church… so he starts out by leveling the playing field:  we all have tests and trials.

What separates us, James writes, is that some of us stand firm in our faith in the midst of those trials…  and some of us are tossed about with every fad and sea change.  It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor…those who stand firm are the ones who are blessed.

Now – this matters, because James goes on to describe how every good and perfect gift comes from God.

What doesn’t come from God are our own cravings, our desires, the things that we hold on to more tightly than we hold on to God.

I want to do a quick thought experiment with you… think of one thing that you hold onto tightly in your life:  maybe it is an addiction… or your schedule…maybe it is a way of doing something in the church… or an everyday object like your cell phone.

Imagine that one thing… that thing that you can’t live without…

Now, ask yourself – and be truthful now – how many times in the past year has that “thing” caused conflict?

How many times did it lead you to yell at someone?

How many times did it cause you to act out of character?

How many times did you miss the opportunity to grow in your faith or your relationships because you were too stubborn to let go of it?

James writes his letter to the people of God because they are so focused on what they want and what they think and what they believe that he no longer sees the true word of God in their midst.

They have deceived themselves into thinking that they had the truth – when all they have done is distort God’s word into something dirty and foul to suit their own needs.

And then… they argued about it. They argued about who was more important and who was right.  They argued about who was included and who should be forgotten.  They argued about how much time they had to put in and why they didn’t need to get their hands dirty any more.

And in doing so, they exchanged the gift of life and peace and love of God for the cares and desires and sin of this world.

You know what?  We have, too.

If we were to be truly honest with ourselves, we encourage our youth to use their fists more than words… and teach them to use words that pack a punch that could hurt the toughest soul.

We teach our children they deserve to have everything without regards to the cost.

We as adults are quick to judge when we encounter someone with different political view points.  We make assumptions.

We close our doors to the neediest around us and put a check in the mail to make ourselves feel better.

We spend our days working hard so that we can have the finer things in life and then are too tired to enjoy them.

We use and abuse one another so that we can get ahead.

We ask the question, “how will this help me?” more than “how can I help others?”

No wonder the spirit of discourse around us has crumbled.  Internally focused, afraid of one another, distrusting of the systems that are supposed to help and support us, wary about the future….

Those words do not describe a people, a community, a nation that has the saving word of God planted within.

The question is what do we have to clear out so that the good and perfect word of God can take root in our souls again?

James has a few solutions for us.

First of all, we need to recapture a spirit of humility.  We need to recognize that we are not God’s gift to this earth – but imperfect vessels that the word of God can transform.

Humility means that we treat the word of God as a gift, and not something that we deserve.

Humility means that we make ourselves low so that others might be raised up.

Humility means that we put another before ourselves.

Humility means that we are quick to truly listen to what another person has to say before we butt in with our own thoughts and feelings.

Second, we need to practice every day the words that we hear at bible study or in prayer group or in worship.

David Lose, who writes for Working Preacher, says:  “Sunday is not the most important day of the Christian week.”  It is every other day, the in-between days that truly show whether or not that saving word of God is taking root.

James tells us that too often we hear the word of God and do not do it.  We listen to the sermon on Sunday morning and then go out and forget everything that we heard.

We need to study the word and put it into practice.  On Monday morning, we need to let kindness rule our actions.  On Tuesday evening, we need to let God’s patience rule our heart.  On Thursday afternoon around the water cooler, we need to let the gift of God’s love rule our conversations.  In every small act of every single day, we need to let that heavenly gift of God shine through our lives.

Lastly, we need to be careful about our words.

James calls us to listen… but when we do finally speak, we need to ask whether our words are rooted in anger or in love.

Do the words we use come from the word of God planted within?  Or from the desires of our imperfect selves?

Are our conversations pleasing to our Lord?  Or are we trying to impress others?

In verse 26 of our passage for this morning, James writes, “If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves.”

Our words matter.  They can be used to hurt or to heal.  They can be used to encourage or to tear down.  They can be used to expand God’s kingdom or to erect barriers for the Holy Spirit.

We who are gathered here represent the people of God in Marengo, Iowa.  And our words and our deeds matter.  They represent to the world who God is and how he desires us to live.

In your conversations on facebook and in real life… in your actions towards strangers and your best friends… do people see the good and perfect gift of God in your life?

We often cling so tightly to our stuff, our issues, and our solutions that we can’t open our hands to receive the amazing and beautiful gifts of God.

Let go.  Open your hearts and your hands to welcome the word of God. And then live it out in every moment of your days to everyone you meet.

Say yes to compassion.  Say yes to forgiveness.  Say yes to patience.  Say yes to kindness and joy and love and peace.  Let them take root in your soul and flourish in your life.

If we do… this world truly will be transformed.

Amen.

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