s137e00 Somerton Park Sunday 25 24/9/2000

"With (the tongue) we bless the Lord and Father, and with (the tongue) we curse those who are made in the likeness of God ... My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so." James 3:9,10

I am indebted to the commentary of C Leslie Mitton (The Epistle of James Marshall Morgan & Scott 1966 p7) who says "Perhaps Martin Luther more than any other single person is responsible for this attitude of doubt and misgiving. It is he who branded the epistle (of James) as ""an epistle of straw" (in comparison, that is, with Romans), and also pronounced upon it the damning sentence, that it "contains nothing evangelical"". In defence of Luther (and Mitton) he does go on to point out that "in the whole epistle the name of Christ is mentioned only twice; there is no reference at all to the Cross or the Resurrection or the Holy Spirit ..." So Luther's attitudes have some validity.

For me the epistle of James is the writing most clearly directed towards churchgoers. As Mitton says: "It was written for those who had no doubt that they were Christians ... not ... with the primary purpose of converting unbelievers ... " James speaks about the conduct of the christian community - condemning the favouring of the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor, advising that not many become teachers, avoiding conflicts and disputes, about prayer, confession and healing ...

However I would actually question whether any of the books of the New Testament are written to convert unbelievers. Actually all of Paul's correspondence was written to churches or individual believers. The work of evangelism was and is done by God through Jesus, and this evangelism is only mirrored by individuals in their speech and manner of life.

James writes to the church so that those who respond to God's self revelation may find a home with people of faith; whose faith leads them to not discriminate between rich and poor, a home which is not a hotbed of conflicts and disputes, where prayer, forgiveness and healing are found.

William Neil (in his One Volume Bible Commentary, Hodder and Stoughton 1973 p 516) quotes someone who describes the letter of James as an "ethical scrap-book" and comments that "It has no connected line of thought". Yet despite this assessment of a fairly pedestrian literary standard and non - evangelical outlook, James has a fine "turn of phrase" with profound evangelical implications. Such is (in my opinion) my text for today: "With (the tongue) we bless the Lord and Father, and with (the tongue) we curse those who are made in the likeness of God ... My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so."

For every person is made in the image of God, no matter who they are, whatever their racial origin, whatever their gender, or their practice (or not) of faith. And James calls us to bless. James' way of evangelism is centred on how church people conduct their faith. Do the members of the church curse those made in the image of God, but who hold a different faith, or express their faith in Jesus differently, or indeed who do not have a faith, but get on with trying to live and love as best they might?

So there is a profound breadth to the love that James holds; it is not confined to the expressions of love and respect within the community of faith at all. It finds it's fullest expression as we relate to all those around us.

Some time ago I remember the then Archbishop of Perth and now our Primate giving a lecture on "tolerance". He made the point that people don't want to be tolerated, they want to be accepted for who they are. It is somewhere in this truth that our faith and our evangelism really hinges.

In our more Christian - speak there is no one for whom Jesus didn't die.

Evangelism is not how we can get other people to become something they aren't, to believe something about the status of some remote figure in the historical past, but how WE see and acknowledge the presence of the risen Christ in them, to acknowledge our fundamental unity with them in Christ.

Many years ago, I remember our former Archbishop, Keith Rayner, preaching at on of his Advent series on indigenous issues, and I distinctly recall coming away thinking, that what he said implied that those who hold aboriginal beliefs, do not have to "repent".

I was interested, recently, to reflect on St Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me." (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). I "saw" for the first time St Paul saying that the Risen Jesus hadn't just appeared to him - but that the Risen Jesus had appeared to many other people also, some of whom expressed their christianity in quite different terms to himself. The conception of a monolithic and pure faith held by everyone who calls themselves "Christian" has always been a myth.

Just because St Paul can (repeatedly) point to a particular incident in his life when he met the Risen Jesus, this did not put him above others. His particularly spectacular conversion experience was no more valid for it's extraordinary nature. Clearly St Paul realised that his particular experience was not at all like how the Risen Jesus appeared to Cephas, the twelve, the five hundred, to James and then to all the apostles. The important thing was that the Risen Jesus had come to each of these, in different ways, and therefore they had as much right to respect as anyone else.

And if Jesus "appeared" to all sorts and conditions of people before his crucifixion, all sorts and conditions of people have as much right to respect now from us, as then.

One wonders if the unnamed child of Mark 9:36 remembers being taken into Jesus' arms and shown to the disciples. It is one of the joys of having a baptism during the service of holy communion and the priest taking the child into the midst of the congregation during the greeting of peace. (It is the one hesitancy I have in our new practice of having the greeting of peace at the beginning of the service - however one cannot have everything :-)

I suspect we should concentrate, not on the utter dependence of the child, but on the tenderness of Jesus' care. It is appropriate to take a child in one's arms, it is not appropriate to expect an adult to submit to this or demand this of adults. Indeed, God and Jesus do not want us to be dependent on them, but to be adults, giving and receiving such respect and care as we are able to those around us. Indeed, of course St James calls us to be adult in our loving, giving.

St James calls us to be adults - to not spend our lives cursing those around us, those who fail to live up to our expectations of the faith, those who do not want to follow a particular path. As adults, we ourselves choose to be happy, and if we are unhappy then there is no point whatsoever in throwing a tantrum and blaming everyone around us. Adults do not look to everyone around them to make them happy. We, as adults, have a part to play in trying to make the world a less sad place. In the end the only person who is cursed if we spend our lives cursing others, is we ourselves.

And St James, I am sure is realistic, when he suggests that it is what we say that is important. We may not be able to give another person anything of tangible value to alter or alleviate their situation; yet we can always be encouraging; or at the very least we can not consign others to hell for who they are or what they do.

The real question is how wide can we go? Do we limit our blessing to those of our parish (because we are appropriately catholic or evangelical or whatever)? Do we limit our blessing to Anglicans? To those who call themselves Christians? To people who hold some faith?

No. St James calls us to bless all those "who are made in the likeness of God" and we immediately recall the words of Genesis 1.27: "God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

We are bidden to do far more than tolerate, far more even than to accept, but we are bidden to bless. For blessing someone means being thankful to God for the contribution that another makes to our existence.

And I believe that the most important part of the "old" words of administration of the sacrament of Holy Communion are the end: "Drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for you, AND BE THANKFUL."

 

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