based on the notes for my sermon from Sunday 23 September…
Part 1 – What are people like without God’s Wisdom?
To quote from the Wisdom of Solomon…
Ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away, and they made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his party. For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades…”
By their words and deeds = evil touches every part of them.
Consorting with death = a life with no hope in the face of death can only justify itself by making deals with death in the hopes of controlling it even in some little way.
Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life…. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.
At the end of his life = the godly consort with God instead of with death. This disturbs the ungodly, and so they seek to test it to see if the godly could possibly be serious (let alone right).
Part 2 – What results of such people?
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.
Let us lie in wait = the ungodly make themselves enemies of the godly, and then…
Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.
Let us test = the ungodly can’t understand the godly, so they abuse them and ultimately seek to kill them. Jesus understood this dynamic, as he predicted in Mark 9…
The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
They will kill him = Jesus knows this will result in his death. But how did his disciples respond to this prediction?
On the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
Who was the greatest = The Apostles finally understood Jesus’ death prediction, but not his resurrection. They understood that the godly get killed by the ungodly, but they still didn’t realize the full scope of Jesus’ godliness! So they had gotten into an argument over who would replace Jesus after his death.
In short, even Jesus’ followers still have a mix of godly and ungodly attitudes!
Part 3 – What should we do about this?
Despite having been baptized, entering into the new life in Christ, and receiving the Holy Spirit into our souls, we still struggle with these ungodly attitudes, just like Jesus’ disciples. God’s Wisdom hasn’t completely replaced our penchant for earthly wisdom. So we still need help. James’ epistle offers us some very helpful advice at this juncture.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
Let him show his works = Identify good examples of godly people. This not only applies to people we’ve met and known in person, but also people we’ve heard about or read about. This is actually part of the reason that Anglicanism kept a number of saints’ days: by keeping alive the memory of good godly folk such as St. Matthew (whom we commemorated on Friday), we continually hold before us examples of good conduct and godly wisdom.
If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
This is not the wisdom that comes from above = This is stuff to watch out for. Jealousy and selfish ambition in particular James identifies as gateway sins – sins that lead to more sin! You see, worldly wisdom is inherently self-centered, and we continually need to die to ourselves and allow the life of Christ to be our light and our guide. When you get upset or annoyed about something, ask yourself, who’s upset: you or Jesus?
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
Your passions are at war = Remember, this is written to Christians. We know from Jesus’ sermon on the mount that even hatred counts as murder, even coveting counts as theft, even lust counts as adultery. Don’t think you or anyone else can dodge James’ words here. We all are caught up in this war between God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom. And the war isn’t limited to within us; it spills out into our relationships with others! It causes fights and quarrels. Not always big ones, sometimes they’re small, but strife with others is a constant reality in this life. Just remember that for all that annoying coworker’s faults, you’ve got your own share of problems too. But how about a word of hope at this point? James continues:
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Humble yourselves… and he will exalt you = When we discover sin within ourselves, we can address it by turning to God. We don’t have because we don’t ask God. When we turn to the world for fulfillment, of course we’re going to be disappointed! That’s idolatry. Idolatry always looks for what’s more fun, more easy, more comfortable. But idolatry is adultery from our relationship with God. Instead we should turn to God for fulfillment, for help in our problems, for strength to battle our sins. Indeed, he invites us; he gives more grace; he will exalt us when we acknowledge our lowliness.
It is an awareness of this that gives form to the regular pattern of reflection on God’s law, repentance & confession, and absolution & comfort that we walk through on a daily basis in the Office, and on a weekly (or so) basis with the Eucharist. Prayers of confession are no formality; they’re a real part of our spiritual health. Sometimes we may need to give it more attention than other times, but it’s an ingredient that should never be omitted.