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You know that music is huge for me. Just huge. From my earliest memories music has been a way to connect with God. Music really does give me a sense of the eternal and I hope we all have something that connects us or reminds us or affirms us in the truths of God. CS Lewis once wrote about music being for many the thing in this age which is most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Music. If you are of a certain age you’ll be familiar with the term “worship wars” which were largely about music. You might even have lived through them, been wounded by them even. I’m thankful that I found myself to be largely outside of them. Sacred music is sacred music at Blythwood we don’t rule anything out depending on when it was written or what style it’s in. Subjectively we all have our favourite styles or genres but sacred music goes beyond what style anyone prefers. I read the following line once and it’s stayed with me ever since – “There’s only one worship war, and that’s between God and the devil.”
To which I say “Amen.” To which James would say “Amen. Wisdom is either from above or it is earthly, devilish. “The devil ain’t got no music. All music is God’s.” is a quote from one of my favourite singers, Mavis Staples. Mavis Staples sang gospel with dad Pops and her sisters and brother – The Staples Singers. When they got out of the gospel genre and began singing more “worldly” music people complained they were singing “devil music.” Hence Ms. Staples’ response (which I have to say maybe can’t be taken as broadly as one might think – there may be some genres or things that arise from certain genres that are pretty antithetical to God, but you can discuss this with me if you like).
When we use language around war or fighting or conflict we have to be very sure of what or who we are fighting. This is strong language from James in our passage this morning. He’s continuing on in his diatribe style – forcefully speaking against something. The thing he’s speaking against is conflicts and disputes in the church.
Who is the enemy here? Are we fighting each other? Are we in conflict with each other? If we’re not then be on the lookout for my beloved sisters and brothers for conflict because it’s a serious thing and James was a serious man. Let’s ask for God’s help this morning.
There are two kinds of wisdom – heavenly and earthly. You can be a friend of God or a friend of the world, but you can’t be friends of both. This doesn’t mean the world God created isn’t good or that everyone we look at hasn’t been made in the image of God and is loved by God. Worldly or earthly wisdom is not scientific investigation and discovery and we should shun that because it’s worldly. What is earthly or worldly wisdom? It’s speech and deeds that work directly against the goodwill and purposes of God. Directed by the enemy.
Who’s the enemy? The accuser. The deceiver. The liar. The liar’s wisdom is selfish ambition, disorder, bitter envy, boasting, falseness, scorn, the wickedness of every kind. What is heavenly wisdom? The wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy, and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
The way of wisdom. All these things we’ve been looking at in James’ letter.
There’s a war going on and we need to remember who the enemy is. Our enemy is not people. It’s not people who believe differently, think differently, act differently. The enemy is not people who disagree with us. We can think of that whole disagree and commit ethos which is sound for any relationship. For the church it’s a matter of remembering the Kingdom to which we are committed. The enemy is certainly not people who annoy us and we should never be talking ill or smack about others publicly or privately . Lord save us from thinking or speaking such things of people.
The wisdom of the world says it's all about you. It’s all about you and you getting what you want and your success. The wisdom of the world is about scarcity. It says life is a zero-sum game and if someone is getting more then that’s less for you. You need to hang on to everything you have and guard it zealously and if someone doesn’t have it’s ok because I have mine and you’d better not try to encroach. We have to hang onto our money and protect it. Even if we’re talking about a spot in traffic, we have to hang on to it and protect it. This is my spot and I will do my best to tailgate the car in front of me so you can’t take away from me.
Though I wonder (thinking of how people behave in traffic) how much of that kind of “this is my spot and you’re not taking it” is done from a lack of thinking about the situation. Of course, it’s funny that the default position is protecting what’s mine. It’s funny that we don’t often see examples of unthinking generosity.
It’s a false view of the world, this view of scarcity. It’s in direct opposition to the kingdom of God view, which is all about abundance. The kingdom of God view is all about having a party and inviting all your friends when you meet Jesus. It’s all about having a party when the one who was lost in a far country comes home (and there was envy around that too you’ll recall).
Heavenly wisdom/earthly wisdom. Friend of God/friend of the world. Abundance/scarcity. The choice is ever before us and as we’ve been saying through these weeks there’s no middle way.
We sing about God opening the eyes of our hearts. It comes from a line in Ephesians where Paul talks about having the eyes of our heart enlightened. Seeing things in the light of God’s grace. Seeing the world the way it actually is. In the movie “The Matrix,” Neo is played by Keanu Reeves. Neo finds out that the world as he’s been experiencing it is not the way the world actually is. Everything is virtual reality and humans in reality are trapped in pods hooked up and being used a power source for intelligent machines. Neo comes into contact with a rebel group led by Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) who offers him the choice to take a red pill that would allow him to see the world as it really is. There’s a great scene where Neo escapes from his pod, full of images of new birth and baptism even, and becomes aware of reality for the first time. (show scene)
For the follower of Christ, we have been given new birth and eyes to see everything in the light of the reality of the kingdom of God. The issue for us is, there is a war going on and it’s going on all the time both within us, and within churches. Heavenly/earthly. Abundance/scarcity.
