November 23, 2019

Love Letter from God: Slow to Anger John 3:16 and James 1:19-27

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life

 

James 1:19-27

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. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

 

Let us pray:

Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen

Three Indiana judges have been suspended without pay for their involvement in a shooting during a drunken brawl outside a White Castle restaurant in May.

The state Supreme Court said in an order published Tuesday that the county circuit judges — Andrew Adams and Bradley B. Jacobs of Clark County and Sabrina R. Bell or Crawford County — behaved in a way that was "not merely embarrassing on a personal level; they discredited the entire Indiana judiciary."

Adams previously was sentenced to a year in jail with all but two days suspended after he pleaded guilty to battery in the incident, during which he and Jacobs suffered gunshot wounds.

An investigation by the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications depicted the judges as wandering the streets of Indianapolis, where they were attending a judicial conference, in a drunken haze in the middle of the night on May 1.

The judges and a fourth man, Clark County Magistrate William Dawkins, met up at a bar where they drank for several hours before deciding to go to a strip club, which was closed, investigators said. So they then went to the White Castle.

The judges remained outside while Dawkins went inside at about 3:15 a.m., according to judicial documents. That was when two men drove by in a car and shouted something out the window, to which Bell "extended her middle finger" in response, investigators said.

The men pulled into the parking lot and got out, which led to "a heated verbal altercation ... with all participants yelling, using profanity, and making dismissive, mocking, or insolent gestures toward the other group," according to the documents.

The confrontation ended when one of the men from the car, identified as Brandon Kaiser, pulled a gun and shot Adams once and Jacobs twice, investigators said. Both men underwent emergency surgery and were hospitalized for several days.

Judges arrested for disobeying the laws they help enforce. Laws they know. Laws they quote. Laws they are sworn to uphold in the enactment of justice. It is shocking to us, still, in this day and age, when people who are expected to behave one way, with decorum and propriety, with dignity and honor, act as though they are eighth graders left unsupervised at the mall. This is the same reaction we once had when learned of disgraced priests who hurt children or celebrity pastors who cheated on their wives, or even famous actors who portrayed good guys and then we found out were not so nice behind the scenes to those around them. Over time, we have become less shocked by some of these things because they happen so often, we nearly expect them. But it does still seem odd to hear of judges, who know the law so well, who are expected to tell others what it means and how to do it, have seemingly forgotten all about it and become the very criminals they usually punish.

This is what James writes to the church in this letter = when you only hear the words of God and do not behave as though you believe or know them, you are like someone who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets their own face. Imagine that for a moment: you look in the mirror and forget what you look like as soon as you turn away. James is telling us that the law of God, the law that we are to follow as Christians ought to be as familiar to us as our own faces and just as difficult to dismiss in our thinking and lives.

James is the brother of Jesus. His father is Joseph, his mother is Mary. James grew up a devout Jew, just like Jesus. He was raised by the same people and lived and played and engaged with Jesus the same way any of us do with our siblings. I imagine them playing hide and seek in the family compound, or chopping the wood their father would use to build tables and doors for others in the community, or telling jokes at the dinner table. They would have celebrated Passover together, and the family would have frequently told the story of Jesus being forgotten at the temple when he was twelve and how worried everyone was on that trip to Jerusalem.

So it’s easy to understand how James was pretty reluctant at first to believe his big brother was the Messiah. It’s easy to understand why he and his other brothers told Jesus to go to Judea and gather disciples – they wanted him to show his hand so that this whole thing could get nipped in the bud before it got out of control. But the resurrection. James saw Jesus after the resurrection.

We read about it as an offhand comment Paul makes in I Corinthians: Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Paul is giving his testimony and he is referring to James the brother of Jesus as one who was given a special audience with Jesus after the resurrection. James became a big deal in the church. James became a prominent leader who wrote this letter to the Jews who had become Christians but were not in Jerusalem any longer, reminding them that the law they had known was fulfilled in Jesus, and the royal law – the law that Jesus had commanded them to follow was the law that leads to freedom: the very law we have preached in so many messages, the law that changes who we are to our core when we live it, the law that frees us from lists of dos and don’ts, the law that says simply love your neighbor.

James says if we hear it and we don’t live it, we are in danger of being just as shocking as those judges in Indiana: people who know better, but don’t do better. James says that when we follow it, when we do live it, then we have gotten rid of moral filth and evil in our lives.

James tells us to be slow to get angry, quick to listen. He later also says to care for widows and orphans. These are instructions for what loving your neighbor looks like: taking care to listen and perhaps understand something that is beyond your normal sphere of understanding, so you can care for those who are on the margins, those that the rest of the world casts aside and tries to devour. James gives us these instructions to help us see that loving our neighbor encompasses more than just doing nice things once and a while for someone down the street (although that’s a good thing) it means changing how we interact with the world around us so that the very way we display our emotional temperature is radically different from those around us.

We live in a culture of outrage and indignation that pronounces judgements and throws around memes and posts expressing angst and hurt before ever waiting to hear the other persons point of view. Some have said we have turned ourselves into emergency addicts: seeing each new outrage as a new crisis to submerge ourselves in, facts be damned as we rage against the vile oppressor, whoever they may be. This behavior is not contained to one group or another, either, it has become an outflow of any group who says you are in and you are out and when you are out, you often do things that are a violation of everything those of us who are in believe in.

This happens with non-Christians, you might say, but certainly not with Christians…well, sorry to disappoint you, but it is happening in our churches too. When we say this person is not welcome or that group is not welcome or that kind of person is not welcome in our churches and then stand in places where those people are welcome and announce their vileness to us: we are just as engaged in outrage culture as those who point their fingers at churches and decry the things we stand for without understanding them. We become angry over things that others within the church do or say, we become angry about the ways in which someone disagrees with us and we don’t take a moment to think about a response that is loving and kind, we lash out. James says that is evil. It breeds hate and harm.

Jesus prayed for unity for believers. Jesus said that we would be known by our love for one another. Jesus told us to love our neighbors. And if we cannot live by the words Jesus died for then are we even following him?

This week, if you watch the impeachment hearings, read stories of betrayal or sorrow, or hang around people with opinions that are different than yours, spend a few moments listening to what someone else has to say, taking some time to understand the perspective that seems so foreign to your own, recognizing that all outrage does is burn like a flash and feed hate and animosity. 2000 years ago, James warned believers that this was a bad idea, almost as if he had a vision of what our culture in this century might look like. Really, he knew what people are like and he knew that no matter the day or season, people find ways to be less than loving to one another. And he reminds us that loving our neighbors is far more satisfying, far more freeing than reacting with righteous indignation over every slight and differing opinion.

God loved us so that we could love others. We love others by breaking away from being angry at every turn and instead finding ways to listen before we speak, to understand before we condemn, to live out the royal law that brings freedom, remembering what we are supposed to look like even after we turn away from the mirror. We are called to love. Because God loves us.

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As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture. Follow along on your sheets and whenever I point at you say whatever is bolded on your page:

What does it mean to say God loves?

God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.

God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.

God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.

God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption

God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing

God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.

God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.

God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like Jesus.

God loves us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.

God loves us enough to still let us choose our own destiny.

God loves us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and final judgement.

God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.

For God so loved the world…

God loves you.

God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.

God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.

God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.

So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.

God loves you. Go, love the world with him.

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