Tuesday, September 22, 2015

9/27/15---Ready For Kickoff: They Should Pray

One of the things I love about this community of faith here at Gray Memorial is that it is a praying community. We love to pray. We have faith and trust that our prayers are heard, and we are strengthened by the gift of prayer that God gives us. I at least see this in our gatherings together. Prayer is powerful, and James tells us in James 5: 13-20 that prayer actually works. I say that to emphasize that the fact that prayer actually makes a difference is an absolute work of grace in our lives and in our world, from God. 

James, again, asks us a question (this again elicits his inner teacher/coach-like features...he knows the answer but wants us to get there). His question, which opens this passage, is "Are any among you suffering?" As if his audience says, "yes," he responds by saying "they should pray." And the same goes for the cheerful (songs of praise is a form of prayer), and the sick. James answers our hypothetical question "when do we pray?" by essentially saying "all the time." We are to pray when we are suffering, when we are ill in body or in spirit,  and when we are happy. That pretty much covers it. No matter what season of life you are in, you should pray. No matter what life has thrown at you, you should pray. 

If you're like me, words like this at times feel like an admonition, an authoritative warning of sorts. Taken that way, I tend to feel guilty because I don't do what I should do. I think that is somewhere in my "default settings" as a person. But, friends, we don't need to feel guilty for not praying. God is not missing out by us not praying, although God years for us to draw near (4:7-8). Instead, I think we should feel like we are missing an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing in the world, for prayer prompts us for faithful activity on the "field" of life, the world around us. God hears us in every situation. Whether we are happy, sad, angry, or ill, we can come to God. 

That is the good news for us, friends. This good news is made stronger through James' emphasis on the communal aspect of prayer. The same outcomes of prayer that we experience privately can be manifested cooperatively as well. There are elements of accountability and support that we receive, also, when we move prayer to a public space. The prayers of the community help to shape that community and it allows the people to become more nearly the body of Christ. Prayer changes relationships and it changes lives. It reorients them towards God, who wants us to draw close. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ready for Kickoff: Being Wise

The book of James is full of questions. The author asks questions, I think, in order to provide us with a space to reflect on who we are, on our lives, and the world around us.

This week, we take a look at James 3:13-4:3, 7, 8a

Three questions arise from this passage: 

1. Who is wise and understanding among you?

In our churches, we might say that our clergy and church officers are wise and understanding. That might be the "obvious" answer to this question. But is it the answer? Maybe not always! We hope that wisdom and maturity of faith afforded clergy and church officers these positions, but this is not what James says. For James, these traits are evidence of wisdom: gentleness/humility (3:13b), purity (3:17), peaceable (3:17), willing to yield, full of mercy, impartial, genuine (not a hypocrite). Hopefully your "obvious" answer is still correct, now that you know how James lays out what "wise and understanding" really means; I sure hope to fit the bill here. 

These are very difficult traits to embody, to live into. They speak of a life that is not ego-driven, not greedy or jealous. In our society, which is marked by instant and self-gratification, these words sound foreign, or at least impossible to embody. But, they aren't it is possible to live a wise life. We know people, I think, I hope, that live this way.

2. From what do conflicts and and disputes arise?

Disagreement is inevitable within any community/relationship: families, friends, churches, work places, etc. James points out that one thing may contribute to these disputes: envy (self-ambition, cravings, coveting). James sees this sin as one that feeds on itself; it always wants more of the wrong thing.

We don't need to look far to see this. Our culture is marked by the wanting of the newest, smartest, and brightest things. We want that promotion in our jobs, to upgrade the house, etc. These are not bad things! But, they can be. These desires can come from our unwillingness to appreciate the love the things we do have; they can come from being envious of what others have. And think about it: this cycle will never end. If you want something "brighter" than someone else, someone will want the next "brightest" thing, and it continues. You will never be satisfied, you will never be wise. And this seeps into our relationships, when we seek to have the best and brightest of friends, children, and churches, we don't see them as they truly are: people of God in desire of authentic relationships.

3. What does God want? 

Jump to verse 7 and 8 of this passage and answer this question. God wants us to submit, to repent, to turn our lives towards God. We are to turn away from this lifestyle of greed and envy towards God. And when we do this, God shows up, and God shows up in our relationships.In turning to God, we turn away from the "wisdom" the world wants to teach us and towards God's wisdom, which is marked by the traits listed above from the 1st question.

We remember this by our identity as children of God, not children of this world. This world will call you many things and give us many ideas about who we are supposed to be. But we are called to be children of God together. This, is wisdom.

Much of this content came from Feasting on the Word, and other portions were paraphrased 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ready For Kickoff: Small Things, Big Impact

I've never been on a cruise ship, but I have seen pictures of them and occasionally have viewed them driving by the ports in Cape Canaveral. Imagine what it takes for those huge ships to actually function: an array of mechanical systems that interweave and function together in order to power an engine; a crew of competent experts who know the ins and outs of all of those systems in order to oversee and direct them; a wind that is powered by the earth's weather in a way that influences the water to carry the boat. Then, think about all of the details behind creating those mechanical systems on the boat, the hours of training and learning that it took for experts to learn their craft; the science behind what makes the wind blow, and the God that's always in control.

James, in chapter 3: 1-12 of our Bible, draws on this analogy to point out that little details have a great impact, even on something as massive as a huge ship. The world is a pretty complicated place; our lives are very complicated. Every detail works together to get us, to get this world, to the point everything is right now. 

One detail James does not overlook is our speech. What we say, which at times seems trite and unimportant, literally does say a lot about us. All of those "small" things that influence a cruise ship are in good shape if the cruise ship is functioning. I think that what James is saying is that what we say indicates how we are "functioning." The words that come out of our mouths can actually bless or curse people. They can also bless or curse God. 

Our actions can also "speak." We've learned that we are not to ignore people, but this week we may also learn that in paying attention to people and their needs, we have the power to reflect God in a positive or negative way. If  we want to show people that God loves them, we can do that through the way we speak from our mouths, and by our actions towards them. 

God, help us to show people that you love them, Amen. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ready for Kickoff: Faith vs. Works(?)

One of the most exciting times of the year, at least as I see it, is beginning this weekend. College Football! Some of you may not be a football fan, but it's hard to miss the busyness and excitement that the fall season brings. School has already begun. The pumpkins are coming. The festivals are coming. The fair is coming. Thanksgiving is coming. Fall is such an eventful, exciting time!

As fall "kicks off," we have a lot to anticipate and be excited about. Each of these events requires a level of readiness in order that the events go well.

Imagine that you are on a football team as the weeks wind down to the opening game of a new season. You practice every day (maybe twice) with your teammates, study the playbook, and perform the best way you can on the field in order to get ready for your first game.

Our journey with God is quite similar. For football teams, there is much practice and preparation for that opening kickoff of a game. We don't get to see it when we watch the game, but we know that the team cannot perform well if they are not practicing, if they do not have good morale, if their coaches are not on the same page...if they are not ready.

In a similar way, we must practice our faith for our faith to become realized. As players embody their coaches ideas and plays, we embody what we believe by what kind of people we become. Faith and works are one in the same; one is evidence of the other. James thought so too, I think, evidenced by James 2: 17

"In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity." (Common English Bible).

Where the football analogy falls short is that players definitely have to earn the right to play in the game. We, do not. Christ has given you the opportunity to live a faithful life, and it is our job not to waste it (even though it is free). The game is not really between faith and works (as if they are at odds in terms of our salvation), but in our hearts. Are you willing to live faithfully? Are you willing to actively show your faith by you live?

More on Sunday...see you then!