Our focal scripture this morning comes from James 5:7-10 (NIV)
Patience in Suffering
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Pardon me if today’s sermon is a little convoluted. A lot of scripture can be understood stand alone With no help from history or context. Other scripture needs a little background to fully understand, and James is one of those.
First, a story. My son and I went to get the rest of the angel gifts for our church community project on Wednesday night. There were lots of people shopping. There were baskets piled high with things. (There are some people out there having a VERY generous Christmas!) The surprising thing though was the lack of joy. I’m humming and throwing shirts and pants in my basket, and all around me are frowning people around me, There were parents, angry at kids. People were just NOT happy.
This week, knowing I had to talk about the Joy candle in our advent wreath, I asked a lot of random people if they were feeling the joy this season. What percentage of people I asked were feeling it?
What were they feeling instead (I asked)? Stress. Pressure. Anxiety. Depression. Loss. And Fear.
Does this bother you? It sure bothers me, because Christmas is the season of joy. This week, after lighting The HOPE Candle And the PEACE Candle, we are lighting the JOY candle. And yet, there’s a lot of people not feeling it.
Now I know a lot of people ARE having joy in Christmas. But a lot are not. Many of these people have a good life: Enough money, Family and friends that love them, Good work to do. And they are still missing something. They are missing JOY.
Remember that as I rattle on today.
So, let’s Talk about the epistle (or letter) of James. Historically the letter is attributed to James, Brother of Jesus. You may remember that his own family didn’t think much of Jesus early in Jesus’ ministry, But somewhere along the way, James seems to have come around. He became the pastor of the church in Jerusalem. He’s an important guy in the early church. Someone worth listening to.
James comes out of the Jewish wing of the early church. His education was clearly Jewish And he writes in a Jewish style of writing, very similar to books like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, in a style known as “Wisdom Writing”
In “Wisdom Writing” all Wisdom is from God. The premise is that without knowing God, you cannot understand wisdom. AND IF YOU KNOW GOD, what seems to be wisdom to you may not seem to be wise to others
So with that background, let’s look at some of the verses that come before our focal verse.
James 3:13-18 (NIV)
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
James 4:1-8 (NIV)
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3
If you read these three chapters in detail, you will see that James sounds a lot like Jesus on the Sermon on the mount. He’s about caring for the poor, about giving and doing for others. And when he talks about people who are not feeling that joy of sharing and giving and peacemaking, he talks about what makes people joyless:
- What he calls “evil practice”
- Inner battles
- Not enough
And if you have all that going on inside your soul, how are you going to feel?
Yeah. How about that! The very list of things people WERE feeling in my impromptu, unscientific poll, instead of joy this Christmas season.
7 Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
To the early Christian, the greatest joy, would be the second Coming of Christ. And If we study it, and if we think about the implications of that second coming, it could be ours as well. But James does not dwell on the waiting. He dwells on what we can do to increase of joy in this world.
If we want joy, he says, then we need patience, rooted in Faith, just as a farmer has to have patience for the seasons.
Patience, you see, breeds kindness. Patience breeds listening to others. Patience breeds safety. Patience makes us humble, because we see what others are going through. Patience comes from God and allows us to be filled with God instead of all those other negative things. Patience reduces Stress, pressure, anxiety, depression, loss and fear. (Seen that list before?)
If we want joy this season. We need to find patience. Patience with other people. Patience with ourselves. Patience with the times we are in. We have to do the work of opening ourselves to God, but not expecting an instance change. Just as farmers have to wait for the harvest, so do we.
But if we do the work of opening ourselves, joy will come. It is the natural thing that happens when we allow God to work instead of trying to go it all ourselves.
Why? Because it is the path to our own peace. Because it brings us what God wants for us. Our patience brings good things to others. Patience reduces Stress. Patience reduces Pressure. Patience lessens Anxiety and Depression. Patience lets Loss heal in its own time . Patience breeds safety, and reduces, even removes Fear
When I was six years old, my parents gave me my first bike for Christmas. It was a second hand bike that my dad had refurbished and painted red. I was so excited and could hardly wait for the festivities to end so I could go ride my bike.
Or rather, so I could fall off my bike. Again and again. All afternoon. I guess I was a slow learner because by the end of the afternoon I was covered in bruises and scratches. Even my dad, who came from the “Ya gotta let them fail some” school of learning, winced every time I pulled that bike back up to the top of the yard.
But he stuck with me, and finally, I got it, riding off down the street, beat up but triumphant.
I needed his patience. I needed him to not call me clumsy or stupid or to give up. And because he gave me that patience, I learned a skill that I still love today, at 61.
Patience matters. Patience helps make lasting joy possible. God is patient with us. We need to be patience with ourselves and the time. Give yourself time to let the season work. Open yourself to it.
It’s there. I promise you.