Saturday, September 22, 2018

B, Pentecost 18 Proper 20 - James 4:1-4 "Love when it comes from God"

“Love is Love”, so they say.  This is the mantra we’ve been fed in recent times. But anyone who questions this is made to feel guilty by the political forces of correctness.  However, it is far from correct and those who defend the “Love is love” ideology display anything but love for those who differ in opinion.
But there are many different types of love.  The bible speaks of four variations of love, and in ancient Greece there are eight variants.
Briefly they are:
Eros or erotic love; in short is sexual passion and desire. 
Philia or philos is affectionate love, mateship or friendship.  In Philos there is no sexual passion.  From this root word we get words like Philadelphia (brotherly love) and philosophy (love of wisdom).
Storge is family love or kinship, it is the love that flows within families, between parents and children. 
Ludus is a playful love and is somewhat related to eros.  Ludus is the fluttering heart, the flirting, teasing love and it gives one the feeling of euphoria.
Mania is obsessive love that is jealous and possessive.  And it is from where we get the word maniac.
Pragma or enduring love and is found in couples who have been together for a long time in a relationship that is mature and willing to make compromises.  It is sensible and realistic love and it is the root of the word pragmatic.
Philautia or love of self is love turned in on one’s self.  Narcissists, those who seek their own glory, fame, fortune and are self-obsessed are caught up in philautia.
And the eighth is Agape. It is a selfless love, it is unconditional love and as such it is used of God towards humanity.  It is steadfast, enduring, accepting, generous and forgiving love.
So love is not love.  There is more to love than some would have us believe.  In fact the “love is love” mantra is built more on deception and self-justification than on human, historical, and literary reality.
As we heard these eight different variants of love, we might have distinguished some which are common to scripture.  Three are common and they are eros, philos and agape. The fourth is storge but it is only used once in conjunction with Philia in Romans 12:10.
The Word of God brings to the fore these three as the battle ground on which our Lord fights for us.  We might think of eros as erotic love but at its core is desire the struggle to force one’s will on someone else.  It begins in the child way before anything sexual begins when they take their stand against mum and dad in a defiant “NO” said to get their own way.
James speaks of this desire as passions or pleasures.  He doesn’t use eros here but rather a synonym from where we get the word hedonistic, which means self-indulgent, riotous, wild, or self-gratifying.
He says, ...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. (James 3:14–15 ESV)
James continues, 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. 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. (James 4:1–3 ESV)
And in the very next verse we hear the use of philia, brotherly love or friendship.  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.  (James 4:4 ESV)
Here he uses it negatively when we make friendship with the world and not with God.
Agape love appears time and time again throughout the bible.  It’s the love Jesus was pointing to when he taught the disciples over and over again he was going to be the messiah or the anointed one by being crucified on the cross.  To which last week we heard Peter attempt to rebuke Jesus for saying such, and Jesus in turn said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mark 8:33 ESV)
Today we heard again, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them,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. (Mark 9:31–32 ESV)
We struggle to understand this after the fact.  How much harder would it have been for the disciples before Jesus went to his death and resurrection? Jesus then confounds their understanding even further by saying, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”(Mark 9:35 ESV)  A point Jesus has to stress even stronger later on by replacing servant with slave stating, ...whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43–45 ESV)
This is the very heart of the gospel, this is the love of God, the agape love we struggle to understand let alone fulfil.  In fact God is the only one who can fulfil this love. Why is this so?
One has to rewind back to the Garden of Eden where humanity, created in the image of God though that not good enough, and, was tempted and chose to seek to be like God by eating from the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil.  And so they became like God and we too being God-like in ourselves seek this love of good and evil, or what we desire as good and evil rather than the love of servanthood and submission to God, the agape love, in which we were created to love God, in which Jesus came to put right by loving God whole-heartedly, what Adam and Eve got wrong and we continue to get wrong.
It becomes pretty clear that the “love is love” mantra of our day and age is far from the centrality of God’s love won for us on the cross.  In fact we are told quite clearly that anyone who wishes to be friends with the world makes himself an enemy with God. 
A spiritual reality came into being when humanity sought to be like God.  We became enemies with God. But God still did not reject us.  First, he removed himself from humanity and lets us be the gods of good and evil.  Once there we quickly realised that being the one god of ourselves is lonely and void of the love that truly sustains us. 
Being alone, being like God is the result of the fall.  And being alone is the great disease running rampant in our society today.  Whether you’re a teenager obsessing over your friend status on your iphone or smartphone (or as I call them ego phones)!  Or you’re in the latter years of life lonely and losing the independence you had once upon a time.  Plus, everyone in between who puts their hope in their farms, their families, their fortunes, or their fame.
James points out our jealousy and self-ambition is a result of our loneliness and godlikeness saying, “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:15 ESV)
In Paul’s struggle with the “infants” in the Corinthian church he says similar, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:12–16 ESV)
We have the mind of Christ.  He gave his life as a ransomed for you, for me, and for all people who believe he took our sin on himself on the cross.  He takes the natural person, the old Adam within, Peter and the disciples, you and me, the godlike man and woman naturally alone in the loneliness of our judgment of good and evil, and makes each of us spiritual people, with the mind of Christ.
He loves you and forgives you and gives you access into his presence forever, where there is not loneliness or need to be a god, rather you can be the creature he created you to be.   Love can only be love when God is love.
Like the Psalmist we can praise God saying, “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.  He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them.” (Psalm 54:4–5 ESV)
God is Love and anything we put before God is our enemy.  Our greatest enemy is our lonely godlike self, or anyone who tells us that there is a greater god than our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  