And so you want something and do not have it, so you commit murder (in the most extreme cases). You covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. For church leaders, your self-interest has led you to believe that your way is the only way. For church leaders, your belief in scarcity has led you to look at other church leaders and the size of their congregation or their number of followers or likes or… however “success” is measured by worldly wisdom. To say you believe in heavenly wisdom – wisdom that is characterized by an undivided heart, peaceableness, gentleness, willingness to yield, mercy, good fruit, without a trace of hypocrisy or partiality – to say you’re all about that kind of wisdom and yet speak and act on behalf of the other kind of wisdom – that one that is characterized by envy and selfish ambition and boasting - is like being unfaithful to your spouse. “Adulterers!” James cries out. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” and we answer “Well yes we do know, but the problem is our turning that knowledge into action.”
Hence the conflict that is ever before us, ever within us.
This is the bad news in the text and the bad news in the world. Look at all the conflicts and issues that arise in today’s world because we feel that sharing resources is going to mean we have less and we can’t have that. Look at how much the success of one person is seen as taking away from my potential success. Looking at it from the point of Christian leadership, we’re not in a competition. This is why there’s no show called “So You Think You Can Preach”! We swim in the waters of scarcity and self-interest and vain ambition and it’s easy to get sucked under. We’re not alone in this. A story is told in the book of Numbers where Moses asks God for help in leading the people of Israel. God tells Moses to choose 70 elders to help him and they go to the tent of meeting (where Moses would meet with God) outside of the Israelite camp. God takes some of the spirit that was on Moses and puts it on the 70 elders and they begin to prophesy. Then this happens. Numbers 11:26-29: 26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men,[a] said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
The Kingdom of God is not about competition. God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us and we have been created to be friends of God. To be a friend here means to share the same outlook, the same values, to be deeply united to the other. The good news in the middle of this war is that a way has been made by the one who said “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” And we pray “Lord make yourself known” and “Lord grant us wisdom from above!”
If we think we need it. Realizing our need for God is where this whole journey starts and it’s where this whole journey needs to stay. This is why God opposes the proud – those who say “I’ve got this” and God is quite willing to stand back while we say that. Those who are about their way and their will and their freedom and their fill-in-the-blank and this is all around us beloved brothers and sisters. In the middle of all this, we hear James’ words come through the centuries “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” “How do we do that,” you ask. We can start by every day telling God that we need him. Asking God to help us. Praying that prayer for wisdom with which we started back in May. We’re in a war and this turning to God is key in resisting the devil who wants to stir up controversy and contention and destruction. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. How are we drawing near to God?
Grace has been extended and it is extended every day. All is grace, is something I wrote down in my notes for today. All is grace. This humility that James is calling us to is a recognition that all is grace, all is a gift from the Father of lights from whom comes every good and perfect gift. Humility is not a call to grovel. Humility is not a call self-deprecation (apart from self-deprecating humour which I think is great) or a way to deny the gifts God has given us by not putting them to use. The kind of humility that James is speaking of has been described like this:
“…humility is the acknowledgment of God’s gifts to me and the acknowledgment that I have been given them for others. Humility is the total continuing surrender to God’s power in my life and in the lives of those around me.”
I talked earlier about how our default position seems to be hanging onto and protecting what’s ours. You might say this is a result of our fallenness. At the same time we seem to be hardwired to love stories of the underdog, don’t we? The lowly one who is raised up. There’s a reason for this, and there’s a reason that the Kingdom of God is all about reversals. I don’t need to seek fame or adulation or popularity or…. You don’t need to seek fame or popularity or people speaking well of you. We don’t need to build ourselves up, particularly at the expense of others. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. Humble yourselves before the Lord, in other words, and he will lift you up. There’s a future element to this of course, and at the end of this letter James takes the long view (we’ll talk about this next week as we finish this letter). There’s a present element to it too though. James is all about the practical and the here and now and how the things we believe are worked out in our everyday. Those who humble themselves will be lifted up. God has us. God says “I got you.” God says “My peace I give you, I do not give as the world gives.”
So which world do we want to live in? God says come to this table. We answer “I want to live in your Kingdom” when we come to this table. We answer “Lord I need you” when we come to this table. May our worship together and our eating and drinking together this day draw us ever more fully into the reality of the Kingdom of God. A reality characterized by abundance, grace, and love. May each of us accept the invitation today.