'let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger'
Read James 1:17-27
This is a reading that has many starting points for a sermon, but I want to try and look at it as two connecting themes. The first is gifts. James starts with the gift of life, a good place to start, and by this he means ‘new life’ in Jesus, birthed, he tells us, through the word of truth.
And what a gift to begin with. But James is thinking about more than this, because he talks of ‘every gift’ from God.
The New Testament seems full of passages talking of God’s gifts to believers, be it the gift of the Holy Spirit empowering the apostles, to the ‘fruits of the Spirit’ such as love, joy, peace, gentleness, self-control etc which Paul tells us are God’s gifts to help us counter the influences of the world. Or what about Jesus talking about the gifts or blessings of God in the Sermon on the Mount, where those who are downtrodden, mourning, peacemakers, persecuted, humble, hungry for justice or pure in heart will find blessing, a gift from God that meets their particular need and encourages and strengthens their faithful service. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, tells us that there are all manner of gifts, but they are all given for the common good of all. His list includes wisdom, prophesy and healing, knowledge and speaking in tongues. It’s a pretty diverse list!
And it’s not about bragging that God’s given us ‘this’ or ‘that’, simply acknowledging that we have a God who is more than generous, but with an underlying hope that such gifts are not wasted. James adds to all this by telling us that God’s gifts are given that we might be fruitful.
We buy gifts for our nearest and dearest for Birthdays, Christmas, and other times, as a token of our love. But generally, those are bought to benefit the lives of those they were bought for. God’s gifting is to build up his people so that they might in turn help to build up others.
And that’s where we come to the rest of what James is saying in this reading, which is sub-titled in my reading as ‘Listening and doing’.
As individuals we might not necessarily read our Bibles daily. If you don’t and would like to, then there are some great ways to do just that, either in the old-fashioned way of reading a book of daily Bible notes, or, if you have a reasonably modern phone there are some great and very simple-to-use apps which will give you a way of connecting regularly with God’s Word.
But, if you’ve been to church for a few weeks, years, or even decades as I have, then at the back of your mind are already familiar passages that are reference points, repeated and preached about often, that help you in your journey of faith, almost unconsciously.
Unfortunately, James tells us that although that might be great in part, it’s not enough. That’s the listening bit, sometimes the ‘remembering’ bit, but far more important is the ‘doing’ bit, putting the word we read or remember into practice in daily life.
It’s listening and doing. It’s being here and offering God the worship that is due to his name, but then going out afterwards and putting the truth of God’s Word into action as we interact with others and the world outside this place.
And that can be difficult, not because we’re on our own, we’re not, but because the state of the world at times can make us feel angry, and individuals within this world can also make us feel angry. I feel that quite often when I read comments left on social media. There’s a lot of hate out there, a lot of prejudice, a lot of misinformation and a lot of mischief, and that can easily affect us emotionally.
And what does James tell us? 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
We are, says James, to be fruitful. We are to be the people we are, gifted by God with the gifts we need to be the people he wants us to be, wherever we are and whatever we do.
Listening and doing. It is not always easy to do, but it is the way God wants us to live our lives. Not just reading and nodding our heads at the wisdom in the Bible’s words, but living them out, getting our hands dirty out there, serving God, being the people God has equipped us to be, sowing seeds of love through our words and actions, reflecting the light of God and brightening up someone’s day, being there for them, listening, being a shoulder to lean on, giving of our time and energies, being prepared to pray for other’s situations… the list on the ‘doing’ side is pretty long!
I tend to be the one who does the cooking in our house, and I have a bookshelf full of cookery books, of which these are a few. I do like cookery books, reading them and seeing all those fantastic recipes looking so delicious on the page. And the best thing of course is that they tell you more or less everything you need to know about how to recreate those lovely recipes in your own home. Makes me hungry just thinking about them.
You know what I’m going to say next, I guess. I can go into a bookshop full of cookery books and flick through thousands of recipes, but if I don’t actually put the books down and follow the instructions, get my hands covered with flour, oil or whatever, then a) I’m not really much of a cook and b) no one is getting fed.
‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’ is James’ advice.
Remember also what Jesus said our attitude to faith and action ought to be, ‘‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,’ and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ ” (Luke 10:27)
And if you don’t think any of this is relevant to you, that God’s not going to use someone like you out there in the world, then let me share this somewhat twee story…
This is a tale of a little boy whose mother had died. His father was a poor man, but he worked and tried to raise the little fellow. There was a wealthy couple, relatives, who became interested in the boy. They said to the father, “You are not able to give the boy everything in life. We are wealthy; we can give him everything.” So the father went to the little boy to talk to him about going to live with these folks. He said to the little fellow, “They’ll give you a bicycle, give you toys, and give you wonderful gifts at Christmas. And they will take you on trips. They will do things for you that I can’t do for you.” The little boy said, “I don’t want to go.” And the father said, “Why?” The boy said, “They can’t give me you.”
You are important to God, and important to the people you meet every day, because within you is the light and love of God. Not just in the pages of your Bible, but in your hearts, waiting to be shared.
Be doers, not just listeners and readers.