So rest in God!  Put off the godlike loneliness that causes so much strife and take hold of the love that is of God and eternal, and gives us the peace that surpasses all understanding which keeps our hearts and minds in the love of Christ Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

B, Pentecost 16 Proper 18 - James 2:14 "Faith and Works"

What good is it, my brothers (and sisters), if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14 ESV)
It seems a grenade has been rolled into the mix of sound teaching; words contrary to other scripture where we’re taught we’re justified by faith, as Paul tells us in the letters he wrote to the early church!
But earlier in the text James begins with a warning about being partial or bias towards those dressed in fine clothes believing they are somehow better than the poor wearing shabby attire. He says, “show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 2:1 ESV)
James goes on to show partiality as sin when we judge others contrary to how God has judged us.  Finding us guilty God vicariously placed his Son, Jesus Christ, in our place and gave us freedom we could not work through the Law.
Therefore he says, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty (the law of freedom).  For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  (James 2:12–13 ESV)
So what are we to make of judgment in light of our faith and works!  James even seems to confuse his own argument by saying, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom… (James 2:5 ESV)  God chooses the rich in faith, but on the other hand, those whose faith has no works is dead.
When these texts fill our hearing the old human nature kicks in.  We search ourselves for faith we look for works in our daily lives.  God walks in the garden of our lives and we go scrambling to defend and cover ourselves with our knowledge of good and evil.  It’s been this way since Adam and Eve hid from God in Eden.
It is exactly because of our sin that we confuse faith and works.  We all have faith and we all do works but what this faith is and what works they produce is another thing.  So the question is put: what is my faith and what works do I do to support my faith?  What is happening in us, in you, in me, when God’s word fills our hearing?  Do you act as Adam or as Christ?
Take for instance a few lines from the Old Testament reading today, Isaiah 35:6&7, “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;  the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water” (Isaiah 35:6b–7a ESV)
Just like Adam we’re tempted to dive into ourselves turning our backs on God in disbelief when our reality seems contrary to God’s word.  Deep down it’s so easy to doubt texts like this when drought seems to be overwhelming our farms and our souls.
In Psalm 146 God delves into our hearts telling us to put no trust in princes; in one who dies as we all will die.  In the spirit of James we are told not to be partial to the finely dressed; the princely types.  What kind of judgment are we making when we deem the finely dressed as “good blokes” and others as “evil blokes”?
Rather in Psalm 146 we are told, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;  who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.”(Psalm 146:5–7 ESV)
And so we have gathered here in God’s name and testify to each other before God, “Our help is in the name of the Lord. He made heaven and earth.  I said, ‘I will confess my sins to the Lord.’ Then he forgave the guilt of my sin.” Which intentionally are pieces of scripture given to us by God to pray to him from Psalm 124:8 and 32:5.
God shows no partiality.  He judges all; the poorly dressed but rich in faith as well as the richly dressed with hidden poor faith issues, and everyone in between.  We all need the same help and we all need the same forgiveness!
So the question is, “what is faith”?  And, “what is a work”? 
So often sin within takes these questions and turns them in on ourselves and we in turn, cast a judgment on each other that’s far from merciful.  We take the word of God and we make ourselves gods over God’s word.  This is exactly the opposite of what God intends. God’s will is to be merciful to those who call on his name.  His mercy triumphs over judgment.  It’s always been that way, even in Old Testament times when the Law was put in place to atone for sin.
You see many characters in the Old Testament were sinful.  Abraham took Hagar to father a child when God had promised Sarah would have a child, Jacob was ruthless towards his brother Esau and father-in-law Laban.  David committed murder, and adultery.  And even in Jesus’ day Peter sinned by denying Jesus at his trial, yet he was forgiven and Judas was not.  So what is going on?  Sinful men sanctified by God.  Did their good works justify them?  What kind of works were going on when David took another man’s wife into his bed? Or when Abraham took Sarah’s servant Hagar into his bed?  When Jacob stole his brother’s birth right?  When Peter said he did not know Jesus and called down curses upon himself?
Faith, works, judgment, mercy.  Floods, drought, life and death.  What is the will of God?  How do we reconcile the word of God with the very real events of everyday life? So the question still stands, “what is faith”?  And, “what is a work”? 
Our understanding can swing very quickly into perspective when we begin to understand the function of God’s word in the Old and the New Testaments as God’s word that calls us to believe who we are so in turn we trust not in ourselves but look out of ourselves and trust in God. 
Despite my sinful nature God comes to me, first through the Law but now through Jesus.  No one can fulfil the whole Law but God still credited people righteous in Old Testament times.  Why, because even while seeking to fulfil the Law but failing they were looking not to themselves but to God.  They believed they were sinful but despite that trusted God.
In Gospel times, in the early church and today, there’s still the temptation to look to the self so that faith is not trusting in God but a resting on one’s own knowledge of good and evil.  And if we are not trusting in God we’re not going to believe we are sinful nor are we in need of Christ’s vicarious action.  Having made ourselves god of our own lives, refusing Christ’s vicarious action, we stop our heavenly Father from allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us both faith as well as works towards others.
To put it another way Peter, King David, John the Baptist, Moses, Abraham, Jacob, and others, believed they were sinners but allowed God to focus them not on themselves but on him.  Yes they all made mistakes; they stuffed up, but they didn’t allow their sin to separate them from God. And because they faced God their works were not things they conjured up for themselves to do but they did what was necessary while looking to God.
Faith in anything but Jesus’ death and resurrection; faith in anything but my sin that needs this vicarious action, is a dead faith!  Faith that looks out of myself to Jesus, is a faith that lets Jesus in, worked by the Holy Spirit, when we hear the word of God.  It’s Jesus’ promise that he will send a helper.  Our helps is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth, and in his name the Holy Spirit enters in and works in us, even without our knowing or feeling it.  The Holy Spirit is a mover and a shaker. 
James Nestingen an American Lutheran theologian has written a commentary on the Small Catechism called “Free to Be”.  It’s a good simple read but I want to direct you to his title on Third Article of the Creed, it’s titled, “God the Verb”. When we look to Jesus, that’s the Holy Spirit acting within. The Holy Spirit is the verb, he is the active word in the sentence of our Christian lives, as it were.
When we look to Jesus, and confess our sin, it’s the Holy Spirit acting within. With the Holy Spirit engendering faith within he also has from within us works to do.  But rarely do we realize we are doing the works because our focus is on Jesus Christ, willed by God the Father, enacted within by the Holy Spirit.
In James chapter one we hear, “Count it all joy, my brothers (and sister), when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4 ESV)
You too lack nothing in Christ, drought or flood, poor or financial.  Faith produces faith, and in faith you endure trials and continue to hear and receive the Word of God. And as you hear the word of God, the Holy Spirit produces faith, so you lack nothing.  Works produce faith and faith produces works.  It just comes unstuck in us when we stop looking to God and credit ourselves with faith and works while condemning others for their faith and works or lack of.
So look to God continually and ask him for wisdom and endurance; steadfastness or enduring love in our Lord Jesus Christ who through his vicarious action on the cross gives us the freedom to lay our lives down for each other in intercessory prayer, in vicarious action, in ways we don’t even realize or see, as we look out of ourselves to Jesus Christ. Amen.